By Christopher S. Johnson, PG, CHg
Let’s not discussing anything technical, but rather something social—specifically how engineers, geologists, and hydrogeologists can interact correctly with drilling contractors at the jobsite.
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While it is especially true for anyone new to construction, and especially to well drilling sites, it also applies to us old dogs as well. Keep in mind, that when we as engineers or other professionals arrive at the drill site, we are going to work in someone else’s office.
Safety comes first. Don’t show up to a jobsite without the proper safety equipment and expect the drilling crew to just look the other way. Their lives are on the line as well if you present a safety hazard to them by being ill-prepared, untrained, or both. So, arrive with all the necessary first line safety equipment (e.g., hard hat, steel toed boots, etc.) and be sure to use it!
Rule No. 1: Get permission.
Too often—actually far too often—a geologist or engineer arrives on a drilling site, and marches straight up onto the drilling deck (worst case) or into the dog house (next worst case).
The drilling crew operates as a unit, each person engaged in a routine, and precise series of movements to keep drilling pipe moving, and drilling progressing. By introducing themselves uninvited into the working environment, these unwitting individuals place themselves and the drilling crew at risk.
So, stand somewhere away from the drilling rig, but where the crew can see you. Let them acknowledge they’ve seen you, and then hopefully they will gesture you to the rig. While this may seem like simple, common courtesy, it is far more then that. First, you allow the lead driller a chance to understand you are asking to come into “their office,” second, they can mentally factor you into the safety procedures at the drilling site, and third, it is showing respect for their work.
Rule No. 2: Respect the chain of command.
There is always someone in charge on a drill site; often it’s the lead driller. Its almost universally easier to chat with the rig hands, as they usually have a spare moment as the go about their duties, while the lead driller must keep a constant vigil on the rig. However, resist the urge to ask important questions, of or convey important information to, the rig hands over the lead driller. Yes, you will need to be patient, but safety and overall effectiveness rewards patience. You may need to say things twice, once to the lead driller and then again to the rig hands, but start with the lead driller.
Rule No.3: Ask and listen.
As a rule, drilling crews will have drilled about one hundred times the footage that you as a geologist or engineer will have observed. The same is true of well completions. We are observers, we catalog and record information, but we are not drillers! Ask questions and listen to the crew’s answers. If you have project specifications, and the crew is required to log or record information as part of meeting those specifications, ask first to see and possibly photograph those records.
Do not assume! I’ve been doing this nearly 40 years and work with drillers and rig crews that are less then half my age, but I still give them the time they need to explain and teach, and I often learn something new every time.
Rule No.4 – No gossiping.
This is a tough one, but as much as possible, avoid idle gossip about the crew’s boss, what the client thinks, and so on. Once you say something, you lose command and control over your words, and they can get twisted. Talk about sports, cars, or the weather if you must.
Also, the crew is there to work, not to provide you with a social hour. Its fine to develop a good working relationship with the crew, but they get paid to work, not socialize, and this shows respect for their jobs, boss, and company.
Rule No.5: Write it down.
Tom Clancy once said, “If you don’t write it down, it never happened” and I take that to heart. Write down conversations with the drilling crew that pertain to changes in the drilling program, or modifications to the well design based on field conditions.
Write down anything that will affect the cost of the project or when it will get done. Write down your observations of drilling fluid data and take a picture of the crew’s records as well.
If it involves the project, or the progress of the drilling, or the compliance with the specifications, or concerns about the materials brought to the site, or discrepancies in the directions provided to the crew, then write it down.
Nearly all of the time this is an exercise in penmanship, but on that rare occasion when you really need to remember or demonstrate your perspective on the events of that point in time, write it down. When we are working in someone else’s office, this is important. We need to document what was occurring and said at it relates to decisions reached on the jobsite in the absence of additional input from the rest of the team.
Rule No.6: Be supportive.
While it is not a requirement, it is something of a jobsite tradition for the geologist or engineer to at least once bring the drilling rig crew some drinks, food, or both. The drilling crews are often stuck on the rig for 12 hours far from resources. On your way to the drill site, stop and get some snacks and drinks. I would also encourage you in your routine phone calls to the drilling site to ask if there is anything you can bring. And then if asked to supply something, do your best to do it!
These are not hard and fast rules, but simply courtesies we should adhere to in our interactions on the jobsite. There may be others, and if you have one and want to share it, send me an email and I will add it to the list!
Christopher S. Johnson, PG, CHg, is the president and principal hydrogeologist at Aegis Groundwater Consulting LLC in Fresno, California. Johnson works with well owners and operators on a variety groundwater-related projects, including locating new water resources, well design and construction management, aquifer testing, and well rehabilitation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.