How Can Drillers Help Fight the Global Water Crisis?
December is a time for reflection. How did your year turn out? Did you have a safe year? It is that time of year to sit down, take a deep breath and reflect on all that has happened in 2017.
Now I want you to think beyond your business and country to the global water crisis. We are just 25 months away from 2020. What is significant about 2020? We expect the world population to hit 8 billion people. I say “we expect” because, in my 2014 National Driller article “Interns Can Fill Age Gap in Water Well Drilling Industry,” I wrote, “By the year 2020, there will be 7.6 billion people in the world, and our need for water will have never been greater.” I used the most relevant data available in 2014 as the source for that statement, and nearly three years later that data has increased by 400 million people. By the end of 2017, we will have met the original 7.6 billion people goal.
Now think about the water issues we have experienced in the United States in the past three years. Just in the U.S., we have experienced droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, saltwater intrusion and an aging infrastructure built with lead pipes. If a First World country of 325 million people struggles to solve their water issues, how do we expect other less structured countries to solve their problems? Africa and Latin America have stated they are in a water crisis. Both continents have asked for our help, along with assigning their militaries to create water well drilling teams to drill in drought-stricken areas. The U.S. military has water well drilling units in Africa and the Middle East right now. Lack of clean water is a global crisis, and it is only going to grow. My 2018 challenge for you is to get involved. Find your way to make an impact on the global water crisis.
Ways to Make an Impact
It may seem hard to think of a way to make a global impact, but it starts by transferring our knowledge in well completion. We need to promote the “best practices for water well construction” outlined by our state regulations and the National Ground Water Association (NGWA).
As the water crisis grows, it will be common to learn about local church mission groups and local charitable organizations preparing to go drill water wells outside the United States. The first and simplest action a water professional can take is to ask that group, how can I help? Open a discussion about their well construction plan. Ask questions about past experiences and prior drilling issues. Go over the equipment and product checklist. Help them find products and tooling that can increase their ability to be successful.
Find out if they plan to use National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) certified products for well construction and grouting. The use of NSF Standard 60 and 61 products ensures safe and clean drinking water. It would be unfortunate to provide a well in an area in need that, in the end, cannot be used for drinking water. Any product in question can be researched at www.nsf.org. We can make a significant impact by promoting the use of these products not only in the United States but on Third World water projects.
As a licensed well driller providing clean drinking water every day, you are the expert, and you can give insight from your knowledge and experience. I am proud to know many water well drillers that use their vacations to travel to water-stricken countries to offer insight. If you get contacted by a group going to drill internationally, and you cannot find the right answer, reach out to our water well drilling community, state association, local universities, the NGWA or even the guy writing this article. We are here to help and welcome the challenge.
Creating an Impact by Volunteering
I write this to the men and women who volunteer to travel outside of the U.S. to help provide clean drinking water to those in need. Although you may not have the ideal equipment or the right drilling materials, construction of a sanitary drinking water system is always possible. It starts with understanding what needs to be done and finding the best way to get there with the equipment and products at hand. The solution is rarely simple, but with the right amount of time, any well can be completed safely and cleanly. Clean is the key word. Beware of drilling products that were purchased from the oil field or other drilling industries. These products can contaminate a production zone and will be difficult to remove during the development phase. These products will continue to pollute or infect a well long after you are gone. NSF products ensure that the material used will not provide a nutrient source for bacteria, or contain heavy metals and other contaminants.
The drinking water produced will only be as good as the annular seal around the casing. Drilling is a disruptive process and, to be successful, we must remove the seal made of varying geologies created by Mother Nature. Once the casing is installed, we must replace that seal with one that is equal or better. Picture this: Weeks after the well is completed a man walks up to the wellhead, removes the cap and dumps a quart of hazardous waste down the well. A poor annular seal is just like dumping that quart of waste, except there was never a cap. I have been involved in water projects all over the world where the root cause of contamination was a failed annular seal. Sometimes, that failure happens subsurface and allows contaminated aquifers to comingle with clean ones.
These steps will help you create a competent annular seal. First, always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. That means using the correct water volume and water quality. That rule is for both bentonite and cement grouts. Next, you must understand the pumping requirements and limitations of the grout you are placing. Often, annular seals fail because of improper placement. The positive displaced grouting method pumps grout from the bottom of the borehole to the top, displacing drill mud out of the hole and creating a full annular seal. If you want to form a near bulletproof seal, best practice suggests placing a minimum of 10 feet of Wyoming sodium bentonite chips above the production zone or gravel pack. Another 20 feet of Wyoming sodium bentonite chips at the top of the hole will give you double protection.
It is important to consider your geologic subsurface chemistry and how it might affect your annular seal. It is essential to contact your grout manufacturer to discuss the right seal for your location. Sometimes the best annular seal is a mixed column seal of bentonite chips, bentonite slurry and cement. Drilling is a disruptive process, and to drill a gauge hole with minimal impact takes preparation. The team at Baroid IDP would say “a good annular seal happens before the first turn of the bit.”
The global water crisis is real, and it should be thought about daily. My challenge to make an impact may seem ridiculous now, but the crisis is growing, and soon it will be the only topic that matters. Today is your moment; expect questions from family, friends and customers volunteering to drill for water in crisis areas around the world. You have the best knowledge and experience. You can be their resource or point them to the right people. Both options help make an impact.
Have a safe holiday season, merry Christmas and happy New Year.