Keeping in mind the increasing energy crisis the world faces, and the ever increasing demand for jobs, the importance of the Oil and Gas industry is beyond description. So, this is an overview of the Drilling function of the upstream. You will get to know more about the wildcat well and current drilling capabilities, and also shall we bring under the microscope the significance of the role the oilfield services play here. Also, we shall go through a little history on this segment of upstream oil and gas.
The details of drilling
As we are all aware, the first step here is always to locate the proper oil and gas reservoirs for drilling. And this is no easy job since most of these are located far below the surface and often, in deeper offshore prospects. So how do we locate them? This is where the significance of technology reside. The latest seismic technology and computer modeling give us a rough idea about their location and abundance. But still, it has a lot of drawbacks of its own. Various prospects of these sources remain unknown, and hence a wildcat, which is more like a trial and error method HAS to be drilled. As they say, you don’t find oil if you don’t drill wells!
The drilling capabilities of the present.
So, how far have we come? How good are our capabilities currently? Let us see.
As mentioned above, the resources are found deep within the surface of the earth. So do we have the potential to bring them up, and use them for our benefits? The answer is a resounding YES! The offshore producing wells exist 10,000 feet deep inside water and are drilled over 20,000 feet deep into the earth’s surface. With today’s technological advancements, the industry has the ability to drill down to well over 25,000 feet, were temperatures soaring as high as 400 degrees and a crushing pressure of close to 20,000 PSI!
The current norm is to use both horizontal and deviated wells to maximize the reservoir recovery, in both onshore and offshore operations. The focus, as always is to make sure the task gets done efficiently and safely, keeping it a motto to reduce the environmental footprint as shallow as possible.
But this is no easy task! There are constantly new technical challenges that emerge time and again. And adding to it is the fact is that it costs tens and hundreds of millions of dollars, and also a lot of years of exploratory analysis to locate a place, drill a wildcat and its subsequent development. Also, we know how scarce the resources are! So, there is a huge necessity to make sure the efforts are right on target every single time.
We have heard the term Oilfield services repeatedly. But it is absolutely necessary to have a crystal clear understanding on this. The Oilfield Services Industry, often abbreviated as OFS is a $165 billion segment (As per 2014), and is hence a large and complex industry with literally hundreds of global participants. These OFS companies provide numerous services to the Oil and Gas drilling sector. They are involved in the designing, production, and delivery of both equipment and technical services required to ensure the efficient completion of drilling the wells. They take care of other parts of the job, such as cementing, perforating, logging and testing. The contribution the OFS has made to this industry is indeed huge. It is their involvement that has ensured the viability of the drilling industry.
The history of drilling: A journey to the yesteryears.
We know how big this industry is today. We know how much the world depends on this industry for its ever increasing energy requirements. But how did we reach here! When and where was the first footstep towards this huge industry taken! Let us find out.
In 1869, the first US discovery well in Pennsylvania was drilled down to a depth of 69 feet, using an instrument which was known as the cable tool rig. The cable tool rigs had their origin in China, the Asian giants. The cable tool rigs were the conventionally used tools until about 1900. These rigs operated by lifting and dropping a heavy string of tools into the borehole. However, the time factor was the major drawback of the cable tool rig. It usually went on at a rate of 10 feet a day, which is almost unthinkable by today’s standards.
It was at such a time, that the Kelly rotary system had its introduction. It was first used at Spindletop, Texas, in 1901. Its efficiency was significantly greater than its predecessor, being able to drill almost 100,000 barrels per day! This went on to be the most common way to drive the drill string even into the 1980s.
It was in 1981, that a path-breaking alternative was introduced. An engineer at Transocean had a unique vision of drilling down from the top of the drill string to add complete stands of the drill pipe. Seeing it’s huge impact, they partnered with the National Oilwell Varco (NOV) for an R&D program and came to be known as the Top-Drive System. Today, it is the Top-Drive System, which is responsible for the successful deep-water and long horizontal well drilling.
Also, let us see how the OFS companies had their origin.
- 1909: The Hughes Tool Company (now known as Baker Hughes) came into existence after
Mr. Howard Hughes successfully patented a roller cutter bit, which helped
significantly in improving the rotary drill process.
- 1919: Erle P. Halliburton established the New Method Oil Well Cementing company in
Also in the very same year, Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger, with their father,
invented a downhole well evaluation technique, which gave rise to the Schlumberger
So, as we see, we have come a long way, from drilling 69 feet well in 1869, to reaching depths as low as 25,000 in 2017. What the future beholds is a mystery. Nevertheless, we are certain that we are on the right path.