Tapping into a hot market

August 29th, 2013 | Posted by in Exploration drill | gray-four | Oil and gas | RD20

Geothermal drilling in Australia puts RD20 deep hole drilling rigs to use outside the oil and gas market

The drill rig making a name for itself on Queensland’s gas-rich Bowen and Surat basins in eastern Australia is now being deployed on a different, deeper errand in the west. If all goes well, JSW Australia’s Tim Westcott thinks the company’s new Atlas Copco RD20 XC high-powered compact, hydraulic top-drive rig will have plenty of work in the geothermal industry―with future coal seam gas targets not out of the question.

For now Westcott is focusing on geothermal energy, in particular the sedimentary formations about 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) below Hale School in the Perth western suburb of Wembley Downs. Many schools, municipalities and private residences across Australia are using geothermal technology with heat pumps, or heat exchangers, to both heat and cool buildings. In the case of Hale School, geothermal energy will heat the swimming pool.

JSW has just started drilling the first pilot hole at Hale School to assess temperatures and the geothermal potential of the Yarragadee aquifer beneath the school ground. Hale will join a number of other metropolitan schools, including St. Hilda’s and Christ Church Grammar, in adopting geothermal for swimming pool heating.

Year-round use of the pool at minimal energy costs and with minimal CO2 emissions―at a time when state electricity tariffs continue to climb and environmental impact becomes a major concern―is the principal benefit of the project. One of the state’s oldest independent schools for boys, Hale’s current campus is located on a 48-hectare site about 8 miles (13 km) northwest of Perth and a mile from the coast.

The project consists of constructing a deep geothermal bore to procure warm water for the system’s heat exchangers. Once the heat has been extracted from the earth’s water for pool heating, the cooled water will be reinjected back into a shallower part of the aquifer via an injection bore. JSW has been contracted to drill, construct and test both deep bores in a four-month timeframe.

The deep drilling requirements of the rising trend of geothermal energy in Australia is buoying the prospects of companies like JSW.

JSW was formed from the March 2010 management buy-out from Ausdrill-Brandrill of the original Strange Drilling business established as a single-rig operation in 1996. JSW’s board and management team, including former Brandrill managing director Jeff Branson, have more than 500 years of collective drilling-related experience.

Already JSW’s 120-person workforce at its fully equipped workshops in Perth, Kalgoorlie, Boddington and Port Hedland enable the company to maintain an expanding fleet of machinery to high standards.

“We’ve come from being a business that was almost purely mining-related to now operating significant projects in water well and also geothermal activity,” said Westcott, JSW’s veteran water well division boss.

The RD20 XC unit joins three Atlas Copco TH60 water well drills in JSW’s fleet. The TH60 was a proven, versatile rig with its single-engine power source generating up to 550 hp (410 kW) and reducing overall rig weight and improving weight balance. The rig can be set up to handle pullback ranges from 40,000 to 70,000 pounds.

A strong relationship between Atlas Copco and drilling contractor forged during Jeff Branson’s time at Brandrill’s helm and has continued on into his latest venture. It has been a partnership built around not only highly productive equipment but also the machine supplier’s extensive investment in support and service levels around the country.

Arguably the world’s most successful shallow oil and gas rig in the 120,000-pound (53 tonne) class, the RD20 has become a fixture on Queensland’s coal basins, where coal seam gas drilling has rapidly grown in recent years. More than 250 RD20 drilling rigs are operating worldwide.

Westcott said the highly mobile rig with its rapid set-up capability is flexible enough to adapt to almost any location.

It has a patented carriage feed system and detached-table design for exceptional performance and economy. The table can handle up to a 30-inch drill casing. Overall it has the structural strength to handle tough drilling conditions.

“It’s a very good machine,” Westcott said.

“You can run Range 3 gear on it. It’s got plenty of power at 120,000 pounds of pullback, so you’re good for 3,900- to 4,920-foot (1,200 to 1,500 m) holes. It’ll do us for just about everything we want to do at this stage.

“It’s obviously a popular rig when you look at all the coal seam gas stuff occurring over east. I’m sure there is going to be scope for that over here, too, at some stage. This rig fits the bill for that type of drilling as well, so it fits with our future direction in that perspective, too.”

David Luke, water well/oil and gas product manager for Atlas Copco Drilling Solutions, said JSW’s rapid growth had spurred orders for three TH60s and the RD20 XC over the past year or so.

“The RD20 has built a good following over east,” Luke said.

“We’re looking for some success with the rig here to promote awareness of its capabilities. There’s certainly no shortage of potential applications for it.”

Westcott has been doing this sort of work around Australia for 30 years or so.

“This (Hale school) sort of project has become fairly commonplace so it’s proven technology, so to speak,” he said.

“Once the hole is logged, Rockwater [consulting hydro-geologists] works out the depth to set the screens―that’s probably the most crucial part of the project.”

“The drilling will take three to four months. Then there’s the construction side―the pool and the heat exchanger, etc.―which is not handled by us.”

Westcott has seen similar projects undertaken in WA, including test work at Kalgoorlie where JSW also has operations. “I’m thinking that geothermal drilling activity is going to keep going for a while,” he said.

Geothermal use increases

CSIRO, a government-funded Australian agency, has recently begun construction of a bore-field to supply cool water for the cooling of the new Pawsey Centre supercomputer at the Australian Resources Research Centre in the Perth suburb of Kensington. The Pawsey Centre supercomputer, expected to be completed later this year, will be one of the world’s most powerful computers for the Square Kilometre Array telescope located in Western Australia.

The geothermal cooling project will use heat exchanger technology, with cool water passing through and cooling the building. The warmed water will then be reinjected back into the aquifer. Savings of up to 10 million gallons (38 million L) of water each year are anticipated with the use of geothermal compared to a standard cooling tower solution.

A leading UWA geothermal scientist, Winthrop Professor Klaus Regenauer-Lieb, said recently that the Perth Basin under the Swan Coast Plain had the ideal geological settings to aim for the goal of “a zero emissions geothermal city.”

“The new CSIRO Geothermal project will help to establish Perth as the first geothermally cooled city, and we will work to advance the geothermal industry to make this vision a reality,” the WA Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore said.

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