Water Well Drilling

The nature of water well drilling, when the next guy working with cheaper parts and materials can always undercut your bids, pushed columnist Wayne Nash back to his roots in the oilfields. Source: iStock

As most of you know, I haven’t been very active in the water well industry for a few years. I still have a rig in the yard, but I haven’t drilled for a while. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it; I did. I enjoyed being home with my bride, I enjoyed the work and enjoyed the satisfaction of providing water for folks.

The problem, and I’m sure many of you are familiar with it, is money. When I bid a water system for a man building a new house, he’s never looked at my price and said, “Well, that’s cheap enough, I’ll take two.” He’s also never said, “That’s way too much, I’ll just go without water.” The point is, he is gonna have a well, no matter what it costs. There aren’t any more wells drilled at a discount than there are at a decent margin.

Some drillers I know are afraid they are gonna lose the job to the guy down the road because he would do it cheaper. He will. He’ll use cheaper parts and materials, and shortcut every part of the job. He won’t maintain his rig, he won’t pay his hands much, he probably won’t come back to fix it either because he didn’t make a profit in the first place. Then, when his rig wears out, he’ll wonder how he’s gonna buy a new one. Meanwhile, I lost the job, ‘cause I was just too damn high.

This is the reason I went back to my roots. I grew up in the oilfield and the call was, and is, strong. Plus, I make a decent living working with the most advanced technology there is. Drilling today really is “rocket science”!

For the last few years, I’ve been a fishing tool consultant. When the driller drops his pipe or twists off or sticks it, I recover it. Plus anything else that the average roughneck can manage to drop in the hole …

I’ll give you an example of a job I recently did. The customer called and said that they were stuck at 20,050 feet. They had been working the pipe for 24 hours with no success, and could I come out? I told them we would need to be able to get wireline tools down near the bit to determine exactly where we were stuck and shoot a hole to establish circulation.

The problem was that the hole made a 90 degree curve at 11,300 feet and wireline won’t fall in horizontal pipe. They needed a tool called a “tractor,” which pulls the wireline tools down. These tools are rare and expensive, so they would have to wait to get one. We made arrangements for the tractor and I said I’d be out in a while. I wasn’t in a big hurry because the tractor was 16 hours away anyway, and I couldn’t do much without it. They had already pushed, pulled and turned the pipe as much as it would stand. I was visualizing a four or five day job at that depth. After a leisurely lunch and filling my thermos with coffee, I went to the rig.

When I got there, the company man was asleep. I knew he’d been up for a while, so I didn’t wake him. Instead, I went to the rig floor to talk to the driller and get the “real story.” I introduced myself and asked him the situation. He explained how they got stuck and what they had tried to get it free. He asked me if I had any ideas. While we were having this conversation, I was studying the Pason, a computerized record keeping system on modern rigs that records everything that happens. I started seeing some clues to the problem that everyone else had overlooked.

What I saw was they said the bit was plugged and they had pressured it up to 3500 psi. I looked at the Pason and realized that they had pumped way more mud than it would take to pressure up a plugged bit. The mud was going out the bit and pressuring up the hole, which was plugged much higher in the hole. The mud pressure was holding the plug in place. They could not bleed it off because there was a check valve, called a drill pipe float, in the string preventing backflow. That pressure was trapped and needed to be equalized before the pipe could be freed.

I asked the driller what the company man would let him do. “At this point, just about anything …” Since the bit was off bottom, I had him slack off about 70,000 pounds on the string and close the blowout preventer. Then, I had him pump mud in the annulus between the hole and the drill pipe. We started pumping and when we got to 325 psi, the weight indicator showed a 70,000 gain. The plug had moved! I opened the blowout preventer and told the driller to start turning the pipe. “How many rounds?” he asked. “All of ‘em, ‘til I tell you.” The torque went up pretty high, but then started falling back. “Your bit is free, start pumping!”

About that time, the company man came on the floor and asked what was going on. I told him his pipe was free, start coming out of the hole. He said, “What the H, we’ve been pounding on this pipe for 30 hours!” I said, “You should have called me sooner.”

I’d been at the rig for 20 minutes by that time, so I wrote him an invoice for $2,000, which he was delighted to sign. For you guys worried about losing the job to the guy down the road, that is $100 per minute. I would have made more money on a five day job, but I made a customer that will call me whenever he has a problem. There’s a future in that!

If y’all want to hear more about my fishing jobs in the Northern Rockies, let me know. I have a new adventure every day.

For more Wayne Nash columns, visit www.thedriller.com/wayne.