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Innovations in drilling

Two new angles on drilling in challenging conditions

May 14, 2019  By Colleen Cross

Challenging conditions are par for the course for water-well drillers. While one drilling company is restoring non-functioning and abandoned wells near Milan, Italy, with the help of diesel technology, another is using a new angled drilling technique to get water for desperate farmers in Quebec.

In 2016, when a farmer and livestock producer in Quebec asked for help to save his cattle farm from a lack of well water, Simon Massé came at the problem from a new and unexpected angle – with great results.

Massé, owner of drilling company Groupe Puitbec Inc., based in Victoriaville, Que., offered farmer Jonathan Lampron of Alampco dairy farm in Sainte-Séraphine hope for his livelihood in the form of a drilling technique he calls “maximized oriented drilling.”


Lampron had spent $50,000 to install a half-dozen wells with very little yield and was thinking of moving his herd of 130 head of cattle because of the lack of water, Le Journal de Montreal reported in September 2018.

Puitbec found the farmer a volume of water four times greater than he was getting from previous wells, that is, more than 600 gallons per hour for two years since it was installed.

Massé has filed a patent for the technique in Quebec, which involves targeting angled rock rather than drilling vertically or horizontally. It is best done on sedimentary or metamorphic rock layers that lie on an angle. “We try to cross those layers,” he says.

Since that first successful job, Puitbec has completed about a dozen other projects on farms. All of the wells were productive. In fact, all but two have yielded more than the volume of previous vertical wells – and some have yielded many times more, Massé says.

The driller and professional geologist technician says he had wanted to try the technique for a while, but he needed a customer with an open mind, a site where vertical wells have not been productive and sloping rock.

He got a written opinion from the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment, and Fight Against Climate Change that the drilling of oriented wells was not prohibited.

Puitbec’s DR-10-A dual-rotary crawler is well suited to these jobs because its mast will slide down to the ground, Massé says.

“The best proof of the rock orientation is by sight. You need to see the rock at the surface,” he says. “Otherwise, we have to trust the maps.”

Ideally, they drill at a 90-degree angle to the rock formation. But they can sometimes drill at about 45 degrees on certain vertical formations. The technique is cannot be used on horizontal rock.

The technique has been very successful and the company has several jobs lined up for this summer.

“Drilling is getting better and better,” Massé says. “At first it took three times longer than to drill a regular well and now the time required is about the same,” he adds. He expects to improve on that time by setting up six or seven drilling sites at once to allow crews to move from job to job smoothly.

“This creates efficiencies and they don’t have to relearn each time they do angled drilling,” he says. “The crews develop tricks as they go.”

Currently three crew members are needed, but the goal is to streamline things so that only two are required.

Although an oriented well costs approximately 15 to 20 per cent more than a typical water well, the customers in desperate need of water feel it’s well worth the added cost to find a reliable source of water in a place that previously seemed dry.

Idrogeo Srl, a drilling company in Fiorenzuola d’Arda, in the province of Piacenza, Italy, about an hour’s drive from Milan, is collaborating with Milan Underground Integrated Water Services on the restoration of many non-functioning and abandoned city water wells. The goal is to refurbish them and make them function to the highest standards while adhering to city regulations on air pollution.  

To achieve this goal, Idrogeo acquired the first zero-emission drilling rig, the MI55-E, manufactured by Massenza. “The rig has no diesel engine on board so it has no emissions of its own,” says Matteo Massenza, engineering manager. “It is powered by electricity that can also be collected by the electric system of the city with the right permissions.”

“Electric rigs are more suitable than diesel rigs when they have to work in cities or towns, where there are severe regulations for emissions and acoustic level,” Massenza says.

“If a drilling company works often within city centres they always have to face problems for permission and regulations for pollution and noise,” he explains. “They will have no issues with an electric rig.

“Moreover, since the regulations for diesel engines continue to change (Tier IIIB, Tier IV interim, Tier IV final, V, etc.), if a drilling company buys a rig with a diesel engine this year, in two or three years it may be considered old already. Changing an engine already mounted on board, is difficult and expensive.

“With an electric rig like the MI55E this problem is solved, he says. “If they cannot use the public electricity, they can rent a generator, and [thus] it will always be in compliance with the latest regulations.”

Apart from regulations, there were other challenges.

“They had to design a special cutting tool to make a horizontal release cut down in the hole through the existing casing tubes, which had to be taken off and replaced with new casing,” Massenza says.

The well was 450 to 400 millimetres in diameter. After a first inspection with a video camera, a reverse-circulation method was used to drill over the old well casing and remove all the debris from the hole. A specific “fishing tool” was lowered to remove the old 219-millimetre-diameter well casings. The rig had the necessary pull required during this phase. However, this was still a substantial amount of weight, causing the casings to become cemented both internally and externally.

A rig mast height of 8.4 metres (27 feet, seven inches), allowed the driller to remove the column in 16-metre sections.

 After the columns were extracted, reverse-circulation drill techniques were employed in standard phases that included:

  • Circulation and reconditioning of the drilling mud.
  • Supply and installation of 304 stainless steel casings with continuous spiral screens with robust structure, placed from 66 metres to 93 metres.
  • Saturation to ground level of the remaining hole with clay and cement injection.
  • Start of well activation operations with airlift and simultaneous production and development using Hydropuls.
  • Completion with payload tests at various levels from 10 to 64 litres/second via a submerged pump of 60 constant voltage placed 36 metres from ground level.
  • At 40 litres/second, the specific payload reached was 8.49 litres/second/metre, which were compliant with the conditions of the design project.

Using the MI55-E, Idrogeo is ease challenges encountered with drilling projects while meeting carbon regulations.

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