What is Drilling Engineering?

The high-profile Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010 highlighted the importance of quality drilling engineering in off-shore oil exploration and development. With more wells being drilled around the world year after year, drilling engineering is an essential component to the health of the world’s energy security. Technological advances in the last few decades have made drilling in a wider range of environments around the world economically viable; meaning the need for qualified drilling engineers is higher than ever.

The Basics of Drilling Engineering

The fundamentals of drilling engineering revolve around fluid mechanics, solid mechanics and chemistry. Depending on the type of material being drilled, an engineer will have to account for the behaviour of a wide variety of liquids and solids that will inevitably have an effect on the drilling operation. Problems need to be anticipated and planned for before ground is broken, and contingency plans need to be implemented quickly and safely. Drilling engineers also need to account for all costs involved in the drilling operation in order to make sure the project stays on budget.

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Oil and Natural Gas Drilling
Two major groups encompass a natural gas or oil drilling operation: manpower and hardware. Drilling engineers make up a critical portion of the manpower that is responsible for the design and implementation of a drilling project. They are responsible for rig selection, mud programs, casing and cementing design, wellbore hydraulics and drill bit selection. Engineers will decide which techniques and equipment to use depending on the nature of the surface and subsurface conditions and the actual well objectives. Once the drilling operation is up and running, they support the ongoing rig-operations including unplanned events such as emergencies or problems with the drilling system.

Drill Bits and Drill String
The primary method of oil and gas well construction is rotary drilling. This type of drilling relies on a drill bit, which is rotated by the drill string or a downhole motor, to penetrate the rock in order to access the valuable resource. A drill bit works by grinding, cutting, scraping and crushing rock along the drill pathway. These destroyed pieces of rock then need to be transported to the surface. Bits are mainly made of steel, but drilling through very hard rocks sometimes requires diamond compact bits that are specially designed to penetrate extremely hard materials.

Drilling Problems and Solutions
As evidenced in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, problems that don’t have quick and effective engineering solutions can be disastrous to the safety of workers and the environment. While the Deepwater Horizon explosion was rare for drilling operations, engineers still need to plan for many different problems. Drilling engineers are expected to closely examine potential issues involving pipe sticking, loss of circulation, hole deviation, drill pipe failures, borehole instability, mud contamination and formation damage.

Well Planning
A well plan needs to be developed before the start of any drilling. It needs to account for every step of the project, from initial drilling to abandonment of the well. Drilling engineers need input from all parts of the drilling operation: drilling contractors, explorationaists, partner companies, equipment providers and government regulatory agencies. Without this collaboration, very expensive mistakes can be made that affect the economic viability of the well as well as the health of the environment. A successful and profitable well depends on the expertise and research of professionals who are dedicated to providing a safe and efficient operation.

Drilling engineering is a complicated and high-stakes process that usually spans the course of many years to obtain experience and competency. Drilling engineers spend years studying mechanical engineering, petroleum engineering and other science based courses so that they have the knowledge necessary to account for all aspects of well construction. Drilling typically involves high risks and high costs, but a successful well brings enormous profits to companies and high salaries to their workers.

Drilling engineering helps to design and build large scale drills and execute drilling projects providing the world with many drilled resources. Through various types of technology and efficient strategic planning, drilling engineering makes wells safer and more economically viable.

Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kecko/2905395386/

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