Water, Water everywhere. Where ????

Bored with city life, I once decided to move to my farm on the outskirts of Bangalore. Before any activity began, the first priority was to make arrangements for water. This meant tapping for ground water, always a risky and costly endeavor.

I did the necessary research and spoke to experts in the geological department on scientific water divining. They were of the opinion that there was no guarantee irrespective of scientific or conventional water divining and success was left to chance. One person was more forthcoming and assured me that in spite of the scientific method being more accurate, success depended on the drilling company. He did not mention any specific cause for failure.

Owing to the lack of clarity and based on several recommendations we decided on a conventional water diviner. Watching a diviner in action, running all over the farm with a coconut in his hands was like mumbo jumbo and not in the least assuring. But this spectacle, as usual, attracted attention and soon there was a healthy crowd of neighboring farmers. Their initial whispering and murmuring was ignored as a natural reaction to the antics of the diviner.

Then one old guy came over to me and said that the whole exercise was a waste as he had a farm, not far away, which looked as if it had been invaded by rabbits. It was his way of telling me that he had tried 14 times to find water and all he got was the holes in the ground.

But I had to sink a well as I was hell bent on moving away from the city. The diviner finally placed the coconut over a spot and announced with a flourish that we would hit Ganga Jal at a depth of 400  – 600 feet.

The big day arrived and the impressive rig moved into position. It was 6 AM on a misty farmish morning. It took a bit of maneuvering to get the big Ingersoll Rand rig to  position exactly over the spot identified. Given my love to machines and the fact that I was once a supplier to Ingersoll Rand (I had seen these majestic beasts being built) I was tingling all over.

Once the drill head was over the exact spot, the dirty, mud caked machine extended its hydraulic stabilizers. The wheels rose off the ground. The drill mast lazily extended to its full vertical height. Hissing, the drill head rose to the top, a shaft with a drill bit was attached. And with a roar of its diesel engines revving at max, the rotating drill neared the earth. But something was wrong.

Give my apprehensions about the spot picked by non-scientific methods and the reputation that area had with dry wells, I was hell bent on trying to turn the odds in my favor. I wanted to ensure that no human error (except the diviners) would scuttle the project. Frankly, another attempt would cripple me financially and jeopardize the entire project. Bye bye chirping birds and fresh milk and lazy days.

Much to the chagrin of family and farmers, I stopped the operation risking the wrath of the Gods. A few villagers even walked away anticipating the outcome of such an inauspicious beginning. But I knew something was wrong, something important that I had ignored in the euphoria. I needed to go through my mental check list. Avoiding many glaring eyes I went for a stroll.

A little later it hit me, my eureka moment. The rig was not level. I rushed back and scooted up the rig platform looking for a small device, slightly bigger than a bottle cap. A simple device, capable of altering the success rate. A device called a bubble level.

Before I explain what this is, let me emphasize that there is a lot of logic and reasoning derived from years of experience which evolves a machine. Small changes and improvements are constantly made in a bid to make any equipment efficient and user friendly. The quest for perfection is never ending.

Even though I had never examined any rig earlier in detail, I was confident that there had to be a bubble level somewhere on this big rig. Logic and practical reasons demanded it. But finding it would be like the proverbial needle. But again logic. International companies don’t design machines for a labor excessive country like India expecting one guy to shout the level from the head of the truck to the guy at the controls at the rear. So it defied logic to assume they would mount the bubble level anywhere other than near the controls of the stabilizers. A quick wiping with a wet rag – And, there it was. Snugly mounted where the operator could refer to it while stabilizing the rig.

bubble level

The reasons why an internationally renowned market leader like Ingersoll Rand bothers to install a 150 rupee bubble level on a 2.5 million rupee machine should serve a lesson to our designers and manufacturers. Why we Indians have come to ignore this and erroneously blame fate for failure may also explain our experience, thought process and logic.

We now need to understand why a level rig is important.

Irrespective of who or how the spot was divined, the risk is equal. And the fact remains that they all divine a source at a certain depth underground (in my case 400-600 feet) but mark this exact spot on the surface.

So, in reality what we are trying to do is hit this exact spot 600 feet underground and we need to drill straight down. In the figure above, the plumb line denotes this line. Nobody predicts the width or size of the source. It will never be a lake but let us optimistically assume it to be an underground river 30 feet wide.

There are two reasons why a rig is raised on its stabilizers. One, to actually stabilize the rig during the violent drilling operation. The second, and most important, is to level the rig. No ground surface is even. The four hydraulic stabilizers can be independently raised and lowered to ensure that the drilling mast is exactly vertical.


The simple bubble level is to ensure this very important setup criteria.

bubble level: It is a plastic container filled with water or spirit, but with an air bubble locked inside and this bubble aligns with the black circle on top when the container or whatever it is attached to is perfectly level on all axis.

If leveling the rig is ignored, or done by mere eye sight, then, as the drawing illustrates, a mere 5 degree error (tilt on any axis) on a 30′ tall drilling rig will result in a 120′ wide error. That is, when you reach 600 feet, you will end up hitting a spot 60′ on either side of the water source completely missing it. 1000 feet wells are very common. Just imagine the error factor in such cases.

Result: No water.

But, I found the never-before-used bubble level buried under several layers of mud, re-aligned the rig and hit water.

It is impossible to claim with any degree of certainty that I found water because of the bubble level just as it cannot be determined how many of the millions of wells drilled have failed for the very same reason.

My logic is: It was put there for a purpose, use it. If you look at the theory, it does make sense. You have nothing to lose but everything to gain.

But what shocked me was the fact that none of the rig operators knew of this. And what saddens me is their total disdain when it is brought to their notice. For them, the more the failure, the better it is for business.

[Edit] Presently in India, a lot of ‘assembled’ rigs have surfaced. These are drilling equipment from reputed manufacturers mounted on ordinary truck chassis by local workshops. In such cases, it is a foregone conclusion that there will never be a bubble level. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, invest in a much more easily available spirit level and check the leveling yourself. It is worth it.