14 Georgia company makes geothermal drilling a proftable venture despite its challenges o n a col\xe sprin 1 6ornin 1 on a \xerill site in Atlanta, the \xeay af- ter a 6-inch (15 cm) snowfall, steam rose from the eushing water ... a re 6in\xeer that the earth is a constant heat source un\xeer our feet. drillers are consi\xeerin 1 this fact 6ore seriously as they beco 6e 6ore creative about how to sustain their businesses in to\xeay 9s econo 6ic \xeownturn.
many are lookin 1 at the possibilities of 1eother 6al \xeril- lin 1. mi\xe\xele geor 1ia Water Syste 6s of Zebulon, ga., is a lea\xeer in 1eother 6al work an\xe has 6any i\xeeas on how it can be done pro dtably. There is a fundamental difference in the approach to geothermal work versus water wells.
cWater well drillers make money developing a hole. With geother- mal, it 9s all about production. Water wells are gravy work compared to geothermal projects, d said Jerry Colwell, owner of Middle Georgia.
Colwell purchased his *rst drill rig in 1974 and has bought 25 to 30 more over the years, some years purchasing two or three at a time. Colwell currently has nine rigs ... more. less.
in his +eet, two dedicated to geother - mal work, but he rotates his +eet for what - ever the job. Today his +eet of Atlas Cop - co drills includes two T4W rigs, six T3W rigs and one TH60 drill rig.<br><br> Four drills in the +eet are out*tted with mud pumps as Colwell 9s working territory is divided by a fault line requiring both air and mud drill- ing. Colwell stays close to home for residential water well work, but travels throughout the south for commercial, gov- ernment and geothermal work. He says to get into geothermal work requires the right crew with a mindset for ef*ciency.<br><br> Colwell said, cIt 9s tough work 4 setting and pulling casing, placing the loop and hustling to the next hole. Bam, bam, bam ... day after day, week after week. d cBeing successful [drilling] 500 ft (152 m) a day is hard to do; at 1,200 ft 15 (365 m) a day, you 9ll make money, d he emphasized.<br><br> If the drilling isn 9t going well, it doesn 9t take long before the project isn 9t pro*table, even costing money. cWe have been called in to jobs where others have pulled off. I can say we have never left a job once we started.<br><br> That 9s hard to do, but necessary for long-term business success, d said Colwell. Colwell compares geothermal work to quarry production work. Daily footage is where you make money and you have to keep the same customers happy.<br><br> Gener- ally, his projects are bid to a loop contrac- tor or a heating and cooling company. He pulls on the job and installs the loop *eld for someone to come in after him to complete the project. At 200 ft (61 m) of drilled hole per ton of heating and cool- ing, some of the jobs Middle Georgia works on are very large.<br><br> Hole depths range from 150 ft (46 m) to 400 ft (121 m). Some jobs have 80 to 90 holes, but there are those that have 400 holes, too. cOn those bigger jobs, we like to get *ve to six holes a day, but some days you may only get one, d said Colwell.<br><br> For geothermal projects Middle Geor- gia uses QL50 ham- mers with 5½ inch bits. They also use Atlas Copco QL60 and QL80 model hammers for wa- ter well and commercial work up to 12 inches in diameter. Colwell buys his hammers, bits and drill rigs from Virgil Bruinekool at Noland Drilling Supply.<br><br> He could buy consumables closer to home, but the personal ser- vice Noland has provided Colwell over the years has kept him loyal to his supplier. Colwell advised that if you 9re going to bid a job, it is very impor- tant to know the formation. He also thinks specializing as a driller and not attempting to do what you don 9t know is wise.<br><br> He likes subcontract- ing to others for his work, saying cI think it 9s better to do one thing re- ally well. d This also means he is not competing against a company that may be his customer. At one time, geothermal work accounted for about 20 percent of Middle Georgia 9s business. Today that number is closer to 50 percent.<br><br> The company has four employees bidding jobs, which is a long way from the days when Colwell said he got work by driving down the road, looking for new houses pop- ping up. cAbout 90 percent of our work comes from referrals. The HVAC and ground-source heat pump guys send us lots of work because they know not ev- eryone can do this, d said Colwell.<br><br> He emphasized that those who do want to get into geothermal work need to remember it is more like production drill- ing than water well drilling. Expenses all being the same 3 fuel, drill payments, la- bor, tooling 3 the cost per foot is roughly half what can be made developing water wells. cYou have to be organized and ef- *cient and have good people, d said Col - well.<br><br> Rod Tibbit is one of Middle Georgia 9s key drillers. Kevin Colwell, vice president of operations for Middle Georgia, said Tibbit *ts the personality of a good geo - thermal driller. cHe is a real company man who is strong willed, organized and tough.<br><br> He thinks ahead 3 two steps head 3 and is real project-minded. d D eep H ole D riller Rod Tibbit works at the New North- east Elementary School in Atlanta. He said the lon - ger tower on the new TH60 helps him get more done during the workday. D eep H ole D riller According to Tibbit, he *rst looks at a job and thinks about how he can make it more ef*cient.<br><br> cAnything I can do to speed up the process makes a difference, d said Tibbit. The longer tower on the new TH60 gives Tibbit more room to work with the casing. cWith the longer tower, I can pull longer casing.<br><br> That 9s a great bene*t, d he said. The crew installs about 60 ft (18 m) of PVC casing to support the overburden while drilling and then extracts the cas- ing in one piece when the hole is *nished. This speeds the process by allowing them to pull the casing faster, lay it down with the winch and move to the next hole.<br><br> Planning out the job in advance, and hustling at certain times, cuts time during the day. Everything equates to footage, in Tibbit 9s opinion. cTwenty or a hundred feet more by the end of the day, over a month or whatever time you 9re on the job, all adds up. d Tibbit likes to work hard, as does his three-man crew.<br><br> One assistant said, cI like to keep moving because it makes the day go faster and it 9s never stagnant. d Another said, cThese big jobs are good; it 9s just good knowing you have a job. d Tibbit and his crew also like knowing where the job is every day 4 a large geothermal job can take months to complete. The pace Tibbit runs his crew, ckeeps everyone on their toes, d he said. Like all drilling jobs, when the bit is turning there is less to do, but his crew continues to get the coil in place, move cuttings and, on this particular job, manage the water.<br><br> cOn this job, we can use cuttings from one hole to grout the next, but we also have a Geo- loop 50-500 that makes grouting fast, d said Tibbit. Another tip to moving faster is to keep the water behind you so the rig has solid footings. cThis job is producing 80 to 200 gpm (302 3 757 lpm) per hole, which could create a huge mess and prob- lems with rig stability if we didn 9t work it right, d said Tibbit.<br><br> In the nine years Tibbit has been with Middle Georgia, he has always run T3W drill rigs 4 until now. He is operating the company 9s new TH60. cThe TH60 is the best drill I 9ve ever run because it 9s fast- er and quieter, d said Tibbit.<br><br> Because the current job is at a school in a residential neighborhood, the crew is not allowed to operate before 8 am and must shut down for 30 minutes as students leave school. Barton Malow is the general contract- ing company on the job. Senior Superin- tendent Doug Braun manages the project.<br><br> cThe school stays open during the day and reports from inside the school say they are used to the rig and that it sounds much like a vacuum cleaner running in another room. d The New Northeast Elementary school (currently named Morningside Kindergar- ten Campus) near downtown Atlanta is an example of the direction the country is go- ing with renewable energy construction. Northeast Elementary is undergoing a major expansion with a new 48,000 ft (14,630 m), three-story building on 1.82 acres of land. Braun pointed out that the small site footprint didn 9t allow space for a mechanical facility.<br><br> cWater-source heat pumps work perfectly. d Braun said. The building will be heated and cooled by the new geothermal system that includes 40 ground-source heat pumps located throughout the building, a recov- ery unit on the roof and two pumps in the basement that will pump 285 gpm (1,078 lpm) through the loop *eld. The loop *eld consists of 56, 400 ft holes located under the front lawn.<br><br> Al- though the new school addition being built is modern in construction, the neighbor- hood consists of stately Atlanta mansions. The current classroom buildings are just that, two mansions side- by-side converted into a school. These will link into the system and continue to house adminis- tration and classrooms.<br><br> The bore holes are 15 ft (4.5 m) apart, closer than the 20 ft (6 m) spacing normally engineered into the projects Middle Geor- gia drills, but required because of the tight space constraints. These weren 9t the only issues on this project. cIt seemed like someone was shutting us down every day the *rst month on the job, d said The family operation: brother and sister, Kevin Col- well and Karri Colwell, along with aunt, Kay Guy, and own- er of company Jerry Colwell.<br><br> cThe TH60 is the best drill I 9ve ever run because it 9s faster and quieter. d 4Rod Tibbit, driller Because the current job is at a school in a residential neigh- borhood, they are not allowed to operate before 8 am and must shut down for 30 minutes as students leave school. D eep H ole D riller buildings in the future to take advantage of the available credits, but more impor- tantly to save energy, d said Braun. Both Tibbit and Braun see every job as a learning experience.<br><br> But with each experience, they adjust to make the next job more ef*cient. 17 Tibbit. Braun concurred with that, cThe city, EPA and many other agencies were watching us. d Groundwater was the big- gest problem.<br><br> The *rst hole drilled was producing 30 gpm (113 lpm) and the sand *lter sized for the job could only handle 15 gpm (57 lpm). To keep the chalky run off out of the popular Nancy Creek, ex- treme steps needed to be taken. To solve the problem, Braun designed a comprehensive system.<br><br> cWe now have a maze of *ltration in place, d said Braun. To start off, they dug a series of four sedi- ment ponds, pumped the water uphill to a series of *lter bags large enough to handle the deluge of water, which drained into a natural gravel and sand *lter, then *nally through hay bales. cEven after all that was in place, someone reported dirty water running into Nancy Creek, d said Braun.<br><br> cWhen the EPA arrived to inspect the complaint, they found we were not the problem and actu- ally complimented us on the system we had in place. d The school was the *rst project of this type for Braun in Atlanta, but he expects there will be many more. cThe mayor has made it clear that she wants only green Like all drilling jobs, when the bit is turning there is less to do, but his crew continues to get the coil in place, move cuttings and, on this particular job, manage the water. A maze of cltering ponds keep the job from affecting the nearby creek.<br><br> DHD 1 09