Noah Horn Drilling Company is a multi-rig gas drilling company operating in the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States. They are headquartered out of Vansant, Virginia. For nearly 30 years they have been focused on hard-rock, coal bed methane and conventional gas drilling.
Vice President of Field Operations, Leon Boyd said in the mid-1980s they were drilling CBM wells to flare off the gas to make coal mining safer. Now CBM is a major and growing industry globally.
Horn Drilling put the first Atlas Copco RD20 to work and was the driving force to make it a Range III class rig. The company continues to follow the philosophy of its founder, Noah Horn, who died in 2006: Don’t shy away from new technology that could make you more successful.
After three months of using the new Atlas Copco Secoroc EDGE system for precision down-the-hole hammer drilling, Horn’s drillers are giving it high praise.
What is EDGE?
EDGE’s functionality for drillers is compared to that of aviation’s flight instrument navigation technology. Just as pilots can precisely navigate their planes in the clouds, drillers can precisely adjust weight on bit and rotation by watching graphic and numeric portrayals of conditions affecting the hammer at the bottom of the hole.
EDGE is available as a rental package from Atlas Copco Customer Centers and authorized dealers and is relatively easy to install. In total, it takes just a couple hours away from production and involves mounting a sensor on the rotary head that collects vibration signals generated by the hammer that are transmitted through the drill pipe. The sensor is connected to a processor unit, which is then connected to a 7-inch computer display mounted at the operator’s console.
The display portrays the EDGE program’s interpretation of the bit/hammer vibrations, which travel up the string. The resulting signal is the equivalent of having eyes right at the bottom of the hole, seeing the effects on the hammer caused by different geological formations, the presence of water, or flushing problems. The built-in signal filters recognize and eliminate unwanted noise from other sources before displaying the information for the driller.
On this job, Horn is installing surface casing to 3,000 feet (914 meters). A conventional rig will follow them, drilling to a kick point at about 8,000 feet (2,438 meters). They start with 17-inch bore for 16-inch conductor casing to 350 feet (106 meter). Then they set 13-inch casing in a 15-inch bore to 1,000 feet (304 meters). Finally, they’ll set 7-inch casing in an 8 inch hole to 3,000 feet. They cement and then re-drill through it to 3,100 feet with a 6½-inch bit, which ensures a smooth start when the conventional rig sets up.
Driller Jerry Stiltner said the difficulty of the formation here in Tennessee is a new experience for some of the crew. Stiltner said, “Back home we set up on a hole; three days later we’re done with it. But this is really hard stuff here.”
For an example, driller Michael Street said, “There’s a spot 120 to 140 foot thick of pure sandstone. Looks like regular play sand when it’s coming out.” The rest of the drilling alternates quickly from shale to sandstone, sometimes with-in a matter of inches, in a highly fractured formation. Street said, “EDGE helps you a whole lot on a new formation. You can watch it. Put a little adjustment on it. If you hit a hard spot or go from hard to soft you speed up, slow down. You get into the soft stuff with so much air going, you’ll about blow right through the shale, so you to put a little weight on it. EDGE tells you when.
“Even when I’m starting out and am not watching it, I’ll see or hear something different and make adjustments, like always. But now I look up at EDGE to make sure I’m right.”
Street said it used to take a half a rod, minimum, to dial in his drill. “Now it takes less than five feet to get it right.” With EDGE, drillers don’t need years of
experience and a built-up sixth sense to drill right and troubleshoot. When Street let a new hand working with him drill, the novice used the EDGE. “The new kid’s already getting it right, tuning it good within seven, eight, maybe nine feet.”
Better than they’ve ever been
Boyd’s drillers praise the system and what it has done for their drilling ability. “If it had been new guys,” he said, “I wouldn’t have thought so much about it. But these are my older guys who are converting. It’s changing the way they drill.” Boyd added that traditional drillers “have to learn all this electronic over hydraulic anyway. EDGE is just another tool to help them.”
Boyd agreed that no two drillers are the same: “The hammer is not going to act any different. But drillers judge by air pressure or feel, which varies. Plus, today’s hammers have advanced so much, drillers can’t keep up with them. With EDGE everyone can see the exact same thing. When you tell them here’s what’s happening, there is no argument.”
Boyd said he was aware that there are some drillers in the industry who describe EDGE as “tattletale technology.” He said these are usually weak drillers to begin with, afraid this technology will prove they are not using the equipment well.
“But I have good guys, and they like it. It only makes them better than they’ve ever been.”
Boyd said, “Everyone is tightening their belts, looking for better ways to do things.” That’s when Tony Funk of Keystone Drill Services brought down the EDGE.
Funk said he did initial testing on the EDGE with three different rigs in Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky to determine its value to his customers.
“All of the drillers on the rigs we tested the EDGE with were able to look at the display and understand it immediately,” Funk said. “This allowed the drillers to dial in the hammers to their maximum performance levels by adjusting the weight on bit (WOB) and rpm within a few seconds of tagging bottom. After the drillers were able to adjust their drilling by using the EDGE, the drillers were able to see much smoother drilling with less variance in their torque.”
When Funk became convinced of the EDGE advantages, he brought it to Noah Horn. “We wanted to get it on someone’s rig where we knew they covered a good range of varied geography and had a productive mindset. Noah Horn Drilling Company had both. This company keeps some of the best equipment and people in the southern region and are well known for doing top-rated work.”
Funk added, “In my opinion, the EDGE is a tool that we have needed for a long time and should be on every rig that is drilling with DTH hammers.”
Boyd said, “The biggest thing that attracted us was that we were losing bits, constantly losing bits. We weren’t able to continue holes on just one bit. Tony thought this would help us.”
Stiltner said, “When we started this project down here, we couldn’t get more than six, eight hundred feet out of a bit. Then we’d put another one in. Get maybe the same from it. Finally, we’d wind up using rotary bits to finish the hole.”
With EDGE they are now consistently getting 2,500 feet (762 meters) on a single bit, allowing them to finish a hole without tripping out to change bits.
“Our last hole that we finished up, the bit had 2,700 feet on the bit, and I wouldn’t be scared to put it in another hole. The bit looked new.” Boyd spoke about what finishing a
hole on one bit means for their bottom line. “Look at just what we save on those two to three bits per hole. Those bits cost up to $10,000 apiece. A rig drills 30, 40 holes a year. That’s a lot of the savings.”
Time is money
There are several ways Noah Drilling saves time and its associated costs. “Before, we were getting 30 feet (9 meters) in 30 minutes,” Stiltner said. They were using the QL 80 with an 8-inch bit. “With EDGE we cut that by half, by at least half.” Stiltner said he likes all Atlas Copco hammers, “They’ve always done a fine job.”
There are fewer trips, which saves time. Changing out the bit after each trip in itself consumed what would have been valuable time in the hole.
Today’s drilling contractors are also looking for increased safety. Boyd said EDGE gives them this, too, indirectly. “Not tripping out of the hole as often, that’s where EDGE has made drilling safer. Hazards occur where you have drill steel and casings moving around your crew. Keeping the steel in the hole drilling makes us safer.”
Then Boyd summed it up: “You take that extra trip time out of the way, you’re saving trip time, you’re saving money on bits, and you’re increasing your safety factor.
“You know, Noah formed a really good company. We have a lot of really good competitors here. Once they see this system, they’re going to want EDGE as well. Some of them have already tried it and are liking it.”
Chances are they won’t be able to remain good competitors if they don’t. EDGE is making that big a difference for companies who use it.