Technology boosts oil-field safety, efficiency

Rapidly improving oil-field technology has made the industry safer and more efficient.
by Adam Wilmoth Modified: January 24, 2014 at 6:00 pm •  Published: January 23, 2014

The oil and natural gas industry has quickly evolved over the past decade as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have combined to revolutionize how and where companies extract energy from deep below the surface.

The technological improvements only begin there.

Besides cracking the code and discovering how to economically recover oil that has been known — but unreachable — for decades, technology also has made the industry far safer and more efficient.

One of the biggest safety improvements predates the current boom, but has been used extensively throughout it. Known as an iron roughneck, this large clamp helps connect drill pipe sections on a drilling rig. The equipment eliminates the need to connect pipe by hand, a process that previously led many roughnecks to lose fingers or worse.

Another cost and safety development has allowed companies to drill far fewer wells from far fewer locations while dramatically increasing production.

One horizontal well can replace dozens of traditional, vertical wells. Companies also can drill more than a dozen horizontal wells from one drilling pad, reaching different depths and directions.

In the early days of the shale boom, companies tore down rigs, moved them over a few feet and rebuilt them.

Today, however, most modern rigs used for horizontal drilling include feet or skids that allow them to move around a drilling pad without tearing the rig down or moving pipe. The process saves time and money, but it also reduces the risk of injury by minimizing how often parts are assembled and disassembled.

by Adam Wilmoth
Energy Editor
Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector....
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