Don’t ever let anyone tell you different – whether in the Permian in Texas, at several miles down, or here in Kenya, struggling to go below 80 ft. – its tough, I promise you that. I knew that when I first saw the drilling process – in South Sudan, almost 11 years ago. But that is not why we do this – because it is difficult and we enjoy difficult challenges. No, we do it so that people can have fresh, safe drinking water – and within a reasonable distance to their home (see 1st photo, below). But we also do it because it will save lives, particularly that of children. Last year more than 800,000 people died (525,000 under the age of 5)* from unsafe drinking water – most often after contracting diarrhea!
And so, we struggle, because we know it is worth it. God never promised me this would be easy. In fact He has shown me just the opposite. But through our struggles we have become a very strong, and very capable team. People look for us. They seek us out. Because they know that we will bring the water. We don’t give up. We don’t stop trying. We cannot. We know that He will see us through to a successful well or water project. He ALWAYS has and He ALWAYS will. Of this I am certain.
Now, for a quick update and some photos. [Okay, maybe not so quick!] We are working at a very beautiful location, at a community called Msulwa. It is only 16 km from our garage and compound. We started late, because the drill was still in repair/upgrade when I arrived at the coast. Then the clutch and rear cross bearing went out on my Land Rover, which took 3 days to repair, because the necessary parts are only found in Mombasa – some 50 km away, and one ferry ride. But we did manage to mobilize and begin drilling, after first digging a new mud pit and cuttings pit. Our team of Justin, Fred, Peter and now, Daniel, had previously dug the pits in preparation for a well at the selected best location by the hydrogeologist, Kennedy Mwachala. But the well sponsors, who had collected and saved enough to pay for about half of the well cost ($3000 USD), wanted to use the No. 2 location. It was obvious to them why this was a better location – never mind the geology! It is located nearly 35 M (115 ft.) higher location than the suggested location.
To an engineer it is also quite obvious. I saw 3.5 Bar (50+ psi) pressure differential between the two. Why a ground storage tank at this location would provide adequate pressure for distribution to most of the houses far below and all but three which were located on this bluff. So I consulted with Mr. Mwachalla, since his selection of a borehole at the lower location included a suggestion that we drill to 130 M (429 ft.). You see we are limited to about 75 M with our small drill rig and possibly less when drilling an 8″ hole, which is what they wanted. Also the fact that the higher location showed potential for intersecting shallow aquifers from 20 ft. and down, whereas the lower location did not show promise until below 80 M – a point which we could not even drill to – the final decision became easier to accept – even for my team of hard working guys, knowing that they would have to dig yet another set of pits. Mr. Mwachalla agreed with me on this, given our limitations.
As it turned out, selecting the spot to drill was easy compared to the actual drilling. It started out fine, when we only drilled a few pipe lengths – about 15 ft. – after mobilizing and collecting water to fill the mud pits. The water came from the cow pond down below (also near the lower borehole test site), which would have been so much easier to collect. Actually we could have pumped it direct. Oh well (no pun intended)! As darkness was approaching and the geology below was quickly changing from sandy soil to medium-hard sandstone, we stopped for the night.
Slow drilling continued for the next two days, before we decided to use the new down-the-hole (DTH) hammer – basically a round-faced jack hammer that breaks the rock as you rotate and lower the drill pipes – which doesn’t require nearly the downward force of mud drilling. Unfortunately the hammer was designed for larger drill pipes and had a 3-1/4″ threaded connection, as compared to our 2-3/8″ drill pipes. So, we would need a special adapter. No problem, right? They sell these things at any local kiosk in “the bush”. Yeah, just send Peter on the boda boda and he will pick up one for us. Ha! Not quite. No, we had to contact Geoffrey, our drilling expert, who was – fortunately – still in Nairobi.
After sending photos of the two items we would have to connect, Geoffrey said that a local drill rig supplier could manufacture the adapter, if we could send the threaded connecting parts. This was late Friday afternoon, by now, and we were all to go to a big wedding at Maasai Corner Church tomorrow. So, on Saturday, before the wedding, Justin and the team went back to Msulwa, retrieved the parts and took them to the bus station in Ukunda, the nearest town to our compound. The plan was for them to arrive by Monday morning, where Geoffrey was to pick them up and take to the manufacturer. If all went well, he would return the parts and the new adapter, by bus on Monday night, arriving Tuesday morning in Ukunda.
Believe it or not – all went well! Other than the bus being late, the parts all arrived in Ukunda, by 10 AM, Tuesday, where I picked them up and took them to Msulwa. Justin and team were busy mud drilling, while waiting for the hammer to be available. By now they had reached only 55 ft. But, they were hitting small water aquifers all the way down. Thus, the prospects for finding available water at reasonably shallow depths appears possible. While Justin continued mud drilling, Peter, Daniel and I began assembling the hammer. In doing so, we concluded that due to the length of the hammer and adapter (about 4-1/2 ft.), with a normal size drill pipe, would not allow clamping into the drill take-off table. This “table” also serves to keep the drill bit (in this case a long $3200 hammer) from falling down into the hole while adding or removing more drill pipes. The solution to this dilemma? – a shorter section of drill pipe, of course, since we can’t shorten the hammer! Huh? Shorter than 5 ft.? Yes, no more than 2 ft., tafadhali (please).
So, off I go, to collect an old drill pipe from our garage and take to Ukunda, to then find a welder who can cut and re-weld a 5 ft. piece into an 18″ piece. Normally that would not be too difficult. Our normal welder-fundi, James, was off on a project. So I went to another large welding and woodwork shop. But nothing was working in Ukunda. The electrical power was out – and nobody, except some larger stores and the resorts – have emergency diesel generators. So, the new plan is to collect James on Wednesday morning and take him to our garage, where he can use our generator – if, in fact, the power is not restored. This one turned out well, in the end. By 10 AM Wednesday, local power had been restored – and James was back. I carried the piece of drill pipe to him, showed him what I needed and then waited. In less than one hour he had done it. The charge – 500 Kenyan shillings (about $5). I gave him 1000. He was quite happy. Me too!
When I arrived at Msulwa, They were still drilling. By now they had reached all the way to 75 ft. – slow, but steady. And they were continuing to see evidence of small aquifers all along the way. But the drill swivel was leaking badly. Justin said that Dominic said it would not hurt to continue drilling, but I was fearful of damaging the bearings, as well, thereby potentially destroying another $1900 swivel shaft. I had Justin stop drilling so that we could switch to the hammer. This should go faster and with no need for a strong downward force – all of which is intended to extend the life of the swivel.
After removing the drill pipes and PDC bit, we attach the hammer. The new adapter and the shortened drill pipe work perfectly! Soon we have it down the hole and ready to drill. By now it is raining heavily. Obviously the “short rainy season” has come early to the coast of Kenya. So we stop to get some shelter and try to dry off a bit – maybe warm up. Yes, it is actually cold – cool at least – with strong winds and driving rain. Soon it slows enough to resume. We go back to the rig and pour some foaming detergent and lots of water into the drill pipe – to make foam that will allow the air to bring the fresh cuttings to the surface.
Just as he starts to engage the hammer to begin hammer-drilling, the drill rig looses upward force. Justin cannot move it. He has heard something break loose. We stop to look. It is one of the drive sprockets on the back side of the mast (some call this a tower – but ours, at 7 ft. tall, is much too short to call it that, right?). We are done! We cannot go up or down. We can only rotate. Again in the hard rain, we remove the broken sprocket, which comes out in 3 nice pieces. We cannot trust welding it. We will need to replace. I leave with the broken sprocket, along with Fred and two of Dominic’s young helpers, to drive to Ukunda. Back to the bus station, to send the parts to Geoffrey, once again, to find a replacement in Nairobi or have one manufactured. I think I’ve heard this story before!
One last thing, as this story must continue, since you are now caught up – except to know that Geoffrey now has the broken sprocket and is first checking the drilling shops and chain shops in Nairobi, to see if he can find one in stock to match. The drive down from Msulwa to Ukunda was nothing less than treacherous. With extremely high crowns on the “improved” dirt roads, coupled with deep, muddy ditches, and either slick clay surface or thickening mud, is not unlike driving in snow-covered ice. Fortunately I have done a lot of that in my life. But it has been a while, I have to say. However, I did get to practice my “turn into the skid” routine on more than several occasions. I also managed to miss the boda bodas (motor cycles) and pedestrians along the way. And I had three wide-eyed passengers to enthrall with my motor skills and reaction time as well. I’m quite sure that they were happy to be back on hard top road in Ukunda. Some fun, at last!
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