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Science Technology

Drilling For Oil With Megawatt Lasers 151

Posted by michael
from the lasers-do-it-hotter dept.
Deglr6328 writes: "The U.S. Department of Energy's Fossil Energy site has a story about using lasers to drill through rock at 10 to 100 times as fast as conventional rock boring technologies. One of the lasers tested was the 2.2 megawatt M.I.R.A.C.L., which was originally designed in 1985 for the star wars program. A cool video clip of its test firing can be found at the GTI page here. It looks like we'll be stuck with fossil fuels like oil and natural gas for some time, so we might as well do it James Bond style!" Sounds more like Real Genius style to me. Who brought the popcorn?
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Drilling For Oil With Megawatt Lasers

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 15, 2001 @05:13AM (#362162)
    When I worked in the offshore oilfields before I became a programmer (don't ask) they used "mud" to fill and seal the hole behind the bit. This prevented natural gas from flowing out of the hole if a pocket was encountered. The "mud" was circulated with pumps and constantly weighed to ensure that the proper density was maintained and the "mud" was not becoming saturated with gas. If a giant pocket of gas were to escape from the well (the dreaded blowout), the ensuing gas bubbles would leave the floating drilling ship and it's attendant work and crew boats in low-density, gas-permeated water (virtually hanging in the air). In conditions like this they would quickly sink a few hundred meters to sea floor. Not a pretty scenario. Have they since developed mud-free drilling techiniques?
  • thewre may be some difficulties. Although I am sure that this laser will make it a lot cheaper for big corporations, multinationals and oil companies and so forth to find fossil fuels and material resources. I must consider some of the potential difficulties.

    Put simply, a laser works by evaporating rock, or Silicon. This forms SO2 and SO and SO3, the Silicon Oxides, as well as many other noxious gases. The simple fact is that the SOX's have been shown to be hundreds of times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, and they also destroy Ozone, O3, much more effectively than common or garden chlorofluerocarbons ever did. Vapourised rock is a dangerous thing indeed.

    I am sure that this system could be effective though, and make things cheaper and faster for the multinationals, which is a good thing for all of us. I just hope that they take into account the potential pitfalls, perhaps by planting 100 trees every time they use the laser drill, a proven way of renewing the environment.

    Corporations are usually quite amenable to this sort of idea.
    --

  • Oh my god, they shot the top-hat monopoly piece! Those bastards!
  • The fires at the end of the Gulf War were caused by explosives being sent off at the top of the well, then the pressurized oil and gas went through the explosion and that caused a self fueling fire. The oil deep underground wasn't on fire, nor was the gas. The well fires were all put out by those boys from Texas that have been doing that kind of thing since the 50s. So rent John Wayne in the Hellfighters and see how it's done, the Texas firm that does that...Halliburton I think it is, were technical advisors on the John Wayne film.
  • And it would solve a lot of problems if people really paid the price of their own actions. Instead we have a society bent on focusing the payment on to those least able to pay them.

    Central American Fruit, South American Beef, Middle Eastern Oil, 3rd world labor exploitation aside the problem lies in mistaking freedom for free, and I don't mean as in software.

    My uncle was a car salesman for a week. He went in to it thinking 'I'll just be honest, and actualy give them a good deal.' He left the job shaking his head because people didn't want an honest good deal they wanted an unbelievable deal. Free this, and free that, unbelievably high prices that are chopped in half but still retian a 100% profit margin (see: Robinsons-May Co.) Staple products that are very inexpensive no matter how much they really cost (see: Southern California Utilities, Bankrupting of.)

    Taxation, in a truely ethical stance is merely the way to put the price back on to the people best able to pay them. I've thought that for a long time. As a side note, in a philanthropic sence taxation should be a contribution or vote in the belief of how well the government works for them.
  • no text. I mean it /.! Can't I post a comment with a minimum of bandwidth and DB waste without hitting lameness filters?
  • Is that something like your standard Classic Rock FM radio station? Or more like the Modern Rock alternative? For me FM radio in general is a rock boring technology but YMMV :-)
  • by TommyP (5282)
    Hey the faster we pump oil out of the ground, the sooner we will have to use renewable resources! I cant wait untill there is no oil left, and I get to have that electric car that does 0-60 faster then an F550!
  • ...this is where they got the idea for the Death Star?
  • as drill bits are very expensive, and can wear out in as little as 100 feet of hard rock.

    Now, if Thomas Gold's views about oil and petroleum [wired.com] are correct, wecan have as much oil as we coudl ever want!

    Of course, we should still conserve and all that.
  • Some good, general information on [Lake Vostok] [nsf.gov].

    Tidbits:
    It's way the hell under the antarctic icecap.

    It's been sealed off from the rest of earth for a helluva long time.

    It's probably got uniquely-evolved microbes and stuff.

    It's *really* *fucking* *cold* in that part of the Antarctic: record low of -88C (-127F).

    The lake is about the size of Lake Ontario, or the island of Corsica.

    Scientists are, for once, being a bit sensible: they could have tapped the lake by now, but they first want to make sure they don't contanimate it.

    However, it seems they haven't thought about whether it might contanimate us...


    --
  • "Me? Work with lasers? Sounds complicated...."
  • Much of the drilling occurs in remote Russia,
    remote western US, offshore, where trucking in
    high density energy sources is difficult.
    Conventional gasoline and rotary drills are easier.
  • Almost no one drills straight down anyone.
    Holes bend outward from a drilling platform, snake
    along curved salt interfaces, go horizontal to
    maximize the number porous cracks, and so on.
    I wonder how easy it is to bend laser holes?

  • Wow, nobody did. Amazing. You've saved lives, my friend! It's a good thing you thought of this when none of those fancy researcher types who are actually doing this never did....
  • Werner Herzog made an AMAZING film about the fires in the Gulf:

    http://us.imdb.com/Title?0104706

    Highly recommended.

    (jfb)
  • by zCyl (14362) on Thursday March 15, 2001 @05:15AM (#362178)
    I shall use a giant "L-a-s-e-r" to drill through the surface of the Earth, extract crude oil, distribute it to an unsuspecting population, and slowly destroy the environment!!

    Uhm, that's already been done...

    Throw me a fricken bone here, I've been frozen for 30 years...
  • Given the sheer amount of tax money spent on corporate welfare for the oil and related industries, it's a political choice. Gas, like meat, would not be affordable to the average consumer (at least not at the levels currently consumed) without government subsidies.

    Hey, they spend our money on it, then tax us to the hilt when we buy it -- am I the only person feeling like they're getting us both coming and going?

  • First, remember that I live in CA, and therefore pay about $2/gallon (I also drive a vehical that gets 110mi/gal, but that's a different story)
    If gas were $5/gal, all people would be forced to consider different transportation obtions, but at $2/gal it's only the working class that has trouble affording it. Big shocker.

    I'm inclined to agree that taxing gas intelligently could help discourage the waste of resources -- the point I was trying to make is that petroleum products are well subsidized (not just directly to oil companies, but military expenses due to conflicts we woudln't be in if not for our dependance on foreign oil, allowing drilling on federally owned land, subsidies to companies that support the oil industries (from refineries on down). And as I pointed out, oil isn't the only thing that's treated this way. Most people coudn't afford to eat the amount of meat they do if they had to pay the real market price for it.

  • actually, the video linked in the article talks about this (after a long bit of introductory blah blah blah). they show an animation of the shaft going straight down, then bending outward, then a real demonstration of bouncing the laser off a mirror to achieve this.

  • by rde (17364) on Thursday March 15, 2001 @05:14AM (#362182)
    The laser wouldn't, of course, but how do you keep debris from falling down into the whole you just (somewhat violently) made?

    It doesn't have to be that violent. Properly done, the laser could slowly burn its way through to the lake, evaporating stuff instead of pulverising it. And permafrost is less likely to collapse, so all would be well.

    Of course, if it can be done on Lake Vostok, it can be done on Europa.
  • Some of the largest problems with drilling is when it comes to hard rock. Someone posted earlier that drilling often involves making turns (usually a few degrees angle at a time), to make use of porous rock. This is because of the problems with trying to drill straight through hard rock and salt domes (many oil pockets have a dome of salt over it). This laser could be useful where normal drilling would have a problem because of extensive domes or rock layers large enough to require drilling through the layers because they can not go around them.

    As for explosions, since there would be no oxygen component, there would not be an "explosion," but because it would be difficult to both fire the laser and secure the hole at the same time, there could be blowouts. I doubt that they plan on using this to actually get to the oil/gas they are looking for.

    So a scenario would look like this. They start drilling, encounter a large rock layer or salt dome. After examing the geological information, decide that they have to drill through this layer or dome. They pull in the laser, fire it for a few minutes to bore most of the way through, then let the regular drilling systems take over to lay pipe and finish the job.

    Just my $.02 worth.

  • Or more usefully fit the conventional drill with an optical fibre, so they do not need to go to the time and expense of pulling the whole thing out.

    A 2.2 MEGAWATT LASER running through fiber! Damn, that some high-bandwith fiber there!

    Really, the high wattage of this laser would not make it usable through a fibre cable. I think their idea is for places where the hard rock, possibly metamorphic, and/or salt domes are near the surface and the distance they would have to drill at an angle would be cost-prohibitive, or there is no feasable way around it.

  • Don't believe any of this for a moment. What's really going on is a secret plan to shoot it out if the Commies get the upper hand in Russia or the Chinese decide to go after Taiwan. At the first sign of trouble, just point the lasers downward, fire away and destroy the offending nations missle's right in their bunkers!

    At first glance it might seem like it will take a little time to get a kill (for now), but what the hell, these new military systems always have a few bugs to shake out.

    Just my $0.02
  • "I don't understand why they use chemical lasers as lasers; they would be much more efficient as bombs".

    Perhaps, but they would also be pretty much unfocused (though possibly directed) energy.

    --

  • Looks like you were thinking about Sulphur S, which can form those greenhouse gasses. Sulphur is NOT usually a large component in most rock.

    Maybe the explosion of the vaporization will be strong enough to act like a blow gun and just shoot the sand and other debris out.
  • No, you need oxygen molecules (O2) which there wont be much of down in the hole..In an inert atmosphere you can boil gasoline safely
  • They're taking all the rock-hound burly-man drama right out of Armageddon!
  • That was quick. Only 16 comments and the site is down already. (http://www.gri.org/laser)

    Anyone have a mirror site up?

    Brian
    http://www.assortedinternet.com [assortedinternet.com]

  • Now maybe you might consider a free market economy the ultimate political choice, but then what alternative do we have to that, centrally controlled distrobution of resources i.e. Soviet Union?

    You make it sound as though it's a black and white issue -- either a free-for-all or absolute centralised control.

    Don't be silly, there's plenty of room for greys, and it's in the grey where the ideal solutions often lie.
    --

  • No matter how insultingly patronizing you are in your (quite correct) explaination of the science behind it (and your subsequent replies I might add)...

    It's still freaking hilarious to read about people shooting high powered lasers at volatile, combustable petro-chemicals!

    You're right... cutting through rock with a big piece of hot metal that (probably) generates sparks is probably just as risky as a laser... but it's not NEARLY as funny!

    - StaticLimit
  • They use them as lasers because they make very powerful lasers. Multi-Megawatt lasers are hard to make without going to using the chemical energy in atoms. Just pumping with electricity is very efficient but not that powerfull.

    The reaction is combustion rather that detonation. The lasers are designed like small rocket engines. Deuterium is used because the wavelength produced is at a point where air is transparent to IR radiation. Hydrogen Fluride lasers run at a wavelength where air is rather opaque.

    I actually run these things all the time for my graduate research. Much fun. The small 100 watt HF laser in our lab can burn bricks causing the formation of glass on the surface. Quite cool.

    Robert Wright
  • What happens if the megawatt laser hits the oil? Or natural gas for that matter :)
  • The laser melts the rock, some of which then cools to form a ceramic pipe (RTFA). You make the the fiber optic cable with a sheath that you pump water through. This clears out extra debris and makes a lubricant to slide the cable through. With a flexible cable, turning a corner is just a matter of pumping more water to one side than the other. This will reduce resistance on the side with more water and make the cable bend in that direction. Talk to some of the guys who use newer equipment to lay fiber optics without digging a trench.

  • Did anyone consider that these lasers run HOT, and that the resource they're drilling for is COMBUSTABLE?

    D.
  • Um, yeah. My bad. I forgot the underwater part.

    D.
  • First one's a tea cup (i.e. flying saucer). Second one's a one "on star" (i.e. a Cadillac). Third's a missile. The rest look like sharks, maybe we should alert PETA.
  • An good oxygenating source for combustion is free 02, not oxygen bonded strongly to other atoms such as silicon and hydrogen.

    Only a comparativly few elements are reactive enough to remove oxygen from compounds such as water. You will never find these in a borehole. Only their stable oxides.

    Arrrrggg!!! Fire needs oxygen.

    Or an oxidising agent, usually elemental oxygen or an unstable oxygen containing compound (N.B. such compounds are not going to be present in rocks, being unstable they don't last that long) failing that a halogen will do.
  • This forms SO2 and SO and SO3, the Silicon Oxides, as well as many other noxious gases

    Wrong element S is Sulpher. Silicon is Si. Also Silicon oxides are solids, at ordinary temperatures, thats why then tend to form rocks...
  • If it's heated above ignition point, it'll start burning the instant it leaks to the surface.

    You don't think they might do something like feed the fibre down some kind of gas tight wellhead?

    Also, there's quite a bit of subterranean oxygen. Most of it is just temporarily combined with hydrogen. I'm sure the laser does its bit to break some of those bonds along the way.

    Water is a rather stable compound, also even if your laser does turn water into free radicals how is this magically going to cause a huge amount of combustion. More likely you will start with methane & water and wind up with methane & water, contaminated with a small amount of hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The only element outside groups one and two which can use water as an oxidising agent is Al.
  • Either you have to put the laser down the hole, or you have to have a clear optical path between the laser and the cutting face.

    Not a problem I have a laser sat on the wall here which has a clear optical path to somewhere several km away, certainly not a straight line path. It's simply an engineering problem of making a suitable fibre bundle.
  • So a scenario would look like this. They start drilling, encounter a large rock layer or salt dome. After examing the geological information, decide that they have to drill through this layer or dome. They pull in the laser, fire it for a few minutes to bore most of the way through, then let the regular drilling systems take over to lay pipe and finish the job

    Or more usefully fit the conventional drill with an optical fibre, so they do not need to go to the time and expense of pulling the whole thing out.
  • Er, Silicon dioxide is SiO2, not SO2, and it's not a gas (greenhouse or otherwise), but a solid. You'll see quite a bit of it lying about on beaches.
  • by dcs (42578)
    Sounds more like Real Genius style to me. Who brought the popcorn?

    Ok, I can see the potential for popcorn-making, but... while I like butter on my popcorn, petroleum somehow is just not the same thing.

    ps: I loved the quote. :-)

  • I know this might be wrong, but when I see SO2 near a mention of a powerful laser and water I think of the possibility of creating H2SO4, Sulfuric acid. This doesn't make sense, seing that the SO2 is Silicon and the H2SO4 refers to Sulfur.

    What am I getting mixed up?
  • Ok, here's the scoop. H2SO4 is sulfuric acid. The thread I responded to mentioned SO2 and SO3 as being silicate biproducts of vaporizing the rocks in the borehole.

    The Web Table of Elements [shef.ac.uk] shows silicon's symbol is Si and sulfur is S, so I think he really meant SiO2 and SiO3 otherwise it looked like that laser drill was going to make plenty of nasty sulfuric acid between the water in the drilling mud and the SO2 to which he was incorrectly referring.

    I'm flattered that I was the MOST of anything to anybody. It clashes with being mediocre. Darn.
  • I want 5 Megawatts by mid May!
  • No, you need oxygen molecules (O2) which there wont be much of down in the hole..In an inert atmosphere you can boil gasoline safely

    Isn't the flash temperature of gasoline higher than its boiling temperature anyways? It evaporates so fast at room temperature, I assume you could boil it at even a lower temperature than water.

    Chris
  • The laser wouldn't, of course, but how do you keep debris from falling down into the whole you just (somewhat violently) made?

    -Omar

  • Almost no one drills straight down anyone.
    Holes bend outward from a drilling platform, snake
    along curved salt interfaces, go horizontal to
    maximize the number porous cracks, and so on.
    I wonder how easy it is to bend laser holes?

    Can you say Mirror?
  • But that doesn't mean we should totally ignore it. Just because it's unproven doesn't mean it's false. For Christ's sake (haha), Evolution is also an unproven theory, but it still has plenty of merit.

    --

  • Those two other things would appear to be a star ("my god, it's the Death Star -- I didn't think that thing was operational!") and a cup of coffee ("my god, it's the Death Java -- I thought Python was the Javakiller, not this thing -- noooo!")

    Tee hee...



  • by Feng (63571) on Thursday March 15, 2001 @04:32AM (#362214)
    Anyone notice the number of kills painted on the side of the laser in the pic [fas.org] off the page?

    Looks like five planes, a missile and two other things I can't make out.

    Feng.

  • I'm not so sure if you're theory is right; i seem to remeber oil wells being lit by Iraq in the Persian Gulf conflict.
  • I think it would depend on how much Oxygen was in the pocket. Not ever having dealt with mining and drilling before I don't know how pure those pockets would be.
    I think the pressure the gas is under might have some bearing as well...
  • I'm sure you've missed my central point: There is no way to keep an open hole while drilling with laser. If you collect 30 m of rock chips in the bottom of 500 m of borehole, you have't made progress; at some point, you have to clear the rock cuttings. When you have to trip out a drill bit to clear rock cuttings, your drill speed drops to less than my old fashioned, tricone bit.

    Blowing air to the clear the drill cuttings at the depths needed to hit oil in production areas around the world (1000 - 2000 m) doesn't work. There are always leaks in the formation that can't be sealed. People who have used mud for drilling can estimate the weight of mud nessary to close leaks and can move by the poor seal.

    I didn't say laser drilling would be *BAD* technology; just an inappropriate application for oil drilling. And drilling in contaminated areas is a good idea for the reason I gave.

    Innovative != cheap. Oil companies always go for cheap.

  • by geomon (78680) on Thursday March 15, 2001 @07:15AM (#362218) Homepage Journal
    We've been discussing using laser ablation techniques for drilling at the USDOE Hanford Site [hanford.gov] since I arrived here in 1991. The advantages of using a laser over air or mud rotary drilling techniques in highly contaminated source areas makes a lot of sense. The downside is that you have difficulty in keeping the hole open while you advance the laser 'drill'. As has been pointed out, mud (or more precisely, bentonite) is used to carry rock fragments away from the bit face and maintain a constant flow of debris moving up the borehole. With laser ablation, the borehole would be kept open using tubular steel (carbon steel) casing; the casing moving just a couple of feet behind the lasar drill.

    Another potential advantage that has been discussed in using laser drilling techniques is the "analysis on the run" that could be conducted while drilling. Because laser vaporizes the formation, and anything it contains (i.e., hazardous contaminants), this drill could be used in front of a gas chromatograph/mass spectroscopy apparatus to analyze the stream of drill waste as the laser advances.

    This technique is probably only useful for shallow, high risk drilling operations. The cost of deploying this machine, not to mention maintaining it, are so far off the scale for oil drilling that it is rediculous. No oil company will spend the kind of money it would take to run this drill when conventional drilling techniques have become more cost-efficient, and more precise in directing the borehole.

  • I might just be being silly here, but what happens when this megawatt laser hits the oil? Does it involve flaming death?
  • This reminded me of a previous slashdot article on mining robots [slashdot.org]. It won't be too long before these two technologies are combined. Fully autonomous laser wielding robots (and probably quite soon after - fully autonomous laser wielding robot tanks - I can't believe all this technology won't be fed back into weapon systems).
  • No, he just posed one other alternative. Try to come up with some other ones that are viable and whose economic policies didn't pan out.
  • "Lost In Space" did this already to drill for deutronium fuel. After all, the Jupiter 2 went up in 97'.
  • I do agree that the external costs of driving your cadillac should be open to taxation--but I don't agree that we have suitable alternative in wind power or anything else at this point (besides nuclear power, and you know how anything with nuclear in it scares people).

    Pollution doesnt start or stop with the United States, this is a worldwide problem that is not going to be solved until we develop clean, cheap, and renewable energy that can replace the gasoline engine and coal power plants. You think the South American governments would spend a dime to see clean burning cars over cheaper gas?

    I would like to see us focus all our research on fusion energy rather than 50/50 on making a cleaner burning coal power plant. Call me crazy but I like to think of myself as a practical environmentalist.

    RevT
  • The US government spends billions more subsidizing farmers than oil companies. The closest figure I could find was 500 million in subsidies to oil companies, not a lot in a 2 trillion dollar budget. Subsidies tend to lower prices, so I wouldnt exactly say they are "screwing" the tax payers. As a sidenote I dont support them, but that's a different debate altogether.

    Now, before you spout off again about the government taxing you to the hilt, you might want to take a trip to Europe, where the price of a gallon of gas is close to 5$ (thanks to taxes). I would venture that we are not taxed nearly enough on gas. I would definately support a national gas sales tax of 1$, to help discourage the waste of our resources.

    RevT

  • Our reliance on fossil fuels is not a political choice, it's an economic one. Your uncle mort doesn't drive that giant cadillac to bingo every night because the US Congress told him to waste our fossil fuels; he did it because it's to his economic advantage to get somewhere moderately cheap. Now maybe you might consider a free market economy the ultimate political choice, but then what alternative do we have to that, centrally controlled distrobution of resources i.e. Soviet Union?

    Your environmentalist views are all fine and dandy, but I prefer substance not rhetoric. Wind power is _not_ a suitable alternative to coal/gas. Europeans have favorable wheather patterns for wind generators and they still can only make a small percentage change in their energy output.

    I support Nuclear power, tidal/fusion power research, solar cell research, and taxing gasoline more heavily. These are some real energy alternatives with substance and promise for our future.

    RevT
  • You're comparing apples to oranges here. Hanford is a waste cleanup site where it would be a bad thing to vaporize hazardous chemicals while drilling.

    Using this laser to drill for oil in 10 to 100 times the speed, and without the expensive men and equipment needed to handle miles and miles of steel reinforced tubing, this would seem at least something to look into.

    That's why you research the methods, and adapt them to your uses. It's called inovation and it would never happen if people had views like yours. If lasers can cut rock much faster than a drill, then I can guarantee that someone, some day, will make it work.

    RevT

  • You didn't read the article, did you?

    Firstly conventional drilling technology employs fixed drill bits, which use water and suction to remove rock debris. This system has no such facility for that.

    Of course, if they vaporise the rock or turn it into dust, all they need to do is blow it out the top. Even if is still in a liquid state, they can pipe it out as slurry. They're also looking into if the addition of water for moving the debris out of the way would be a problem for the laser in that it would need to much energy to vaporise.

    Also it is very difficult to drill down and then sideways, as is common with current methods. Without this facility, the oil rig or platform is useless once the oil below has been used up

    Which is probably why they're sending the photons down in a fiber optic conduit and focusing them as they leave the conduit through a lens array.

    Conventional drilling also places a pipe as the bit moves forward, cementing the drill hole. With this system the hole must be "burned" and then a pipe forced down. This process will negate any speed gains in the actual drilling

    The article discusses research into the behavior of the rock on melting by the lasers. Apparently, a properly controlled laser can turn the surrounding rock into a high strength ceramic, thus completely eliminating the need to even add a pipe.
  • According to the text at the url listed in the posting (M.I.R.A.C.L. [fas.org]), the laser their discussing has demonstrated "Reliable operation demonstrated in more than 150 lasing tests and over 3000 seconds of lase time during the last decade."

    This laser has only fired 150 times, for a grand total of 50 minutes over its lifespan, and has a "70 seconds maximum lase duration." I'm pretty sure drilling that far down for oil will take more than 70 seconds, and quite probably a single oil well will take longer to drill for than the entire previous experience of the example laser.

    Does anyone get the feeling they're getting a little overexcited? Its one thing to create a megawatt class laser in a warehouse for short duration, mostly experimental use... Its entirely another to create one that can survive a hostile environment such as a desert or sea based drilling platform and operate continuously for days at a time. I'm gonna guess technology to make this successfull is still at least a decade out.

  • As someone else has already pointed out, the gas is subterranean and there's no oxygen around to burn the gas. Hence, it doesn't matter what temperature it reaches, it can't burn.

    If it's heated above ignition point, it'll start burning the instant it leaks to the surface.

    Also, there's quite a bit of subterranean oxygen. Most of it is just temporarily combined with hydrogen. I'm sure the laser does its bit to break some of those bonds along the way.


    --

  • Firstly conventional drilling technology employs fixed drill bits, which use water and suction to remove rock debris. This system has no such facility for that.

    Everyone knows that beam weapons cause matter to disintegrate and then just disappear. Don't you watch Star Trek?

  • by fhwang (90412) on Thursday March 15, 2001 @04:52AM (#362231) Homepage
    It looks like we'll be stuck with fossil fuels like oil and natural gas for some time ...

    Sure, the new drilling technology is cool, and its engineers are to be commended. But but the tree-hugging lefty in me feels obliged to point out that our reliance on fossil fuels isn't so much an inevitability as it is a political choice we have made.

    Take, for example, the recent actions of the German government to encourage wind power [metropolitic.net]. Due to a plan initiated ten years ago, the state of Schleswig-Holstein now generates about 19 percent of electricity from wind, and nationwide the wind industry employs about 15,000 people.

    The first way to lose a political argument is to agree with those who say "this is the only way to do it." There's always another way to do it (see also: Perl [perl.org]); very often, there's a better way to do it, too.

  • Maybe their funds are drying up and are trying to hype lasertechnology for the oil companies to make them invest large sums of money?
    It's not an uncommon thing to overhype something in order to gain investors. :-)

  • Ever read the comic "Cobra"?
    He had a really cool "psycho" laser that could bend. =-)
  • Which centralia, the one in Washington, Illinois, Penssylvania, Ontario, or Missouri?
  • So I wasn't the only one to think of this as soon as I saw the story. Well, it would certainly make a far more interesting video.....
  • Maybe, but I would think there would be a way to drill at an angle, maybe with some high grade reflective joints. I'm not an optical physicist though
    Well I am. Yes, you could use reflective joints (known in the trade as "mirrors") to deflect the beam. You would probably be using them at high angles of incidence, which makes life a lot easier (most things reflect much better the nearer you get to grazing incidence). In fact, you can guarantee that something reflective enough must exist - because that's what they use to make the ends of the laser cavity! You might need some cooling system down there though...
  • Yes, that's always a problem in laser cavities too. I don't know if there's a simple way to overcome this problem in the hostile environment.
  • The video (which I was able to see) reported a two-second lase "drilling" a 5 inch hole in sandstone (near-field). So; 70 second lase would gain you ~14 feet. Whoo Hoo!
  • Read the article; watch the video. This was covered: they will use precision reflectors. Actually could be easier than bending pipe, if you think about it.
  • the other way around.

    (Star Wars defense initiative got it's ideas from...uh...Star Wars the movie).
  • As a means of drilling deep wells, it seems unworkable. Either you have to put the laser down the hole, or you have to have a clear optical path between the laser and the cutting face. Both are tough to do in oil well work.

    Tunnels, though, might be more promising. Using this as part of a hard-rock tunnel boring machine might work. Those things are big enough to incorporate a big laser, and they're operated close to the cutting face. Maybe the New York City Water Tunnel #3 [nyc.ny.us] project, underway since the 1970s and scheduled for completion in 2020, could be speeded up.

  • I would also reccomend watching the IMAX movie on the same topic. The IMAX crews went to Saudi, and caputred all the wacky ways they put the wells out. If you ever get the oppourtunity to see it, definitely do so. That's been a while ago, granted, but the films still gotta be around somewhere...
  • by cdgod (132891)
    "We found oil!" Boooooooom!
  • This doesn't make sense, seing that the SO2 is Silicon and the H2SO4 refers to Sulfur.

    This must be the single least insightfull correction I've ever read. At least, when you correct someone, make your correction right... Or do you believe in alchemy?

  • by lowe0 (136140) on Thursday March 15, 2001 @05:59AM (#362245) Homepage
    "No, Mr. Tux... I expect you to die..."
  • With a bore speed of 10 to 100 times that of conventional methods, Bruce Willis could get that hole done and be back in time for breakfast instead of having to spout embarrassing speeches while dying heroically.

    This could revolutionise the bad-movie industry!
  • "damn you! i havnt seen that film yet and now you've ruined it. twats."

    Damn, sorry about that. Normally I'm pretty careful on this stuff, but since that bit doesn't really affect the enjoyment of the film (its quality cheese you just hang on for the ride with), and it was such a huge thing at the time (I guess I better not make jokes about Empire Strikes Back either) I din't think someone might be spoiled.

    Of course, if you're just being ironic then I guess I've fallen for it.
  • "The rest look like sharks, maybe we should alert PETA"

    No, there's already a world shortage of sharks with frickin' laser beams, you don't want to stop development of any more...
  • While this post is getting modded up as interesting, the description of boats in low-density gas permeated water is exactly how current theories describe why things go missing in the Bermuda Triangle.

    See, you were right when you thought all that Bermuda Triangle stuff smelt funny ;)
  • Won't this add to global warming? At least as much as cow farts and sulphur dioxide?
    (couldn't resist)

    DanH
    Cavalry Pilot's Reference Page [cavalrypilot.com]
  • Don't you remember? "All these worlds are yours--except EUROPA. Attempt no landings there."
  • Actually, it's worse than that.

    Production of hydrocarbons depends on either the porosity of the rock or fractures within it.

    By 'drilling' with a laser (really burning), the high temps instantly seal the sides of the borehole, negating any porosity and sealing any fractures in the immediate vicinity. One could figure out how far out the sealing would go from the well knowing the heat dissapation of the laser at the bottom/sides of the well and the rock type.

    You can 'frac' the rock subsequently, and still produce oil/gas, but almost certainly not at the efficiency of a well drilled conventionally.

    Bottom line is, for a number of reasons, this isn't going to replace conventional drilling in the near or far future. It's basically an attempt to find *some* use for all of that money poured into laser physics by the Star Wars programs of the '80's. This one just doesn't happen to be very good.

    The technique has some merit for other types of drilling. Tunneling, scientific exploration, and others come to mind immediately.

  • From the article:
    "A third aspect of the new project will be to determine if lasers can be used in the presence of drilling fluids. In most wells, thick fluids - called "drilling muds" - are injected into the borehole to wash out rock cuttings and keep water and other fluids from the underground formations from seeping into the well. The technical challenge will be to determine whether too much laser energy is expended to vaporize and clear away the fluid where the drilling is occurring. "
  • There seem to be a number of problems with using this to drill for oil and gas, but combustion probably isn't a problem, since there is no oxygen.

    There are two other potential problems that I see. The first is the high pressure underground. Oil companies typically use drilling mud which, in addition to cooling the bit and removing the cuttings, is weighted with additives (barite??) to increase the density. The density is controlled so that the hydrostatic pressure is higher than the pressure in the gas/oil reservoirs. This prevents blowouts, where the oil gushes to the surface (the gushers in the old movies) Oil companies hate this, because in addition to the problem of fires, you are wasteing the gas pressure that could be used to help produce additional oil. The laser process will have to supply the high pressure in some manner.

    A second problem is damaging the well. Oil and gas are typically contained in sedimentary rock (NOT a liquid reservoir). In terms of flow properties, think of a massive brick saturated with oil - this is roughly what you are trying to produce oil from. Since the flow is radial to the well, damage right around the hole is the worst in terms of damaging the well. While its true that you can fracture the well to improve the production, this adds significant expense. (need to inject large quantities of liquid at high pressure to fracture the rock, as well as proppant (sand) to keep the fractures from closing back down).
  • Many Oil Pockets have natural gas at the top. The Laser Drill will melt rock down to open the pocket. Ordinary drills use "drilling mud" to lubricate the bit and to help pull out the debris.

    I don't know about you, but I see some danger of an explosion when you have a laser strong enough to melt rock opening up a pocket of natural gas.

    Maybe I haven't had enough caffiene this morning, but it seems like a potential problem to me.

  • by Vireo (190514) on Thursday March 15, 2001 @06:06AM (#362262)
    MIRACL stands for Middle Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser. As its name implies, it is indeed a chemical laser, that is, one that gets the lasing medium excited with a chemical reaction instead of a more conventional current source or flash lamp. The structure of MIRACL is really one of a reactor, with the starting material being C2H4 (ethylene), NF3 and helium. This mixture is burnt to provide free fluorine atoms that reacts with injected deuterium molecules further down the stream. This reaction is really violent, so that the laser is in a perpetual explosion state. Vibrationnally excited deuterium-fluorine molecules in the produced supersonic flow thus constitutes the lasing medium. So you now have to put mirrors and windows inside this reactor to get your laser. One of my profs said once "I don't understand why they use chemical lasers as lasers; they would be much more efficient as bombs".

    Main source: Lasers and Electro-Optics, Davis, Cambridge Editor.

  • There also has to be oxygen present. If there is insufficient oxygen, they won't burn.

    For example, a full tank of jet-fuel in an aircraft is pretty much non-flammable. The tank contains liquid Jet-A and Jet-A vapour, but not a lot of oxygen. The mixture is far too rich to burn. A spark in that situation would just...spark.

    However, a fuel tank containing very little fuel, but having plenty of oxygen (or other oxidiser) is basically a bomb. A spark in that situation (as is the probable cause with TWA-800) will cause a powerful explosion, even though there's only a tiny fraction of fuel compared to the tank when it's full.

    A stochiometric mixture burns most vigorously. That's what you try and obtain in your car's combustion chambers. Stochiometric means the fuel/oxidiser ratio is just right such that the available fuel matches the amount of available oxygen.

  • by bmongar (230600) on Thursday March 15, 2001 @04:23AM (#362274)
    Firstly conventional drilling technology employs fixed drill bits, which use water and suction to remove rock debris. This system has no such facility for that

    Why not? I see no reason that they can't run pipes down as they drill to evacuate gasses and dust as the rock is vaporized

    Also it is very difficult to drill down and then sideways, as is common with current methods. Without this facility, the oil rig or platform is useless once the oil below has been used up

    Maybe, but I would think there would be a way to drill at an angle, maybe with some high grade reflective joints. I'm not an optical physicist though

    Conventional drilling also places a pipe as the bit moves forward, cementing the drill hole. With this system the hole must be "burned" and then a pipe forced down. This process will negate any speed gains in the actual drilling

    Once again there is no reason the pipes can't be pushed through the hole as you go, keeping the speed gains

  • Wouldn't this be the ideal drill to use for getting into Lake Vostok? Scientists have been looking for a way to get into the underground lake without polluting it for a few years now. Surely a laser wouldn't pollute the lake at all.

    They could drill to within a few centimeters of the lake and then send down a probe. The probe could disinfect itself at the bottom of the hole before bashing through the rest of the rock to get into the lake, take samples and do tests.
  • They need to have a hole that seals up behind itself in combination with a sterile drilling rig. The laser would be sterile but I'm not sure if it could seal up as well. You don't want surface contamination leaking through the hole and contaminating the lake.

    The hole is probably the easy part, the hard part is introducing measurement devices without contamination.

  • This system seems cool, but there is a number of catches

    Firstly conventional drilling technology employs fixed drill bits, which use water and suction to remove rock debris. This system has no such facility for that.

    Also it is very difficult to drill down and then sideways, as is common with current methods. Without this facility, the oil rig or platform is useless once the oil below has been used up

    Conventional drilling also places a pipe as the bit moves forward, cementing the drill hole. With this system the hole must be "burned" and then a pipe forced down. This process will negate any speed gains in the actual drilling

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