Downey Drilling Adds First Tophead Drive Rig to Aid in Safety, Workforce Development

Published On: April 9, 2024By Categories: Drilling, Newsline, Workforce Development

With an eye toward safety and workforce development in the future, Downey Drilling Inc. in Lexington, Nebraska, invested in its first tophead drive drilling rig in 2023.

It’s a milestone not only for Downey Drilling but the state as contractors have long operated table drive rigs due to the unconsolidated nature of the High Plains (Ogallala) aquifer, which is composed primarily of unconsolidated clay, silt, sand, and gravel. Thus, Downey Drilling is possibly the first Nebraska customer to take delivery of a rig from tophead rig manufacturer Versa-Drill/Laibe Corp. in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think we’d own a tophead drive,” says Tom Downey, CWD/PI, president of Downey Drilling and National Ground Water Association president in 2006.

Downey’s thinking changed though after company management discussions on workforce development pointed to the labor pool of farm kids drying up. The younger generation’s work preferences also factored into the tophead decision, according to Downey.

“The ease of controls—electric over hydraulic—you’re virtually running a switch, not pulling on levers and clutches,” he shares, “and of course, safety entered into it. Typically, kelly [table drive] rigs are at least double, maybe triple lined, so you’ve got to watch for cable wear and other things.”

Downey Drilling took delivery of its V-140X rig in August 2023 and broke it in on a geothermal borefield project. The company conducted a demonstration at the state fairgrounds for Nebraska contractors in 2023 in Grand Island, Nebraska.

This year, the company will drill a monitoring well west of Grand Island on the lot of the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts in conjunction with the Baroid Mud School, June 11-13.

Earlier this year at the Nebraska Water Well Drillers Association annual meeting, a workshop with Tom’s son, Brent, and Marcus X. Laibe, president of Versa-Drill, discussed the transition from operating a table drive to a tophead drive rig.

“Customers who have table drive rigs who then convert to a tophead drive rig always say, ‘I should have done this a long time ago,’” Laibe says.

Downey, who serves as a board member on the Central Platte Natural Resources District, believes that since the V-140X rig can be troubleshooted via the internet at a jobsite by Versa-Drill, it will be inviting to the younger generation.

“The other part of it is this particular rig, with the way we have it tooled up, has 300 feet of drill pipe in the carousel,” Downey says. “The first 300 feet no one touches anything, so from the safety standpoint that was a big deal.

“From the other standpoint, we felt with a tophead drive, if we had an operator get in trouble, they could possibly drill themselves out of trouble because you can rotate and pull. The pullback is 40,000 pounds.”

With Downey concerned that a tophead drive doesn’t provide audible feedback to the operator like a table drive rig does when it hits gravel, sand, or water-bearing material, the company invested in a second geophysical electric logging tool and put it on a one-axle trailer. The geophysical tool will help the tophead rig operator confirm the unconsolidated material they’re drilling. It will also aid in the engineering of the well design.

“In the future what we’ll do is send that [tophead] rig out with an operator, e-log the test hole, and they will email it back to the office,” he explains, “and they will process it, so we’ll have almost a real-time geophysical log and design the well to provide oversight out in the field and email back a well design to the operator.”

Downey Drilling is currently doing that with irrigation wells, albeit a few days between the test hole being drilled and the irrigation rig mobilizing to the site. The company has a few days to put it all together.

“Now we’re looking at on the house well side, real-time within an hour of completing the test hole, e-logging it, and while reaming it to the bigger diameter [usually 10 inches and 5-inch casing], someone in the office is processing the e-log and emailing back a well design,” says Downey who received the 2012 Ross L. Oliver Award and 2009 Standard Bearer Award from NGWA.

“It’s quality control because with unconsolidated material, it takes years of experience. You just don’t throw somebody out there. You can teach someone how to run levers and try to teach them how to manage a mud program, and they can do it. But sometimes to pick out where you want to set the screen, we’d have the operator/driller write down and get the breaks of the formations and lay out samples, so me or Brent or whomever could stop on site and look at the written log and design the well. So now, we’re trying to use technology.”

Read the Current Issue

you might also like