Drilling for heavy oil involves many people, each with their area of expertise, using ever evolving technology to solve the many problems associated with producing heavy oil.

Drawing courtesy of Westwind Design,

From the cable tool rigs of the pioneers, through the rotary rigs which dominated from the 1940's to the 1980's, to today's slant and directional drilling, the object is the same - get at that heavy oil, ~ 650 meters below. It's hard work (they don't call them "roughnecks" for nothing). It's an evolving, exacting science. It's an art - an experienced driller has a "feel" for what's happening hundreds of meters below. For some, it's a way of life. With the rig running 24 hours a day, through summer's heat or winter's minus 40°, there's pride in making a good hole and bringing in a paying producer.

Cable Tool Rig
When the first commercial oil well in North America was drilled at Petrolia, Ontario, in 1858, a cable tool rig was used. Cable tool rigs had been in use for hundreds of years. They were used to drill for fresh water or for brines that were evaporated for salt.

. Cable tool drilling first involved the construction. On the derrick floor. There were also three large wheels operated by power from a steam engine which sat just a few feet from the derrick platform. The legs were made of 2" x 12" rough lumber laminated to form a right angle similar to angle iron. and they were used to drill (punch) all the early wells in the Lloydminster area. on site. one for the bailer.The cable tool rig was also used in such early Alberta fields as Turner Valley. of an 82 foot high wooden derrick. These were braced with horizontal girts and diagonal struts. The platform ran out from the derrick floor and on it was mounted the sand reel which contained the sand line. built on a foundation of huge timbers. and the other for lowering and pulling the casing. One cable was the drilling line. there were three cable reels [see diagram to right] wound with steel cable which ran up and over the shives in the crown blocks.

raising and dropping the bit as it pounded away at the bottom of the hole. By taking hold of the drilling line from time to time. allow a little slack in the line and put the rocking beam in motion. operated directly from the engine. just off the derrick floor. he could tell what was going on down in the well. At the lower end of the temper screw was a clamping device that gripped the drilling line to which tools were attached. When there was no more slack in the line when the beam was in its lowest position.The bailer was used to bail out the cuttings and water from the bottom of the well. This he could tell by taking hold of the drilling cable with his hand. laying horizontally. and on top of it. which was no more than a steel weight with a point on it. pounds the well into the ground. he would feel for the bottom of the hole by gently lowering the bit until it rested on bottom. raising and lowering the drilling tools. Also mounted on the platform. it raised and lowered the pitman and rocked the walking beam up and down on the sampson post. The bit. When the bit hit on bottom. he would feel a little slack in the line. A bit. As the wheel turned the crank. The driller would then put a mark on the line so many feet above the derrick floor. was a timber. tapering from the centre to either end. When the driller started his shift. . One end of the walking beam extended into the derrick as far as the centre of the floor and to it was attached a threaded bar called the temper screw. A few feet closer to the derrick was mounted the band wheel. know as the sampson post. little more than a steel weight with a point on it. called the walking beam. like a teeter-totter. He had to be careful not to let out too much slack or the line could spring up and kink. was suspended by a cable down the well. was a well braced upright post. and attached by a hinge. the driller would have to let out a little more slack. The other end of the walking beam extended over the band wheel and was attached to it by a pitman and crank.

Cable tools do not effectively control subsurface pressures. When it became necessary to lower casing into the well. March 30. called the headache post. A little further in on the derrick floor was another upright post. 1934. the bit was then lowered into the well to pound it deeper. the famous Lloydminster Gas Company Number 1 brought in natural gas on Good Friday. Just outside of town. there was still some clearance between it and the headache post. This was just high enough so that when the walking beam was at its lowest position over the derrick floor. This was a safety feature to keep the walking beam from dropping if anything came lose at the other end of the beam. One of the earliest wells found oil in September of 1929. The lead operator of the cable tool drilling rig that day was Charlie Mills. The bit was then raised and a bailer lowered into the well to scoop out the rock chips.After some drilling. and blowouts were common in cable tool operations. Gas and Development Company was a pioneer in what became known as the Dina Field near the junction of the Battle River and Ribstone Creek. After the bailer was removed. Cable tool drilling was very slow. All the early wells in the Lloydminster area were drilled using cable tool rigs. This sequence was repeated about every 3 feet. The Oxville Oil. Charlie was born in . the bottom of the well became clogged with rock chips. the calf wheel (mounted just inside the derrick) and the casing line reel were turned to operate the travelling block.

he brought in the discovery well in the Viking-Kinsella Field. Fluid bailer: device that is repeatedly lowered and lifted out of the well bore to remove fresh water. 4. 2. 5. about 1940. In 1929. 3. working as a roughneck on cable tool drilling rigs in the Turner Valley. or oil. which rises and falls with the motion of the walking beam above. Swedging tool: dropped down through the tubing to remove any kinks. dents. Drilling jars: connect the smashing bit. Drilling bit: the device that literally is punched through 100's of meters of overburden to reach the hoped for pay zone. to the drilling bit so that each blow solidly hits the drilling bit. salt water.Iowa and came to Canada as a youngster. grab or otherwise retrieve lost or broken tools down hole. other times it allows the visual observation of what is in the bottom of the well bore. or (sometimes) obstructions. . Tools from the Cable Tool Era Left to right: 1. Fishing tool: one of several devices to hook. It was powered by twin V-8 engines. Sometimes this is to clear the wellbore. Charlie is credited with bringing the first Rotary Drilling Rig into the Lloydminster area.

Suspended on the hook directly below the traveling block is the swivel. Total output varies from 300-500hp. Without the swivel. and the hoisting. Rigs also employ 1 or 2 engines to power the mud pump. this unit is referred to as a "light plant". These engines are generally rated at 300-350 hp. and allows for other options. Engines also supply the electricity used on and around the rig.they can be locked in the released or engaged position. One of these engines runs clockwise while the other runs counter-clockwise. it is a derrick. rotating. at the top of the derrick. are fitted with a topdrive unit which lowers the trip capacity by one joint. it is a mast. If the tower is erected on the site. The power is used primarily to turn the drill string and raise and lower equipment in the well.or six-sided pipe called the kelly. usually. The size of a rig is usually denoted by the number of joints that can be left together when they "trip". The rotary rig consists of four major systems. usually triples. The drilling line (wire rope) is usually braided steel cable about 1 1/8 inches in diameter. The drilling line goes over a pulley. called the crown block. mud could not be pumped downhole. They are housed on a skid and are enclosed. If the tower comes on a tractor-trailer and is jacked up. through two generator sets. It is wound around a reel in the draw works. The rig can run with one of these units but it would run at close to maximum output at night.. on a double two can be left together.Rotary Rigs Rotary rigs drill the vast majority of wells today. The rotating system is used to cut the hole. The engines are connected to the draw works and let the drilling line in or out. Turning the kelly turns all the . On a single trip. Some rigs. and then down to another pulley called the traveling block. Below the swivel is a four. The kelly has sides so that it can be gripped and turned. The engines supply the power to the rig. Power is usually transmitted through a modified heavy truck type powershift transmission (automatic). and mud systems. These include the engines. However. three. When two engines are used they must be tuned to match and are hooked together through a gear box. Most local rigs use a single engine to power the drawworks and rotary table. The hoisting system is used to raise and lower and to suspend equipment in the well. This raises and lowers the equipment in the well. The swivel is required to allow the drill strings to rotate while connected to the traveling block and as a means to connect the mud hose to the drill string. The derrick or mast is the steel tower. These engines are diesel fueled and are rated between 425550 hp. each joint must be disconnected. there are also variations within these groups as well. Power for most these application is through a clutch with an over centre release mechanism . the traveling block rises and falls in the derrick. As the drilling line is reeled in or out of the draw works. including all medium and deep wells. so does the amount of load it can handle. Below the traveling block is a hook to which equipment can be attached. Most rigs in this area are "doubles". Electrical power is supplied. The second provides for back-up.. As the size increases. and on a triple .

Cutters are commonly steel although special alloys. which has diamonds embedded in the bottom and sides. . and even diamond. It is connected to the engines and is used to rotate the kelly. This is called making a connection.pipe in the hole and drills the hole. The bit screws into the bottom of the drill collars. The rotary table is a circular table in the derrick floor. which has three rotating cones. Tri-cone Bit The three interlocking bits rotate. This helps control drilling (e. and kelly rotate as a unit in a clockwise direction. After drilling 30 feet. the kelly must be raised and another joint of pipe added below the kelly. Another type of bit is the diamond or button bit. Steel drill pipe comes in 30-foot sections that are threaded on both ends. Drill collars weigh more than drill pipe and are designed to lower the center of gravity of the drill pipe. Below the drill pipe are larger-diameter pipes called drill collars. Two to twenty drill collars are often used. The rotary table.g. The kelly fits into a device called the kelly bushing. making a straight hole) and prevents the pipe from kinking and breaking. The button bit is best for drilling limestones. Some tricone bits have hard tungsten carbide buttons instead of teeth. Different bits are used for different hardness formations. which attaches to the rotating table. The kelly must always be located on top of the drill pipe. have been used to cut through hard rock. kelly bushing. Each section of drill pipe is called a joint. The most common bit is the tricone bit. Below the kelly is the drill pipe. The cones have teeth that are designed to chip and flake away the rock as the bit is rotated. "Turning to the right" is a common term for drilling.

drill collars. Drilling mud is stored in steel mud pits beside the rig. called mud hogs. force the drilling mud through a hollow rubber tube. The mud system circulates drilling mud in the hole. Mud Circulation There's more to drilling than simply rotating the . This takes rig time and costs money. the mud flows though the blowout preventers and on to a series of screens called the shale shaker. The drilling mud picks rock chips (cuttings) from the bottom of the well. The deeper the well. All the pipe is pulled out of the hole (tripping out) and stacked (usually 2 joints high) in the derrick.Bits wear out after 8 to 200 hours of rotation. drill pipe. It flows up the well in the space between the rotating drill string and well walls (annulus). The bit is then changed and the pipe put back into the hole (tripping in). The shale shaker is designed to separate the cuttings from the drilling mud. A worn bit can be detected by the noise on the derrick floor that the rotating drill pipe makes and by a decrease in rate of drill penetration. the longer the trip takes. "Making a trip" is necessary for changing the bit. The drilling mud then flows down through the hollow rotating drill string and jets out through holes in the drilling bit on the bottom of the well. This includes the swivel. kelly. and bit. with an average bit wearing out after about 24 hours. The drill string is the rotating pipe and its attachments. Pumps. At the top of the well. Other devices are also used to clean the drilling mud before it flows back into the mud pits.

Circulating drilling mud serves several purposes. The drilling mud liquid is usually water (freshwater based or salt-water-based) but is sometimes oil-based.). The drilling mud also stabilizes the walls of the hole. A heavier drilling mud can be made by adding barite (BaSO. The air mixes with water. causing an explosive mixture. If the pressure on the fluid in the subsurface rock is greater than the pressure of the drilling mud. A common drilling mud is made of bentonite clay and is called gel. the weight of the drilling mud is adjusted to exert a greater pressure on the bottom of the well.3 pounds per gallon. Drilling muds are described by their weight. The foam picks cuttings off the bottom of the well and returns through the annulus to the surface. and forms foam. there are two fluid pressures. Two types are often used on the same well. Thus. The drilling mud cools the bit from heat generated by the friction of drilling. Powerful pumps move the fluid down the pipe. Pressure on fluids in the rock tries to cause the fluids to flow into the well. and the solid mud particles cake to the sides of the well as the fluids enter the rock. In very soft sediments. carrying the cuttings and other debris with it. This is called overbalance. it cleans cuttings from the teeth. Fluid is circulated while the drilling proceeds. The other type closes the well by shearing off the drill pipe with rams. Blowout preventers (BOPS) are designed to close off the well. Pressure exerted by the weight of the drilling mud tries to force the drilling mud into the surrounding rocks. Once the filter cake has formed. or oil will flow out of the rock into the well. Water weighs 8. gas. In order to control subsurface fluid pressure. Air or pneumatic drilling is used in many shallow wells or in cases in which the drilling mud would damage a subsurface reservoir rock. Drilling mud is usually a clay and water mixture. the sides of the well are stabilized and subsurface fluids cannot enter the well. Air drilling is faster and less expensive than mud drilling but has the disadvantages that it cannot control subsurface pressures and sometimes air mixes with subsurface gas. Heavy drilling mud weighs from 15 to 20 pounds per gallon. One type is designed to close around the drill pipe to shut off the annulus. Various chemicals are also used in different situations. and the drilling mud is then forced into the surrounding rocks. The heavier the drilling mud. Average bentonite drilling mud weighs from 9 to 10 pounds per gallon. As the mud flows across the bit. such as in a coastal plain. At the bottom of the well.bit. This often causes the sides of the well to cave or stuff in. drilling can be continuous as stopping to bail the cuttings is no longer required. through the bit and back to the surface. the jetting action of the drilling mud Crudeying out of the bit on the bottom of the well helps cut the well. which is always present on the bottom of the well. The rocks act as a filter. They are attached to the top of the well below the derrick floor. the water. Air is forced down the drill string similar to circulating drilling mud. The drilling mud also controls pressures in the well and prevents blowouts. trapping the equipment. In extreme cases. This filter or mud cake is very hard. it causes a blowout. The foam and cuttings blow out the side of the rig in a blooey line. on a rotary rig (unlike the cable tool). The mud removes cuttings from the bottom of the well. Directional Drilling . the greater the pressure it exerts on the bottom of the well.

Aside from the slant direction. (see above) Today. Slant drilling allows more than one (usually 4. Steel drill pipe bends 3 to 5'. or 8) wells to be drilled off the same lease site (pad). Drilling deviations caused by dip deflection can be prevented when drilling in areas where the geologic structure is known. a relief well can be drilled at a safe distance from the wild well. Heavy drilling mud is then pumped from the relief well through the subsurface rocks and into the wild well to control it. If the hard rock layer dipped less than 45°. Directional surveys or drift logs are often run on wells to determine how much they deviate and where they end up (bottom out). More recently. Deviation drilling is also used to overcome a poor drilling location. It is more economical to drill a crooked hole to test several potential petroleum reservoirs than to drill several wells to each reservoir. By reducing the bit pressure and allowing the bit to do the work. 6. the well can be sidetracked around the obstacle. the bit would tend to be deflected down dip.Because of dipping beds of hard and soft rocks. directional drilling and slant drilling have become common in our area. There are also many legitimate reasons for drilling a crooked hole. If a well is on fire and cannot be approached. This is the traditional and still common type of drilling. The relief well does not have to intersect the wild well in the subsurface. the bit would tend to be deflected up dip. Types of Drilling Conventional Drilling Conventional wells are drilled vertically from the surface straight down to the pay zone. . In the past. Modern rotary rigs can be controlled so that the well is drilled at a predetermined angle (directional or deviation drilling) and ends up in a predetermined location. The number of degrees a well deviates from vertical is called the deviation and the well is called a crooked hole. some wells were "accidentally" drilled to drain oil out from under adjacent leases. drilling contracts often have a clause stipulating that the well deviate no more than a few degrees from vertical. The first device used for directional drilling was a whipstock. Directional drilling (where the direction of the well changes from time to time) is usually associated with some enhanced recovery technique (EOR). a wedge designed to bend the drill string. If something breaks off or falls down the well and cannot be removed. In instances where this cannot be done air drilling can be employed. these wells are usually drilled and completed much like vertical wells. If the bit hit a subsurface hard rock layer with a dip greater than 45 degrees. just come close. deviation can be eliminated. such as horizontal wells being drilled for SAGD (steam assisted gravity drainage). More modern equipment includes swivel or knuckle joints that gives the drill string flexibility and down-hole motors that drive the drill bit from the bottom of the drill string. drillers used to have a hard time keeping a well going straight down. This is usually done by lowering a compass into the well.

four. A schematic of these drill bores (often several from the same drill pad. Slant. More commonly in this area. about 3 meters apart. In a related procedure.e. resembles the roots of a plant. increasing production of heavy oil. Directional Drilling Drilling has advanced from slant and horizontal drilling to drilling that can change direction and depth several times in one well bore. two horizontal well bores are drilled one above the other. This allows the oil reserves under a large land area to be tapped by only one well site. Directional drilling is also being applied in other parts of the world now such as Venezuela and where there is a special need to limit environmental impact on the surface. precision techniques and advanced technology. This type of drilling is uniquely suited to pay zones in the Lloydminster area which are often distributed like prairie sloughs across the underground landscape. even eight slant wells are drilled from one "pad" (i.Horizontal Drilling Using technologies such as bottom driven bits. Illustration of Drilling Types (below) (left to right) Conventional. Thus. oil reserves under a lake can be tapped by a slant hole drilled from on shore. Drilling these holes requires an experienced crew. This approach minimizes surface environmental disturbance. developed in this area. six. For example. Slant Drilling Drilling at an angle from perpendicular (commonly 30° to 45°). production of valuable oil reserves is effectively harmonized with conserving the environment. One application for this is SAGD (Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage) where steam is injected into the higher of these horizontal holes and the heat precipitates oil down into the lower hole. Horizontal . well lease site). drillers are able to execute a sharp turn and drill horizontally along a thin pay zone.

guides the top end of each pipe as it is rejoined to the drill string. the derrickhand helps stack the pipe and then when the pipe is tripped in. and running the controls which drill the well. Working on the "monkey board" high overhead. and working with the contractor. competent contractor will help win bids. Driller: The driller is directly responsible for the drilling of the hole: supervising the rig crew. Derrickhand: When the pipe must be taken out (tripping out) to change bits or for other reasons.Jobs on a Drilling Rig Drilling Contractor: Business person who specializes in drilling. the "toolpush" is always on call. the derrickhand usually . supervising the drilling operation. seven days a week. this usually means supervising three crews. While the rig is operating. the derrickhand handles the top end of the pipe rack. controlling what happens on the rig floor. In between trips. Companies who wish wells drilled call for bids to drill well(s) to certain depths and other specifics. A good record as a responsible. Since the rig operates 24 hours a day. Toolpush: Hired by the drilling contractor to supervise a drilling rig and its crews.

salt-water cut. As the water. gas. The drilling mud flows into the formation without building up a filter cake. heavier drilling mud is pumped into the well through a choke manifold to circulate the kick out. explosives can be used to blow up the junk and then the pieces can be retrieved with a magnet. shredded cellophane. it mixes with the drilling mud. Special grabbing tools are used to retrieve the junk in a process called fishing. They shredded the leather into fine pieces and pumped it down the well. sugar cane hulls. The shredded leather got into the pore spaces of the lost-circulation formation and swelled up. or oil cut. and even shredded paper money to solve lost-circulation problems. Sometimes the blowout occurs so fast that the drillers do not have time to throw the blowout preventers. causing it to become even lighter and exert less pressure on the bottom of the well. During lost circulation. Today. The drilling mud clogs the pores or causes chemical or physical changes in the rock. Roughnecks: Usually two per drilling crew. closing off the formation and solving the problem. Roughnecks also maintain and repair the rig. or oil flows into the well. the roughnecks handle the lower end of the pipe when it is tripping out or in. Slides and cables are located on the rig to evacuate the crew in such an emergency. making sure it is meeting the specifications for drilling a particular part of the hole. They also attach each length of new drill pipe as it is needed as the well gets deeper. An unexpected pressure in the subsurface can cause a blowout. This can be caused by using too heavy an overbalance while drilling. Drilling Problems and Drilling Operations If a tool is lost or the drill string breaks. Lost circulation occurs when a very porous and permeable formation is encountered in the subsurface. The diluted drilling mud is called gas cut.operates the mud system. Formation damage prevents or reduces production from the reservoir rock when the well is completed. ground pecan hulls. Some reservoir rocks can be damaged by forcing drilling mud into them. and keep the rig floor a safe operating area. exacting work and requires precise timing and teamwork. and other equipment. the obstruction in the well is called junk or fish. The overbalance is lost and the fluids flow out of the subsurface rocks into the well in what is called a kick. drillers solved lost-circulation problems by buying all the leather they could locally. This is heavy. In extreme cases. more mud is being pumped down the well than is flowing back up. fibrous materials such as mica flakes. The kick can be dangerous if it is caused by flammable natural gas or poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas. and the results are disastrous. The blowout preventers are immediately thrown to close the hole. In the past. It cannot be drilled through. service companies sell inexpensive fine-grained. This decreases the rock's permeability near the well bore. If the blowout preventers are thrown in time. .

and the cat which holds the front of the perforating truck on the road. The sudden increase of fluid flow out of the well or rise of fluid level in the mud pit is detected by instruments. the rig is run 24 hours a day. which winches the perforating truck out of the (surface) mud. A blowout can also be caused by raising the drill string out of the well. the level of drilling mud falls in the well and the pressure is decreased on the bottom of the well. The operator is the company that organizes and finances the drilling and selects the drill site. or electrical resistivity that would indicate the mud is being cut by subsurface fluids. overbalance could be lost and a blowout could occur. Because of this. Note the technological innovation as the tractor. Drilling Operation Operating a drilling rig is very expensive. Three 8hour shifts or two 12-hour shifts of workers operate the rig. . holds the winch truck. The drill string displaces a volume of drilling mud in the well. more fluids will be flowing out of the well than are circulating into the well. as the picture below illustrates. the problem is simply getting to and from the drill/well site. temperature. The operator has a company representative at the drill site to protect their interests. The drilling mud can also be continuously monitored for sudden changes in weight. Sometimes. If the level of the drilling mud is not maintained in the well. The drilling contractor is the company that supplies the rig. As subsurface fluids enter the well during a kick. Service and supply companies are the various companies that supply specialized tools and services needed during the drilling operations. As the drill string is raised.A kick and possible blowout is detected by several different methods during drilling.

depending on the size of the rig. Once they find me. I¶ll tell you more about these problems in Completions and Workovers. and is also in charge of the drilling mud and pumps. The derrick operator is second in command of each tour. . supplies used. the heavy oil drop.The "tool pusher" is the drilling company's top representative at the drill site. there is lots of work to be done yet. On the derrick floor will be two to four roughnecks (rotary or floor helpers). One person is hired to maintain the engines. The report is phoned back to the drilling superintendent at the contractor's office. footage drilled. Crudey. The report includes the depths. and other drilling and geological data. A driller is in charge of each shift. Drillers operate the drilling machinery from a drilling console on the derrick floor. The derrick operator climbs to the monkeyboard. a platform near the top of the derrick. Each morning the tool pusher compiles the results of the past 24 hours of drilling into a daily drilling or morning report. to handle the pipe during tripping in and out. They handle and maintain the drilling equipment. in recovering me. and some of the problems they have. These are just some of the people. The tool pusher supervises the drilling operations and usually lives at the drill site 24 hours a day.

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