Traditionally, oil and natural gas wells were drilled straight down, sometimes as deep as several miles below ground. Since the 1970s, however, directional drilling has increased in popularity and technological advancements have made it one of the most efficient techniques.
Directional drilling is the practice of drilling a wellbore along a planned and controlled, non-vertical path to a pre-determined target. Examples of directional drilling include horizontal, multi-lateral, extended reach, and complex path drilling. All of these allow natural gas and oil companies to work quicker, generate less noise, reduce waste, and reach more reserves through smaller holes. These methods are also better for precision and control, which results in greater efficiency of oil production.
Prior to drilling advancements in the last decade, directional drilling took longer than vertical drilling because it had a slower rate of penetration and operators had to stop and take surveys regularly. Thanks to the advanced drilling techniques implemented in recent times, directional drilling, especially horizontal drilling, has become the better option. These techniques include improvements in technology, such as advances in mud motor lubrication, measurement-while-drilling (MWD) sensors and logging-while-drilling (LWD), and rotary steerable systems (RSS).
While these can be used for both directional and vertical drilling, high-powered mud motors have advanced horizontal drilling by making it easier for the drill bit to change directions. These work by pushing drilling fluid, or mud, through the positive displacement motor, which results in continuous rotation of the bit.
One of the latest technique advancements in mud motors is the use of a lubricating additive in the drilling fluid. Extreme pressure lubricants help minimize friction and heat while withstanding high pressure due to a positively charged molecular structure. Adding this high-efficiency lubricant to drilling mud can help operators save time and money.
Logging-while-drilling has been a great deterrent for the problems associated with directional drilling. LWD tools integrate with the drill string and provide administration, interpretation and transmission of the data to the surface. The use of LWD gives drillers up-to-the-minute updates to better manage placement and avoid potential hazards.
As a type of LWD, MWD allows operators to receive information about direction and drill steering. Being able to get real-time data of drilling measurements allows rig operators to adjust and change the direction of the wellbore for more accurate targeting of the drill zone. By using MWD sensors, data such as drilling torque, force on the bit, trajectory, rock properties, and pore pressure can be collected as the hole is bored. While these tools have been used since the ‘70s, the newest sensors produce the accuracy and quality needed to reduce costs and drilling risks, even in the most extreme environments.
RSS technology has shown some of the fastest and widest growth since its introduction in the late 1990s. It is often used in place of mud motors in situations of high pressure or temperature, as it offers continuous rotation for quicker, more reliable directional drilling. Ultimately, RSS can save money and time while potentially producing oil sooner with much lower risk than alternative directional steering techniques.
While these advanced drilling techniques are not brand new, technology keeps improving and manufacturers continue to look for new ways to save drillers money and time.