MORONI—Because of what can only be described as a streak of bad luck, the contractor for a major culinary well in Moroni is faced with drilling the well again for the third time.
The contractor, White Mountain Operating Co. of Pinedale, Wyoming, had to abandon two earlier wells because some materials got stuck in the wells hundreds of feet underground. Inability to remove the items prevented the company from moving forward with drilling.
Once the drilling process stopped, the company had to “plug” the wells by filling them with concrete. The state requires abandoned wells to be plugged, explained Trent Brown of Sunrise Engineering, consulting engineers on the project. That’s to prevent surface water from running down the hole and polluting the aquifer the wells were tapping into.
“It’s just one of those things,” Mayor Paul Bailey said at a Moroni City Council meeting last Thursday, Feb. 17.
According to Brown, who is the Sunrise Engineering project manager for a $3.54-million culinary water system expansion in Moroni, White Mountain is now “putting together a new drill plan.”
“They’re trying to meet with their supplier,” Brown said. When the company first ordered materials for what they thought would be one well, it took 6-8 weeks for the items to arrive, he said.
“They’re trying to put a rush on that so they can get things here a little quicker,” Brown said. “But it’s likely not going to be very quick. It’s probably going to be at least a month before they’re back on site.”
Moroni has been working on water system expansion for two years. In March 2021, the Moroni City Council approved a project that included the new well, a well house, a water tank, pipes running from the well to the water tank, and piping that would carry water from the tanks to an irrigation pond if the tanks ever overflowed.
White Mountain started drilling a test well northwest of the Moroni Mudd Boggs in September 2021. The reports on the test well were rosy.
After drilling about 360 feet, not as deep as originally planned, White Mountain had hit a good supply of water. But what engineers and city officials were really concerned about was the nitrate concentration in the water. Nitrates are a pollutant that can harm pregnant women and babies. The main reason Moroni launched the whole water project was high nitrates in one of its existing walls.
The water quality measurements came out great. Water in the test well measured 0.7 parts per million of nitrates, less than one-tenth of the EPA limit of 10 parts per million.
In fact, the test well looked so good that the drilling contractor and engineers decided to drill the production well, the well that would actually furnish culinary water to the city, in the same hole as the test well. That meant drilling the hole deeper and wider.
But the driller couldn’t start drilling the production until a purchase agreement for land at the well site was signed. The city also had to get final approval from two state agencies, the Utah Division of Drinking Water and Utah Division of Water Rights, before drilling could proceed. And in kind of a Catch 22, the city couldn’t issue a bond, and couldn’t get money in to pay for drilling and other parts of the water project, until it got state approvals.
In January, the city got all necessary approvals. In early February, it closed on the bond. White Mountain started work on the first well on Feb. 4.
That’s when problems cropped up. When White Mountain drilled the test well, it put an 8-inch steel casing in the well to hold the dirt on the sides of the well in place.
Now the company needed to drill a wider, deeper hole and put in a 12-inch casing and screen. But White Mountain couldn’t get the 8-inch casing out of the original hole.
And with the smaller casing in place, the company couldn’t enlarge the hole.
“After sitting for months, sometimes they [casings] just won’t come out,” Brown said.
After giving up and plugging the test well hole, the contractor went 10 feet to the
south of the first well and started drilling again.
“The drilling started out really good,” Brown said. “The well was drilled to 400 feet, and there appeared to be a good source of water.”
The drilling company started lowering a casing and screen into the hole. The company was getting ready to fill in the gap between the sides of the well and the casing-screen structure with gravel.
That’s when the drill rig got lodged in the screen. Workers worked into the night trying to free the rig. Finally, they pulled the rig away from the well. Most of the screen and casing came out—but some of it remained in the hole.
“If the screen and casing were able to be fully recovered, then the production well could have been reconstructed in the same location,” Brown said. “Since it wasn’t, the well needed to be plugged and abandoned.”
The driller will now move 10 feet to the south of the second well (20 feet south of the test well) to drill the third well.
“When we had to move the well, we had to buy more land,” Mayor Bailey said at the Feb. 17 meeting. Earlier the city paid a local resident, Sheldon Holgreen, $15,000 for just under an acre of land. That was enough for a well and land around the well required for water-source protection. After moving the well, the city paid Holgreen another $2,100 for extra land.
At the meeting Feb. 17, the city council spent about 40 minutes discussing whether the city should give the contractor extra money to cover costs related to abandoning the wells.
Brown pointed out that because White Mountain didn’t have to drill the test well as deeply as originally anticipated, it cut its bill for that part of the work by about $12,000.
However, the company sent in a change order asking the city for nearly $16,000 to cover some of the costs of abandoning the test well. White Mountain did agree to cover all costs related to abandoning and plugging the second well.
“We hired these guys. They’re professionals. They’ve drilled hundreds of wells,” said Councilman Craig Draper. “Didn’t they realize…there was a possibility they couldn’t retrieve that casing?”
Brown said because neither the city nor engineers foresaw the need to plug a well, there was nothing in the contract requiring the driller to do so. Yet, the city was required by law to plug the abandoned test well with concrete. So it directed the contractor do that.
Since the contractor did work beyond what was required in the contract, “We probably need to pay it” [the change order], Mayor Bailey said.
Councilman Bevan Wulfenstein said, “I don’t think they’re asking for anything that’s out of bounds.” In a large project like the water-system expansion, “there are going to be things nobody anticipates.”
Ultimately, a motion to pay the change order passed 4-1, with only Draper voting no.