Jason Mueller is a drill operator at Geothermal Services Corp., located in West Harrison, Ind. The company serves Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, specializing in all aspects of geothermal heating and cooling. Mueller, who’s been with the company for 10 years, is involved with designing loops, installing them and servicing them. Geothermal Services Corp. uses a residential-sized drilling rig to get into tight areas without damaging landscaping or driveways. The company uses “wet drilling” as its standard because it reduces dust. Grouting the entire borehole is also something the business takes seriously, first because it is code, but also because it increases efficiency and helps prevent groundwater contamination.
Mueller didn’t always want to be a geothermal driller. He says before he got started as one, geothermal wasn’t popular in the area and there wasn’t much literature on it. He started as a sheet metal apprentice and ended up in HVAC. When his company purchased a drilling rig, they asked him to run it and that’s when his drilling career began. Two of the biggest challenges Mueller says he faces are keeping the mess that drilling causes to a minimum and not knowing what is underground before drilling begins. His advice for those thinking about joining the drilling industry is, “Don’t be afraid to work hard and remember, a little mud won’t hurt you.”
Q. What do you do and what keeps you coming back every day?
A. I operate a SIMCO 2800, which is a compact hydraulic top-head drive drill rig. It has a 2-by-3 centrifugal mud pump with PTO power. The drill is capable of air drilling as well. My duties on a typical day would be selecting the best location for loop field, drilling holes at specified depth, setting geo loops and grouting boreholes. We do trench work from foundation to loop field, pipe fusion to manifold, pressure testing system, backfill and cleanup. What keeps me coming back every day is that I like what I do and love working outdoors.
Q. What does a typical workday involve?
A. Making sure the required maintenance is ready for the day and that the rig is safe and ready to drill. On certain days drilling can be easy to do if I’m using a PDQ bit and drilling in shale. My biggest obstacle is keeping my area clean. Other days can be more difficult; for example, when we are using roller cone bits in sand and gravel. If we are dealing with sand and gravel then the day consists of mixing products in my mud pan constantly on the back end of the drill, working the mast. Watching the drilling process, keeping a close eye on any changes. When finished drilling a borehole, we set the loop, break down the drill, move up and repeat again and again.
Q. What does it take to succeed at what you do?
A. Success in drilling comes down to just a few things. Making sure your geo loops reach the bottom of the hole, proper grouting and making sure there are no leaks. Success also comes when making the customer happy.
Q. What do you wish you knew when you started?
A. What I know now. It takes time and different drilling situations to figure out the best method for drilling that particular hole. Ten years and I’m still learning as every geo job is different. No job is the same.
Q. What tool can you not imagine working without?
A. Proper drill bits and the right drilling product are essential. But the best tool in drilling is good help. Having someone you work with that knows what they are doing, knows what you need done next without asking, makes everything run much more smoothly. In my case my brother is my co-worker, Jordan.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. Have patience. Let the drill do the work for you, meaning rushing down the hole or pushing the drill too fast may lead to problems. Let the bit and the rig build your wall so you can successfully install your loop.
Q. How would you describe the present state of the industry?
A. The industry is doing well. I have been drilling for years now, one job after the next, whether it is residential or commercial. Geothermal seems and should be the future of HVAC. It does cost more to have drilling and geothermal installed, but in my experience people are willing to spend money to save money.