Ten Technologies From the 1980s and 1990s That Made Today’s Oil and Gas Industry
- Henry Edmundson (R9 Energy Consultants)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- March 2019
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 44 - 48
- 2019. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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Special Section: The Value and Future of Petroleum Engineering
Contrary to popular imagination, which favors John Wayne stereotypes heroically rescuing the oil industry with wrench and hammer, the oilfield is a place of exquisite engineering, the match of anything on Earth, a marvel of innovation at the biggest and smallest scales.
The office-block sized blowout preventers on the ocean floor or the minute geopositioning electronics inside a logging while drilling (LWD) tool both are designed to operate perfectly within exacting environmental specifications. Almost every aspect of upstream exploitation is the result of exhaustively leveraging the glorious value chain of math, science, and engineering.
Along this trajectory, failure is met more often than success, as ideas and developments are tried out and eventually fine-tuned until something begins to work reliably. The journey is not for the faint-hearted. Whether it be one obsessive individual or a team with an equal desire to win, both energy and imagination must be sustained at every hurdle, to force progress and eventual success. This is as valid for the glamorous game-changing innovation as it is for a leap-of-faith improvement to existing technological practice.
Since the 1980s, our industry has experienced a technology renaissance all along this innovation spectrum—the oil price volatility in this modern era of our industry certainly focused minds on doing things more efficiently at less cost. As a celebration of these years of technical innovation, we now make so bold as to list perhaps 10 of the most significant contributions.
No doubt it is foolhardy to propose such a list because we all have an opinion on what should be on it. Nevertheless, there is surely enough common ground to guarantee some degree of objectivity. What may be objectionable is limiting the number to 10. Within that constraint, however, just the intellectual and practical bravado displayed surely merits all 10 to be included.
1981: Horizontal Wells Increase Production
The Soviet Union pioneered horizontal wells in the late 1960s only to turn its back on furthering the development of the practice in favor of vertical wells that were easier and faster to drill. But the mantle was picked up by Jacques Bosio, a drilling engineer with French oil company Elf Aquitaine, which needed horizontal drilling to intersect fractures and increase production from a karst reservoir found off the Italian coast, the Rospo Mare field.In 1981, for twice the cost of a vertical well, horizontal drilling was sanctioned. The first well would bring in 3,000 B/D—more than 20 times its off-set vertical well. By the mid-1980s, horizontal drilling was seeing wider adoption as a way to target thin oil and gas reservoirs in Texas, the Middle East, and the North Sea. Operators had known about these skinny hydrocarbon- bearing layers for years—now they had a way to contact them with enough surface area to make money. Bosio would go on to become the first SPE President from outside the US, in 1993.
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