A new technique that uses an inexpensive, disposable fiber optics telemetry system to relay real-time information about the drilling process is garnering attention in the oil and gas industry.

"We have come up with a unique system using throwaway fiber optics that relays information of what is going on at the end of the drill string as it is happening," David Holcomb, a researcher employed at Sandia National Laboratories who devised the technique, says. "Information is instantaneously sent to the surface about temperatures, pressure, chemistry and rock formation - all obtained without stopping the drilling operation."

Using fiber optics telemetry to transmit information from the down-hole end of the drill string while drilling was in process has been of interest to the oil and gas well industry for some time. However, it generally was considered expensive and inconvenient because a bulky armor was required to protect the delicate optical fiber, and deploying the cable interfered with drilling. Holcomb's technique instead uses unarmored fiber, protected only by a thin, clear protective plastic coating. Because the cable only has to survive a few hours, it is feasible to use such unarmored fiber, which is cheap and can be wound small enough so that it does not interfere with drilling operations.

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