All the way down
Drilling technology unleashes a new wave of potential for the region
Drilling technology is a segment within the oil and gas industry that until recently, attracted very little innovation. Back in the day, drilling technology was downright archaic and it remained so until industry needs changed.
At the beginning of the 20th century, cable percussion methods where wells were drilled by dropping weights via a cable were the norm. In the early 1900’s, such methods were gradually phased out by rotary rigs that proved to be more effective with their mud circulation systems.
But throughout the first half of the 20th century, any improvements in drilling rates were a reflection of a shift to stronger engines as steam power was replaced by internal combustible engines and eventually electric and diesel engines.
The Middle East was particularly quiet when it came to drilling technology innovation. In fact, it was not until the latter-half of the twentieth century that the drilling companies really started flood the market. But even then, it seemed that the region’s geology was not particularly conducive innovation.
Not only were the fields here full of sweet crude reserves, but they were easy to get to. Some even joked that all you had to do was poke a hole in the ground and the oil would flow, this belief certainly wasn’t without some truth behind it.
Even today one can find a few remaining pools of oil above ground. But at this point in time, there was only a very marginal need to pursue innovative drilling techniques.
But today’s demand for crude oil and natural gas have created an unprecedented need to seek newer and more difficult reserves. Companies have been forced to go offshore, to drill advanced or even horizontal wells, and often times multilateral wells.
At the same time, stringent environmental regulations and other stakeholders’ concerns have created the need to pursue safer and more effective ways to manage pressure and field decline.
Even the Middle East, a region which could hold as much as half of the world’s hydrocarbon reserves, has not been spared from the modern-day need to develop more advanced drilling technologies.
“In addition to the development of unconventional resources and EOR, we see a move into drilling longer, deeper, faster,” says Hussein Fouad El Ghazzawy, UAE General Manager & Vice President Schlumberger. “As the “easy” hydrocarbons are being produced, we are pushing the limits of drilling these laterals,” he explains.
Arguably one of the most profound changes to happen in the oil and gas industry was the move to offshore drilling rigs. With two-thirds of the world’s surface covered by water, this naturally opened up a massive field of opportunities for the oil and gas industry.
Especially for the companies anxious to exploit the massive offshore reserves that the Arabian Gulf has now become famous for. The move to offshore drilling was accelerated by rising oil prices.
The depth and complicated nature of drilling offshore can force such operations to cost as much as 3-5 times more than an onshore rig. The limited amount of space, more complex well trajectories, slower and more expensive mobilization and more stringent legislation and environmental restrictions have presented a plethora of challenges to the industry.
But as the world has become more dependent on oil, the oil industry has become more dependent on innovation. By the mid-eighties, the industry had introduced horizontal wells, designed to intersect and connect natural networks of fractures in reservoirs, and to prevent water coning and gas cusping in small oil columns.
Soon after, the multilateral well, connected to the main borehole by a junction through which fluids are produced, was engineered to reduce production costs, improve recovery factors while speeding up recover.
“We are on the brink of an explosion in the number of extended reach drilling projects in the UAE. These projects require a change in the mindset from the typical wells drilled to date,” says El Ghazzawy.
“For example, different rigs, different planning, different casing programs, different drilling fluid systems, different stimulation and completion and, of course, a different skillset for the workforce are all needed. Another change in the latest drilling trend is the move to developing fields through the pad drilling approach, which will reduce the environmental impact and rig move time, hence more wells drilled per rig per year.”