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A review of laser beams in oil rig drillilng

A review of laser beams in oil rig drillilng

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Published by Sanu Thomas Kalayil
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Received 29 November 2009; accepted 12 March 2010*Corresponding author. Tel: 234 8034481461E-mail address: olaleyebm@yahoo.comdoi: 10.1016/S1674-5264(09)60276-3
A review of light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation in oil and gas well drilling
OLALEYE B M
*
 
 Department of Mining Engineering, Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria
Abstract:
The prospect of employing Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation (LASER) for well drilling in oiland gas industry was examined. In this work, the experimental works carried out on various oil well drilling operations was dis-cussed. The results show that, LASER or LASER-aided oil and gas well drilling has many potential advantages over conventionalrotary drilling, including high penetration rate, reduction or elimination of tripping, casing, bit costs, enhanced well control, as wellas perforating and side-tracking capabilities. The investigation also reveals that modern infrared LASERs have a higher rate of rock cuttings removal than that of conventional rotary drilling and flame-jet spallation. It also reveals that LASER can destroy rock without damaging formation permeability but rather, it enhances or improves permeability and that permeability and porosity in-creases in all rock types. The paper has therefore provided more knowledge on the potential value to drilling operations and tech-niques using LASER.
Keywords:
LASER; oil; gas; well drilling; simulation; specific energy; spallation
1 Introduction
Rock disintegration and removal is a significantissue in the process of oil and gas well drilling andcompletion. Millions of cubic meters of rock have been removed, with tremendous capital investment,over the years as a result of drilling of oil and gaswells. Approximately 20000 wells of oil, gas and drywells were drilled onshore in the United States of America in 1999, with an average depth of 1830 m.This is equivalent to approximately 37014 km or ap- proximately three times the diameter of the earth(12712 km)
[1]
. Nearly half of the time was spent ondrilling, a quarter of the time on moving tools in andout of wells and the remaining quarter on casing andcementing activities. Major potential cost reductionsrelated to well drilling were likely to come from in-creasing the rate of penetration of the drill bit into theearth, and reducing the time involved with movingtools, such as bits and pipes, in and out of holes, ingeneral
[1]
. Other than the reservoir rock, a quantita-tive amount of time can be spent on drilling throughrock strata. Drilling in hard rocks such as granite isextremely difficult and can expend a great amount of resources with little penetration resulting. Stuck pipes,fishing operations for lost tools down holes, and sidetracking procedures, all of which are time and moneyconsuming processes, are other costly problems as-sociated with drilling process. Reduction of costsassociated with these drilling operations would havesignificant and qualitative economic impacts for ex- ploration and production operations.In order to make improvement in these areas, newtechnologies and tools would have to be applied thatcan take advantage of basic rock destruction mecha-nisms involving thermal spalling, fusion and vapori-zation, mechanical stresses and chemical reaction.All of these destruction mechanisms can be achievedusing Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation (LASER). It has been established that atlower LASER power levels, rock spalling (chipping)can be achieved. Increasing the power density of aLASER beam will result in phase changes and reac-tions in the rock, including dehydration of clays, andthe release of gases and thermal stresses. Consistentincrease in the beam power density will then melt or fuse the minerals within the rock and ultimately va- porize them
[1]
. The alternative method to mechanicalwell drilling have been considered and reviewed atcursory levels since rotary techniques were first in-troduced, however, none have been seriously consid-ered as a displacing technology. Industrial experts inthe 1960’s and 1970’s considered the use of photonicenergy in well construction, but the technical appli-cation of LASERs was dismissed as energy intensive
Mining Science and Technology 20 (2010) 0752–0757
MININGSCIENCE ANDTECHNOLOGY
www.elsevier.com/locate/jcumt
 
OLALEYE B M et al A review of light amplification by stimulated emission 753
and inefficient. Their conclusions four decades agocontinue to influence industry misperceptions of LASER applications, despite massive developmentsin LASER system and application particularly thoseassociated with LASER development programs
[1]
.In 1994, there was a breakthrough in adaptinghigh-powered LASERs for use in drilling oil and gaswells. The results of the investigation showed thatLASER could cut rock of all lithologies; sheer power shares importance in cutting rock with such parame-ters as wavelength, purge gas pressure and hole sizeand theoretical calculations of the LASER power needed to spall (break), melt and vaporize rock aresignificantly higher than experimental values, ob-served rock removal energy requirements, effects of  pulsed versus continuous wave LASERs, and theeffect of fluids on LASER/rock removal efficienciesand concluded that using pulsed LASERs could ac-complish removing material from rock more effi-ciently than continuous wave LASERs
[2]
. It was alsoobserved that the efficiency of the cutting mechanismimproved by saturating porous rock samples withwater, and that a LASER beam injected directlythrough a water layer at a sandstone sample was ableto spall and melt the sample
[3]
.
2 Potentials of LASER drilling and con-ventional drilling
The potential use of LASER is broad and with adiverse range of control mechanisms. Using both the parameters of the LASER and the properties of therock, the rock can be chipped, melted or even vapor-ized. Making a more direct comparison of the poten-tial of LASERs and the conventional drilling tech-niques, the apparent difference is in the equipmentused which is smaller and requires fewer moving parts, but the mechanical differences between a drilland a LASER are easily seen. The implications of these are the persuasive aspect of the use of LASERsand may be the most valuable area of comparison.Laser drilling not only allows continuous informationto be gathered over a subsurface profile but also al-lows for a continuous understanding of the subsur-face distribution of contamination
[4]
.In conventional drilling, the process is slow andmuch of the time used is with support services tohelp and facilitate the drilling rather than the actualdrilling. Reference [5] found out that only 50% of thetime spent on drilling actually saw the drill used tomake the hole, 25% of the time was spent on trippingand the remaining 25% of the time was spent on cas-ing and cementing. The use of lasers offers the po-tential to reduce much of this non productive timeand processes and as well reduces costs, for example,with a laser, there is no need for bit replacement, drillstring removal and setting casings. It is also esti-mated that the use of LASERs will increase drillingspeed at anywhere between 10 and 100 times thecurrent rates of using the boring technology. Part of the increased speed is due to the lack of additional processes required, however, the use of LASERs isalso potentially much faster than the drilling processitself. Considering that a typical oil or gas well onland will cost in excess of $400000 to build and a gasor oil well that is offshore can cost $4.5 million, asystem that operates between 10 and 100 times faster will offer significant savings
[5]
. This means that manymore limited wells where extraction had not beeneconomically viable due to the costs of reaching thereserves may become viable. Comparing the costusing the example of a typical gas well of 3048 me-ters, in wind river, the cost using traditional tech-niques would be $350000, while the same welldrilled with a LASER would be $35000 or less. Thespeed also lowers the time, the time taken to drill awell may be 10 days or even less, whereas the tradi-tional method could take 100 days or more. Also, thefootprints of LASERs are also much smaller thantraditional technology, potentially being as small as 9square meters or less
[6]
. In addition, the high tem- peratures used to melt the walls of the well eliminatethe need for steel and concrete casings.
3 LASER effect on rock properties
There are different high power LASERs, includingthe Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser (MIRACL), Chemical Oxygen-Iodine Laser (COIL),and a CO
2
and CO laser. Reference [7] carried outlaboratory investigations on different rock types withLASER beam interaction to determine how the beam’s size, power, repetition rate, pulse width andexposure time can affect the amount of energy trans-ferred to the rock for the purposes of spallation,melting and vaporization. The purpose of the LASER rock interaction investigation was to determine thethreshold parameters required to remove a maximumrock volume from the samples while minimizing en-ergy input. Absorption of radiant energy from thelaser beam gives rise to the thermal energy transfer required for the destruction and removal of the rock matrix. Results from the tests indicated that each rock type has a set of optimal LASER parameters tominimize Specific Energy (SE) values as observed ina set of linear track and spot tests. Also, observationshows the rates of heat diffusion in rocks are easilyand quickly overrun by observed energy transfer rates from the LASER beam to the rock. As absorbedenergy outpasses heat diffusion by the rock matrix,local temperature can rise to the melting points of theminerals and quickly increase observed SE values.Just prior to the onset of mineral melt, the lowest SEvalues are obtained in the spalling zone. Table 1shows the SE of the different types of drilling meth-ods.
 
Mining Science and Technology Vol.20 No.5754
Table 1 Specific Energy of Conventional andLASER drilling techniques
[8]
Conventional drillingSE (kg/cm
3
)LASER drillingSE (kg/cm
3
)Cavitation jetHigh pressure water jetHigh pressure water jetHigh pressure water jetRotary diamondRotary dragRotary roller drag2.91.40.90.31.40.40.8CO
2
laser CO laser COIL Nd: YAG37.422.87.25.9
High temperatures induced by LASERs on rock samples could enhance porosity and permeability;high temperatures evaporate and alter cementationminerals and create additional connected pore spacewithin the affected region. This helps to improveconditions for the fluid to flow from the formationinto the wellbore, as compared to the damage createdto the rock through conventional applications of ro-tary drilling and explosive perforations (Table 2).
Table 2 Permeability and porosity before and after lasing for selected rock types
[9]
Permeability (md) Porosity (%)SampleBeforelasingAfter lasingBeforelasingAfter lasingBerea yellowsandstone (BY)7754 7914 0.25 0.40Berea graysandstone (BG)554 674 0.18 0.35Sandstonereservoir (Sst)11.1 30.1 0.18 0.40Limestone (LS) 0.02 0.02 0.02 0.02Shale (SH) 0.43 0.55 0.01 0.03
The increases in porosity and permeability are re-lated to the thermal properties of the rock, e.g., ther-mal conductivity. Sandstone, exhibit a wider range of temperature distribution and higher permeability dis-tribution because it has a high thermal conductivity.The presence of clays could help in enhancing per-meability of creating micro fractures in the formation.Water contained within the clays is subjected to flashvaporization at intense temperature differentials andwith expansion creating fractures. Also, some clayscollapse at specific temperature. For instance, smec-tite collapses at 550
o
C. Figs. 1~4 depict the Scan-ning Electron Microscope imaging of the dehydrationof smectite clay with increasing porosity and perme-ability and the various permeability improvementusing LASER. As a function of temperature, thestrength of the rock is reduced. High temperaturesresults in more evaporation, breaking in the cementa-tion and creating micro fractures, consequently re-ducing strength and increasing permeability.
(a) Before (b) After 
Fig. 1 Dehydration of smectite clay with increasing porosity and permeabilityFig. 2 Profile permeameter showing improvement in permeability in sandstone using LASER energy application
                                                                 
Fig. 3 Average permeability before and after lasing
[8]
                 
                     
                                                          
     
     
Fig. 4 Decrease in Young’s Modulus in everyrock type, using any LASER 
[8]
3.1 LASER effect on rock phase behavior
When LASER power is applied, the melting tem- perature determines any phase change observed inrock samples. Recent research showed that the melt-ing temperature of the rock samples increased as the percentage of quartz increased. Rock destruction de-

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