Another day on the rig

October 20, 2022

by Mike Junkins, Core Drill Operator

I woke up at 4:11 P.M. on this frigid afternoon in February. The location was West Forks, Maine, US. I was getting ready for a 12-hour night shift on Alder Pond. Yes, we had the rig set up on the ice to hit a specific target. This job was an exploratory contract. We were looking for copper-bearing sulfide. We had to cross shifts at the drill. The extremely cold temperatures would freeze the waterline very quickly if anything went amiss. The pump could quit, the line could come apart, or the suction line could freeze. There were too many variables to leave entirely to chance. Without question, the water supply system had to be monitored closely.

I met my helper, Jacque, in the dining room. We said our hellos and both yawned simultaneously. Reg was the cook’s name. He got our meals and made-up sack lunches for us to take to the rig. He also made up the rooms and cleaned the place by himself. We were the only guests at this time of the year. The town was literally dead in the winter months. In the summer, the town came alive with white water rafting enthusiasts. The Kennebec River flowed on the opposite side of the street from where the hotel was located.

Reg brought our meals and said he would go and make sandwiches for the shift. We thanked him and began eating the Goulash with a really nice cornbread. There was also a green salad. I never seemed to lose any weight on these jobs.

We finished up our meal and grabbed our sack lunch. I made sure my thermos was filled with hot coffee. Jacque preferred Mountain Dew for some reason. Caffeine comes in many forms. We had our cold weather gear in the rear seat of the crew cab pickup. We made a quick stop at the only convenience store in town for a couple of candy bars – some quick energy for that 3:00 A.M. time when things got a bit yawny. It was about 16 miles (25.75 km) of logging road to get to the drill site.

Preparing to set up on the frozen pond, we had placed 12 cedar logs on the ice and packed snow between them. We’ve wet down the snow and let it freeze in overnight. Then the drill was skidded out across the frozen pond and up onto the Cedar/ice raft. We used a Timberjack skidder to move the rig and rod sloop. There was nearly 2 ft (91 cm) of good ice on the pond. The insurance demanded no less than 18 inches (45.7 cm) of ice before they would cover the rig in this type of setup. Casing had been run down 42 ft (12.8 m) before we even had to turn a rod. The hole was at +90 degrees, so no slings had been necessary. The slings were used under the ice to stabilize casing that was being run in at an angle like -45 degrees or higher. This process involved ‘walking planks’ under the ice and it was a royal pain in the butt. Hopefully, only a small number of holes would be angle holes on this project.

We drove the truck out across the ice-covered pond to the rig and noted the smoke rising from the wood stove in the corner of the shack. The day shift helper would yard a couple of Beech or Birch trees out to the rig during his shift. The night shift helper would saw the trees into stove length and split what needed to be split. We used a propane torch and a coil stove at the pump shack to heat the water as it was sent to the drill. We had about 700 ft (213.4 m) of water line buried under the snow from the pump to the rig. We could not pump water from the pond because it was so full of silt that it kept plugging the suction screen. Instead, we were pumping from a casing onshore from a previous drill hole. The casing had an artesian flow, so the water was already 48 degrees Fahrenheit (8.9°C) or warmer coming out of the casing. This was an old drill hole that had been done during the previous summer.

Normally, we cement up these artesian holes when completed. In this case, we knew we were going to need a water source for the winter drilling, so we cleared it with Chris, the head geologist, to leave it open for now.

We walked to the rig and entered the shack. Don was the driller, and he was sitting on a polymer bucket by the stove filling out his report. Brad was his helper and he was wiping down the pipe wrenches and other tools as an end of shift courtesy. Don told me that everything was drilling well. Good stick rock. The hole was only 340 ft (103.6 m) deep with a proposed TD of 1000 to 1200 ft (304–365 m). TD stood for ‘technically done’. When a hole was completed we said it was TD’d. We had cased off with N tools and were drilling 10 ft (3 m) B-sized core. That was nice because it was light and fast to work with. As long as the formation stayed competent, we should have a highball night. In this type of drilling, we only used polymer as a mud additive. Our mud tank was inside the shack and had a hydraulic Bean Pump along with a hydraulic mud mixer. Both were very efficient for these cold-weather projects.

There was room inside the shack for Jacque to dump the tubes. Barring a rod trip, we should be able to stay warm by the glowing wood stove. We kept tinfoil at the rig so we could toast our sandwiches at lunchtime.

Brad told Jacque that he should fuel the supply pump by 10:00 or so and he might also have to change out the propane tank. The propane tank was a 100 lb (45.36 kg) tank that usually lasted about 36 hours. If the propane ran out, we had about 30 minutes to get it back on before the water in the line started slushing up.

The night was uneventful. We knocked out a 280 ft (85.3 m) shift. That should keep Chris busy logging core all day. He had a semi-trailer parked up on shore with a propane heater, where he logged the core samples. He used our Muskeg truck to transport the core to the trailer. He had an assistant, who cut some of the mineralized core to be bagged and sent in for assay.

Jacque had checked on the pump and propane a final time at around 4:00 A.M. All was good and the pump was full of fuel. We added wood to the stove, and I began making out my report. It felt nice to drill without any drama during the shift. Don and Brad arrived right on time. It seemed like they had just left moments ago. I told Don everything was purring along. He was impressed with our productive shift. I let him know that he had a tube down and a 10 ft (3 m) stick up. Two ft (0.6 m) off bottom and ready to turn and burn.

Reg had eggs, bacon and some French toast when we got back to the hotel. I would watch TV, read some of the newspaper and hit the hay. Another day, another dollar.

For more information get in touch with Mike on LinkedIn 

Read Issue 21 here: 

Issue 21 / 2022