New directions in drilling |

New directions in drilling

Dennis Webb

Although the density of wells has increased immensely in Garfield County, underground drilling density is not always equivalent to surface density. No 10-acre surface drilling density has been approved in the county, notes Brian Macke of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Rather, companies are using directional drilling from existing pads to tap gas reserves more fully.EnCana, for example, is drilling from surface wells of one per 160 acres to obtain 10-acre downhole density south of Silt.”The directional technology has helped a lot. … It’s much more successful than it used to be,” said Steve Soychak of Williams Production, another big energy producer in the county.The technology has been around since the 1920s, with some of its first applications taking place off the California coast, said Charles Brister, a directional drilling specialist who has worked in Garfield County’s gas fields.Nudging the drill bit in different directions from above is no great challenge – it’s as easy as inserting a wedge down the drill hole so the bit is diverted at an angle. But the challenge is determining where the drill is heading.Brister said directional drillers originally made use of bubble levels and a time-operated camera to record the angle of the well bore. Then Elmer Sperry, who developed the navigational gyroscope for airplanes and ships, used gyro technology for taking drilling measurements in the late 1920s.In the late 1970s, directional drillers began to use mud pulse telemetry. Vibrations of mud in the drill hole correlate to drilling direction, and a computer decodes measures of mud pulses at the surface.This is still the primary technology used, but another one has shown to be successful in the Piceance Basin. Brister said a method making use of electromagnetic tools first was developed for directional boring, to run fiber-optic cables beneath rivers. But it proved to be useful in oil and gas development. “These tools essentially transmit the data using radio waves similar to the wireless networking systems, except that the transmission is through the earth,” Brister said.The method can be limited by depth and by absorption by rock formations, Brister said. But it has proven useful in local drilling because of a tendency of conventional mud-based surveying systems to plug up in geological formations here.Brister said drilling a directional well may be more expensive, but the overall cost of the well can end up being the same.”This is because of the reduction of infrastructure cost, such as location building, roads, pipelines, etc., that are reduced by having multiple wells per pad,” he said. The primary reason for directional drilling is to cut down on surface impacts, and it’s the responsible approach, Brister believes.”This will become increasingly important for all U.S. land drilling. Directional drilling is without doubt the future of oil and gas development for the foreseeable future.”Soychak considers the technology “phenomenal,” in that measuring techniques are enabling drillers to drill a mile deep and hit a target perhaps 25 feet wide.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext.

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