You Know the Drill: A Driller's Journey
Sometimes in life, our journey takes us to unexpected places. And if we’re lucky, it’s something that speaks to our soul and sparks a new passion.
Alex Unverzagt, a senior well installer at Envirocore in Ohio, is celebrating his sixth year with the company. However, his journey into the drilling industry didn’t start until he was in high school.
“A very good friend’s dad owned a water well drilling company, and in addition [to drilling,] they pulled, repaired, and did maintenance on high-yield commercial well pumps,” he says. “One day, we had to swing by their shop to grab something, and as soon as I saw the rigs, trucks, tooling and everything else you would expect to see at a typical company’s shop, I was fascinated with anything to do with drilling.”
Shortly after, he started school at Columbus State Community College, studying environmental science, with plans of transferring to Ohio State to major in environmental engineering. However, he realized that he was heading in a direction that wasn’t for him, so he left college after a year-and-a-half.
A few months later, he ran into an old friend, under whom he had served an internship at an environmental consulting firm.
“It was during this conversation that he referred me to Joe Fleck, the owner and president of Envirocore,” Unverzagt says. “[He] put in a very good word about me and my work ethic with Joe, and Joe took this in good faith and offered me a job. I fully believe that I owe my career to those two guys.”
Envirocore was started in 2002 out of Joe Fleck’s house with one truck-mounted Geoprobe rig. Since then, it has grown to a company with more than 30 employees, 14 rigs (both direct push and hollow stem), and two shops. Envirocore provides a variety of both environmental and geotechnical services including direct push soil borings, SPT borings, monitoring well installation, rock coring, well abandonments, soil injections and more.
And, as National Driller found out, Unverzagt is more than happy to do any and all of it.
Q. What do you do, and what keeps you coming back every day?
A. I am a senior well installer by title, but that hardly scratches the surface of what I do. I play a more unusual role than most operators. While a large portion of my workload consists of pulling levers and turning and burning on a drill rig, I also act as the primary liaison between our field staff and our office staff. When I am not out in the field, I can often be found coordinating field staff and equipment for current and upcoming projects, or helping put a quote together for a client.
What keeps me coming back every day is, without a doubt, the people I work with. Envirocore has a level of camaraderie that is second to none. Everybody looks out for each other, both on and off the clock. If anybody needs help with anything on the weekend, there is no shortage of people willing to lend a hand. If nobody needs help with anything, there will still more than likely be a group getting together to hang out. My coworkers are like family to me, and I think that’s pretty rare to find in a company.
Q. What does a typical workday involve?
A. A workday typically involves me getting started at work most days by 6:30 a.m. If I am working with a client onsite, my first stop is usually a coffee shop to get coffee for everybody on site, because a little coffee marketing goes a long way. Before any drilling is started, I always have a health and safety briefing and discuss any tasks being performed to ensure everything is done properly the first time.
Once drilling starts, it’s business as usual; however, I find it important to maintain an open line of communication with onsite personnel. Maintaining strong communication makes moving from task to task so much more seamless, especially when there are multiple contractors on a small site all trying to work around each other. Most days, I try to wrap up out in the field by 6 p.m., because I know there is a strong chance that before the night is over, I will find myself helping get a bid prepared or submitting work reports so we can get invoices out.
Q. What does it take to succeed in what you do?
A. For an individual, I would have to say a strong work ethic is one of the biggest keys to success in this industry. I think if you asked most drillers when the last time their week stopped at 40 hours, they would just laugh, and that is just the nature of the work. Secondly, I believe that a positive mental attitude is what takes people from good employees to great employees. There are far too many challenges to have room for self-doubt in this industry. You have to have confidence. A person’s attitude when things start to get difficult speaks volumes for who they are and where they are going.
Q. What do you wish you knew when you started?
A. I wish I knew that sometimes you have to tell people “no.” When I was new to drilling, I found I would just say yes to anything that a client wanted without question. Knowing what I know now, I understand that there will be times where we have to tell clients no due to equipment capabilities or a safety concern. Clients often are dependent on our expertise in what we do, and a large part of that is knowing when to say no.
Q. What tool can you not imagine working without?
A. Next to cell phones and computers, which seem to have been covered pretty extensively previously in this column, I honestly have to say a well-engineered breakout table. When I started out, I did not have a breakout table on the rig I was operating, just two 4-foot long pipe wrenches. I am pretty sure there were times that it would take longer to break down a tool string than it did to drill the well. I couldn’t imagine going back to drilling without one.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. One of the first drillers I ever worked with told me that I should learn something new from every person I work with. It is a really simple piece of advice, but I think this advice has proven itself to be true time and time again. There is nothing wrong with learning something new, and you never know when that knowledge might come in handy.
Q. How would you describe the present state of the industry?
A. I find the state of the industry to be really exciting right now. First of all, there seems to be plenty of work for everybody. The economy is growing at a pretty steady rate, so companies are building right now, which keeps us very busy on the geotechnical end. As long as water is our most precious resource, I don’t really see the environmental side of our business slowing down anytime soon either. Secondly, it seems as if the industry is starting to really transition to a younger generation, and I am very excited to see how the new generation takes the industry around the next bend in the road. New perspective breeds innovation in any industry.