What Is Horizontal Drilling?


As the world's demand for more oil and gas supplies increase, the drilling industry has been forced to find new ways to make older drills more productive. Older vertical wells that have fallen in productivity have gained new life by incorporating horizontal drilling from the same platform. This is an advantage as the expense of building a new well can be avoided and the environmental impact limited as an existing structure is being used to extract the new oil.

Why Drill Horizontally

  • Horizontal drilling is used to gain access to pockets of oil and gas that may be missed or unreachable by traditional vertical drilling. A vertical hole is drilled first, and then the horizontal drilling is spurred off from there. The vertical part of the drill can be used for several horizontal drills in different directions and extended for over a thousand feet from the vertical hole.


  • While horizontal drilling is about twice as costly to set up as traditional vertical drilling, the greater quantities of oil and gas that are returned pay for the increased investment. In situations where an existing vertical well can be used for new horizontal drills the expense drops dramatically. A vertically drilled well can pull only from the oil or gas reservoir that is directly below the drilled hole. Once the immediate area around the drill is exhausted of oil or gas the drill loses productivity and the well begins to cost money to maintain and eventually would be taken down. However, horizontal drilling allows the well to be placed in the middle of the reservoir and to remove the oil or gas along the length of it rather than just through the depth or it.


  • Beyond the monetary benefit, horizontal drilling has some significant environmental benefits as well. It is claimed that horizontal drilling enables the harvesting of oil and gas reservoirs under urban areas or sensitive wildlife environments without disturbing them. Horizontal drilling enables the harvesting of the oil or gas to meet the rising demands without building several oil platforms in the heart of a sensitive ecosystem.

Types of Horizontal Wells

  • It may seem strange to think of the pipe of an oil rig flexing and bending to drill horizontally. However, as the amount of pipe that is fitted together grows longer for the drill the more flexible it becomes, and it can bend up to 90 degrees for a horizontal drill application. To meet the demand of different situations, different types of horizontal wells have been developed. They include the short-radius well, medium-radius well and long-radius well.

Advances of Technology

  • As technology advances so are the applications where horizontal drilling can be applied. Landfills are being proven to create pockets of gas that could be used to make energy if it were captured. Horizontal drilling is also being used to remove collected water tables before they are able to cause a mudslide and cause damage to property. In return water can be moved and deposited into aquifers that are running low. This is by no means a complete list of the types of applications where horizontal drilling could be applied, but as technology advances, so will the applications for horizontal drilling.

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  • Photo Credit oil rig at sunset image by Alan James from Fotolia.com
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