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Drilling rig

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Drilling the Bakken Formation in the Williston Basin
Large hole drilling rig for blast-hole drilling

A drilling rig is an integrated system that drills wells, such as oil or water wells, or holes for piling and other construction purposes, into the earth's subsurface. Drilling rigs can be massive structures housing equipment used to drill water wells, oil wells, or natural gas extraction wells, or they can be small enough to be moved manually by one person and such are called augers. Drilling rigs can sample subsurface mineral deposits, test rock, soil and groundwater physical properties, and also can be used to install sub-surface fabrications, such as underground utilities, instrumentation, tunnels or wells. Drilling rigs can be mobile equipment mounted on trucks, tracks or trailers, or more permanent land or marine-based structures (such as oil platforms, commonly called 'offshore oil rigs' even if they don't contain a drilling rig). The term "rig" therefore generally refers to the complex equipment that is used to penetrate the surface of the Earth's crust.

Small to medium-sized drilling rigs are mobile, such as those used in mineral exploration drilling, blast-hole, water wells and environmental investigations. Larger rigs are capable of drilling through thousands of metres of the Earth's crust, using large "mud pumps" to circulate drilling fluid (slurry) through the drill bit and up the casing annulus, for cooling and removing the "cuttings" while a well is drilled. Hoists in the rig, a derrick, can lift hundreds of tons of pipe. Other equipment can force acid or sand into reservoirs to facilitate extraction of the oil or natural gas; and in remote locations there can be permanent living accommodation and catering for crews (which may be more than a hundred). Marine rigs may operate thousands of miles distant from the supply base with infrequent crew rotation or cycle.


Antique drilling rig now on display at Western History Museum in Lingle, Wyoming. It was used to drill many water wells in that area—many of those wells are still in use.
Antique drilling rigs in Zigong, China

Until internal combustion engines were developed in the late 19th century, the main method for drilling rock was muscle power of man or animal. The technique of oil drilling through percussion or rotary drilling has its origins dating back to the ancient Chinese Han dynasty in 100 BC, where percussion drilling was used to extract natural gas in the Sichuan province.[1] Early oil and gas drilling methods were seemingly primitive as it required several technical skills.[1][2] The skills involved the availability of heavy iron bits and long bamboo poles, the manufacturing of long and sturdy cables woven from bamboo fiber, and levers. Heavy iron bits were attached to long bamboo cables suspended from bamboo derricks and then were repeatedly raised and dropped into a manually dug hole by having two to six men jumping on a lever.[1] Han dynasty oil wells made by percussion drilling was effective but only reached 10 meters deep and 100 meters by the 10th century.[1] By the 16th century, the Chinese were exploring and drilling oil wells more than 2,000 feet (610 m) deep.[2] Chinese well drilling technology was introduced to Europe in 1828.[3] A modernized variant of the ancient Chinese drilling technique was used by American businessman Edwin Drake to drill Pennsylvania's first oil well in 1859 using small steam engines to power the drilling process rather than by human muscle.[1] Cable tool drilling was developed in ancient China and was used for drilling brine wells. The salt domes also held natural gas, which some wells produced and which was used for evaporation of the brine. Drake learned of cable tool drilling from Chinese laborers in the U.S.[4] The first primary product was kerosene for lamps and heaters.[5][6] Similar developments around Baku fed the European market.

In the 1970s, outside of the oil and gas industry, roller bits using mud circulation were replaced by the first pneumatic reciprocating piston Reverse Circulation (RC) drills, and became essentially obsolete for most shallow drilling, and are now only used in certain situations where rocks preclude other methods. RC drilling proved much faster and more efficient, and continues to improve with better metallurgy, deriving harder, more durable bits, and compressors delivering higher air pressures at higher volumes, enabling deeper and faster penetration. Diamond drilling has remained essentially unchanged since its inception.

Petroleum drilling industry[edit]

  Oil rigs operational
  Natural gas rigs operational

Oil and natural gas drilling rigs are used not only to identify geologic reservoirs, but also used to create holes that allow the extraction of oil or natural gas from those reservoirs. Primarily in onshore oil and gas fields once a well has been drilled, the drilling rig will be moved off of the well and a service rig (a smaller rig) that is purpose-built for completions will be moved on to the well to get the well on line.[7] This frees up the drilling rig to drill another hole and streamlines the operation as well as allowing for specialization of certain services, i.e. completions vs. drilling.

Mining drilling industry[edit]

Mining drilling rigs are used for two main purposes, exploration drilling which aims to identify the location and quality of a mineral, and production drilling, used in the production-cycle for mining. Drilling rigs used for rock blasting for surface mines vary in size dependent on the size of the hole desired, and is typically classified into smaller pre-split and larger production holes. Underground mining (hard rock) uses a variety of drill rigs dependent on the desired purpose, such as production, bolting, cabling, and tunnelling.

Mobile drilling rigs[edit]

Mobile drilling rig mounted on a truck

In early oil exploration, drilling rigs were semi-permanent in nature and the derricks were often built on site and left in place after the completion of the well. In more recent times drilling rigs are expensive custom-built machines that can be moved from well to well. Some light duty drilling rigs are like a mobile crane and are more usually used to drill water wells. Larger land rigs must be broken apart into sections and loads to move to a new place, a process which can often take weeks.

Small mobile drilling rigs are also used to drill or bore piles. Rigs can range from 100 short tons (91,000 kg) continuous flight auger (CFA) rigs to small air powered rigs used to drill holes in quarries, etc. These rigs use the same technology and equipment as the oil drilling rigs, just on a smaller scale.

The drilling mechanisms outlined below differ mechanically in terms of the machinery used, but also in terms of the method by which drill cuttings are removed from the cutting face of the drill and returned to surface.

Automated drill rig[edit]

An automated drill rig (ADR) is an automated full-sized walking land-based drill rig that drills long lateral sections in horizontal wells for the oil and gas industry.[8] ADRs are agile rigs that can move from pad to pad to new well sites faster than other full-sized drilling rigs. Each rig costs about $25 million. ADR is used extensively in the Athabasca oil sands. According to the "Oil Patch Daily News", "Each rig will generate 50,000 man-hours of work during the construction phase and upon completion, each operating rig will directly and indirectly employ more than 100 workers." Compared to conventional drilling rigs", Ensign, an international oilfield services contractor based in Calgary, Alberta, that makes ADRs claims that they are "safer to operate, have "enhanced controls intelligence," "reduced environmental footprint, quick mobility and advanced communications between field and office."[8] In June 2005 the first specifically designed slant automated drilling rig (ADR), Ensign Rig No. 118, for steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) applications was mobilized by Deer Creek Energy Limited, a Calgary-based oilsands company.[9][10]

Auger drills[edit]

An auger drill is a spiral-shaped tool. Its main function is the drilling of holes in the ground and other materials - or surfaces such as ice, wood, etc. The design of an auger depends on the kind of material it's meant to drill into, hence there are different types of auger drills.[11] Auger drills come in varying sizes and can drill holes up to a depth of 95 ft below the ground. They are known to be quite versatile, saving time and energy during construction work or even personal projects.

Drill buckets[edit]

A drill bucket, or auger bucket, is a drilling head that accumulates spoil inside and can be lifted from the hole periodically to be emptied.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Smil, Vaclav (2017). Oil - A Beginner's Guide. Oneworld Publications. ISBN 978-1786072863.
  2. ^ a b Heshelow, Kathy (2010). Investing in Oil and Gas: The ABC's of DPPs. Iuniverse. p. 52. ISBN 978-1450261715.
  3. ^ Temple, Robert (1986). The Genius of China: 3000 years of science, discovery and invention. Joseph Needham. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 52–54.
  4. ^ Temple 1986, p. 54
  5. ^ McNeil, Ian (1990). An Encyclopedia of the History of Technology. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-14792-1.
  6. ^ Yergin, Daniel (1992). The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power.
  7. ^ Baars, D.L.; Watney, W.L.; Steeples, D.W.; Brostuen, E.A (1989). Petroleum; a primer for Kansas (Educational Series, no. 7 ed.). Kansas Geological Survey. p. 40. Archived from the original on 8 November 2020. Retrieved 18 April 2011. After the cementing of the casing has been completed, the drilling rig, equipment, and materials are removed from the drill site. A smaller rig, known as a workover rig or completion rig, is moved over the well bore. The smaller rig is used for the remaining completion operations.
  8. ^ a b "Ensign Launches Newest And Most Powerful Automated ADR 1500S Pad Drill Rigs In Montney Play", New Tech Magazine, Calgary, Alberta, 21 November 2014, archived from the original on 10 December 2014, retrieved 6 December 2014
  9. ^ "Deer Creek And Ensign Spud First SAGD Wells Using Slant Automated Drilling Rig". newtechmagazine.com. Archived from the original on 2014-12-10.
  10. ^ Well Drilling Experts
  11. ^ "What Is an Auger, and What Are They Typically Used For? | TFGUSA". www.tfgusa.com. 2021-06-28. Retrieved 2023-11-22.
  12. ^ "Bucket Auger Drilling Method". wellowner.org. Retrieved 8 November 2022.

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