The Gas Technology Institute (GTI) and the U.S. Department ofEnergy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) announcedthat they have joined together to further investigate whether it iscommercially viable to drill for oil and natural gas usinghigh-powered, military-based lasers.

The project is a continuation of Gas Research Institute’s (nowGTI) initial 1997 two-year basic research study, which set out todetermine whether applications of U.S. military “Star-Wars” lasertechnology could be adapted to revolutionize century-old naturalgas drilling technology. The basic research project examined thefeasibility, costs, benefits and environmental impact of applyingmilitary-developed laser technologies to drill and complete naturalgas wells.

GTI said the new study will focus on three fundamental researchareas: laser cutting energy assessment; variable pulse lasereffects; and laser drilling under fluid conditions. Projectpartners include: the Colorado School of Mines; Argonne NationalLaboratory (Laser Applications Laboratory); and industry partnersPetroleos de Venezuela, SA, and Halliburton Energy Services.

“This is the right time to investigate the drilling applicationof laser technology,” said Richard Parker, project director, GTIE&P Services. “The oil and gas industry introduced a radicalchange at the turn of the last century, displacing cable tooldrilling with rotary drilling. Since then, great strides have beenmade in refining the rotary technique, but no fundamentalrevolutionary changes have been introduced.”

“There are two pressures acting on the drilling industry today;more wells drilled per year to meet an increased demand forproduct, and the recent rapid reduction in the available rigcount,” added Brian Gahan, project principal investigator, GTIE&P Services. “Now is the time to introduce a fundamentalimprovement in drilling systems. We’re hopeful encouraging resultsfrom this study will generate industry interest in supporting thedevelopment of a prototype laser drilling tool.”

“NETL is pleased to include the laser drilling study in ourportfolio of advanced drilling technology development efforts,”stated Bill Gwilliam, project manager with NETL’s Gas SupplyProjects Division. “We are currently investigating a wide range ofnew, and in a few instances, novel drilling completion andstimulation technologies in our program. We are convinced thatbreakthroughs in rate-of-penetration or extended drill bit lifewill contribute to our overall efforts to improve the economics ofdrilling for natural gas and oil in the United States.” Alex Steis

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