Usually the regulator does the talking and the contractor listens.
A central Illinois drilling contractor is being given the chance to switch it up for a few hours and “take charge,” if you will, of the very sanitarians who typically regulate him.
Kickapoo Drilling Company, based in Downs, Ill., hosted the first ever training session for Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) sanitarians on geothermal closed loop wells Sep. 16.
“The training is the first opportunity for many local health agencies to receive education on how these systems are installed and what key safety and construction issues should be evaluated,” says Joe Mitchell, IDPH division of environmental health services section chief.
The education initiative aims to give IDPH staff a sound understanding of how closed loop wells function before Dec. 1, 2014, when they will be required to permit and inspect the systems.
Kickapoo Drilling is using its jobsite at Pleasant Plains High School to demonstrate closed loop well installation. Jim Layten, company owner/president and Illinois Association of Groundwater Professionals (IAGP) board member, has worked closely with the IDPH to organize the training. He plans to take the lead.
“Basically the agenda right now is observing a borehole being drilled, pressure testing of the loop and observe loop installation, observe grouting of the borehole, and then we’re going to get into details of grout mixtures and how that can be handled differently,” Layten says. “Then we’ll get into question and answer if they have questions.”
The second phase project involves using a Versa-Drill to install 60 boreholes 300 feet deep with 1-inch loops. Layten expected the session to last 3 to 4 hours.
“I’m very happy and supportive of Kickapoo Drilling for taking the time to educated sanitarians and anyone else who is looking into this industry because we’re only as good as the education that’s out there,” says Nicole Haas, IAGP executive director.
Before Public Act 97-0363 went into effect Aug. 15, 2011; regulation of the closed loop industry didn’t exist in Illinois. Haas says the association spent at least seven years before that pushing for regulation through lobbying efforts, public relations and education.
The statute provides minimum standards for the installation of geothermal closed loop systems in Illinois and requires statewide registration of contractors performing these installations. Enforcement for non-compliance will begin after Dec. 1, 2014.
Existing closed loop geothermal systems and horizontal closed loop systems that don’t require grouting aren’t subject to the regulations.
Haas says the legislation is necessary because, if installed improperly, closed loop wells can potentially lead to groundwater contamination. “I think it’s very easy sometimes for people to do their job and then they don’t really take a step back and say, ‘Oh. Well, I’m drilling into the same water table the guy down the road is using for his drinking water.’ ”
To keep closed loop drilling contractors mindful of best practices under new standards, there are training sessions for them too.
Contractors without water well licenses have to take a third party certification course and the state closed loop well exam given by the IDPH to be able to register with the IDPH and perform installations. Contractors with water well licenses only have to take the third party certification course, according to Haas.
The course, offered by IAGP, gives geothermal drillers the scoop on the new standards. “We go over some basics of loop construction; nothing about design or anything like that. It’s more of the Illinois code, the permitting process variances and things like that,” Haas says.
The IDPH administrative rules surrounding geothermal closed loop wells were intentionally designed to mirror water well regulation practices. As with water well permits, closed loop permit applications will have to be submitted to local health departments for approval.
Layten says the new legislation is nothing for a contractor with his experience to stress about. “Because we’re also water well contractors we’ve been working with sanitarians close to 20 years now on the water well side, so going through the permitting process and working with sanitarians won’t be any different for us.”
As for drillers new to the geothermal business, he says it’s nothing more than a fresh experience.
The new regulations ultimately make the Illinois closed loop geothermal industry more marketable, according to Haas, who says state recognition brings a higher level of expertise.
"I think it gives a them a sense of professionalsim that, 'Hey. We are now a recognized industry by our state and we are professional in this particular resource.' ... I hope contractors overall take advantage of that."
Another plus, Haas says, is that the standards don’t just positively affect closed loop drillers.
“Of course we want to protect the groundwater and so do our members and other well contractors because that’s their livelihood. If anything would happen that groundwater would be contaminated because of anything, including a geothermal system, then that threatens all of us, not only from our drinking water perspective but also the well industry.”
One of the IDPH’s biggest challenges moving forward, according to Mitchell, is getting the word out about the new requirements. Although Illinois local health departments generally have close relationships with water well contractors, locating closed loop contractors has been difficult for local health departments.
In the meantime, the IDPH has plans to partner with other closed loop contractors to offer more sanitarian training at several locations across the state. Additional training for October 2014 is being developed by the International Union of Operating Engineers in Wilmington, Ill.
From a geothermal closed loop and water well driller’s perspective, Layten says the combination of new legislation, regulation and training will be good for his home state.
“Everybody’s going to be playing by the same rules now. So, in that sense, this should be good for all.”
Mitchell seconds that.
“Ultimately, the training of local inspectors on key system concepts will help us move closer to achieving consistent application of the rules across Illinois.”
Valerie King is associate editor of National Driller.