Radial Drilling or Radial Jet Drilling (RJD) has been available for over 20 years, often promoted as a potential ‘step-change’ technology for the Oil & Gas industry.
As countless RJD companies have come and gone, there has been lots of hype, claims made, court cases, and many failures, whilst at the same time many operators (big & small) around the world, have frankly wasted millions of dollars on some very poor technology.
Throughout my ten years working in 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 have ever achieved any ROI with this technology.
One favourite story was from an operator in Texas, who contracted a leading RJD service company to come and workover a well. Towards the end of the operation, one his of his friends, (who happened to be an old-time driller) came past to take 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 RJD equipment operator how many laterals had been jetted/drilled, and was confidently informed that 5 X 300ft laterals had 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 the cuttings from the 1500ft of laterals, with a lateral diameter of approximately 1”, 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 being bailed out. The old-timer had already calculated that there wasn’t enough rathole in the well to collect the cuttings from 1500ft of laterals. Needless to say, he wasn’t surprised that after bailing the well, there were absolutely no cuttings at all in the rathole.
Given the nature of 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 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 & 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 actually jetted/drilled any laterals in their formations. However, as in the story above, they will have been told that laterals were successfully drilled and the problem was with their well not responding.
We don’t need to be an expert reservoir or petroleum engineer to work out the likely results from oil & gas wells, if you actually jet/drill multi-laterals of 50ft + 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, USA, 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 Radial Jet Drilling as a step-change technology.
After a quick search on Google, you can find 10-15 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 700ft, and deploying Radial Jet Drilling 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, USA, would be full of RJD trucks, just as they were with water and frac trucks when oil was over $100 per barrel.
It’s a fact that developing a technology which is robust enough to reliably operate inside casing sizes of >4.5”, 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, is extremely challenging. Even if/when this can be achieved, the next question is can this be done at a cost that provides an ROI for the operator, or provides a better solution or alternative to 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 12-24 months we will see some major breakthroughs, and advances, in this industry.
Quite where Radial Jet Drilling will ultimately fit into the industry is hard to predict. Taken 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 large diameter multi-lateral tunnels can extend to 100ft+, the implications for frac’ing down such tunnels is considerable. As is the concept for using laterals to deploy specially designed chemicals.
The further these laterals extend, the more we should consider the implications for the technology. If multi-laterals could be jetted out to 300-500ft reliably, then the economics of drilling horizontal wells, requiring multi-stage frac jobs, will surely have to be reviewed. The opportunities are endless.
While we wait for the technology to mature and evolve, I would offer one piece of advice to any operator looking to deploy Radial Jet Drilling on their wells. This would be to insist on having your well bailed at the end of the process, to prove that the laterals you are being told were jetted/drilled, actually were. If there are no cuttings then refuse to pay, or even make this process part of the commercial contract you enter into with the provider you choose to work with.