As I prepared to write this column I got a call from an industry friend whom you will know or know of. This fellow is Howard “Porky” Cutter of Virginia Beach, Va. Porky and I had a nice chat and he said he wanted my confirmation of the answer to a question about spudder-type rigs. The question was, “Why are some Bucyrus-Erie rigs given a W designation, such as 1-W, 20-W and 22-W, while other rigs in the Bucyrus-Erie line have an L designation, such as 60-L (not the largest rig but it has the highest model number), 28-L, 36-L and 48-L?”

Now, I happen to have the answer for Porky stored in my head and it is really quite simple. The W designation is for a water well drill and the L designation is for an oil well rig. Why an oil well rig is not designated with an O is something I don’t know, and probably the folks at BE that made this decision have gone to their reward. Not incidentally, you can still buy a brand new BE style machine (in certain models) as manufactured by Buckeye Drill in Ohio. Now you readers have a bit of trivia that, along with $1.95, will get you a coffee at the local shop.

A few weeks ago I attended a mini-convention held at a supply house in Lansing, Mich. Sometimes these are called dealer days and you may or may not have them wherever it is you work. Typically a wholesaler, sometimes called a supply house, will bring in representatives of the companies whose products they sell. Each company will have a table top-type booth and sometimes offer special prices on their products. These include pump companies, pipe manufacturers, screen manufacturers, tank manufacturers, suppliers of accessories such as valves, gauges and the like. A lunch is always served and there are usually drawings for gifts that range from something small but handy to have, to major items like televisions or grills. Lately I have been pretty lucky in these drawings, although at my age I’m not sure I need much more “stuff.”

At this most recent dealer day I had a long and worthwhile conversation with a fellow industry professional. I forgot to mention that in addition to the lunch, prizes and special prices, these events offer a chance to talk with our colleagues in our industry in a relaxed and fun setting. Now the individual that I talked with is indeed a professional who happens to be a sanitarian employed by our Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for many years. No this fellow probably can’t set up a rig and drill a well, but he is a registered sanitarian and I consider him an authority on water wells and pumps — and a friend.

My friend said he enjoyed my columns on well pits but felt I had missed a major hazard in connection with them, that being safety. We agreed that well pits are a continuing hazard to the safety of drinking water supplies and we talked a little about this. He did send me a full page of thoughts on the safety issue and what follows are some of the highlights from that communication.

Something I did not touch on is the fact that many well pits have an unsafe atmosphere. The air in them can contain dangerous gases; methane, hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide come to mind. Remember any closed space does not have to contain poisonous gases to be dangerous but these gases need merely displace oxygen to be very hazardous to health up to and including death. My friend urged me to make a strong recommendation to drillers and service men to observe Confined Space Entry Precautions any time they enter a well pit — never, never, never enter a pit alone. Other dangerous atmospheres can contain fumes not listed above and the potential for explosions. He said that Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) policy prohibits any entry to any well pit by DEQ field people or representatives of our local health departments. I must agree this is a good policy.

In our continuing discussion we also talked about inadequate access openings, rotten ladders — which I mentioned in my earlier article — and folks falling through the roof or the floor. These roofs and floors are often weak when new and are further weakened by age and moisture. Some years ago while maneuvering a drill rig in a customer’s yard, I managed to back over the wooden top of a well pit that was covered with a small bit of dirt. Of course my rig went right to the frame against the ground and we had quite some fun getting it back up on all six wheels.

I think the worst well pit story I ever heard happened in my area about 50 years ago. A handyman had decided to acidize the screen in a well terminated in a pit. He got acid down into the screen and, to improve its effectiveness, sealed the top of the casing with a so called sanitary well seal. He left the job allowing the acid to do its work and came back about 24 hours later. He went down into the pit alone and supposedly with no one else nearby, loosened the well seal and pressure within the casing blew it right into his face. This, like a punch from a boxer, knocked the poor fellow out, and he laid on the pit bottom breathing hydrogen sulfide fumes and was later found dead — certainly a tragic occurrence.

Now you may be asking why I write this as well pits are no longer allowed in many areas. That is true for new wells but we still have many, many old wells that end in a pit. My advice to you readers is to be extremely careful anytime you or your employees are working near a well pit and avoid them at all cost if this is possible. I would like to thank my friend who will be known only as “Jim” for bringing this important omission to my attention. As Jim said, “If we save only one life with this article our efforts were worthwhile.”

It is slowly but surely getting to be spring in Michigan in April. Our grass is very, very slowly turning green and is not yet nearly long enough to mow. Some days are quite pleasant for working in a short sleeved shirt and on others you need a jacket and/or a rain coat. One last thought: Watch those well pits, because they are hazardous to human life as well as the water that humans drink.


For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/schmitt.