Chapter 3 of a Really, Really Difficult Drilling Job
In the first two columns I wrote about this job, we attempted to spud down a 4-inch well on a piece of property where a customer was going to move his house. We locked up our casing at about 130 feet, having drilled through much fine sand. We broke this casing off below grade in an attempt to pull it and decided to try to use a mud rotary to complete a well. We contacted a firm from some distance away that had a good table-drive mud rotary rig. They proceeded to run a hole down rather deep — I don’t remember the exact footage but it was more than 130 feet. When they attempted to set 4-inch casing in this hole, it stopped dead right about where our casing had stopped.
At our request, they then brought in a spudder they owned, a heavy machine that was brand new and quite a bit bigger than the machine we used. They drove the casing a few feet and were getting nowhere fast, at which point they said we would have to forget a sand and gravel well and go to the bedrock. We were unable to get them to understand that the bedrock in our county is, by and large, not an aquifer. They wanted to run 3-inch steel pipe in the 4-inch casing down to rock. They provided the steel pipe and we provided the 3-inch turned couplings that would go inside the 4-inch casing that was locked up. This is where Chapter 3 begins.
The next day, our friends showed up with a whole bunch of 3-inch pipe and proceeded to mix up drilling mud that you could darn near stand on. They drilled below the 4-inch locked-up pipe down to about 300 feet. At this depth they encountered the bedrock and the cuttings looked like they were drilling in dried out chewing gum. They said they would set the 3-inch down that deep, drill into the rock and get us our water well. The landowner, my father and I seriously doubted that this was going to happen, as the cuttings did not look “good,” but we let them try anyhow as it was at this time kind of their job. They attached the turned couplings to the 3-inch casing and began to run it into the hole. When the bottom of this casing got about 6 feet below that of the locked-up 4-inch casing, it stopped dead.
At this point, they shut the engine of their rig off and told us they were all done, that it was impossible to drill a well in this geology and they were going back home. I think these fellows gave it their best shot but had never encountered these types of conditions, which were mostly a bedrock area with a good sandstone aquifer — and difficult compared to their area. The owner, my dad, the other crew and I went under a shade tree, where we tried to convince them to continue. They did not want any of this. In a last desperate attempt to get them to continue, the owner inquired if they were worried about their reputation. They responded that their reputation was intact and a good one and in their opinion nobody but nobody could make a water well on this property. Finally, I asked if we agreed on a dry hole price and we did. I told them if they wanted to go, good luck, be on your way and send your bill.
They said they would pull the 3-inch casing, remove the turned couplings and leave them with us, but that they would not pull the 4-inch, which was our casing. I told them if that is the way it was, that was the way it was, and to get on with it. Readers, you never saw a crew tear down two rigs, a rotary and a spudder and hit the road as fast as these guys did. I repeat: I hold them in no ill will and did not at that time. They were just in unfamiliar territory. After they had vacated the property, we talked with the landowner, who I think I have said was a reasonable and intelligent man. He asked what our next plan was, and my dad and I said we would be back with our spudder and take another shot at this job. The word had gotten around that we were having a lot of difficulty, and I ran into a fellow driller at a supply house who said he had a spudder that could finish the job. I said, “Great! When do you want to start?” He said he had about six months’ work with that rig and he could get to it at that time. My comment to him was, “Yeah, sure.”
At this time the landowner, my dad or I wondered if we should not seek some advice on the geology of this site. We got a professor of geology from the University of Michigan to come to the site and explained all the problems we had had. He said that he could give us no quick and easy answers as to where to find water in this glacial drift, but if we saw anything at all in a sample that looked like it would yield water to try it out.
A few days later, we came back to the site with our spudder and proceeded to pull the 4-inch casing our rotary driller friends had set. By this time, the house that was to be moved to the site had indeed been moved, and kind of sat there looking at us ominously waiting for a water supply. We chose a new spot about 150 feet from where we had all the trouble in our first attempt and started drilling, finding pretty much the same fine sand formations. However, at a depth of about 125 feet, the sands looked to us like they were a bit coarser than we had encountered on hole number one. We did a sieve analysis of these sands, selected the most coarse screen we could use and set a longer than usual length of it into this formation.
Much to our surprise, we had gotten a well with plenty of capacity to serve this house. As we pumped the well with our rig, my dad suggested that I go to where the landowner was now living and give him the news. I went there, walked up to him and told him it was looking good. To my surprise, the man began to cry. He and his wife came to the jobsite where we were still test pumping the well and he hugged my dad and told him that he never lost faith that we would get water for him. We finished the well with a pitless adapter and submersible pump and this long, long very difficult job had come to a successful end. We sent our customer a bill and he promptly returned a check in an amount several hundred dollars more than we had billed him. He included a note that he said he understood that when we hired the rotary fellows we would serve as his consultant so he had included what he considered a fair consultants’ fee, as we had not done so on the regular bill.
I would say in hindsight that the lesson to be learned on this job was that when drilling in fine sands, by whatever method, don’t discount any formation that has any possibility of providing an adequate well. I am aware that in 2017 rotary drillers using gravel pack can make successful wells in formations that we would never have dreamed of being able to use years ago. Despite what some think, drilling technology has really improved in the 50 years since this job was done. A second lesson would be that, when things go badly, you’ve got to just keep at it, keep calm and thank God if you have an understanding customer.
I am not including my monthly weather report except to say it has been a nice warm fall here in Michigan and hope you had a good 2017.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/schmitt.