The practice of oil drilling has changed considerably over the years as the technology has changed. Even people that are involved in drilling often don’t understand the difference that newer technology, like mud motors and premium connections, have made in the field of oil drilling. These changes have led to new techniques, like horizontal drilling, that are more effective and have less of an impact on the environment.
What Makes Horizontal Drilling Different?
Vertical drilling is just like it sounds – the well is drilled in a straight line going down. It’s fairly simple even for people who are not well-versed in drilling technology. But horizontal drilling means using drills to reach the oil by aiming the drills at multiple different angles. This requires more expertise and more sophisticated machinery.
In order to get the job done, horizontal well drillers use a couple of important pieces of equipment. A progressive cavity positive displacement pump, know colloquially as a mud motor, is attached to the drill bit. The purpose of this piece of machinery is to give the drill extra power. The drill pipe doesn’t even have to turn the drill bit, because the mud motor is capable of turning it. The mud motor gets its name from the drilling fluid, which is often called mud.
The mud motor isn’t the only piece of equipment needed to make horizontal drilling possible. Another important part of horizontal drilling equipment is the new premium connections. Connections are used to prevent leaks and transmit loads. The horizontally drilled wells cased a need for connections with better seals, and premium connections evolved out of that need. Any connections that have more strength, better sealing, or smaller outer diameters are all lumped under the category of premium connections.
What is the Main Advantage of Horizontal Drilling?
Horizontal drilling has a number of advantages, but probably the most important advantage of horizontal drilling is that it allows oil drillers to reach oil that simply isn’t accessible by other means. In order to reach oil by drilling vertically, the oil drillers have to be directly above the area where the oil is. But with directional drilling, drillers can reach oil that is located under an area that would normally be off limits because of the conditions of area above ground.
Furthermore, horizontal drilling allows for increased production from existing vertically drilled well pads. Using horizontal drilling methods, oil drillers can access a vertically drilled well and create new wells that draw from the same oil deposits that the vertical well is accessing. This not only increases production, it also cuts costs. It’s less expensive to set up the new wells than to have many different well pads in place to collect the same oil.
What is the Impact of Horizontal Drilling on the Environment?
The question of environmental impact is a big one. Everyone has an opinion on oil drilling and the environment. That’s another good reason to have the facts. Horizontal drilling, for example, is often confused with fracking (properly known as hydraulic fracturing). That’s not entirely unfair, as fracking is often used with horizontal drilling. However, the two are different processes.
Horizontal drilling actually has minimal impact on the environment, and it has some distinct advantages when compared to vertical drilling. There are two main reasons for this. One is that horizontal drilling allows for less wells to be built in the first place, because one well can be used to access oil deposits from multiple angles with horizontal drilling. Not only is this cheaper, less wells also means less pollution and environmental disturbance.
Horizontal drilling also allows oil to be extracted from environmentally sensitive areas without disturbing the area flora and fauna, because oil can be reached from a distance with this method. Oil can be extracted from these areas from a location that is not sensitive without doing any environmental damage to the protected area. While fracking is currently necessary to use horizontal drilling to reach oil located under impenetrable rock, it’s possible that this won’t always be the case. New technologies, while currently impractically expensive, may one day separate these two processes.
Now that you understand more about the process of horizontal drilling, you should have a better idea of why it’s necessary, and even preferable. Remember, this is currently one of the most efficient and cost-effective, not to mention environmentally benign, ways to access the fossil fuels that help to power your home, workplace, and transportation.