Be the Hero of the Drilling Jobsite, Not the Villain
I fell in love with drilling at an early age because of the size, power and capabilities of a drilling rig. Six-year-old Brock believed drill rigs had superpowers like his favorite comic book characters. Thirty-two years and many drilling projects around the world later, I know that drill rigs do have superpowers.
The late, great Stan Lee (1922-2018), who co-created the Marvel superhero universe, introduced this quote during his decades of influence at Marvel Comics: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Those words should be stamped across the top of every drill rig control panel. A driller should be required to read them every time they take control. A great driller must respect the power of a drill rig and the damage it is capable of doing. It is the driller’s responsibility to utilize the rig, tooling and drilling method effectively, without destroying the borehole and surrounding geology. Again, “With great power comes great responsibility” — and the more powerful the rig, the more often these superpowers are misused.
As a driller’s helper, I could not wait to have the chance to run the controls on the rig. I watched my father and other drillers use different techniques to complete a borehole, and I always thought they were too slow. When the day came to drill my first hole alone, I throttled up the rig and started drilling. I pushed my first rod in less than two minutes. As I broke the connection to add my next rod, mud and drill solids gushed out on the table. All I could think was, “No problem; it’s just an 85-foot well.”
Thirty-three minutes later, I was at total depth and ready to trip rods and install the product. I got less than 30 foot of casing and 5 foot of screen in the hole before I had to start pushing with the top head. As I pushed with 40,000 pounds, the casing and screen slowly moved to 50 feet before I felt and heard a crunch. That day, I was the villain. The hero was that stainless-steel wire-wrapped screen that made it as far as it did despite having me at the controls.
That day, I learned that the speed and power of a rig could not defy downhole physics. However, 18-year-old Brock believed he needed more pump, thicker mud and a helper who wanted to break the pit shoveling record for west Michigan.
In the following years, I learned to slow down and utilize the equipment at hand. At least, that’s what I told my father. In the back of my head, I wanted to dig big earthen pits and use an auxiliary mud pump that could pump faster than I could drill. These options were absurd for a drilling company that rarely drilled deeper than 200 feet. However, until I could have the rig and equipment layout desired, I needed to complete wells that produced. Furthermore, I did not want to bankrupt the company and that required drilling consistently.
From the perspective of a driller in the field every day, it is easy to sit in a classroom and call BS on a speaker. I believe this reaction is rooted in a driller’s ego. A driller is required to have an ego to control and implement a rig’s superpowers. The key is to understand that we have one, and figure out how to manage it.
Think about when the young superhero goes off to fight the monster alone and must be saved. It’s the ego driving that decision-making. I don’t know how many times I remember John Christ and other industry professionals trying to teach me valuable lessons about drilling, and all I could think was, “No, Brock SMASH! Works better.” Ego is not what completes boreholes. What does is fully understanding the six core fundamentals of drilling, and how science and physics impact those fundamentals. Next, you have to implement new techniques and advice from experts teaching classes. Today as a drill trainer, I can see the ego in the eyes of drillers when I start a class. Because of that, I enjoy incorporating the lessons of too much ego into my training classes. As drillers, when we let go of our ego and contribute to the class, everyone benefits.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR SUPERPOWERS
In my “Think Like A Driller” webinar, I discuss the six core fundamentals to borehole completion:
- The cutting action of the soil
- The method of cuttings removal
- Hole stabilization
- Minimizing the impact to surrounding geology and the environment
- The installation or extraction of product
- And, above all else, protection of the environment.
If we think of drilling a borehole like the start of a battle, the cutting action of the soil is where it begins. The tooling used will either complement the rig’s capabilities or slow the performance. Job success depends on choosing a bit or hammer that will create manageable drill cuttings while forming a gauge borehole. If my rig’s superpower is big air and I am drilling competent rock, the best weapon of choice is a hammer. However, if I am in a sandy area with a high water table, a more suitable choice is mud rotary combined with a tricone bit. We must select the tooling and drilling application that meets the density and fragility of the soil, while also creating drill solids that are between one-half inches and 1 inch in diameter.
The abuse of our tooling’s cutting action and pumping power will result in poor hole stabilization. Just like my first attempt at drilling alone, I did not consider the impact I was having by drilling fast. Hole stabilization starts by knowing the cubic feet of material and how much time is required for cuttings to be moved from the bottom of the hole to surface. A 10-inch bit will create, at a minimum, 10.9 cubic feet of material for every 20-foot rod. If the drilling penetration rate exceeds the rate of cuttings removal, two situations arise. First, the drill solids can plug the bit and halt the drilling process. Second, if the downhole pressure from the fluid and solids density load becomes greater than what the geologic formation can handle, it will cause the hole to destabilize. The drilling engineer terminology is equivalent circulating density (ECD), which is the combination of mud weight and the annular pressure exerted downhole. When the ECD exceeds what the formation can handle, it causes a fracture or loss of return. Understanding the geologic fracture gradient is essential to completing the hole and minimizing impact to the surrounding geology.
THE BEST HEROES COMBINE POWER WITH SCIENCE, ENGINEERING
Science and engineered solutions are vital to winning the battle on difficult boreholes. My favorite comics incorporate the superheroes’ powers with the latest technology and information, leading to their success over the villain at hand. The driller who can utilize reverse circulation on a large-diameter hole in a fragile formation will win over another trying to use straight mud or air. Utilizing tooling that minimizes impact to the surrounding formation will increase hole stability and drilling efficiency. A super driller will know their downhole dynamics and numbers. They will monitor their rig display, watching for changes that could clue them into possible downhole issues. Finally, a super driller will work with other experts to implement engineered collaborative solutions that will change the outcome from failure to success.
To register for the “Think Like A Driller” webinar, click here!
Choosing the right drilling method for a specific geology is key to being the hero or villain. When the drilling methods create a negative impact beyond the borehole, causing loss of returns or borehole collapse, or negatively impacting a freshwater source, a driller starts down the road of becoming a villain. It’s never too late, though, for a driller to heroically respect the drilling process and appropriately utilize the superpowers of the drill. A hero is responsible for protecting his or her community. It’s no different for a super driller, who does everything possible to protect groundwater and the environment.