Kemp: The Real Shale Revolution

Article title
Although fracking has captured the popular imagination, and is often used as a synonym for the whole phenomenon, horizontal drilling was actually the more recent and important breakthrough.


LONDON, July 14 (Reuters) - By now everyone knows the shale revolution was made possible by the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

But although fracking has captured the popular imagination, and is often used as a synonym for the whole phenomenon, horizontal drilling was actually the more recent and important breakthrough.

Mastery of horizontal drilling around 1990, originally for oil rather than gas exploration, was the decisive innovation that lit the long fuse for the shale revolution that erupted 15 years later.

"Horizontal drilling is the real marvel of engineering and scientific innovation," David Blackmon wrote in Forbes magazine last year ("Horizontal drilling: a technological marvel ignored", January 2013).

"While impressive in its own right, the main innovations in fracking have been beefing up the generating horsepower to accommodate horizontal wells rather than vertical ones, and refining of the fluids used to conserve water and create better, longer lasting fractures in the target formation."

Fracking has captured the imagination because it is controversial, sounds sinister and like an expletive, makes for good headlines, according to Blackmon.

But that has obscured the far more important role played by horizontal drilling in enabling oil and gas to be produced from previously inaccessible rock formations, revolutionising energy output and even international relations.


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Gerhard Esterhuizen | Jul. 19, 2014
Like Dr Tom, I also prefer to call it directional drilling or horizontal directional drilling. We employed the technology in South Africa in the coal industry to accurately locate the presence of intrusive vertical to near vertical dolerite dykes and where near horizontal dolerite sills intersected a coal seam. The objective was to aid in the design of underground mining panels in a safe and healthy work environment. Devolatilization of the coal seams caused by the intrusive bodies resulted in adverse mining conditions and a high probability of pillar and mine roof collapse and an increase in methane. More than one borehole can be drilled from the main borehole to establish the strike of the near vertical intrusive bodies. The technology can also be used to extract ground water in arid regions where low yields are present from a vertical borehole.

Charlie Brister | Jul. 18, 2014
The single biggest innovation in my opinion was the development of the mud pulse Measurement While Drilling technology that reduced connection time/ survey from 2 hours to 5 minutes. Also wireline based survey systems were not practical with the high inclinations needed for horizontal drilling. Performance and reliability has vastly improved over the past 20 years but the fundamentals are the same. We were drilling horizontal wells with oil in the $17 bbl range in the late 90s. The geophysical maps often have to be redrawn based on the reality of what the logging while drilling sensors provide. It is whiz bang technology but basic common sense is what makes this business work.

Dr. Tom Williams | Jul. 14, 2014
I prefer to call it directional drilling - or Cruise-Drilling but how can you hit the target without knowing where the target is before you start - got to have a plan at their costs. In the early 1990s several things came together - computer capacities increased, programming became wonderfully visual, geophysical sensors and data collection expanded to use the computer capacities so we could find the targets and see how a single well could connect to the targets...providing a well map for the drillers to follow. It was coming together of many techs - not just bigger pumps, better controls, better/smarter bits, chemicals, props, and somehow several smart people put them together for what we have now---OBTW having a price of WTI over $85/bbl helped to pay for the whole thing...


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