free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 70. LASER DRILLING

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


From Alexander's Gas and Oil Connection (original source: The Denver Post):
Laser beams soon may be drilling oil and gas wells
14-01-04 A revolutionary method for using laser beams to drill oil and gas wells moved a step closer to reality in the laboratories of the Colorado School of Mines.
The university announced it has acquired six laser technology patents from Boeing in a major step forward in the transfer of military laser uses to civilian applications. If the adaptation of technology borrowed from Reagan-era "Star Wars" military programs is successful, it will mark the first fundamental change to rotary drilling techniques since the concept was invented in Britain in 1845.


Laser drilling, Graves said, would have several advantages over conventional drilling:
-- Costs could be at least 10 times lower and up to several hundred times less than wells drilled with rotary rigs. For example, a typical, 10,000-foot gas well in Wyoming's Wind River Basin costs about $ 350,000 to drill. Laser drilling would drop that cost to $ 35,000 or lower, Graves said.
-- A laser drill's "footprint" -- the amount of surface space it occupies -- could be as little as 100 square feet, or even less with some models.
-- The laser rigs could be transported to drilling sites in one semi-trailer load. Conventional rigs take up several thousand square feet of space and require numerous truck trips to haul equipment.
-- Lasers could drill a typical natural-gas well in about 10 days, compared with 100 days for some conventional wells.
"You're looking at three months of disruption versus a week or so of disruption with a laser drill," Graves said.
-- Lasers could be programmed for precise well diameters and depths. In addition, they could alternately drill coarsely to deliver mineral samples, finely to vaporize rock and leave no waste materials, or with intense heat to melt the walls of well bores, thus eliminating the need to place steel casing in wells.Source

Compare this with the peak oiler theory:
So, as we slide down the Hubbert's Curve, not only will the rate of production decrease, but the cost of that production will increase.

Laser drilling may actually make production of the "hard to get" oil and gas easier than production of the stuff which was "easy to get". This would cause a lot of havoc with reserve numbers because commercially unfeasible small/deep deposits would suddenly become "proven" (i.e. exploitable with current technology).
FAQ by Ramona Graves on her research:
Laser Drilling FAQ

Ms. Graves in the lab:

The direct diode laser (DDL) she is currently using is 4000 watts. She doesn't provide a specific energy for the DDL, but the figure for an Nd:YAG laser is about 6kJ/cm3. So if we were to use a 4000watt Nd:YAG laser, and drill a hole with a diameter of 1.12cm into rock, we could cut down 1cm in 1.5sec. So a 300,000cm (10,000 foot) hole could be drilled in 450,000sec =125hours.

That's definitely fast drilling. The main problem, as Ms. Graves notes in her FAQ, is getting the laser down the hole. The earliest lasers for testing were huge:

The size of lasers varies from the US Army's MIRACL which is the size of a small refinery to the Direct Diode laser which is about of the size of a shoe box (shown below). The US Air Force COIL has been miniaturized, as part of the airborne laser defense system, to operate inside a Boeing 747.

Clearly you can't put the MIRACL or COIL down a hole. You would have to use some kind of fiber optic arrangement, but there are some hard technical issues:

Determining if optical fibers are the most advantageous method to transfer the tremendous energy of the infrared lasers down hole. This is a new area of research for the fiber industry, which has been more concerned with data speed and quantity than power levels. The record to date is 10kW into a fiber less than 1 millimeter in diameter, but only for 10 meters. This is encouraging, but scaling this up to 2,000 meters, or more, may prove to be very difficult. The 10kW test showed that the laser energy has to be precisely injected into the fiber, or the fiber is quickly destroyed. The engineering required to reliably handle this much energy in the field will be substantial.Source (pdf)

You could probably put the whole DDL into a hole (you can see it in the picture of Ms. Graves), but then you're only getting 4000W down the hole, and cutting a 12inch diameter hole to accomodate the laser would slow down the cutting too much. Somehow, you've got to get 10 or 20 DDLs down the hole to work in parallel. Or, get one DDL down there which can put out a lot more watts. In short, miniaturization appears to be a problem.

This also appears to be why the first use of these systems is likely to be in well completion or stimulation, i.e. specific finishing tasks down an already completed hole. The low wattage isn't such a problem if the main goal is precision or control, rather than speed.

The EROEI is an interesting question. As the Table shows, conventional drilling requires a lot fewer joules per cubic cm of rock than laser drilling. On the other hand, if the rig is more compact and the drilling period is substantially shortened, a lot of energy, labor and materials are going to be saved. There's not enough information to answer the question.


At Wednesday, September 14, 2005 at 5:37:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm missing something, but lasers produce intense heat and I'm not sure that's something you want to focus into a well full of natural gas?

At Monday, May 5, 2008 at 10:29:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

how do they intend to control these wells? or will the try and produce while drilling? i must be overlooking something...

At Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 7:52:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If they do produce such a laser drill, a better option would be to drill geothermal wells. Completely clean energy and more of it than anyone could ever imagine.

At Tuesday, September 23, 2008 at 2:54:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laser drilling is poised to be the first fundamental change to the rotary drilling concept since its inception nearly 100 years ago.

Some might say, it's about time.

The earliest studies of laser drilling possibilities date to the 1960s and 1970s, but these were primarily theoretical -- physical tests were limited by the laser technology and low power available at that time.

But the then-Gas Research Institute (GRI; now the Gas Technology Institute) resurrected the idea of using lasers to drill oil and gas wells in 1997, when the institute initiated a two-year study to determine the feasibility of using the high power lasers developed by the U.S. military as part of the Reagan-era Star Wars Defense Initiative.

Those first steps investigated the interaction of lasers with different rock lithologies as the first step toward determining the energy required to remove rock with laser beams."


At Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 10:49:00 AM PST, Blogger Carl Carlson said...


You guys are SO RETARDED!

A) What is the point of having a laser drill if you have nothing to drill for?

B) If this were a viable technology the oil companies would be developing it, not the Colorado School of Mines.

Did you know there is oil on Mars too?

At Friday, June 12, 2009 at 7:15:00 AM PDT, Anonymous idarusskie said...

Carl you are the retard.

There is still plenty of oil left to drill for. Beside geothermal is another application which would be useful. One of the expenses in drilling geothermal is the casing and the later replacement when it corrodes. just calculate the cost of say 10 km of 8 inch pipe. not cheap.

The oil companies have not developed this because we are still paying the price for oil. The more expensive the more resourceful they need to get.

Another use is going below played out oil fields and drilling horizontal shafts and letting the oil collect to a central drain. one of the things people forget is oil is no tin one big lake its in the rocks and it has to be let out.

At Friday, November 6, 2009 at 12:00:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A cost saving associated with laser drilling is said to be no requirement for expensive casing down the well. Conventionally, the casing has additional importance when completing the well as the wellhead connects to the casing to form a seal. If casings become 'unnecessary' will tubing (normally within the casing) still be required and if so will that be sufficient to link leak-proof with the wellhead?
Keith Haslett


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