Six new projects seek to develop better microhole technologies.

Coiled-tubing drilling unit for microhole component testing along with a schematic of components of a bottomhole drilling assembly.
The Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced a major new research and development initiative to develop “microhole” technologies - those that use portable drilling rigs with a smaller footprint and lower environmental impact. The program primarily is designed to bring about faster, cheaper and safer oil and gas projects.

“This is a major new research and development initiative that is aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of drilling operations at the same time it reduces costs and increases America's oil and gas production,” Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham says. “It's clear this initiative will help meet President Bush's goals for energy and the environment.”

DOE will help fund six new projects to develop microhole technologies that can drill wells that are less than three inches in diameter. Micro-drilling technology, along with micro-instrumentation, could provide potentially low-cost wells for exploration, long-term reservoir monitoring and production. The total value of the six projects is nearly $5.2 million, with DOE providing $3.7 million and industry partners contributing more than $1.4 million. The industry cost-share of almost 30 percent indicates a strong commitment to these advanced technologies, and suggests strong future support for their commercialization and adoption.

Reduction in materials, labor and support equipment can reduce drilling costs by as much as one-fifth of the cost of drilling a conventional well. Volumes of drilling fluids and cuttings also can be reduced by approximately one-fifth, thereby reducing disposal costs. Smaller footprints and reduced disposal volumes lower the environmental impact of drilling activities.

The projects will be managed for the Energy Department by the Office of Fossil Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory. The six new projects:

Gas Production Specialties (Lafayette, La.) - This project will develop technology to overcome the problems of mature, low-pressure reservoirs that have high amounts of remaining gas by using an artificial lift system consisting of pumps to produce the gas. The technology will allow operators, particularly those in the Gulf of Mexico, to reactivate wells that no longer can flow by natural reservoir pressures. This technology will allow operators to extract more reserves out of reservoirs whose natural pressure have been depleted by previous production. (Project cost: $210,000; DOE share: $80,000; Duration: 8 Months)

Stolar Research (Raton, N.M.) - Researchers will develop technologies to guide the drill bit when drilling horizontal wells and transmit rock and fluid information to the surface as it is collected. Radar will be used to determine the location of the drill bit, and radio data transmission will be used to communicate the measurement data to the surface. (Project cost: $921,875; DOE share: $737,000; Duration: 18 Months)

Baker Hughes Inteq (Houston) - The project will design and fabricate a drill bit steering device and a tool that measures the electrical resistivity of the rock. Both of these instruments will be 23⁄8 inches in diameter and will be able to fit into coiled tubing. Development of these tools will provide a modular and effective coiled tubing drilling system that enables higher, more effective production from existing domestic oil fields. (Project cost: $983,512; DOE share: $737,000; Duration: 18 Months)

Schlumberger IPC (Sugarland, Texas) - Researchers will develop and build a microhole coiled tubing drilling rig that is designed specifically for the abundant shallow oil and gas reservoirs found in the lower 48 states. The rig will be designed to improve the environmental and economic performance of shallow well drilling by using small and purpose-built equipment that is easy to move and fast to mobilize, yet versatile in its application. (Project cost: $1,836,423; DOE share: $1,200,000; Duration: 18 Months)

Western Well Tool (Anaheim, Calif.) - The project will develop a downhole tractor tool that helps transport the drill bit and measurement tools into long (3,000+ ft.) sections of horizontal wells. The tractor is expected to cost 25 percent to 50 percent less than conventional drilling methods and allow faster drilling of small-diameter horizontal sections of microboreholes. (Project cost: $645,420; DOE share: $516,336; Duration: 14 Months)

Bandera Petroleum Exploration (Tulsa, Okla.) - Researchers will develop and fabricate a novel drilling technique that uses a highly abrasive slurry jetting technique to drill through rock. The advantages of this technique include faster drilling through a range of rock hardness and, since the rock cuttings are extremely small, they can be pumped out of the well bore more easily. The drilling rigs used have a very small footprint and reduced environmental impact. (Project cost: $592,000; DOE share: $473,600; Duration: 30 Months)