Creating a Drill Site
Drilling for oil and natural gas is a complex process, but advanced technology has made the job more efficient and productive while providing less impact on the environment. Want to see how the oil and gas industry does it? Click each numbered component in the drawing to learn more.
1. Some people believe that oil and natural gas companies can explore for oil wherever they want. This is not true. Companies must secure permission from the owner of the mineral rights, whether the owner is a private citizen or the government. Many mineral owners and the government allow oil and natural gas companies to compete to drill on their land. The companies assume all the costs and risks of drilling and, in return, pay the mineral owners a portion of what they find and a signing bonus to secure the drilling rights. The share of the production paid by the company to the mineral owner is called a royalty payment.
- The drilling derrick is used to position and support the drill string. Modern drilling equipment comes in a wide range of sizes. Many wells can be drilled with equipment that requires far less space than in the past.
- Drill rigs now run on electricity to supply the power to turn the bit and raise and lower the drill pipe and casing. Since most drilling occurs in remote areas, the electricity is supplied by electric power generators that run on diesel fuel. These generators make drilling rigs much quieter than in the past.
- The drill bit uses three conical shaped cutting surfaces to grind rock into rice-sized particles. The newest bits drill 150 percent to 200 percent faster than similar bits just a few years ago! The drill string consists of lengths of pipe fastened to each other and to the drill bit. The drill string transmits power from the top drive to the drill bit.
- As the drill cuts into the rock, drilling mud is added to the hole. This helps cool the drill bit, and the mud is circulated to bring cuttings to the surface. The weight of the drilling mud keeps the hole open. It also helps counteract the pressure of any gas or fluids encountered along the way, in this way preventing a well from loss of control or "blow out.”
- Protecting the aquifer from contamination is a major concern of the oil and natural gas industry. Casing made of steel or high-tech alloys is lowered into the hole and cemented into place to protect fresh water aquifers. The casing also keeps the hole open so that oil and natural gas can be brought to the surface.
- To reduce waste, the drilling mud is passed through a sieve where the ground rock particles or cuttings can be removed. Then the mud is recycled back into the hole.
- Dirt and rock cuttings are removed from the hole and temporarily stored nearby. Holding areas are carefully sited, lined and often times covered with nets to protect local wildlife.
- All aspects of the drilling operations are closely monitored to ensure efficient drilling and safety. Electronic sensors measure drilling rates, vibration, pressure, rock type, mud properties and many other drilling parameters. Computers monitor operations and collect data from inside the well. With advanced communications technology, drilling personnel can share and review this data with engineers and geologists located thousands of miles away. If a problem is detected, the rig can be safely and quickly shut down.