Drilling Technology

Radial drilling in progress

Radial drilling in progress

Is Radial Jet Drilling potential ‘step-change’ technology?

One doesn’t need to be an expert reservoir or petroleum engineer to work out the likely result from oil and gas wells, if you could actually jet/drill multilaterals of 50 ft-plus in a radial pattern, from a vertical wellbore

Radial Jet Drilling (RJD) has been available for more than 20 years, often touted as a potential "step-change" technology for the oil and gas industry.

There has been much hype, claims made and many failures, as countless companies have come and gone. Meanwhile, many operators, both big and small, have, frankly, wasted millions of dollars on some very poor technology.

"Throughout my 10 years working within the industry I have spoken to well over 200 operators, from all regions of the world, who have tried some variation of RJD on their wells. Of these operators, I can count on one hand the number who achieved any return on their investment in this technology," says Darren Rice, Radial Drilling Consultant.

One favorite story was from an operator in Texas, who contracted a leading RJD service company to workover one of his wells. Toward the end of the operation, one his of his friends (who happened to be an old-time driller) took a look at this new technology. He cast an experienced eye over what was being deployed and wasn’t convinced by what he saw. He asked the young equipment operator how many laterals had been jetted/drilled and was confidently informed that 5 X 300 ft laterals had successfully been completed.

As the well wasn’t circulating any cuttings to surface and after some quick calculations, he asked the equipment operator where all the cuttings were. He was told that all of the cuttings from the 1,500 ft of laterals, with a lateral diameter of about 1 in., had fallen down the rathole of the well.

By now the well operator was beginning to doubt the reliability of what he was being told, so he informed the RJD service company operator that prior to being allowed to leave location, he would have to stay and witness the well as it was being bailed out. The old-timer had already calculated that there wasn’t enough rathole in the well to collect the cuttings. Needless to say, he wasn’t surprised that after bailing the well, there were absolutely no cuttings at all in the rathole.

Given how many RJD systems are deployed and the information/indications they display at surface, it’s hard to know if the young RJD operator actually knew that laterals weren’t being jetted. Whether the owners of the RJD company knew or know is a question for another day. What is for sure is that it didn’t take the old-timer driller more than 10 minutes to work it out.

This story leads into to the single most important question that needs to be asked when trying to understand where the Radial Jet Drilling Industry is at right now.

Is it that RJD doesn’t work, or is it that most of the RJD technology, past and present, has just failed to jet/drill laterals?

There’s a big difference between these questions, and without much doubt the answer is that nearly all operators who have deployed technology on their wells, which subsequently saw no increase in production, likely deployed a technology that never jetted/drilled any laterals in their formations.

One doesn’t need to be an expert reservoir or petroleum engineer to work out the likely result from oil and gas wells, if you could actually jet/drill multilaterals of 50 ft-plus in a radial pattern, from a vertical wellbore. There are countless formations around the world, where after decades of primary recovery, more than 90 per cent of the original oil/gas in place is still in place.




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