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It's shortly after noon, and the thermometer is reading well over 100 degrees in the shade. That's pretty hot for a couple of well drillers from Michigan who a few days ago were trudging through 2' of February snow. We have to be careful not to get burned leaning against the metal frame of the Bucyrus Erie 20W we are repairing, it's hot! We are busy re-bushing the Main Winch drum and the Sand Line drum, along with a multitude of smaller repairs. Our goal, as with drill rigs anywhere, is to turn our clattering, sloppy rig back into a smooth running, dependable machine . We are side by side lifting, pounding, and grunting with our Nigerian drill crew on the old rig and by the end of the day we are all covered in black grease from the cable rig gears. We notice working together, Nigerians with Americans, racial and language differences don't matter by the end of the day when we're tired, sweaty, covered in grease, and pleased with what we've accomplished. We're halfway thru a three day maintenance marathon and we Michigan boys are drinking water like it's going out of style.
Today we are contemplating how to deal with a worn sand line friction pulley that is barely dragging a full bailer out of the borehole. Our problem is two-fold, we aren't that excited about pulling the jackshaft from the rig to make this repair, and our spare friction pulley was lost in transit. Buckeye doesn't ship parts to Nigeria, so we need to come up with of a plan. After studying the friction pulley for a while I realize our problem is not a lack of friction material, our problem is the sand line drum is hitting against the two outer metal rings that secure the friction pulley between them, because the friction pulley is so worn. Metal on metal is not a good situation for friction pulleys. After some pondering we conclude that grinding down the metal rings on the ends of a spinning friction pulley while the rig is running would expose enough friction material to be able to finish out the drill season. Our crazy idea works and a day and half later the rig is back in the field nicely banging away at the bedrock searching for precious clean water. Such is the life of a driller in Africa. There are plenty of laborers to accomplish a repair, but getting the parts you need, that is the eternal challenge. In Africa you need the mindset your Grandfather had. "Fix it with what you have because either you can’t find new parts or can't afford them". If you adopt that "can do" attitude and learn to live without factory support and DHL for a while, you will enjoy the challenges of drilling in developing countries and we would encourage you to try it if you haven't already.
Our first borehole after making rig repairs didn't go so well, we hit bedrock at 5' depth and didn't pick up any decent fractures by 90' depth. A dry hole on any rig in any country is a big disappointment. We had to return to the U.S. before the second borehole was completed, but the Nigerian drill crew reported they hit bedrock at 20' on the second attempt and were able to construct a good well at 70' depth. The last I heard the boys had completed two more wells since and were starting on a third.
We'll probably be back at it next year, lending a hand, shipping parts, laughing with our African friends, encouraging them, and trying to figure out how to avoid those darn dry holes. There's something about seeing the smile on the face of an African mother who won't have to walk 3 kilometers one way to scoop dirty water from a seep hole; or knowing the children from a village won't get sick this year and some die from dirty water; or maybe it's watching the African sunset while listening to the noise of a hand pump squeaking in the distance; we'll probably be back to help, just one more time.
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