A Guide To Directional Drilling

February 9, 2024

A Guide To Directional Drilling

Most oil companies position their rigs, especially those offshore, directly over the oil reservoir. The well then drills vertically downwards, and extracts the oil that way.

However, there is an alternative technique that has been in use for around 100 years: directional drilling. As a drilling recruitment agency, this topic is very interesting to us! We have created a guide to directional drilling, which aims to help you understand what it is and why the technique is used.

What Is Directional Drilling?

Directional drilling describes any drilling technique that drills at an angle. It is, in essence, the opposite of conventional vertical drilling. It can be angled or completely horizontal, but mostly it is a mix of both. Vertical wells can implement directional drilling techniques too, such as directing a pipe around an underground obstacle.

As technology progresses, directional drilling becomes more refined and effective. 3D-modelling helps to map out pathways and obstacles; hydraulic jets make guiding the drill easier; cameras, sensors, GPS and remote technologies monitor drills underground for longer periods of time; and so on.

Especially in the United States, directional drilling often combines with fracking to increase yields and access to shale rock. The Marcellus Shale of the Appalachian Basin is an excellent example of this. The Energy Information Administration estimated in 2011 that this vast rock unit contains 141 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. Experts and drillers offshore decided to recover this gas in the most effective way to maximise the amount extracted by directional drilling.

Why Is It Worthwhile?

There are many benefits to directional drilling, including:

  • Reaching oil that is underneath land on which drillers cannot build wells, eg. towns, protected land, mountains etc.
  • Building multiples wells off the same vertical bore, which also reduces costs
  • Gaining access to horizontal planes of oil trapped between rock formations
  • Accessing reservoirs with odd shapes, or unusual peaks and troughs, to maximise returns
  • Limiting soil disturbance
  • Reducing labour costs by running multiple wells at once
  • Increasing driller offshore employee safety by building land rigs as opposed to exclusively offshore
  • Preventing well blowouts via relief wells built alongside the main wells - these relieve pressure

There are only a few drawbacks, such as:

  • Increasing the complexity of drilling, depending on the severity of the drill’s angle
  • Potential environmental issues - though damage to land can be monitored and minimised with adequate attention
  • More upfront expenses than vertical drilling, though this is made back due to increased production

Overall, therefore, directional drilling is hugely beneficial and effective. Often, it is more effective than vertical drilling. The most effective type is horizontal, though this is also the most expensive. However, as aforementioned, the amount of oil produced and sold more than makes back these upfront costs.

Every day, the world develops new technologies and methods to make our lives easier. This applies to drilling too. Directional drilling is hugely cost-effective and safe, and it is only getting better. While it occasionally hits headlines such as during the Gulf Crisis, it is overwhelmingly implemented to save time, money, and the environment.

If you are interested in directional drilling, you may be interested in or already working in the oil and gas industry for a living! Becoming a driller offshore is an exciting career with high job prospects. At Global Resources Network, we are an agency specialising in offshore drilling recruitment - you can explore our vacancies and Candidate Hub here, and contact us to find out more!

Image source: https://www.slb.com/resource-library/oilfield-review/defining-series/defining-directional-drilling

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