Oil Drilling Techniques

John Keller
December 5, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: The Los Angeles Oil Fields which used giant wells to access. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Today we use to power important aspects of our lives such transportation fuels, powering electricity and heating, as well as helping the formation of our roads themselves. The oil industry has been apart of the American economy for well over a century. After the discovery of the Spindletop geyser in southeastern Texas more than 1,500 oil companies had been chartered. Since then oil had been the dominant fuel source and have played a huge role in the American economy. Furthermore, after the Standard Oil company finalized the contract to drill in Saudi Arabia, the oil enterprise really took off. This industry is still running strong today by producing an average of 9.4 million barrels of crude oil per day.

Horizontal Drilling

One of the most common ways of abstracting this oil in a technique known as horizontal drilling. This method is used in cases where the source happens to run horizontally, this is most commonly seen in rock shales. Having a "J" shaped pattern, a horizontal drilling unit must first determine the initial depth to reach before going "horizontal". Once proper depth is determined the next step is finding an angle, which is necessary in order to have the proper angle to be able to abstract the oil deep in the ground. An example of this can be shown in figure one.

Hydraulic Fracturing

Another main drilling technique is called hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking. Fracking is the most widespread and controversial techniques of oil refining, comprising of 90% of the natural gas well in the US. This process entails pumping highly pressurized fluid (often including sand, chemicals and other coarse material) through previously drilled wellbores, such as horizontal drilling wells. Despite the success rate of this technique there has been a fair amount of backlash due to fracking's environmental hazards. For example, upwards of 90% of the fracking fluid remains in the ground after use. [1] The list of environmental and health concerns goes on and on. Heated debates on the high levels of water used, toxin exposure, groundwater and soil contamination, and decreased levels air quality are all topics of discussion that stimulate environmentalist conversation.

© John Keller. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] F. M. Giger, L. H. Reiss, and A. P. Jourdan, "The Reservoir Engineering Aspects of Horizontal Drilling," One Petro SPE-13024-MS, 16 Sep 84.