Drilling Equipment & Technologies

Control of well pressures during drilling, completion and production is a fundamental requirement for the safe production of oil and gas. Perhaps more innovative technology has been developed to solve this problem than any other. Key developments include the ram-type blowout preventer (BOP) and the annular BOP. Other systems were built to control subsea wells and allow safe access for periodic maintenance. 

Marvin R. Jones invented the Cameron Type U subsea ram preventer. Born in Bristow, Oklahoma in 1914, Jones began his career with Hughes Tool Co. In 1939, he joined Cameron Iron Works. Following his WW II service, he worked in oilfield engineering until he rejoined Cameron in 1955. During the next 24 years, he progressed from Sr. Research Engineer to manager of Engineering Services. Jones was granted about 70 patents.  

Granville Sloan Knox invented the annular blowout preventer that was modified for use on subsea BOP stacks. He was granted more than 30 patents. Born in Earlham, Iowa in 1907, Knox joined Hydril in 1936 as a draftsman. His value was quickly recognized and he was promoted to Engineer that same year. He was promoted to Assistant Chief Engineer in 1943 and to Vice President in 1952. He retired in 1965 and died in 1998.  

Hubert L. “Hugh” Elkins has spent 48 years in the offshore oil industry and has been granted numerous patents. Working for S&R Tool and Supply Co., he designed and built the subsea BOP guide frame structure that is the industry standard. In 1973, he joined Hydril, serving in a number of executive engineering posts before retiring in 1993. Elkins is presently Director of Business Development for Varco’s Shaffer Division, and serves on the Technology and Engineering Development Committee for the Ocean Drilling Program. 

Edmund A. “Ed” Fisher pioneered the subsea Christmas tree diverter systems used with ThruFlowLine tools. He also developed the guidelineless drilling systems used by the Ben Ocean Lancer and the Freestanding Production Riser System for Placid Oil Co. Starting in 1961, Fisher spent almost 40 years with Cameron, retiring in 1999 as Executive Vice President. In 1995 Fisher received the prestigious “Oil Drop” Award of the ASME Petroleum Division.  

Recognizing the pioneering efforts of the following individuals who contributed to the development of offshore drilling equipment: 

Hubert L. ‘Hugh’ Elkins, died March 18, 2016
Edmund A. “Ed” Fisher, died March 12, 2009
Marvin R. Jones
Granville S. Knox

In the late 1940s, the Humble Oil & Refining Company, with a group of suppliers, pioneered development of the industry’s first “mechanized” rotary drilling rig to increase drilling efficiency and safety by improving the way drilling tubulars were made, torqued and racked. It featured power-operated tongs with spinner, stabber and vertical racking equipment.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the mobile offshore drilling units (MODUs), particularly floaters, faced unique problems due to their motion in the severe marine environment. This focused renewed attention on mechanization and automation.

A major step forward was the introduction of horizontal-to-vertical (HTV) mechanical handling of drilling tubulars on Global Marine drill ships in the 1960s. Simultaneously, the Offshore Company and Byron Jackson developed the 3-arm tubular racker. The system was highly successful and racked pipe faster and safer than “hands-on” drill crew methodology. One and two arm versions were adapted to all MODUs. Varco followed in the 1970s with its “Iron Roughneck” that could accurately torque drill pipe, drill collars and other types of tubulars. Other innovations appeared, such as air operated mouse hole slips, power rotary slips, and air or hydraulic powered casing elevators and slips, capped by the power swivel for smaller tubulars, followed by Varco’s “Top Drive” for large drill pipe and tools. Combined, these features allowed a mechanized and automated operation that included “safe zones” monitored electronically to prevent equipment from harming drill crews. Innovative software prevented clashes by tracking the locations of the equipment. Subsequent advances include a “raised back-up” system to safely make/break connections high above the drill floor and the HTV marine riser handling system. In the late 1980s, the technique of makeup/breakout and standing back tubulars “offline” from the “online” rotary was developed.

Recognizing the pioneering efforts of the following individuals and organizations that contributed to this technology:

Curtis Crooke, John F. Gadbois, Douglas Ragland and Roger Smith.

Global Marine (now Transocean), Humble Oil & Refining Company (now ExxonMobil), the Offshore Company (now Transocean) and the Byron Jackson Company (now National Oilwell Varco).

With the advent of drilling offshore wells from floating drilling vessels in the late 1950’s came the inherent problem of how to keep the drillbit on bottom and drilling while the drilling vessel heaved up and down. The answer at the time was to use a tool developed by the oilwell fishing tool industry known as a “Bumper Sub”. This tool was simply a slip joint that was placed above the drill collars that would allow the drillpipe to move up and down while the drill collars and bit remained on bottom. Most Bumper Subs were limited to a stroke of only six to eight feet. The Driller had to continually estimate the heave of the drilling vessel as well as the drilling penetration rate trying to keep the Bumper Sub from bottoming out at either end of its stroke. If the sub bottomed out the bit would bounce off bottom with the entire weight of the Drillstring usually damaging and shortening the life of the bit. A good Driller became an artist at keeping the bit on bottom most of the time.

However, there was one problem that the Driller could not overcome. That is the fact that the high-pressure mud seals in the Bumper Sub only had an average life span of around thirty to forty hours. This meant that the Drillstring had to be tripped to refurbish the Bumper Sub before the seals wore out causing a leak that would wash out the Bumper Sub and allow the Drillstring to part. Since the life of most drillbits exceeded the life of the Bumper Sub more than the usual amount of costly Drillstring trips were required. Over the decade of the 1960’s floating drilling had to contend with the Bumper Sub though new type seal technology did make for up to three times better life. There needed to be a better answer and much pressure was placed on the drilling equipment manufacturers to find another method of Drillstring motion compensation to replace the Bumper Sub.

In about 1970 three companies began to put major effort into development of a tool that could be placed on the rig at the surface to compensate for and separate the Rig’s motion from the Drillstring. These companies were Ventura Tool Company (VETCO), Rucker Company, and Western Gear Company. Each chose a variation of the successful hydro pneumatic Marine Riser Tensioner technology developed in the early 1960’s. Vetco was the first to install a successful prototype system in 1971 on the Wodeco IV in the Santa Barbara channel for Humble Oil Company (now ExxonMobil).

Rucker and Western Gear followed this closely in 1972 with deliveries to customers of their first production Compensators. All three systems worked well and were a successful solution to the Bumper Sub problems.

Though the three systems were somewhat different in design each is mounted in the derrick between the Traveling Block and Hook and all use compressed air as a spring force to hold positive tension on the Drillstring. Each allows for better control of the bit weight resulting in much better bit life and drilling penetration rates. Since they are mounted as part of the traveling system in the derrick not all of the older rigs prior to the 1970’s could be readily retrofitted with the new Motion Compensators. By the mid 1970’s all new floating rigs built were either equipped with or the derricks were prepared for later installation of Drillstring Motion Compensators

The three original Compensator designs are still in existence with many improvements and much higher capacity systems though the ownership of the three original companies has changed. The Rucker Company Compensator product line, which has been owned by Shaffer since 1972 is now owned by Varco International. Control Flow Company who service and market both products now owns the Vetco and Western Gear Compensator product lines.

Vetco, Rucker Company and Western Gear will be recognized as the originators of the technology and Varco and Control Flow will be recognized as the current technology owners.    

Recognizing the following individuals and companies who contributed to the development of this technology: 

Arthur Hor Ting Chin, Bruce Duncan, James Hanes, Edward Larralde, Glen Robinson, Richard Sprague, Rucker/Shaffer (now Varco International), Ventura Tool Co. and Western Gear (now Control Flow Inc.).

When the industry moved offshore into waters requiring subsea blowout preventers (BOP) and marine risers, it was no longer considered safe to use hydromatic brakes to control the huge weights involved. F. P. “Red” Gribbin and William B. Baylor had acquired the rights to build dynamic brakes for rigs in 1946. The eddy-current braking system does not depend upon water pressure to work and is not at risk in the case of burst connections. Moreover, the dynamic brake can handle the cyclic overloads often encountered when floating vessels heave in ocean swells. In 1954, they formed the Baylor Company to build and install “Elmagco” Brakes. They were assisted by H.L. “Duke” Zinkgraf who modified and improved the design, adding a new control system. So effective was their product that it can be said that every offshore rig utilizing a subsea BOP system is equipped with the Baylor-Dynamic Elmagco Brake.

Recognizing the pioneering efforts of the following people and companies who contributed to the development of this technology:

William B. Baylor, H. L. “Duke” Zinkgraf
The Baylor Company

The need for a bottom hole assembly to prevent wall sticking that would be flexible enough to be used in directionally drilled holes was noted by a major oil company engineer at an API meeting in New Orleans, circa 1962. The company had tried using two pieces of concentric pipe with tar between the members.

Called “flex weight”, this configuration could not withstand the environment in directional offshore wells. Glenn Chance, the local Drilco district manager, attended that API meeting. It occurred to him that welding tool joints on the ends of used drill collars might address the problem and, if successful, would significantly reduce drilling costs. For a second opinion, he consulted with Clifford Yancey of Rowan Drilling Co. in New Orleans, who agreed with the theory and two pieces were made. These proved to be too stiff. Drilco in Houston then turned the outside diameter on 30 used drill collars, leaving one wear pad 3-ft. long and welded 5-in. tool joints on each end. Unfortunately, the concept was not acceptable to operators until Albert Crownover, Tenneco’s drilling manager, agreed to run the pipe, which performed as expected. Drilco then modified 120 more collars, but the concept remained a tough sell to operators until J. B. N. Morris of Canal Rental, convinced Shell Oil Co. to test the idea and Bob Turnbull of Turnbull Rentals did the same. Ultimately, the concept became a standard for directional wells both on land and offshore, and was marketed under the name Hevi-Wate Drill Pipe. Since used drill collars soon became in short supply, Drilco engineer Sam Crews enlisted Timco Roller Bearings to produce a one piece, 27-ft. long, 5 ½-in.OD x 3-in. ID joint, with the specifications of Grade E drill pipe. Drilco built a machine which would fast turn the OD

of the joints, leaving a 3-ft. wear pad in the middle. In 1977, Glenn Chance organized Chance Collar Co.  By then, spiral drill collars had become a standard in directional drilling so Chance incorporated the spiral concept in his heavy weight product. Sales grew to some 3,500 pieces per month with a total value of a billion dollars annually and enabled worldwide development of offshore drilling.

Recognizing the pioneering efforts of the following individuals and companies that developed this technology:

Glenn G. Chance, Sam T. Crews and Drilco (now Schlumberger)

Wells that are vertical, perpendicular to the petroleum formation, are often uneconomic, but drilling the lower part of the well horizontally, paralleling the reservoir, greatly increases their production rate. While this was long recognized, effective technology was elusive until 1982 when the Elf Aquitaine offshore Rospo Mare field in the Italian Adriatic was developed with horizontal drilling. 

Independently 1979 to 1982, an effort was undertaken by ARCO with 12 horizontal wells in New Mexico. This work led  to the development of the medium radius technique, a critical improvement over the previous short radius and long radius methods. In 1985, a medium radius horizontal well was successfully drilled by ARCO at the Prudhoe Bay oil field to manage a fluid coning issue.

From 1985 to 1992, the technology was rapidly expanded and its use broadened by a joint industry horizontal drilling research project, DEA-44, with about 50 participating companies. The project also developed the medium radius drilling motor.
Subsequent to the Rospo Mare field, many worldwide offshore developments have employed horizontal drilling, including Selegi (Malaysia), Joton and Ringhorn (Norway), Dan (Denmark), Buffalo and Gimboa (Angola), Widuri (Indonesia), Champion (Brunei), Al Shaheen (Qatar). Onshore, horizontal drilling has been used for naturally fractured formations such as the Texas Austin Chalk and later in numerous shale oil and gas developments, further enhanced by hydraulic fracturing.
Recognizing the pioneering efforts of the following individuals and organizations that contributed to this technology:
Jacques Bosio, André Jourdan, Dr. William Maurer, and Frank Schuh   
Atlantic Richfield Company (now BP), Elf Aquitaine (now TOTAL), and Maurer Engineering.

When drilling oil and gas wells, it is necessary to determine geological properties of the formation and direction of the wellbore. Historically this was accomplished by running a wire line to the bottom of the uncased wellbore. Devices attached to the wire line transmitted desired data back to the surface. This required suspension of drilling operations and retrieval of drill pipe from the wellbore. Besides lost drilling time, other problems could occur, such as borehole sloughing or stuck drill pipe. In 1945, J. J. Arps invented a positive mud-pulse system that could measure formation data and transmit it to surface while continuing to rotate drill pipe and circulate drilling mud. In 1964, J. K. Godbey filed a patent for improving mud-pulse telemetry with his “Mud Siren System”, field tested by Mobil Oil in 1971, and then developed commercially by Schlumberger/Anadrill in 1980.

In 1969, Jean-Claude Raynal, with Elf Aquitaine, filed a patent for a drilling mud-pulse generator to measure and signal real time mechanical properties of the formation to the drill floor while drilling; and in 1974, Ralph Spinnler, with Teleco, filed a patent for a pilot operated mud-pulse valve that used a small input signal from drilling mud pressure differentials, which greatly improved reliability of mud-pulse technology. Subsequent advances in MWD techniques now allow controlling well direction and real-time formation evaluation with resulting safety aspects and drilling optimization. MWD is currently used in virtually all offshore drilling operations.

Recognizing the pioneering efforts of the following individuals and organizations that
contributed to this technology:

J. J. Arps, J. K. Godbey, Jean-Claude Raynal, and Ralph F. Spinnler. Mobil Oil Corp. (Now ExxonMobil), Schlumberger, Teleco (now Baker Hughes) and Elf Aquitaine (Now Total).

Alexander Grigoryan is recognized for his success in drilling the world’s first multilateral well, the 66/45 well in Bashkortostan, Russia in 1953. Born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1914, he worked as a driller’s assistant in the Azerbaijani oil fields. After acquiring valuable field experience, he graduated as a petroleum engineer from the Azerbaijan Industrial Institute in 1939. In 1941, Grigoryan drilled one of the world’s first horizontal wells, the Baku 1385. He drilled the well without a whipstock, using a hydraulic mud motor to drill both vertical and horizontal sections. By keeping the borehole in the producing zone longer, he was able to expose a greater section for completion, significantly increasing production. Grigoryan was promoted to department head at the prestigious All-Union Scientific Research Institute for Drilling Technology, where he continued his innovations, developing new equipment to improve his directional drilling technique. In 1953, Grigoryan was able to test his theory in the Bashkira Field in Southern Russia. He used a turbodrill to drill Well 66/45 to tap a prolific carbonate reef reservoir. He drilled by touch, without whipstocks or cement bridges, and without instrumentation of any kind. Once he reached the pay zone, Grigoryan drilled nine lateral wells of varying measured depths, extending in all directions like the roots of a tree. When the 66/45, with its nine roots, was put on production, compared to other wells in the field it produced 17 times more oil –755 b/d–but only cost 1.5 times more than a conventionally drilled single branch well.

Spurred by this success, the Russian oil industry drilled more than 100 multilateral wells through 1980–30 of these drilled by Grigoryan himself. This pioneering work has earned him the title, “Father of Multilateral Technology.”

By proving it could be accomplished, Grigoryan inspired the multilateral drillers of the 1990s and the technique is now widely accepted. Arguably, the exploitation of deepwater offshore plays would not have been economical without this technology.

Alexander Grigoryan immigrated to the United States in the 1980s and became an American citizen, where he continues to practice Petroleum Engineering today. 

The spiral drill collar, invented and developed by Fred K. Fox in 1961, prevents or mitigates the problem of differential pressure wall sticking of drill collars leading to stuck drill strings, a prevalent problem encountered in drilling deep, high pressure and deviated wells.   

Grooves spiraled around the outer surface of the collar interrupt contact of the collar with the wall of the bore hole.  In subsequent years, the spiral concept has been expanded to casing, liners, wash pipe, and heavy weight drillpipe.  Spiral collars are used worldwide to this day in virtually all moderate to deep offshore and onshore wells and in all deviated and horizontal holes.

Recognizing the pioneering efforts of the following individuals and companies who contributed to the development of this technology: 

Fred K. Fox

Top Drive Drilling Systems are one of the greatest contributions to the offshore drilling industry. Until 1982 the drillstring was handled and rotated by a Kelly Joint and a Rotary Table. Drilling and making connections on offshore rigs had been virtually unchanged for years. Then development of the Top Drive, which rotates the drillpipe directly and is guided down rails in the derrick, replaced the need for a Kelly Joint to rotate the drillstring. It performs normal hoisting requirements such as tripping and running casing. It also added the ability for drilling with triples, circulating and rotating during tripping, and back-reaming and/or freeing stuck pipe. The first use of this unique technology was in 1982 on a Sedco Jack-Up rig drilling for ADNOC in the Arabian Gulf. Working with Duke Zinkgraf of Sedco, George Boyadjieff of Varco designed a Pipe Handler as part of the Top Drive. This unique feature allowed back-reaming while circulating drilling fluid and making/breaking connections near the top of the derrick.  

Recognizing the pioneering efforts of the following individuals and companies who contributed to the development of this technology: 

George Boyadjieff, Varco International (now National Oilwell Varco); Duke Zinkgraf, Sedco (now Transocean).

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