Drilling Rigs: Past, Present and Future

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Humans have been using drilling rigs for various ground explorations purposes since as far back as the first century. Essentially, a drilling rig is a mechanism that facilitates the digging of holes into the Earth’s surface. We have been using various types of drilling rigs for various exploratory purposes, with drilling rig technology improving substantially as other technological advancements come to the fore. What did early civilisations use to perform drilling operations, what are we currently using, and what does the future hold for drilling rigs? You’re about to find out…

The History of Drilling Rigs

The first oil drilling rigs on record were developed by the Chinese circa 350 A.D. The simple mechanism was called the ‘spring pole’ and utilised bamboo poles with chisel bits attached – drilling to depths of around 800 feet.

By the early 1800’s, frontier colonies in North America desperately needed salt to preserve food, and the drilling for salt industry boomed. Drilling rigs were used to drill for salt brine which could later be dried and the remaining salt collected for resale.

Steam engine-powered drilling rigs was the next big step in drilling technology, entering the drilling industry circa 1865 and using a portable steam engine that powered the drilling rig. This technology was soon replaced by the rotary drilling rig around 1901, swapping repetitive lift and drop drilling with hollow drill stem technology.

Drilling Rigs of Today

The move from ‘hammer’ style drilling to the rotary drilling method revolutionised the drilling rig industry, and the concept is still used to this day. The difference is that now, with drilling sites becoming more and more inaccessible, the transportation of drilling rigs has evolved substantially.

Rotary rigs of today feature masts that extend up to 80 feet high, and are accompanied by a water tank to provide drilling fluid. With the need for crude oil increasing due to oil deposits running dry, many drillers are attaching drilling rigs to various vehicles so as to drill wherever and whenever a deposit is discovered – be it on a hillside, in a swamp or even under the ocean.

For uneven ground drilling, drillers attach drilling rigs featuring hydraulic levelling rams to 4-wheel drive bakkies. Bigger drilling rigs are attached to trucks which often also house a water tank. For swamp and jungle drilling, vehicles known as ‘swamp hogs’ are deployed. These have oversize floatation tires that make navigating slushy terrains in search of drilling sites effortless.

One of the newest drilling rig advancements is the utilisation of tracked rigs. These are drilling rigs attached to tank tracks – making them truly all-terrain drilling vehicles that can be operated remotely using radio controls.

What the Future Holds for Drilling Rigs

Justin Rounce, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology for Schlumberger Drilling, shares information on how Schlumberger aims to optimise and integrate drilling rig operations with automated, intelligent workflows using modern computer technologies – known as the Rig of the Future.

“When it comes to optimizing the rig, our focus is around mechanization and automation, as well as utilization of software and data. We are also looking at the fluid system, drill bit, downhole measurements and how the well is steered.”

Schlumberger shares that the goal is to enhance the overall integrated drilling system performance, bringing all components of the drilling rig into an integrated managed system – improving performance and increasing drilling rig efficacy.

Software will be used to precisely monitor water levels, fluid flow rates, drilling pressure, rock density and drill bit temperature. This effectively takes ‘informed guessing’ out of the drilling rig equation.

The Rig of the Future will also minimise the physical hand-work involved in drilling, mechanising the drill rigging so as to reduce human margins of error and preventing serious injuries which still plague the drilling industry.

“With the relevant parts of the rig fully mechanized, we can start to bring in software automation. If mechanization is the physical brawn, then automation is the brain. Through automation, we start to add intelligence and connect the workflows. In fact, … workflows can be redefined because we can think about doing things in a different way.”

Drilling Rigs and Drilling Hardware in South Africa

Bohrmeister specialises in providing South Africa with custom-designed hydraulic exploratory drilling rigs and drilling accessories. We build them tough, designed to operate in even the remotest parts of the African continent. Get in touch with us at Bohrmeister today for all your drilling rig requirements!