Adapting to the New Cost of Operation

Published On: November 17, 2020By Categories: Business Management, Drilling, Features

California contractors are repowering their drill rig engines to be Tier 4 Final emissions compliant with the EPA and CARB.

By Mike Price

Earth Flow Drilling Co.’s 2006 Versa-Drill V-2000NG with its new Cummins X15 on-road engine drills a 420-foot domestic well that produced 30 gpm in late September in Santa Cruz, California. Photo courtesy Aaron Lingemann, Earth Flow Drilling in Santa Cruz, California.

A trio of water well contractors in California are assisting each other in repowering their drill rig engines to be Tier 4 Final emissions compliant in their state.

Aaron Lingemann, Dave Landino, and Mike Grachek are friends who each operate Versa-Drill V-2000s that are regulated not only by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency but the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

The Tier 4 emission standards—phased in from 2008-2015—introduced substantial reductions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) for engines above 56 kW and particulate matter (PM) above 19 kW as well as more stringent hydrocarbons limits. Carbon monoxide emission limits remain unchanged from the Tier 2-3 stage.

Understanding the CARB programs that regulate drill rig engines has been a head-scratcher for many contractors in California’s water well market, pushing some to think long and hard about whether to invest in upgrading their equipment. Only time will tell if other states look to implement CARB’s standards.

Aaron Lingemann

There are different rules for both on-road and off-road drill rig engines. The on-road program is based on horsepower, calendar-based deadlines, and locations within the state. The off-road regulations are more complicated with phased-in regulations based on fleet size and locations within the state. Both programs have leniencies or credits for companies that signed up early to become compliant by CARB’s deadlines.

In addition, both programs currently have low-use compliance options with miles traveled and/or hours-run limits. For example, the on-road program’s low-use option is currently 1000 miles or 100 hours, whichever comes first.

“Every customer of mine has different requirements; it can depend on fleet size, where you’re working, what you’re doing, whether you have license plates, etc.,” says Daryl Nolt, industrial account executive for the western United States for Cummins Inc. in Irvine, California. “I have companies that hire someone to navigate the laws.”

Nolt sold the three engine replacement kits for the repowers to Lingemann, Landino, and Grachek. Some California contractors, according to Nolt, have opted not to invest in replacing their engines and instead closed shop and retired.

“Currently, only Tier 4 engines are sold in California by CARB mandate,” says Landino, president of Landino Drilling Co. in Davenport, California. “Only a few shops have the ability to work on Tier 4 engines. This means more downtime and more travel for service. We’re experiencing a 30 to 40
percent increase in maintenance costs.”

CARB Rules

Under CARB, there are two categories for water well drilling rigs: Single engine and two engines.

Single-engine rigs are classified as on-road trucks. The on-road program covers single-engine vehicles over a 14,000 gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), which includes Power Take Off (PTO) drill rigs, water trucks, boom trucks, and heavy-service trucks.

Although California Senate Bill 1 (SB1) of 2017 is widely known as the gas tax bill for transportation improvement funding, within SB1 is language that placed some hard deadlines and DMV registration stop provisions for commercial trucks over 14,000 GVWR. Section 45 is now ratcheting down on vehicle registration by truck model year, and by 2023, only vehicles that are 2010 model year or newer may be registered, unless they’re following an alternative compliance strategy (low-use or engine repower).

Two-engine rigs are classified as off-road trucks. Two-engine equipment (a drill rig with a deck engine for example) is covered in the DOORS diesel off-road equipment group along with backhoes, loaders, etc. In the mid-2000s, the California Groundwater Association successfully advocated for CARB to move two-engine rigs into the DOORS program to better align with the average drill rig use. Previously, the truck engine was in the on-road program and the deck engine was in another emissions program, the Portable Equipment Registration Program.

“Generally, this program is more lenient with credits for turnover and lengthier deadlines depending on fleet horsepower and repower options,” says Michael Meyer, past president of the California Groundwater Association and a consultant in the water well drilling industry.

After extensive research into CARB’s regulations, Lingemann contacted his local Assembly Member Mark Stone of Monterey Bay. Lingemann and Stone traveled to Sacramento in January 2019 (more on this later) to talk with Beth White and others at CARB about Lingemann’s predicament, namely:

His 2006 Versa-Drill V-2000NG with a 69,000 GVWR was licensed as an off-road vehicle with the original Caterpillar C-18 off-road engine. Lingemann was attempting to put a new Tier 4 Caterpillar C-18 off-road engine on the rig to match what he had, but under CARB, Lingemann’s rig is considered on-road due to its single engine. He was hoping his rig’s GVWR and the fact it is primarily used off-road and only on the road to get to jobsites would exempt it from needing to meet on-road standards.

White told them that CARB doesn’t have a weight exemption and Lingemann must have an on-road engine that meets the on-road regulations.

Lingemann weighed the cost of purchasing a new rig versus completing a repower. The simple math showed it was cost conducive to take the leap of faith and tackle the repower.

“We did it and we didn’t have to go into debt or buy a $1.2-million-dollar rig and then pay the sales tax on it,” says Lingemann of Earth Flow Drilling Co. in Santa Cruz, California. “We’re still running, and things are working. I’d be happy to help anyone who wants to talk about it.”

A Trailblazer

To be first in anything takes gumption, and it’s assumed Lingemann is the first water well contractor in California to have completed a repower on his own at the end of 2019.

In roughly eight weeks, Lingemann and his employees completed the repower of his V-2000NG with engineering support and testing from Cummins engineer Will Thompson. A rough bill of materials sold in the replacement kit to Lingemann included:

  • The new on-road Cummins engine (X15, 605 hp) with rear-engine PTO for hydraulic fan pump
  • Exhaust after-treatment module with diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tank, pump, and lines
  • Complete wire harness, including controls, display, and throttles
  • Cooling package (radiator and charge air cooler), including fan and hydraulic pump and motor for fan drive
  • Air cleaner and various intake and exhaust elbows and fittings.

Thompson sent Lingemann 30-40 Application Engineering Bulletins (AEBs) to his iPhone to read through for the repower.

Lingemann was responsible for the labor and design/fabrication/welding of all these parts:

  • Engine mounts
  • Pipes (intake, exhaust, coolant)
  • Cooling package mounts, hydraulic lines for fan control
  • After-treatment mounting structure, DEF tank mounting
  • Transmission/driveline rebuilds or adjustments
  • Fuel lines, battery cables, batteries, oils, and fluids.

“As you can see, the customer is responsible for a lot,” Nolt says, “with our technical support of course. Normally, we recommend that our service shop perform the install as it is very complicated.

“Probably the most difficult AEBs to follow and understand were related to the DEF system and after-treatment module (diesel particulate filter/selective catalytic reduction). There are many factors to get right so the systems are able to pass all the testing.”

Lingemann’s team forged ahead and replaced the Caterpillar C-18 with the X15. Caterpillar no longer makes on-road engines, so Lingemann went with a Cummins engine.

“To have a customer be so successful with doing their own install is pretty awesome because I’ve seen a lot of them that don’t go as well as Aaron’s did. It was actually very impressive what Aaron and his guys were able to do.

“I think that’s a testament to how committed he was on it and he really asked all the right questions, looked at all the right documents, read all the AEBs, and was very proactive and was always communicating. We were doing our best to communicate as well.”

Learning to Adapt

Lingemann preferred to stick with an off-road engine because the V-2000s come with a 1250/350 air compressor that should be run by an engine that’s at least 630 hp. The on-road Cummins X15 is 605 hp, causing Lingemann to be unsure if it would work.

Nolt says Cummins was also concerned about losing the 25 hp at the upper end.

“But I think the new engine does a pretty good job of putting out a nice torque curve,” Nolt says. “We saw the peak torque of the C-18 was 2043 foot-pounds at 1400 rpms and said, okay, we beat that; we’re at 2050 all the way up to 1150-1500 rpms so we have more torque all the way through to about
1700 rpms.”

In addition to the uncertainty in losing horsepower, Lingemann consulted with Versa-Drill in Indianapolis, Indiana, on startup issues with the fuel sensors and governor on the engine when in drill mode (off-road). He had to tweak the maximum rpms on the engine to find the right range when drilling. Between Versa-Drill and Cummins, Lingemann’s team was able to resolve the issues.

“The truth is I’ve been running it for six months now,” he said over the summer, “and it’s working perfectly.”

To those who are concerned about excessive heat from the after-treatment module, Lingemann says they haven’t noticed it.

“Our new engine came with a whole new cooling package and that cooling package takes care of the heat amazingly well,” he says. “We have a screen (a heat shield four inches above after-treatment module to keep leaves out) and can’t even heat up our lunches because it doesn’t get hot enough.”

As the first to do the repower, Lingemann is assisting Landino and Grachek.

However, Landino doesn’t recommend doing a repower on a rig that has a normal cab. In that case, a new truck chassis is preferred.

“The V-2000 drill rig is more like a self-propelled mobile oil field rig with an exposed engine,” Landino explains. “This makes the engine swap possible.”

Landino, who runs the V-2000 (the first V-2000 on the market in 2001 that Landino purchased from Lingemann), is switching from the Tier I Cat 3406E/C-15 to the X15 like Lingemann. Landino is planning to do his repower in the first quarter of 2021.

“However, we may downgrade his horsepower a bit since his rig has a smaller air compressor,” Nolt says.

Like Lingemann, Grachek of Granite Drilling Co. in Salinas, California, runs the V-2000NG and is switching from the CAT C-18 to the X15. He is scheduled to begin his repower at the end of the year.

Versa-Drill has since recreated its V-2000NG model with the new V-2100 to be Tier 4 Final compliant for either on-road or off-road (see sidebar article) and is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

‘Solved Those Problems’

Lingemann’s rig runs both diesel and diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). Some in the drilling industry are concerned about rigs that run DEF while undergoing a regen cycle, but Lingemann hasn’t experienced issues.

“The truth is, the new generation of the Cummins motor doesn’t burn all that much DEF and we’ve never noticed any problems when the rig is doing its regen cycle,” he says.

Nolt says Cummins and other manufacturers have made strides to ensure the regen process (which is on a time-based schedule) is transparent to the operator. This includes a regeneration indicator, high-exhaust system temperature indicator, regenerations disabled indicator, DEF indicator, and a DEF level gauge.

“The engine can be at full load and the engine will be doing a passive regeneration of the DEF and you won’t know it except a light turns on for you to let you know the exhaust temperatures are elevated at this time,” Nolt says.

However, Nolt says the operator would notice the active regen if the rig is idling for an extended period. Then the operator must stop what they’re doing to let the active regen take place.

“You do have to keep the DEF tank from going empty,” Nolt adds. “There is a schedule. The EPA doesn’t allow us to run an engine with a selective catalytic reduction without DEF; then it’s not reducing the NOx and we’re out of compliance.

“We let you do so many restarts with an empty DEF tank so you can get somewhere if you have to, and then finally the engine will only allow you a few more key cycles if you’ve been empty. It will finally shut down but after giving quite a few warnings.”

Fighting for Everyone

Lingemann was referred to contact Stone, his local Assembly Member. As an essential service, Lingemann was hopeful Stone could help CARB understand his predicament that would lead to an exemption for his rig in January 2019.

“And he stepped up and tried to help us,” Lingemann says. “But CARB has taken a very strong stance against any exceptions to their rules. They basically say if they give anyone an exception to anything, they’re opening themselves up for litigation to everything they’ve said no to in the past.”

Lingemann communicated with the California Groundwater Association during this time. “I wasn’t just out for myself but trying to get the rules changed for all of us,” he says.

After Lingemann’s negotiations with CARB, he understood the only way forward was to be the first to repower his rig’s engine to meet the new standards.

Lingemann says the downside of adapting to the cost of operating in California is that it increases the price of drilling a water well. He must pass that additional cost on to the customer.

“The new CARB regulations make drilling wells more expensive,” he says, “but we’re seeing these extreme weather events, and if there is a chance that the emissions laws can help, it’s probably worth the cost.”

Lingemann experienced firsthand extreme weather over the summer. He and a group of neighborhood residents in northern California went to work to save their homes and equipment yards in August from the CZU Lightning Complex fires.

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Landino says the drilling companies that have survived CARB and the wildfires throughout California are swamped.He foresees the new business model being a limited supply of drilling companies and many former drilling companies doing pump service work.

“This will most likely mean that drilling companies will have to travel more to support the investment in new rigs,” he says, adding that the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has hit the agriculture industry hard. Farmers are only spending on repairs; they’ll pay for new wells only when it’s vital.

In February, Landino sold his Portadrill TKT and all its supporting trucks/mud system to a contractor in Nevada. It is legal to operate them in that state. He says all the rigs in the United States are low miles/low hours and believes they have little impact on climate change.

“Our industry is simply caught up in larger issues and will have to adapt to the new cost of operation,” he says.

“As far as the spread of CARB-like regulations in other states, who knows. I can tell you that we seriously considered a Tesla battery system on our rigs. This is the direction the oil and gas industry is going. I believe our future lies in electric-powered drill rigs.”

Versa-Drill Recreates V-2000NG Model with New V-2100
Versa-Drill/Laibe Corp. recreated its V-2000NG model and it is now called the V-2100, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

A visual representation of the V-2100, courtesy Versa-Drill/Laibe Corp.

The V-2100 integrates the Cummins QSX15 (630 hp) Tier 4 Final compliant off-road diesel engine. The rig can also be California compliant with the Cummins X15 on-road 605 hp diesel engine.

As for the future of rigs, Versa-Drill President Marcus X. Laibe thinks electric powered might be on the horizon but not anytime soon.

“One of the issues I see is I don’t think an electric-powered drill rig could complete a hole off of a charge,” he says. “Infrastructure would have to change quite a bit for this to happen. I also think the cost of this and the added cost to charge the rig by the customer would be hard to sell.

“Electric-powered pump hoists don’t have long-hour duty cycles like a drill rig does. I agree it’s the future. I more likely could see a hybrid—engine and electric—happen first. This is something we’re looking into to run certain functions of the rig electrically.

“We see ourselves set up best to this transition as we have been trying to move away from hydraulics as much as possible.”

Laibe says the company has discussed replacing cylinders on the rig with electric cylinders as well as electric winches and possibly other features on the rig.

“This would allow us to use less engine horsepower and lighten the rig,” he says.

See the Featured Products department for more information on the V-2100.


Mike Price is the senior editor of Water Well Journal. In addition to his WWJ responsibilities, Price contributes to the Association’s scientific publications. He can be reached at mprice@ngwa.org, or at (800) 551-7379, ext. 1541.

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