• Spinning Augers and Pounding Spoons… Part 1

  • In keeping with recent articles about making life easier for various subcontractors utilized by environmental consultants, this month’s blog addresses some of the common issues that potentially impede the relationship between the consultant and drilling contractor. When conducting subsurface investigations for environmental or geotechnical purposes, the drill rig and its operators play a crucial role in conducting these studies. Over my 35+ years of monitoring drilling in the field, including a few seasons hauling muddy augers and bags of well sand & bentonite, I have seen vast improvements in drilling safety and efficiency. Unfortunately, I have also seen too many projects where the consultants take the drillers for granted, which can lead to a variety of problems. Thanks to my contacts Chris at CMT Drilling, Dan at Landshark Drilling and Tyler at Altech Drilling for their collective input on things that consultants un-knowingly do that make the driller’s job harder.

    Proper communication is vital to the successful completion of any project. This is even more important when there are multiple team members and stakeholders. The consultant should have a good understanding of their client and project requirements so they can retain the appropriate driller and incorporate and rely on their expertise. It is also imperative that necessary project details be provided to the driller well in advance of initiating the field work. Where, when, and what is to be done? What obstacles, contamination, safety concerns may be present? You should always strive to communicate respectfully as equals.

    Locates and Accessibility
    No subsurface investigation can be conducted without first confirming the presence and location of site services. Usually this is done through the completion of public utility locates, along with retaining a qualified and experienced private locator, since the public locates often stop at the property line, and don’t cover private services. This requires time, expertise and often some tricky scheduling to ensure locates are complete before the day of drilling. The consultant (ideally an experienced person who will supervise the field work) should also visit the site in advance to layout the test hole locations in conjunction with completing the locates. Its not enough to simply know where services are buried, other accessibility concerns should also be addressed. Consider not just buried utilities, are there overhead lines, trees or other obstructions? Area there interior and exterior locations? What about clearance height, and exhaust? Is the facility in operation, and are there on-site staff or safety concerns? Do you have a comprehensive health and safety plan, including necessary PPE? What about drill access, staging areas for service trucks, driving on slopes, ground disturbance and restoration? If in doubt about any of these issues, consult with your drilling contractor in advance and don’t forget Point 1 above – communicate.

    Managing Expectations
    If the consultant has limited experience with drilling, they may have unrealistic expectations about drill performance and production rates. Given favorable site and soil conditions (easy drill access, good weather, softer uniform soils, no boulders or obstructions) it may be possible to knock out 15 shallow boreholes in a good day of Geoprobe drilling. However if you encounter a dense boulder till, or gravelly cobbles, that same drill may not advance beyond a meter or two; and a more powerful conventional drill may be required to reach the desired depth of investigation. Drilling and installing deep monitor wells in fractured bedrock or heaving sands can be tricky and a very experienced drill team is required. Subsurface conditions can vary greatly, and can even change significantly across the same site. If you have no existing data, it’s a good idea for the consultant to discuss the scope of work and methodology with an experienced driller before they submit their work plan and cost estimate to their client. Remember why you are conducting these investigations – because you (usually) don't know what is there and you're drilling to find out. Both the consultant and driller need to coordinate and cooperate, and they both must be adaptable and focused on solutions, in order to achieve the best results.

    Next month, I will discuss a few more items that consultants should consider in their relationship with their drilling contractor.

    Bill Leedham, P. Geo., CESA

    Bill is the Head Instructor and Course Developer for the Associated Environmental Site Assessors of Canada (www.aesac.ca); and the founder and President of Down 2 Earth Environmental Services Inc. You can contact Bill at info@down2earthenvironmental.ca