Things are looking up for the drilling market in the Green Bay region of Wisconsin, but over the past few years, Hintzke Well Drilling, a fourth-generation family business based in New London, has faced a series of threats seeming to conspire against them.
After the recession of 2008, widespread flooding in the spring of 2011 delayed some projects well into June. And bidding for other projects that Hintzke specializes in, such as geothermal drilling, was overwhelmed by other drillers looking to put their water-well rigs to use.
“You try to hang on,” says John Hintzke, eldest brother of the drilling trio. “That’s all any of us can do. But some companies just couldn’t.”
John Hintzke is filled with respect and sympathy for those in the industry forced to quit. The drilling industry in this region is, in fact, a close-knit group in which Hintzke has ties to many other drillers. Helping out fellow drillers on a project is not at all unusual. One of Hintzkes’ trucks does not even display the company’s name so as to avoid upstaging other companies while lending them a hand on a project.
Hintzke’s survival is part of the legacy of Theodore Hintzke, who founded the company in 1896. As fourth-generation drillers, they have long ago learned to make the best of boom times and hunker down to outlast lean times. Expertise in several drilling markets gives Hintzke the diversity necessary to stay in business as demand for specialty drilling fluctuates. Water wells, geothermal drilling and exploration for a steady sandstone mining client keep Hintzke healthy.
They also avoid overreacting to market fluctuations. John and Jason Hintzke shake their heads at those who jump into new markets, increasing their equipment expenditures to chase industry swings. Avoiding such unnecessary expenses is one of the benefits, Jason Hintzke says, of their Atlas Copco T3W water-well drilling rig, which the company uses for nearly every job.
Like many startup companies, the brothers’ great grandfather Theodore Hintzke started with simple equipment, building his own wooden cable rig powered by a one-cylinder engine. Generation after generation, the Hintzkes have continued making careful equipment upgrade choices, working up to rotary rigs that included a used Ingersoll Rand TH60 and, later, a pre-owned 1993 T3W.
In 2008, the company traded in the 1993 T3W for their first new rig ever, a 2008 Atlas Copco T3W with improvements such as large-diameter top and bottom sheaves for extended cable life, redesigned feed cylinders to improve pullback and pulldown, and increased feed speed to 150 feet per minute.
The brothers agreed the T3W rig’s speed was crucial for getting them off one job and on to the next, especially now when work orders are plentiful again. Jason Hintzke says he saw the benefits the new drill offers during a residential well drilling job in quartzite. With an Atlas Copco QL60 water-well hammer, he was able to go as deep in 15 minutes as the other drill had gone in 45 minutes.
Jason Hintzke says he can drill 120 feet an hour in granite, and the T3W compressor can provide up to 900 cfm and 350 psi.
Even for rotary drilling, Jason Hintzke couldn’t think of a rig that could compete with his T3W. “For rotary, that other guy’s rig is maybe spinning at 80 rpm,” he says. “I have a two-speed head. On low, I’m turning 134, and 180 at top speed. This [rig] really hogs down!”
One afternoon, the Hintzkes returned to complete a 130-foot water well at a rural residence under construction near their headquarters in New London. They had waited a day for the grout to set up and were ready to finish drilling the well. Stringent Wisconsin regulations aim to stop contamination from mineralized arsenic at its source by preventing its contact with air, which can trigger self-sustaining arsenic production in that zone. Therefore, the only drilling technique allowed by law is rotary drilling with mud. In this location, water-well bores must also be cased to a minimum of 90 feet, which is a sufficient depth to get through the arsenic zone of the St. Petersburg sandstone formation and down to the unaffected water in Cambrian sandstone.
For this project the Hintzkes used an 8.75-inch tricone bit on their rig’s usual 4.5-inch pipe with a bentonite mix for drilling fluid. They drilled the bore to 90 feet, set 6-inch steel casing, and then grouted the hole-all within a period of just three hours.
Jason Hintzke hit the Cambrian sandstone early and says he could have safely set the well at 70 feet, but the law required he go the full 90 feet. While drilling through the 90 feet to finish the well, he entered a shale layer, which he described as “sticky” for tricone drilling. It slowed progress a bit, but he continued until he picked up sandstone again. He finished the well at 130 feet, sufficiently into the sandstone. They were back home well before suppertime, preparing for the next day.
At dawn one day the brothers traveled one-and-a-half hours to an exploration job. A sandstone mining client needed the Hintzkes to prove out a new site to mine high quality sand for use in hydraulic fracturing. Just moments after arriving, they had positioned themselves and were raising the tower to begin. Sometimes, Jason Hintzke says, a drilling plan would be marked out in a field with flags. This time, however, a representative from their client’s company led them to the field and pointed to general locations for them to sample.
Since the client wanted samples to be as dry as possible for this job, Jason Hintzke used rotary air, tipping the same 4.5-inch pipe with a 6 1/8-inch Atlas Copco Grizzly Paw bit. He was adding roughly three gpm of water as he drilled and started with the rig’s air at about half volume, or around 600 cfm. He did not need to turn pressure up at all.
The benefit of the claw, Jason Hintzke says, was its aggressiveness without requiring much weight-on-bit (WOB). Less WOB meant he could save on fuel. The claw was ideal, since he did not want to use a hammer in the sediment.
He says the diagnostics meter on the control panel helped him see everything. For instance, he was using about 15 gallons an hour of fuel, but he says with a tricone he might be using as much as 20 gallons per hour, representing a 25 percent fuel savings with the claw. As he got deeper, he says he was using a little more fuel to contend with a bit of ground water in the hole.
Jason Hintzke hit limestone at 18 feet, getting about 10 minutes a rod, achieving a rate of 120 feet an hour. At 50 feet, he found the sandstone, rapidly completing the test bore to 120 feet while averaging just three minutes from the start of one rod to the start of the next rod, or 600 feet an hour. His brother Jay bagged samples every 5 feet once he was into the sandstone, marking them and entering them into a log.
When they were satisfied with the samples they had taken and were certain the client would be happy with this first hole, the brothers backfilled it with a bentonite hole filler. In only moments, Jason Hintzke had the tower down and moved on to the next location. Only an hour had passed since they started the first hole.
Since early summer 2012, the Hintzkes have been working long hours and six-day weeks to keep up, and they were booked solid through the fall. However, no one complains about working hard after the lack of demand these past few years. They are proud that the Hintzke legacy has survived lean times with their family formula for success and their good eye for sensible drilling equipment. ND