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Geoquip Brings the Laval Camera to the UK

The ability to see into a deep borehole has been an aspiration for well drillers, well owners, and geologists for hundreds of years.  Whether attempting to retrieve a lost tool, determine the cause of sandy water, demonstrate the results of cleaning a well or show the depth of a newly drilled borehole, the need for a visual inspection is crucial. In today’s market, where value-added service and quality control are becoming increasingly important, incorporating a visual inspection in the drilling process could draw a real line in the sand between those who do – and those who don’t - subscribe to the high standards framed by the BDA and the WDA.

It is not surprising that the camera that could revolutionise the borehole inspection process – and the drilling industry - has come from the Laval stable, home of the first ever borehole camera.

In 1946, Claude Laval II took on the challenge of designing a borehole camera system in the agriculture fields of Fresno in California.  After several failed attempts, he discovered a design which could withstand the pressure of 600 meters of submergence, as well as the extra challenges of remote frame advancing and remote flash.  His camera was 2.7 meters long and weighed over 90 kilograms.  With this technological breakthrough in the summer of 1947, Laval became the first person to photograph the interior of a well. 

60 years later, technology has changed drastically from the early pioneers in borehole inspection.  Today, cameras are more compact, affordable and high-quality descendants of Laval’s original invention.  Borehole cameras are commonly used for vertical pipe inspection up to 1,525 meters deep.  They weigh less than 6 kilograms and utilize high intensity lighting attachments.  With remote focus, adjustable lighting, and automatic gain controls, these cameras can easily inspect boreholes up to 183cm in diameter. 

The introduction of the R-Cam 1000 has had a strong impact on the US drilling market and Geoquip Water Solutions has now brought it to the UK. Mike Deed, Managing Director of Geoquip believes this cost-effective system could transform the drilling industry. “It is a completely portable, self-contained video inspection system that can inspect boreholes up to 300 meters deep and 40cm in diameter,” said Mike.  “This lightweight, smaller size, professional grade camera features dual viewing capability, an on-screen depth counter, liquid crystal display, DVD recorder, 12V DC power supply and everything else needed to conduct a professional survey.”

The camera’s portability is a feature that has been well received by drillers in America.  

“Having this unit so portable has allowed me to reach some nasty areas” said Scott Miller of Northern Virginia Drilling in Virginia, USA.  He continued, “I’ve taken that camera into terrain where you couldn’t get an all terrain vehicle!”

The camera has been used to diagnose unknown problems in water wells, the rehabilitation of existing wells, the geologic monitoring of boreholes in earthquake zones, rescue operations and as a before and after video inspection for well  rehabilitation.

Improving the quality of water in developing nations is one area where video cameras can make a life-saving difference, particularly in areas where poor construction techniques are more common. Dom Nwachukwu of Groundwater Development Engineering in Lagos, Nigeria reported, “We have twice so far in two holes found a problem area we can address immediately and re-shoot later.” 

Borehole video cameras have been used for rescue operations in mines in North America, and were pivotal in saving “Baby Jessica,” after she fell into an 8 inch borehole in Texas in 1988.  Laval’s camera was used during the rescue operation at the fatal Crandall Canyon coal mine collapse in 2007 where it confirmed a survivable space existed.

Governments and municipalities throughout Canada, the United States and Japan have discovered that owning their own video camera has allowed them to assess the quality and workmanship of their boreholes.  This ability to visually inspect the work has led to higher quality boreholes and minimised litigation.

The applications for these smaller professional inspection systems are wide and diverse. Cameras have been used in New York for the inspection and visual verification of micropiles during construction.  Micropiles are 300 mm or less in diameter, employ a single rod or pipe and are grouted in place with cement. They serve as a critical anchor for the foundations of high rise buildings.  New York now requires video inspection of all micropiles throughout the state.

During the initial phases of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub project, Nicholson Construction Company, in a joint venture with E.E. Cruz, employed a portable borehole video system to measure operational parameters. In Belgium and Austria portable camera systems have even been used for the inspection of chimneys and smokestacks.

In the drilling industry, as in any other industry, commercial considerations are always an issue and for many drillers even a cost effective, portable system may seem a daunting expenditure.  But consider the cost of a rig and crew standing while a tool is lost underground.  With the portability of the R-Cam 1000, this unit could be put in the back of normal car, driven to the site and with its self contained power pack win valuable time in the recovery of the equipment thus getting the crew back drilling again in the minimum of time.

However, the time may come when well owners demand inspection evidence before taking ownership of a private water well and for many this would be a welcome addition to the drilling process.   Ensuring the industry is delivering a quality product and service is essential and this needs to backed by quick, easy and affordable techniques such as are demonstrated by the R-Cam 1000.  Clients and customers should not expect a second rate product when they cannot see the full and final result and the industry should be prepared to stand by its service and prove it’s the best.  Video inspection is here to stay !