Brett Rudd didn’t set out to own the deepest water well ever drilled in Oregon, and it’s not something he’s exactly proud of.

Why not? A new state law cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The state has declared this water basin as a scenic byway and put a moratorium on taking any water that could possibly affect the (Grande Ronde) River,” said Rudd, a third-generation farmer in Union County, Ore. “That means I had to find another aquifer. So that leaves the only option to be to go down into the basalts.”

The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway runs from La Grande, Ore., in the Grande Ronde Valley clockwise for 218 miles to Baker City, Ore. Rudd’s farm is located about seven miles outside of La Grande near the Route 82 portion of the byway.

The Oregon Water Resources Department has typically denied permits to drill new irrigation wells in the upper alluvial layer, so Rudd decided to explore deep-water drilling methods and companies. He chose Boart Longyear after an exhaustive, two-year search, to drill at least 3,500 feet into the Columbia River Basalt. None of the wells previously drilled on Rudd’s land in the alluvial layer cost more than $170,000, he said. Experts estimated that wells drilled 4,000 feet into the Columbia River Basalt would be at least $1 million, with setup fees alone totaling about $170,000.

The final depth of Rudd’s new well measured 4,045 feet. The previous state record for deepest well was 3,138 feet, also in Union County.

Bob Maynerd, well inspector for eastern Oregon, said he was amazed by the depth. And with 30 years in the well-drilling industry, including 20 as a driller, it takes a lot to amaze him. “The deepest well I ever drilled is 1,500 feet, so when I hear about something this deep, I’m in awe.”

Boart Longyear ran a 16-inch casing to about 2,600 feet, where the alluvial layer ended, cemented it in place, and then went down with a 14.75-inch casing to finish the job. Beyond 2,600 feet, the drill team hit the Mio-Pliocene Powder River volcanic field of rock, and then another sequence of alluvial sediments, before hitting the Miocene Columbia River Basalt Group, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earthquake Hazards Program.

These depths were much more than experts had expected, given that the previous deep water record well is sited about a mile away, said Robert Stadeli, business development manager for Boart Longyear.

“They hit bedrock there around 1,900 feet, and we hit it at 2,500 feet,” Stadeli said. “Then the top of the (other well’s) second basalt unit … was around 2,700 feet, and we didn’t hit it until 3,600 feet. The owner wanted to go 1,000 feet into that basalt flow. We could have kept drillin’ but essentially his budget was used up at 4,000 feet.”

Scott Krug, Boart Longyear’s zone manager on the project, said his team decided to use the flooded reverse circulation drilling method because it produces a cleaner borehole at significant depths.

In typical flooded reverse circulation methods, a suction-type pump is used to pull the cuttings loosened by the drill bit through the stem to the surface. Water from a supply pit near the rig circulates through a trench to the hole. It serves to raise the water level to pit level so that hydrostatic pressure is applied against the wall to prevent caving. The cuttings are removed up the center of the drill pipe rather than the annular area between the drill stem and the borehole.

Boart Longyear faced numerous challenges during its nearly 70-day operation. “First off, the alluvial (layer), before you get to the … basalt, is about 1,500 to 2,000 feet deep in this area,” Krug said. “It varies, of course, but that is a separate aquifer in itself. Then you get to the basalts, which are a hard rock. They have lost circulation; they have numerous voids and cavities in them. The issue you run into, the traditional method for conventional drilling, how an oil and gas company would drill, of pumping mud up the outside of the hole, doesn’t work there very well once you get into the basalts, because it’s all lost circulation.”

The Boart Longyear-made rig used for Rudd’s well handled the job. At 4,000 feet, replacing a drill bit would take 30 hours round trip. “Because of the depth that the hole actually ended up, it did push that rig pretty close to its limit,” Krug said.

Rudd didn’t mind the time it took, though. He said the last basalt well drilled in the Grande Ronde Valley took two years. Boart Longyear, on the other hand, took only about 55 days to drill it, not counting setup time. “And it was 1,000 feet deeper than any of these other holes,” Rudd said. “Pretty darn impressive.”

Rudd listed some additional challenges, such as a two-inch hydraulic line failing and replacement of the draw works on a cable spool, but those were minor adjustments for a large company like Boart Longyear. The onsite team received replacement parts in a day rather than what might take weeks for a one-rig company. Rudd also noted that Boart Longyear kept two spare bits near the rig in case one broke.

“Having one of the largest well companies in the world definitely added comfort,” Rudd said. “When there was a major breakdown, they’d call the shop (in Salt Lake City), pull the part off of another rig, and that night it’s on the road here. It gets installed the next day, and they’re shut down for less than 24 hours. That’s phenomenal. … Every move was impressive; it really was. I would definitely recommend Boart Longyear. These guys were amazing.”

One might think that kind of praise would be music to Stadeli’s ears, but he’s not surprised by Rudd’s satisfaction-level.

“Given the fact that it’s so deep, and (the) challenging drilling conditions, it’s a perfect application for Boart Longyear—our experience and our equipment—to come in there and do a good job for them,” he said.

Like many shrewd investors, Rudd, 36, knows that his short-term financial pain could pay off in the long run. He’s hoping the deepest water well in Oregon provides for his descendants long after he retires from farming.

The third-generation Kentucky bluegrass seed, peppermint, wheat and alfalfa grower said three center pivots will be deployed using this well, and he’s hoping that two of them can run at the same time.

“I’m a fairly young guy, interest rates are low, got a daughter who I’d like to see … be financially stable from the farm, whether she’s farming or leasing it out. Putting this well here, if there’s water there (and) there is, she’ll be set for the rest of her life,” Rudd said of his daughter, Brea. “That’s the whole point: provide for the next generation. You may not ever see interest rates this low again. And as crazy as the state is to put the moratorium on the alluvial aquifer, who knows when they’re going to put an end to the basalt aquifer wells. I really am pretty comfortable about the whole decision.”

National Driller Editor Jeremy Verdusco contributed to this report. Managing Editor Douglas D. Fisher can be reached at