Rig’s arrival transforms well pad
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of occasional stories chronicling the drilling of natural gas wells on Jim and Jackie Nesbitt’s property south of Silt.Hardly two weeks ago, Grey Wolf rig 708 was down, but far from out.Like an aged but determined prizefighter, she’s back in the fight and pounding away at her opponent: thousands of feet of dirt and rock separating her from natural gas fields beneath Jim and Jackie Nesbitt’s 170-acre spread south of Silt.”This old gal’s been through a lot,” said Charlie Hicks, the company man for Bill Barrett Corp. at the Nesbitt drilling site.First built around 1952, she’s been taken apart, and put back together, countless times, to be moved over and over to different drill sites – most recently the Nesbitt site.This rig’s also making a bit of a comeback, after being completely rebuilt in Casper, Wyo., where Grey Wolf is based. This is only the third time the rig has been used for drilling since the overhaul, and rig workers are continuing to tinker with it to get it back into prime running condition. The whole process has educated Jim Nesbitt, who has followed the drilling project on his property with a keen interest.”The rig was raised this morning and it was very interesting to observe close up. It’s really a very complex operation … much, I suspect, like raising the mast and rigging of a big sailing vessel,” Nesbitt e-mailed his brother in mid-February.Before this 120-foot derrick was in the air, it was on its side. Workers brought it in pieces from its last drill site in Utah, reassembled it, and then in a matter of minutes cranked up a system of winches, pulleys and cables to pull it into the air. But that brief moment of excitement was sandwiched between many days of hard work and major expense.Hicks estimated that it cost about $250,000 just to transport the rig and all its components from Utah. And that’s just for the 40-45 truck trips. It doesn’t count any of the manpower involved.On Feb. 10, a five-man Grey Wolf drilling crew was waiting at the mostly vacant Nesbitt site for more truckloads to arrive. Supervisor Tony Nelson, of Evanston, Wyo., directed the crew on odd jobs with a quiet intensity. But some crew members also found time to enjoy a cigarette.”This is a luxury right now,” Bill Mecham, of Roosevelt, Utah, one of the crew members, said of the smoking break in a place where natural gas soon will be tapped.By early the next week, the crew’s work pace had picked up substantially. The well pad had been transformed from what the week before had been a nearly empty field. Much of the rig was in place, and Mecham and his coworkers were making the final preparations for the rig-raising. Some of them were splattered with green paint, as the refurbishing of the “old gal” proceeded even as she was being put back to work.A tour of the rig site by Hicks revealed how much had changed, and how busy crews had become, in just a few days’ time. They had put into place diesel generators, mud pumps, a boiler to keep the drilling area warm, derrick lighting, a mud hopper where the drilling mud and chemicals are mixed, a rotary table that turns the drill pipe, locker rooms, trailers for Hicks and other supervisors, the 35-foot-high rig substructure between the ground and derrick, and any number of other components that make up a drilling rig. Stacks of 30-foot drilling pipe, enough to go thousands of feet deep, lined the perimeter of the site.And by last week, things were even busier. Drilling was well under way, and the bit already was churning away more than 3,000 feet underground. A supervisor, Lance McComack of New Castle – Texas, that is – watched the computer monitors in a control room and reported that the bit was proceeding at a pace of 57 feet an hour.A “string” of connected 30-foot-long drilling pipes totaling 95,000 pounds in weight sat on top of the bit. But the rig cable pulled up on the pipe so it exerted only 18,000 pounds of pressure. Any more might twist the pipe.The rotary table spins the drill pipe at 75 revolutions per minute on the surface. Down the hole, a motor powered by the pressure of drilling mud adds another 60 rpm to that speed.It’s fast enough that a drilling crew must add pipe a couple of times an hour. The drilling halts, the crew brings up another pipe, smears on thread paste, pours powder chemicals into the drilling mud down the pipe, wraps a chain several times around the new pipe, then whips the chain off at high speed to spin the pipe tight. Crew members then use “tongs,” which are like giant pipe wrenches, to torque it even tighter.Eventually, Jerry Davis of Precision Drilling appears on the drill platform. He’s handling the directional drilling on the rig, and makes an adjustment to put the drill bit back on track. The drill hole is nearly done making an “S” turn, after which it will resume going straight down to the gas field. Davis said he has done similar work on about 25 rigs in the Mamm Creek field for EnCana Oil & Gas U.S.A.Outside, a team of welders is continuing to work on assembling piping for a “gas buster” – a separator for gas that will be encountered as the bit goes lower. With this rig just now back in operation, crews are still tweaking things and getting used to its idiosyncrasies, Hicks said. As it is used more, the kinks will get worked out.Crews will get plenty of practice on the Nesbitt property. This rig isn’t moving again for a while. It will drill three more wells on the pad there.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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