The Atlas Copco RD20 III XC is a big rig. With a 755 hp engine, 120,000 pounds of pullback and equipped with bails and a hydraulically activated elevator for oil field pipe, it’s a self-contained mobile deep hole drilling rig designed for hard duty in the oil patch.
Yet the RD20 XC is the smallest rig in the fleet for Water Well Services Inc. in Pleasanton, Texas, whose next smallest drill is a double jackknife rig that takes 18 flatbed trailer loads to mobilize and a week on site to drill a one-day hole. The range III RD20 rig’s XC designation stands for “Xtra Capabilities” and that’s exactly why Water Services wanted it.
Boom time investment
James Forehand, vice president of Water Well Services, said the company is investing in equipment for the future, buying rigs that will fill any gaps in their fleet’s market range.
Water Well Services’ bread and butter jobs have been drilling water for some of the major oil producing companies. Forehand explained, “In the deeper drilling market, we don’t have as much competition. What is a shallow drilling job for us is right at maximum depth for most of the truck-mounted water well rigs.”
But when it comes to some of the municipal jobs, it can be tough to bid competitively without a truck-mounted rig, he said. So Water Well Services purchased its
RD20 XC at the end of 2012 as an investment for the future, increasing its capabilities in several ways.
Yet the RD20 is no one-trick pony. Water Well Services can also use it for some of its agricultural irrigation projects and to support development and production of its Eagle Ford Oil Field customers’ oil wells. And buying a rig capable of working in the oil patch should have a huge payoff if a March University of Texas study proves true. The study announced that while in this region there were currently 5,400 permitted oil wells, the area should see more than 24,000 wells permitted over the next 10 years.
Forehand explained that all oil well developers and producers need water to drill and for hydraulic fracturing.
“In this region almost every oil well you drill, you will drill a water well,” Forehand said. While there is very little surface water in the area, ground water here is plentiful.
The RD20 gives them a respectable advantage with their oil field customers, especially for its modernized safety features.
Forehand said, “Today’s oil field customers are all about safety. They don’t want to see ’70s-style rigs, with spin chains and all that manual labor. Retrofitting those with pipe spinners, trying to reduce manual labor, they are still more cumbersome, hazardous.”
Forehand said the RD20 works with a smaller crew, and there’s no climbing, no derrick man, so there’s lower labor and overall operating costs. “The RD20 offers safety. Other water well drilling companies can’t compete.”
Water Well Services broke in its RD20 on a job drilling and casing a 450-foot-deep water well near Poteet, Texas, about 30 miles south of San Antonio. Here they were set up on the Carizzo-Wilcox aquifer, a part of the larger Texas Coastal Uplands Aquifer System. The system’s outcrop is a relatively narrow topographic feature running parallel to the Gulf Coast from the Rio Grande at the Mexican border northeast to Louisiana.
The Carrizo portion starts as a beach-like sand. Richard Bartosh, Water Well Services’ drilling superintendent, said they used a bulldozer to tow everything into position: “You can’t walk in this big sand bowl let alone drive in it.”
The RD20 is almost completely self-contained. Once the five-man crew towed in pipe and casing trailers, a water truck and big pumps—they were ready to drill.
From the outcrop, the 800-foot-thick Carizzo downdips beneath the surface toward the coast at 100 feet per mile on average, though it ranges from 24 feet to more than 400 feet at points. “Most wells we drill here the customer wants about 1,000 gpm, but a well can yield up to 3,000 gpm, depending on how it’s developed,” Bartosh said.
The loose ground conditions here make the area ideal for peanut and strawberry farmers. Poteet is known for its annual strawberry festival. But it’s not conducive to drilling. This well required a 17.5-inch hole for 12.75-in steel casing with a 12-inch IO steel screen. Bartosh said they really had to hold back. The weight of the string was enough to drive the hole. Average ROP was kept to less than 45 feet per hour with bentonite at 10 barrels a minute to adequately cake the sides. Chips were coming out at 10 feet per minute.
In this case it is not desirable to drill with air, which would quickly blow out giant voids. And since they will sometimes drill to 1,200 feet, the deeper wells can run into methane pockets. Therefore, mud drilling is the method of choice. But Forehand and Bartosh warned that drilling too fast with mud, especially the size bores that they make, risks collapsing the hole.
It took three days to set up and drill the well, Bartosh said, “I was OK with going slow on the first one, because we had a new crew on an unfamiliar rig, in a sand bowl you can hardly walk in.”
He was pleased with the rig and anxious for its next job. “The connections are fast.” He said he sees where times will improve as the crew gets used to working on the “little” rig, the baby of the Water Well Services fleet in a region with a busy 10-year forecast.