Somebody’s got some ‘splainin’ to do…

I’m taking a directional drilling class at the PPDC this week, and it’s pretty darned interesting. It’s very basic – precisely what an accountant-turned-drilling analyst needs – but also quite relevant. We’re drilling almost nothing but horizontal wells, as are many other operators in the Permian Basin, and while I’m not remotely involved in the planning or actual drilling of any of those wells, I still need to understand the processes, terminology, and challenges.

Not all of my six or so regular readers probably know a lot about directional drilling, so here’s a quick primer. Advances in technology have allowed us to drill oil and gas wells straight down a couple of miles, at which point we can turn and aim the wellbore in any direction we wish, and drill out another mile (at least). Drillers can hit a target the size of a basketball by aiming three miles of wiggly steel pipe pushing a diamond-encrusted bit through rock in incredible temperatures and pressures. And hardly anything ever goes wrong, as this video demonstrates:

That, by the way, isn’t one of our rigs.

Eh…it’s a letdown to realize that what’s portrayed in this rather exciting video (if you’re in the bidness, anyway) is not actually a mistake. It seems a little too coincidental that someone would have a film crew in place at the exact spot and time the bit broke the surface of the earth like a graboid*, spewing drilling fluid (aka, mud) into the air. Now, given that it’s Russians doing the drilling, we might assume that they well could have just been under the influence of a bit too much vodka, but in fact this was likely a pilot hole for a pipeline, drilled under an obstacle or surface feature that they didn’t want to cross on the surface. Still, it’s pretty cool to see a drill bit at work, and if you look closely, you can see the drilling rig in the distance where the operation presumably originated.

Details in the video are fuzzy, but that drill bit looks suspiciously like a big two-cone bit, which is historically significant, but never used** in modern oil and gas drilling operations. This would seem to reinforce the theory that the operation in the video was an intentional and relatively shallow operation. (Update: Eagle-eyed Gazette reader Jim Eakin emailed to suggest that I seriously need to check into getting a seeing-eye dog because that bit is obviously a common tri-cone. OK, he was actually more diplomatic than that, but also correct; once I viewed some of the earlier footage in stop motion, it is pretty obvious that the Russkies aren’t still stuck in the early 20th century…at least not when it comes to out-of-control drill bits.)

*Don’t tell me you don’t know about graboids. Sheesh. Do I have to explain everything?

**OK, feel free to tell me about the 8,000 examples where double-cones are, in fact, still in use today.

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