Things are looking up for the drilling market in the Green Bay region of Wisconsin, but Hintzke Well Drilling Inc. of New London soberly recalls how a series of threats these past few years seemed to conspire against them. There was the recession of 2008. Then came the incessant rains and widespread flooding in the spring of 2011 that delayed some projects well into June. Bidding for other projects that Hintzke specializes in, such as geothermal drilling, was overwhelmed by other drillers looking to put their water well rigs to use.
John Hintzke, eldest brother of the drilling trio, said, “You try to hang on. That’s all any of us can do. But some companies just couldn’t.”
His tone was filled with respect and sympathy for those in the industry who have called it quits. Some he had ties to, as it is not unusual for drilling companies to help each other out on projects in this region. In fact, one of Hintzke’s Well Drilling’s trucks does not brandish the company name, so that they do not steal another company’s thunder when lending a hand on a project.
Hintzke’s survival is part of the legacy of Theodore Hintzke who founded the company in 1896. As fourth generation drillers, they make the best of the boom times and hunker down to outlast the lean times. Expertise in several drilling markets gives Hintzke the diversity it needs to stay in business as demand for specialty drilling fluctuates. Water wells, geothermal drilling and exploration for a steady sandstone mining client keep Hintzke healthy.
They also avoid overreacting to market fluctuations. John and Jason agreed they shake their heads at those who jump into new markets, enlarging their equipment outlays to chase industry swings. That’s one of the benefits, Jason said, of their Atlas Copco T3W water well drilling rig, which the company uses for nearly every job.
Like many startup companies, Great Grandfather Theodore Hintzke started with simple equipment, building his own wooden cable rig powered by a one-cylinder engine. Generation after generation, the Hintzkes have continued making careful equipment upgrade choices, working up to rotary rigs that included a used Ingersoll–Rand TH60 and later, a pre-owned 1993 T3W.
In 2008 the company traded in the 1993 for its first new rig ever, a 2008 Atlas Copco T3W with improvements such as large-diameter top and bottom sheaves for extended cable life, redesigned feed cylinders to improve pullback and pulldown, and increase feed speed to 150 feet per minute (45.5 m/min).
The brothers agreed the T3W rig’s speed was important in getting them off one job and on to the next, especially now, when work orders are plentiful again. For comparison, Jason said, on one job where they were drilling a residential well in quartzite with an Atlas Copco QL60 water well hammer, he was able to go as deep in 15 minutes as the other driller had gone in 45 minutes.
Jason said, “So the guy wanted to know what hammer I was using. I told him, ‘You’ve got to have Atlas Copco.’ So he got an Atlas Copco hammer but he still couldn’t keep up. Heck, I can get 120 feet an hour in granite. The other guy can’t keep up.” The Hintzke’s T3W compressor can provide up to 900 cfm and 350 psi (425 L/s, 24 bar).
Even for rotary drilling, Jason couldn’t think of a rig that could compete with his T3W. “For rotary, that other guy’s rig is maybe spinning at 80 rpm. I have a two-speed head. On low I’m turning 134, and 180 at top speed.”
Concluding his assessment of the T3W, he exclaimed, “This sonofabitch really hogs down!”
One afternoon found the Hintzke’s returning to complete a 130-foot (40 m) water well at a rural residence under construction near their headquarters in New London. They had waited a day for the grout to set up. To prevent contamination from mineralized arsenic, stringent Wisconsin regulations aim to stop it at its source. The source is not allowed to be in contact with air, which can trigger self-sustaining arsenic production in that zone. Therefore, the only drilling technique allowed by law is rotary drilling with mud. In this location water well bores must also be cased to a minimum of 90 feet (27 m), which is sufficient to get through the arsenic zone of the St. Petersburg sandstone formation and down to the unaffected water in Cambrian sandstone.
For this project the Hintzkes used an 8 ¾-inch (222 mm) tricone bit on their rig’s usual 4 ½ inch pipe (114 mm) with a bentonite mix for drilling fluid. They drilled the bore to 90 feet, set 6 inch (152 mm) steel casing and then grouted the hole all within a period of just three hours.
Jason had hit the Cambrian sandstone early and said he could have safely set the well at 70 feet (21 m), but he was required to go the full 90 feet. Now drilling through 90 feet to finish the well, Jason entered a shale layer, which he described as “sticky” for tricone drilling. It slowed progress a bit, but he continued until he picked up sandstone again. He finished the well at 130 feet, sufficiently into the sandstone. They were back home well before suppertime, preparing for the next day.
Diversity with the T3W
At dawn the brothers traveled one-and-a-half hours to an exploration job. A sandstone mining client needed the Hintzkes to prove out a new site as a source of high quality sand to mine for use in hydraulic fracturing. Just moments after arriving they were positioned and raising the tower to begin. Sometimes, Jason said, a drilling plan would be marked out in a field with flags. This time a representative from their client’s company led them to the field, pointing to general locations for them to sample.
Jason explained that the client wanted samples to be as dry as possible so for this job, he would use rotary air, tipping the same 4 ½ pipe with a 6 ⅛ inch (155 mm) Atlas Copco Grizzly Paw bit. He was adding roughly 3 gpm (47 L/s) of water as he drilled. He started with the rig’s air at about half volume, around 600 cfm (283 L/s). For pressure, he said, it was simply “on.” He did not need to turn pressure up at all.
The benefit of the claw, Jason said, was its aggressiveness without having to add much weight-on-bit. Less WOB meant he could save on fuel. The claw was ideal as he did not want to use a hammer in this sediment, saying, “Drilling this stuff with a hammer, I’d bury myself.”
He pointed to the diagnostics meter on the control panel. “This helps me a lot. I can see everything here. I’m running about 15 gallons an hour (56.8 Lph) of fuel.” He said that with a tricone he might be using as much as 20 gallons per hour (75.7 Lph), representing a 25 percent fuel savings with the claw. As he got deeper, he said he was using a little bit more fuel to contend with a bit of ground water in the hole.
Jason hit limestone at 18 feet (2.4 m), getting about 10 minutes a rod, achieving a rate of 120 feet (37 m) an hour. At 50 feet (15 m) he found the sandstone, rapidly completing the test bore to 120 feet while averaging just 3 minutes from the start of a rod to the start of the next rod, which translated to 600 feet (183 m) an hour.
Jason laughed: “Of course you’d never be able to put rods on it fast enough to actually see 600 feet an hour.” His brother Jay bagged samples every 5 feet (1.5 m) once Jason was into the sandstone, marking them and entering them into a log.
Satisfied with the samples they had taken and certain the client was going to be happy with this first hole, Jay and Jason backfilled it with a bentonite hole filler. In only moments Jason had the tower down and moved on to the next location. Only an hour had passed since they started the first hole.
Since early summer 2012 the Hintzkes have been working long days and six-day weeks to keep up, booked solidly through the fall. However, no one complains about working hard after the lack of demand these past few years. Once more, the Hintzke legacy has survived lean times with their family formula for success and their good eye for sensible drilling equipment.