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Oil Exploration

Oil Exploration

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Published by: Herru Hermawan Susanto on Oct 31, 2011
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Oil Exploration
 Oil is a
fossil fuel
that can be found in many countries around the world. In this section,we will discuss how oil is formed and how geologists find it.
Forming Oil
 Oil is formed from the remains of tiny plants and animals(
plankton
) that died in ancient seas between 10 million and 600million years ago. After the organisms died, they sank into thesand and mud at the bottom of the sea.
Photo courtesy Institute of Petroleum
 
Oil forms from dead organisms in ancient seas.(Clickherefor a larger image.)
 
Over the years, the organisms decayed in the sedimentary layers. In these layers, therewas little or no oxygen present. So microorganisms broke the remains into carbon-richcompounds that formed organic layers. The organic material mixed with the sediments,forming fine-grained shale, or
source rock
. As new sedimentary layers were deposited,they exerted intense pressure and heat on the source rock. The heat and pressuredistilled the organic material into crude oil and natural gas. The oil flowed from the sourcerock and accumulated in thicker, more porous limestone or sandstone, called
reservoirrock
. Movements in the Earth trapped the oil and natural gas in the reservoir rocksbetween layers of impermeable rock, or
cap rock
, such as granite or marble.
Photo courtesy Institute of Petroleum
 
Oil reservoir rocks (red) and natural gas (blue) can be trapped by folding (left),faulting (middle) or pinching out (right).
 
These movements of the Earth include:
 
Folding
- Horizontal movements press inward and move the rock layers upwardinto a
fold
or
anticline
.
Photo courtesy Institute of Petroleum
 
Close-up of reservoir rock(oil is in black)
 
 
 
Faulting
- The layers of rock crack, and one side shifts upward or downward.
 
Pinching out
- A layer of impermeable rock is squeezed upward into thereservoir rock.
Finding Oil
 The task of finding oil is assigned to geologists, whether employed directly by an oilcompany or under contract from a private firm. Their task is to find the right conditions foran oil trap -- the right source rock, reservoir rock and entrapment. Many years ago,geologists interpreted surface features, surface rock and soil types, and perhaps somesmall core samples obtained by shallow drilling. Modern oil geologists also examinesurface rocks and terrain, with the additional help ofsatellite images. However, they alsouse a variety of other methods to find oil. They can use sensitive
gravitymeters
tomeasure tiny changes in the Earth's gravitational field that could indicate flowing oil, aswell as sensitive
magnetometers
to measure tiny changes in the Earth's magnetic fieldcaused by flowing oil. They can detect the smell ofhydrocarbonsusing sensitiveelectronic noses called
sniffers
. Finally, and most commonly, they use
seismology
,creating shock waves that pass through hidden rock layers and interpreting the wavesthat are reflected back to the surface.
Photo courtesy Institute of Petroleum
 
Searching for oil over water using seismology
 
In seismic surveys, a shock wave is created by the following:
 
Compressed-air gun
- shoots pulses of air into the water (for exploration overwater)
 
Thumper truck
- slams heavy plates into the ground (for exploration over land)
 
Explosives
- drilled into the ground (for exploration over land) or thrownoverboard (for exploration over water), and detonatedThe shock waves travel beneath the surface of the Earth and are reflected back by thevarious rock layers. The reflections travel at different speeds depending upon the
type
or
density
of rock layers through which they must pass. The reflections of the shock wavesare detected by sensitive microphones or vibration detectors --
hydrophones
over water,
seismometers
over land. The readings are interpreted by
seismologists
for signs of oiland gas traps.Although modern oil-exploration methods are better than previous ones, they still mayhave only a 10-percent success rate for finding new oil fields. Once a prospective oil
 
strike is found, the location is marked byGPScoordinates on land or by marker buoys onwater.
Preparing to Drill
 Once the site has been selected, it must be surveyed to determine its boundaries, andenvironmental impact studies may be done. Lease agreements, titles and right-of wayaccesses for the land must be obtained and evaluated legally. For off-shore sites, legal jurisdiction must be determined.Once the legal issues have been settled, the crew goes about preparing the land:1. The land is cleared and leveled, and access roads may be built.2. Because water is used in drilling, there must be a source of water nearby. If thereis no natural source, they drill a water well.3. They dig a reserve pit, which is used to dispose of rock cuttings and drilling mudduring the drilling process, and line it with plastic to protect the environment. If thesite is an ecologically sensitive area, such as a marsh or wilderness, then thecuttings and mud must be disposed offsite -- trucked away instead of placed in apit.Once the land has been prepared, several holes must be dug to make way for the rig andthe main hole. A rectangular pit, called a
cellar
, is dug around the location of the actualdrilling hole. The cellar provides a work space around the hole, for the workers anddrilling accessories. The crew then begins drilling the main hole, often with a small drilltruck rather than the main rig. The first part of the hole is larger and shallower than themain portion, and is lined with a large-diameter
conductor pipe
. Additional holes are dugoff to the side to temporarily store equipment -- when these holes are finished, the rigequipment can be brought in and set up.
Setting Up the Rig
 Depending upon the remoteness of the drill site and its access, equipment may betransported to the site by truck, helicopter or barge. Some rigs are built on ships orbarges for work on inland water where there is no foundation to support a rig (as inmarshes or lakes). Once the equipment is at the site, the rig is set up. Here are the majorsystems of a land oil rig:

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