all relative. "Micro" technology may make a big impact
in downhole operations.
courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory
to the oil industry: Think small.
techniques and instrumentation already have revolutionized much
of our world -- think electronics, computers or the medical field
-- so why not the oil industry?
a major research initiative by the U.S. Department of Energy is
successful, the word downsized could have a whole new meaning for
oil and gas operators.
technology using coiled tubing systems is becoming a real possibility
-- and the DOE hopes to jumpstart even more research and development.
for microhole technology was the constantly shrinking economic viability
of testing downhole tools in standard sized wells, according to
James Albright with the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
the 1970s we had all the money in the world to drill holes to test
diagnostic tools," Albright said. "We specifically were deploying
most of the 1980s oil companies were willing to shut in some wells
to gather important information on new tools.
by the 1990s we had less and less access to existing wells," he
said, "and it became apparent we were going to be out of business
unless we found a way to put instrumentation down hole cheaply."
that same time frame electronics were getting smaller with the advent
of microprocessors and other technology.
these advancements allowed us to build instrumentation that actually
did not work optimally in larger holes," Albright said. "We realized
we needed to look at drilling fit-for-purpose holes."
initially did some white paper studies to determine the potential
problems, then tested components and put together a drilling system.
Scientists realized they could build on the existing coiled tubing
technology that is relatively mature today.
tubing does not drill from the surface, that application did provide
an infrastructure for handling coiled tubing -- so developing a
system deployed from the surface was not a completely new scenario,
according to Albright.
been an evolutionary versus revolutionary journey," he said. "If
we had been forced to start with a revolutionary new drilling system
based on new physics with an entirely new infrastructure the idea
may have died on the vine. But we have been able to adapt existing
at Los Alamos has been to prove microholes can be drilled," he added,
"and with the lessons learned here others in the industry will find
different ways to use the technology to drill faster and cheaper."
system developed at the national laboratory is made up of coiled
tubing with a positive displacement motor pushed by water. Ultimately,
scientists want to be able to add measurement while drilling tools,
logging while drilling tools and directional drilling capabilities
to the string.
not yet being developed for microhole application because the drilling
method first had to be proven.
Alamos scientists recently tested the microhole drilling system
at the Teapot Dome Naval Petroleum Reserve in Wyoming. The field
produces oil and is used for demonstrations and technology development
to prove we could drill in an oil environment," Albright said. "Plus,
we needed a shallow target, and the Shannon Formation at about 500
feet on the Naval Petroleum Reserve was ideal."
drilled beneath the Shannon to 497 feet and opened the hole. In
earlier tests the biggest challenge, according to Albright, was
cementing the small annulus.
test holes around Los Alamos led to "a good deal of difficulty with
cementing due to hole stability issues in the soft sediments.
in Wyoming did not have similar problems," Albright said, "so that
plans to actually fracture and attempt to produce the microhole,
with a second test planned for next spring. Los Alamos scientists
have drilled about 2,000 feet of hole using the microhole system
and the goal moving forward is to go deeper.
to go to 5,000 feet and we think we can," said Albright, who presented
a paper on the subject during the recent Mid-Continent Section meeting
preparation we feel we can drill 5,000 feet of hole using this technology
today," he said. "Taking the microhole system beyond 5,000 feet
will take much more effort because many elements will be stressed
to their limits, but as the evolution progresses we will get to
even greater depths."
said the DOE now hopes to build on the work done at Los Alamos.
In September the DOE Office of Fossil Energy announced a funding
initiative for microhole technology development with proposals due
Jan. 30. The initiative centers on two areas of interest:
demonstration and technology development of a built-for-purpose
microhole coiled tubing rig, a self-contained zero discharge drilling
mud system, microhole coiled tubing bottom hole assemblies and
$6 million of available funding, and through competitive bids will
likely approve about 15 awards.