Having a well drilled is a unique experience. You need to get water from a hole that is drilled deep into the ground. You are about to spend a chunk of money for a hole with a pipe sticking out of it that is no bigger around than a dinner plate. You are told by others that you will have to pay even if there is no water in that hole. You are probably wondering, “Will I get water, will I like the water quality?” . . . In your lifetime, you will probably not spend more money for a product with less up front information.
Although many well drillers do a great job drilling wells, most drillers cannot or will not communicate. In an area like ours where the rapid pace of development has exceeded the capacity of the local drillers, this lack of communication has led to misunderstanding, abuse, and even fraud. The following insider information will help you understand what takes place, and how to protect yourself.
WE’LL BE THERE NEXT WEEK GAME: Scheduling is very difficult in the well drilling business. Weather, repairs, access, having to drill deeper than expected, being asked to drill more than one hole on a property, are all valid reasons why a driller can be late to your jobsite.
The games begin when your driller is supposed to move twenty miles to your jobsite, but a neighbor across the road where he is currently drilling asks him to drill his well. There is a substantial cost to moving big heavy equipment miles away and then miles back. So the driller puts you off for another week while he drills someone else’s well. The games continue when the driller expects your well to be either shallow or difficult (sometimes both). Why wouldn’t a driller go and drill the deep, easy, close, wells first?
THE FIXED PRICE PER FOOT GAME: You are not doing yourself a favor when the primary question that you ask a driller is, “How much per foot?!” You get quoted lets say, $25.00 per foot. You then get told that if there is not any water in the hole, you still have to pay the $25.00 per foot. What then, is the motivation for a fixed price driller to be honest when he has drilled down hundreds of feet and has hit a little water? If the driller simply says that there is no water, he pulls his tooling out of the hole, folds up his machine, and you have to pay him full price for:
- Not spending another day or two in time to finish up the well.
- Not incurring the cost of the materials to case and gravel pack the well.
You have just spent major dollars on having your driller work at trying to convince you that you have a dry hole!
The games continue when there is obviously water coming out of the bore hole while the well is being drilled. Again, what is the motivation for a driller to install many feet of the more expensive perforated pipe that allows more water to come into the well? The incoming water from around the bore hole needs to directly access the inside of the well no matter what level the water is coming in from. Much less water will be available with only one twenty-foot section of perforated pipe installed at the bottom of the well. Will the water that has to drain down through the gravel pack between the bore hole and the well casing that is not perforated ever make into the well? Will the water find another fracture on the way down and go elsewhere? All of the water needs to directly access the borehole and installing perforated well casing from the bottom of the well to the standing water level is necessary and does cost extra money. When a contract is signed with a driller, the driller needs to state how much perforated casing he is going to install in a producing well.
THE CAN’T WASTE TIME ON THE GRAVEL PACK GAME: Having a good gravel pack in-between the walls of the bore hole and the outside of the well is critical. The bore hole has to be large enough for a proper gravel pack. The most important reason to have a gravel pack is to make sure that the wall of the bore hole does not get saturated and sluff down into the bottom of the well where it will plug up the perforations in the well casing. For instance, shale is a soft rock trying to turn into a hard rock with compression and time. When a bore hole though shale fills with water, the shale begins to soften, and with no gravel pack, the now goopy clay-like shale drops to the bottom of the well and seals off any percolation through the perforations. This saturation process takes some time – from less than a year to several years – but the result is the same. No gravel pack, no water.
When a well is drilled and a gravel pack is installed, the bore hole walls will still soften and will slough and bridge – up against the gravel pack. The rest of the gravel will still allow the transfer of water through the casing and into the well.
Some drillers use whatever pea-gravel is available from the local pit. The advantage is that the gravel is cheap, but can have dust, dirt, animal droppings, and can add Iron or Hardness into the water in the well. Bagged gravel, or silica sand is engineered for the thickness of the perforations in the well and also is designed for the perfect balance of percolation and bridging with the bonus that it is clean and sterile.
THE WITCHING GAME: There IS something to ‘witching’ or water dousing, but whether it has anything to do with water, or not, is discussed in the article, “What About Witching?” The relationship that drillers have with witching is very simple:
- A driller needs to have a drilling location. The driller needs to minimize the amount of time that he isn’t getting paid for finding the well location, so it is much quicker to witch the property himself and not have to have anyone else’s input on the drilling location. It is usually a relief for the prospective well buyer to defer the responsibility to someone who says they can witch – even if the witch is a driller. So everyone is happy, right?
- A driller’s primary concern is being able to get his equipment to the drilling location . . . and . . . back out again. The equipment is heavy, heavy, and top heavy. The odds are that the driller who witches your well location will have also magically found the most level, flat, and easy to get to spot on your property.
If you want to have a witched location for your well, call at least two witchers unrelated to the drillers and have them identify locations on your property without visibly marking them. If a couple of the individually witched sites are in the same location, you probably have a good place to drill. Make sure that witchers stay away from either overhead or underground power lines because drilling near them is not an option.
THE HERE IS YOUR INVOICE – DON’T KNOW GAME: It is incredible that the average well buyer is willing to pay a driller thousands of dollars without having at least a preliminary water test performed. The driller should supply basic testing: PH, Iron, Hardness, Total Dissolved Solids, and if the water is smelly, a test of the H2s. This testing is going to very preliminary since it takes time for a well to fully develop out. The incoming water to a well has to find and establish their tiny underground water passage ways. Water quality is dependant upon what type of ground the water travels through.
The value of immediately knowing what your water quality consists of is huge. Many times the excavation for the water piping takes place immediately after the well is drilled. The amount of water lines, the size of the water lines, the size of the electrical conduit can be dependant upon the quality of the water – and what needs to be done with it.
If you have a responsive driller who is willing to try and give you an indication of the water quality just after the drilling has taken place and before he has ‘tripped out’ of the hole, you can make a decision on whether you want to have the well completed or not. If you have salt water, or if you have water that is going to be too expensive to treat, you can have the driller not complete the well and perhaps save you thousands of dollars.
If you can be on site as the drilling is taking place and when water is obviously coming out of the bore hole, take a tall glass and fill it with the water. Let it settle out for perhaps half an hour or as long as it takes to get several inches of fairly clear water at the top of the glass. Gently, lift the glass and taste the water. Is it salty? Does it have the metallic taste of Iron? Does it smell like rotten eggs? Plugging in with common sense at this stage of the game pays off big-time.
THE DEEP POCKETS GAME: When witching is excluded, all of the drillers have a good idea where the best place to drill is on your property. Among responsible drillers it really is surprising that they will usually pick pretty close to the same spot – not always – but quite often. An unscrupulous driller will try to size up a prospective well buyer and if he determines that he has a ‘sucker’, he will drill on a spot on the property that will probably not produce any water. Then when he has drilled a nice deep hole (in which you get to put your savings), he will move to the location on the property where he is fairly sure that there is water, and then he is the hero – while you have been consciously fleeced.
Some of the wells drilled in Unit 6 in Aspen Springs are clear examples of this rip-off. All of the drillers know that you aren’t going to get very much water drilling near the edge of the hill – you have to drill through the rock that holds the water in the hill and there is very little to no water in that rock. However, if a well is drilled in the center of the hill, you will usually get shallow water, more water, and better quality water. All of us drillers know this. So why does one local driller go out of his way to drill deep expensive wells on the edges of the hill sides. Enjoy looking at his shiny new trucks – you’re about ready to make a contribution.
DON’T LOSE: Research, common sense, and picking a responsive driller are the things that are going to insure that you will get a quality well that will provide you with great water for years to come. You don’t need to be a loser in ‘The Games That Some Drillers Play’.