Forbes - 4 Oct 04

Prof. Robert B. Laughlin
Department of Physics
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305
(Copied 16 Jan 10)

How Deep-Water Drilling Works

October 4, 2004

Illustration by John Kocon. Animation by Tucky Ridder.

NEW YORK - By the end of the decade, deep-water wells will supply 10% of the world's oil. As the technology improves, that number will grow.

Drilling through 10,000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico--and then through 20,000 feet of bedrock and salt formations to reach an oil reservoir--is fast becoming commonplace to reach those hoped-for big paybacks of black gold.

With the latest fleet of drill ships, up to two miles of pipe and drill bit can be assembled on deck and dropped. No anchors needed. Thanks to six 7,000-horsepower thrusters that swivel 360 degrees, the ship can float in a stationary manner aided by satellite positioning systems and sonar beacons on the ocean floor.

The next big challenge: engineering a production platform that can support the weight of the pipes and processing gear needed to bring all that oil to the surface.