Directional Drilling

Not many people are aware that the modern technique of laying down utility pipelines and conduits is horizontal directional drilling. When you think about underground pipes, the first thing that comes to mind is open pits where contractors lay down these pipes. For many decades now, trenching or open cut methods have proved to be a challenging technique when dealing with above ground obstructions. Thankfully, when directional boring was invented, the utility industry found the solution which resolved many of the concerns associated with trenching.

Although horizontal directional drilling is a relatively new technique, it is making strides in the utility industry because of its benefits.

What is horizontal directional drilling?

Understanding the process is quite simple. A drilling rig creates a borehole on one end of the installation area and creates a path to the other end of the planned location. A drill rod attached to the machine produces the hole all the way to the other end. Once the drill head emerges on the other end, it is replaced with a back reamer connected to a string which gets pulled back into the hole. The back reamer makes the borehole bigger, sufficient for installing the pipe.

Selecting the right drill route

In creating the bore path, the contractors need to find the shortest and the straightest path possible. A short and straight path will aid in installing the pipe continuously. Typically, before the project commences, a geological survey is conducted to inspect the terrain. Identifying the soil type as well as all the possible underground obstructions helps in designing the right route, ensuring the highest efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

In choosing the entry point and the exit point, there shouldn’t be an elevation difference of over 50-feet. Both holes should also be within eye level of all above-ground obstacles.

How Directional drilling Works

Imagine a Straw: Picture a long, flexible straw that you use to drink from a glass.

Drilling the Start: We start drilling a regular hole in the ground, just like drilling a vertical well. This is the beginning part of our straw.

Turning the Straw: Instead of drilling straight down like a regular well, we have a special tool at the bottom of the straw that allows us to turn it in different directions.

Steering the Straw: As we continue drilling, we can steer the straw left or right, and even bend it like a curve, using the special tool. This allows us to go sideways underground.

Reaching the Target: With the straw now bending and following the path we want, we can reach specific places deep underground where oil or gas might be hiding.

Getting More Oil and Gas: Since the straw can go sideways, we can access more oil and gas from one single drilling site, like reaching more juice from a glass by moving the straw around.

Using Less Space: Directional drilling helps us avoid drilling multiple holes in different places, so we use less space on the surface and disturb the environment less.

Helping the Environment: By using less space and causing less disruption, directional drilling is better for nature and the areas around the drilling site.

Directional drilling is like using a bendy straw to reach oil and gas deep underground without making many holes and being kinder to the environment. It helps us get more resources from one spot and makes drilling smarter and more efficient.

Necessary work space for directional drilling

Although the entire drilling process will not result in significant disturbance, there should be enough space for machinery and other equipment according to the project size. A larger project means there should be enough space for more massive pumps, greater drilling fluid quantity, and the like.

Drilling fluid distribution

During the drilling process, a fluid consisting of water and bentonite lubricates the borehole. Aside from lubrication, another purpose of the liquid is to prevent the hole from collapsing and reduce drilling torque. Drilling fluid needs to be of the right viscosity; otherwise, any complications or uneven distribution will cause borehole failure during the drilling or pipe pullback.

Handling pipe pullback

Pulling back the pipe through the borehole is one of the most challenging steps in the directional drilling process. Pipes should be carefully handled, and there should be sufficient support to prevent damage.

Ensuring safety during installation

Every directional drilling contractor understands the importance of following safety standards in handling and operating each piece of machinery. All personnel involved in the process should go through proper orientation and remain compliant with these safety precautions to avoid accidents. By keeping the working environment safe, the project will proceed according to the intended completion date.

What are the advantages of directional drilling?

Directional drilling offers several advantages in the oil and gas industry, making it a crucial technique for maximizing hydrocarbon recovery and improving well performance.

Accessing Remote or Hard-to-Reach Reservoirs:

Directional drilling allows operators to access oil and gas reserves that are located far away or beneath obstacles such as mountains, lakes, or urban areas. This capability extends the reach of drilling operations and enables the extraction of resources that were previously inaccessible with conventional vertical wells.

Enhanced Reservoir Drainage:

By drilling horizontally or following a specific path through the reservoir, directional drilling exposes a larger area of the oil or gas-bearing formation. This increased contact with the reservoir maximizes the production potential of the well, leading to higher recovery rates and greater overall productivity.

Reduced Environmental Footprint:

Directional drilling enables multiple wells to be drilled from a single location. This minimizes the need for building numerous well pads, reducing the surface impact and disturbance to the environment. It is especially beneficial in ecologically sensitive areas, urban environments, and offshore drilling platforms.

Cost Efficiency:

Although directional drilling can be more complex and expensive than vertical drilling, it often proves cost-effective when compared to the cost of drilling multiple vertical wells to cover the same reservoir area. The ability to extract more hydrocarbons from one well site results in improved cost efficiency over the long term.

Reservoir Management and Optimization:

Directional drilling allows operators to optimize reservoir management by targeting specific zones within the reservoir. It helps in managing pressure and producing oil and gas more evenly across the reservoir, leading to better reservoir performance and prolonged well life.

Improved Wellbore Stability:

In some geological formations, directional drilling can help to stabilize the wellbore. By navigating through competent rock layers, the wellbore can avoid unstable formations, reducing the risk of well collapse or drilling challenges.

Reduced Surface Disruption:

Directional drilling minimizes the surface footprint, which can be particularly advantageous in urban or populated areas. It also reduces the need for constructing new access roads and facilities, resulting in less disruption to communities and wildlife habitats.

Exploration and Appraisal Efficiency:

During the exploration and appraisal phase of oil and gas projects, directional drilling can provide valuable information about the subsurface geology by allowing multiple reservoir targets to be tested from one well location.

Directional drilling is a robust and efficient technique that unlocks new opportunities for oil and gas extraction.  This technique provides environmental benefits and economic advantages.