Teaching Geotechnical Drilling Crews in Slovakia
OK, all y’all air drillers just thumb on over to Porky’s column or something. This is for mud drillers. On second thought, I know a lot of you air guys drill about three mud wells a year, and consider it a hassle to rig up mud. So, maybe something I say will be interesting …
Since Jeremy commanded, oops, requested that we contribute something about geotechnical drilling this month, I thought I’d relate an experience I had in Slovakia a few years ago. I had built a mud system for a customer there, and when the machine arrived, he asked me to go over and show his crew how to run it.
Since Slovakia doesn’t have an international airport, I flew into Vienna, Austria, and was picked up there for the drive to the rig. It was only a few miles to the border and, as we approached, I started to get out my passport for the crossing. My host waived me off and said, now that we are the European Union, we don’t need that. Sure enough, when we got to the border, I could see where the crossing used to be, but the gates were gone and the buildings empty. We sailed through at 70 kph … kinda like Laredo, Texas, lately. We crossed the Danube River into Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia since the “Velvet Divorce” with the Czech Republic. Bratislava is a beautiful and historic city that dates back to the Roman times. Most of the downtown buildings are hundreds of years old and were built before building codes, but are still standing! Imagine that.
We eventually got to the rig, in the Tatra Mountains in northeast Slovakia. Beautiful area, reminds me of the Smoky Mountains. They had a small, but powerful, track-mounted rig, almost new and in perfect condition. The drilling project called for five holes in each location. The first was vertical and the other four were around the first at 45-degree angles. Rig moves were quick. The crew was bigger than we would run here, about 12 men, each with his own job. The owner explained to me that it was a holdover from the old communist days when everyone had a job. “We pretended to work, and they pretended to pay us,” he told me. “Now they are all unionized, so thinning the dead wood is difficult.”
The drilling project involved delineating a uranium deposit in very hard granite. They started with 4-inch pipe and wireline cored until the pipe stuck. Then they went inside with 3-inch pipe to finish the holes at 1,000 meters. I was amazed that that little rig could handle it. After each meter of drilling, they went inside the pipe with a core-barrel retriever and pulled the core. As soon as it was out, they pumped down another barrel and resumed drilling. Each core was extruded and handed over to a small group of geologists. Paperwork and signatures were done on every core. The geologists were mostly young student interns. They guarded “their” cores jealously. They accumulated a huge pile of cores, all laid out in order, and chastised anyone who got too close. Possessive bunch. Their geological examination seemed to involve walking along with a Geiger counter, and noting the depth at which it showed radioactivity. Their jealousy came back to bite them, though, when the job was over. When we demobilized the rig back down the mountain, the “kids,” as we came to call them, asked if we were going to help them bring their cores down. Nope, you said they’re yours, you do it! It was probably only about 50,000 pounds of granite cores, so I’m sure the young students got in good shape that summer. A little cooperation would have gone a long way.
Our quarters were in a wing of a beautiful mountain resort. The customer had rented the wing for the duration of the job. During the job, some environmental (emphasis on “mental”) group found out that we were drilling for the dreaded uranium and started picketing the place. The owner of the resort told us we would have to leave because the protesters were running his customers off. My employer had the perfect response. He bought the place, put up a huge wrought iron fence and hired some big, ugly Ukrainian guards with rules of engagement that were none too gentle. Problem solved.
The resort had a great kitchen and the food was first class. One night we had a going away party for one of the hands who was going to Spain to work on another project. After dinner, the vodka flowed, toasts were made and the problems of the world were solved. Eventually, we got around to politics. Our mud company was Russian, and so was the mud engineer. He made the statement that the Soviet Union would have succeeded if they had just had a little more time! I knew that my boss had a fiery temper, because I had seen him go off on the crew a time or two, but I hadn’t seen anything yet. At this comment, fire shot out of his eyes and his jet black hair stood straight up! He tore into that poor mud engineer in at least five or six languages, using, from what I could tell, the choicest parts of each. What I heard in English was, “You had 70 years, and killed 70 million people, what more do you want?” The next day at the rig, we had a French mud engineer and French mud. A good time was had by all.
My time in Slovakia was enjoyable and educational. We found a pretty good deposit of uranium. The Slovaks don’t have any nuclear power plants so the ore was all for export. The interesting part was, they would not sell it to any country that had a nuclear bomb. Their customers were places like Brazil and Argentina, and others that would only use it for peaceful purposes. There is much more to this story, but, as usual, this is a family publication. Collar me at a trade show, I’ll tell ya more.
For more Wayne Nash columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/wayne.