Porky's Hole Thoughts: My Downhole Disaster Story
June 1, 2006
I can say that I never lost a foot of drill stem or tools in the hole over my years of drilling. Many times, however, I should have left the tools in the hole due to the time, dollars and jobs lost recovering the tools.
My most memorable story of a personal “downhole disaster” was when I was about 20 years old: My dad (Porky Senior) and myself were contracted to drive our Mayhew 600 from Chanute, Kan., to Worthington, Minn., to drill a wildcat oil well. For those who don't know, a wildcat well is an exploratory well to find oil.
It was some 500 miles from Chanute to Worthington. Our Mayhew 600 rig was mounted on a 1962 Ford F-600 with a big six-cylinder 300-cu/in. engine with loose rods and main bearings. Dad wouldn't let me drive it because he knew I would blow the engine. He retarded the engine timing so it wouldn't knock and had very little power. He said we would install new rods and bearings when we arrived in Worthington.
I was following the rig in my 1958 Ford pickup F-100, pulling a four-wheel farm trailer with all the drill stem, surface casing, floor sills and boards.
Going downhill, dad would put the rig in neutral and coast; he would engage the engine going up a hill and on level ground. We never got above 30 mph. It took us almost four days to get there. A fellow riding a bicycle kept up with us the whole trip.
Once we arrived, it was too cold to overhaul the rig/truck engine. Dad said that we'd drill the well and then overhaul the engine before going back to Kansas. It didn't happen - we drove to Minnesota, drilled the well, drove all the way back to Chanute and then overhauled the engine in our shop. There was no serious damage to the engine.
Our drilling near Worthington was going fine and the whole community was watching the drilling. We had to make a rope fence around the drill to keep onlookers back.
Each day before shutting down, we would pull the drill stem back to a point where we felt reasonably comfortable that it wouldn't get stuck. Not a wise decision! We were drilling at about 500 feet when it was time to shut down for the evening. We pulled out of the hole to 300 feet where the hole was clear the day before. As I said, not a wise decision.
When starting up the next day, we immediately found we were stuck in the hole. We had to lower the jacks and let air out of the rear tires to be able to remove the slips from the rotary table. Once this was accomplished, we could attempt to pull, push and turn the drill stem. No luck! We had a trickle of circulation with 800 psi of mud pump pressure. Not good! We worked for several hours with no success.
Dad had advised our client - the exploration contractors - to get us about 150 gallons of old engine oil and mix it with 150 gallons of diesel and we could spot it in the well - pump it down inside the drill stem until we were sure it was in the annulus - then shut down and wait.
The clients weren't confident this would work, nor was I. Dad went to the pickup, started the engine, turned on the heater and went to sleep. Of course, it was dead of winter in Minnesota and cold. I kept working with pulling, pushing, turning and running to the pickup to get warm.
Finally, the clients went into town, got used motor oil from this station and that, added 150 gallons of diesel and, by the time they had returned, the oil and diesel had mixed. We proceeded to pump it down the drill stem. We chased the oil/diesel with enough water to circulate the oil to the annulus and then stopped pumping. Dad said give the drilling line some slack and shut everything down.
Dad and I went back to the pickup. He said it would come loose in a few hours and he went to sleep. I watched the drill line with a keen eye for a time. I couldn't sleep. This was the entire drill stem we had anywhere.
About 5 p.m., dad woke up and said, “Let's see if it's loose; if it isn't, it will be loose by morning.” Yeah, right! We got to the rig and the drilling line was tight - the drill stem was loose - we came out of the hole that evening and every evening until we drilled to 740 feet and the clients determined it a dry hole. We went home with all our drilling tools and with lots of publicity. We made headlines in the Worthington newspaper for days.
WARNING: Don't attempt this method today, even though all the oil/diesel floats to the top and won't harm the aquifers or soils. The EPA would be on you in a minute if it was advised.
When the tools become lost or stuck, you first must decide if they are worth recovering and how much time you should invest in the recovery. As my friend Wayne probably would say, “There's a time to hold and a time to fold.” How many jobs will you lose trying to recover lost or stuck tools?
Some time back, I had a friend call me for help getting his tools unstuck. I asked him how long had he been stuck? He advised me, “About two weeks.” I asked him why he had waited so long to call me! He said that he just thought he could get it out on his own. After asking him a few questions and talking with some of the other Green Jackets, he had the tools out of the hole the next day.
I had a person call me from the United Arab Emirates with drilling tools stuck in the hole. He also had been trying for two weeks to get them loose on his own. My first question was, “How deep are you stuck?” His answer: “25 feet.” I immediately responded, “Did you think of trying a shovel.” Not funny! The person had a rental company that was considering renting the small Hydro-Drill rig to people who wanted to drill their own wells. The customer finally unscrewed from the five 5-foot joints of drill stem and purchased new. In his case, that was the best decision.
Another retired police chief from New York got his tools stuck in the hole with a new DR-100. He was drilling in caving sand with air. Another no-no. This person already had decided well drilling wasn't for him and wanted out of the business. He didn't want to go to the effort of washing over the tools with mud. At that point, I suggested that he pull as hard as he could with his rig and manually turn the drill stem counterclockwise and recover what he could. Pulling hard on the drill stem puts a strain on the upper threads and less strain on the lower threads, which usually makes the drill stem unscrew deep in the hole. He did as instructed and lost only the bit and sub - and then got out of the business. Many people think that if they buy a rig they are well drillers - wrong.
If you are unable to retrieve stuck or lost tools, call a Green Jacket! They probably have had a similar experience or can refer you to a Green Jacket who has - or just call Porky!