Thoughts on Overall Efficiency

A variety of ways exist to maximize your time on and off the jobsite.

By Mike Price

Running a tight and efficient drilling operation is the goal of every business owner. For many, it becomes part of their DNA.

Clearly that’s how Johnny Kay views it. The 45-year-old president of Hefty Drilling Inc. in Anchorage, Alaska, says “It’s just what I do, I guess I don’t think about it.”

Kay, who is in his second year serving as president of the Alaska Water Well Association, must have jobs planned out to maintain the workflow. Kay’s father-in-law, Curt Hefty, began the business in 1979 and a good customer base was built. A map of Alaska proudly hangs in the office with red dots of where they’ve drilled.

Being efficient may begin in the office but it follows to the jobsite.

Which drilling method chosen due to the drilling formation sets the stage at the jobsite. How one handles the drilling operation has a trickle-down effect on the overall installation of the well.

In Alaska, most water well system professionals use the air rotary drilling method due to the predominantly silts and gravel formation. Kay’s company uses the drill-and-drive method, running casing hammers and installing well casing as the crew is drilling. Since the casing is driven, a drive shoe is installed on the first piece of casing to protect it from damage. If the team has time, it will weld the drive shoe at the shop so it’s ready to go at the jobsite to be more efficient.

Planning for fuel use is also critical for Kay and his two-man crew. They ensure they have enough fuel on hand for each job. If not, they have auxiliary tanks on service trucks to assist when a drill rig is set up for a project lasting over days.

Operating with fuel in mind comes into play. Kay’s company operates two Schramm drill rigs, both late 1970s models. In July they replaced a deck engine on one of them, making it 20 years since the last rebuild.

The average well for Kay’s company is 100 feet, 6 inches in diameter. With that, the rigs don’t need to be revved at full power for portions of the drilling.

“We don’t rev our rigs up to wide open throttle until we get past a certain depth and need more power and air,” Kay says. “In that case we’re more cautious of the fuel.

“Then it’s a noise thing too. If you’re not revved up all the way you’re not being loud.”

Alaska is unique in that simply getting supplies to the jobsite is more challenging. Due to its remoteness, transporting equipment is done via airplane or boat. There aren’t many roads in Alaska, forcing Kay to be diligent in making sure they have their checklist complete before transporting equipment. He uses past jobs and experience to make the process more efficient.

Kay likes his equipment to look good, so the crew paints all of it in the company’s signature red. He learned the paint trade in an auto body paint class in high school.

“We go the extra mile and get the factory decals,” Kay says. “I think that’s just a big part of how we run our business. If our equipment looks good, I think it shows our commitment to do a good job. We take the time to pressure wash our equipment. I just like our equipment looking good.”

Kay learned what he knows from Curt, who died in September 2016. Curt invited a then 20-year-old Kay to work for him. Kay thinks of Curt every day.

“It’s tough because if I have a well that is challenging, without him to ask what would you do, that makes it tough,” Kay says. “He was a great guy, had a good sense of humor, and is really missed in our drilling industry.”

• • •

The goal of the pre-planning process is to minimize mistakes, according to Ron Pichler, president of Denali Drilling Inc. in Anchorage, Alaska.

Included in the pre-planning is first knowing the jobsite layout and location of the borehole. Being aware of any buried or overhead utilities is important to note anytime the drill rig’s derrick is raised, Pichler says. Second is working with the engineer in knowing what type of drilling operation will be used. Information is gathered from well logs and online of the proposed jobsite for the type of geologic formation, depth, and type of water among other things.

“Once that homework is done, you can pre-project plan,” Pichler says. “You’re always doing your homework. As a good businessman, you’re going to ask questions to the homeowner, to the engineer, and visit the site if you have time. If you don’t have time, you can have a driller visit the site to make sure no red flags are missed as we’re humans and we all make mistakes.”

To help meet your professional needs, this article covers skills and competencies found in DACUM charts for drillers, pump installers, and geothermal contractors. DO refers to the drilling chart and GO represents the geothermal chart. The letter and number immediately following is the skill on the chart covered by the article. This article covers: DOB-1 to DOB-10; GOB-1 to GOB-10 More information on DACUM and the charts are available at and click on “Exam information.”

Pichler likes to sit down with his drillers and share the information to make them part of the process. This allows them to make those contacts because “we’re just trying to be good communicators with our clients and engineers, so everybody is looking out for each other.”

As a result, this begins the project on the right foot and allows it to run smoother.

“Pre-planning is very important for us,” Pichler says. “Once you’ve gone through that you’ve got an approved plan in place, you mobilize to the site, and you set the drilling process in motion. You know, 99 percent of the time you’re successful because of the pre-planning.”

• • •

 At National Exploration, Wells & Pumps an internal system has been set up to keep everyone on the same page.

Once the company in Elko, Nevada, is awarded a project following the bidding process, the project manager or supervisor and a representative from client services and estimating and billing are on a phone call to run through the line items—everything from start of the job to the drilling method chosen. If the field crew has any questions, they get addressed too.

Then, an external call takes place with the customer beginning with a representative of client services, then handing it to operations to go through the job step by step to ensure the customer’s expectations are met, according to Keith Meyers, CWD/PI, general manager of National Exploration, Wells & Pumps. Any other questions regarding the water source, work schedule, or other matters get answered before the drilling crew even leaves the yard.

Once the crew is set up on the jobsite, they send a morning report each day with billable items listed out. This report goes to the client and billing sign off on the daily reports, so it’s a real-time report that generates an invoice, Meyers says.

“To be efficient, the customer knows the same day, or depending on the project, a few days, so they know how much money they’re spending,” he says. “You can match that to your work schedule and budgets so you don’t find yourself three-quarters through the project and all of a sudden the engineer realizes he is running off on the budget.”

This system helps address any change in ground conditions or other variables because the majority of the time the winning bid is based off the assumption from other well logs in the area.

“Often no one takes the time to put a test well in, so you’re going into these projects based on regional information,” Meyers says. “This helps everyone stay on the same page on a daily basis.”

Cost Calculators Simplify Business, Impress Customers

John Pitz, CPI, NGWAF, will be the first to tell you how important NGWA cost calculators are for his business, N L Pitz Inc. in Batavia, Illinois.

NGWA’s Drilling Cost Calculator, Pump Installation Cost Calculator, and Geothermal Cost Calculator provide these benefits for Pitz:

• Save time at his desk

• Ensure all the costs are included and charged the appropriate price

• Costs are up to date

• Accurate records of what was charged to customers and what were his costs

• Customers receive a detailed breakdown of the charges

• Calculators simplify his business life.

John Pitz, CPI, NGWAF

“The cost calculators provide breakout of labor overhead costs and equipment overhead costs,” says Pitz, an NGWA past president. “I’ve had several customers remark that receiving an invoice with the breakout of labor and equipment overhead costs helps them understand the cost of the work. They really appreciate our transparency. I’ve had customers state an influencing factor for selecting our proposal was the detailed breakout of labor and equipment overhead costs. It’s very satisfying from a professional standpoint to have your customer value your expertise.”

The Pump Sizer is another digital tool developed to help you determine the size of the various components of a typical water pump system. When data is entered describing the well parameters and system requirements, the Pump Sizer will calculate drop pipe length, minimum drop pipe diameter, pipe friction loss, total dynamic head, pump size required, minimum wire sizes, and well tank size.

“By being a member of NGWA, a contractor has access to all of these tools that make the paperwork easier and impress the customers,” Pitz says. “We have to be one of the smallest businesses size-wise, and yet NGWA makes a difference in our operations. I’m absolutely convinced all the calculators and the contracts can have a significant impact on the profitability of the business and lessen the workload of managing a business.”

Members can download the calculators and Pump Sizer for free in the NGWA Bookstore at



Mike Price is the senior editor of Water Well Journal. In addition to his WWJ responsibilities, Price produces NGWA’s newsletter and contributes to the Association’s quarterly scientific publication. He can be reached at