Darren Rice, Radial Drilling Consultant
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.
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% of the original oil/gas in place is still in place. The Viking formation in Alberta, Canada, and the Spraberry in West Texas, are just two that spring to mind.
The study of formation damage, and understanding of numerous production challenges from hundreds of thousands of wells, is well understood. It is therefore not unrealistic to view the potential of RJD as a step-change technology.
After a quick search on Google you can find 10 to 15 different RJD companies offering an array of services, making a number of bold claims. If you believe what you read on Google then there are thousands of laterals successfully being drilled, laterals are being drilled up to 700 ft, and deploying RJD is a home run.
I’m pretty sure that if the technology was being successfully being deployed, as claimed on various websites, then the roads in Texas would be full of RJD trucks, just as they were with water and frac trucks, when oil was over $100 per barrel.
It is fact that it is extremely challenging to develop a technology, robust enough to reliably operate inside casing sizes of greater than 4.5 in. in order to mill through casing, and then have a water jetting system that can actually jet/drill through rock and penetrate in a controlled (directed) fashion into a formation. Even if or when this can be achieved, the next question is can this be done at a cost that provides a ROI for the operator or provides a better solution than other existing services available in the oilfield?
My work in the industry has provided me with a unique insight into all of the various technologies, and I am very excited about some of the developments I’m seeing and hearing about. This research leads me to believe that within the next 12 to 24 months we will see some major breakthroughs and advances in this new industry.
Quite where RJD will ultimately fit into the industry is hard to know. Assuming that a working technology/system is being deployed, and depending on how lost cost of deployment becomes, an obvious area is to enhance other technologies. Assuming that large diameter multilateral tunnels can extend to 100 ft-plus, the implications for fracking down such tunnels is considerable. As is the concept for using laterals to deploy specially designed chemicals.
The further these laterals can extend, the more one should consider the implications for the technology. If multilaterals could be jetted out to 300 ft to 500 ft reliably, then the economics of drilling horizontal wells, requiring multistage frac jobs, will surely have to be reviewed. The opportunities are endless.