16-Story Super-Spec Rigs Bring Second Shale Boom

Drillers Mastered Feat Of Pumping For Less

Introduction...On a drilling rig towering above quiet cattle farms in Southeast Texas, Eric Williams perched inside the cabin of the 16-story machine, twisting a pair of joysticks to guide a gigantic wrench roaring into action, drowning out every sound as it reached for a 1,500-pound pipe emerging from the earth – pipe that soon will feed oil into a second shale boom.

Years ago, a worker doing Williams’ job would have stood outside on the rig floor, working a brake handle and knobs as men, drenched in sweat and syrupy fluid, worked the pipe by hand – a dangerous job. Now he sits behind six computer screens and a complex array of controls, piloting a 10-ton wrench on a so-called super-spec rig, one of a new breed of advanced drilling machines that are bigger and stronger than the ones that sparked the first U.S. shale oil bonanza a few years ago.

New technologies…They’re part of the fleet of new technologies paving the way for a historic surge of oil that could break the nation’s 1970 production record next year and further erode the decades-long grip the Saudi-led Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has had on global oil markets. The cartel’s gathering in Vienna last week to extend oil production cuts put into place earlier this year showed how quickly the oil world’s center of gravity has shifted.

This particular $25 million machine, churning about 100 miles northwest of Houston, in the Bryan-College Station metropolitan area, has drilling systems more powerful than two semi-trucks screaming down the highway, and it can force fluid down a well with more than 100 times the pressure of a fire hose.

All told, it’s capable of supporting a fully-loaded Boeing 747, and it walks the dozen feet between well sites on four 10-ton feet. It can drill an oil well in less than 10 days, shaving more than a week from the average drilling time in 2010, and allowing oil companies to drill a greater number of wells each year.

Just a few years ago, even talking about production cuts would have sent crude prices skyrocketing. This time, when OPEC and other major producers agreed to reduce output by 1.8 million barrels a day into next year, prices fell nearly 5 percent as traders remained unconvinced the move would do much to shrink supplies in the face of rising U.S. production.

“OPEC’s market influence is highly questionable,” said Antoine Halff, director of global oil markets at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. “We spent seven years revising shale forecasts upward because it went up much faster than anyone expected.”

In summary…The market’s cold response underscored just how much clout the cartel has ceded to U.S. oil companies, which found ways to wring a lot more oil from the earth at a profit – even at low prices.

Source: Collin Eaton, “Big rigs pave way for second shale oil boom,” Houston Chronicle, 27 May 2017