Currently, it’s nearly impossible to open an industry publication and not find horizontal or directional drilling referenced. And for good reason. Those wells are arguable the main component that made the U.S. shale revolution possible.

Vertical wells only expose below the bit.

Fracking gets all the headlines as the technology that allowed the extraction of shale oil and gas but without the long laterals of horizontal wells there wouldn’t be enough exposed pay zone to frack in the first place. And, frankly, what’s more impressive? Being able to bust open some rock or accurately drill a 20,000-foot well 90 degrees from vertical? Settle down frac hands, I’m being sarcastic … sort of.

We’ve known for a while about the large quantities of oil and gas trapped in shale plays like the Eagle Ford in Texas and Bakken in North Dakota. The problem is that the pore spaces in tight shale formations prevent economically attractive amounts of oil and gas from flowing freely into a conventional wellbore. Vertical wells only expose the portion of the shale formation that is directly below the bit. That’s fine if you’re drilling through several hundred feet of pay zone, but it is less than ideal if your target is only 20 feet thick. What if you could drill inside instead of through that formation?

I had zero understanding of how it was done.

I’m not sure when I was first made aware of the terms directional or horizontal drilling but I have to assume it was in the early 90s when I was in high school. I remember having a vague understanding of what it was but absolutely zero understanding of how it was accomplished. If you’re reading this, you’re probably in the same position. About 10 years later, I laid eyes on my first directional bottomhole assembly and it all started to make sense. Directional drilling technology has evolved quite a bit and become very sophisticated over the years but the basic idea is still the same: orient the bit in the direction you want it to go.

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