What's a rotary drill, grandpa?

The following is the continuation of a fictional story written in 1943 by the late Dr. John Huner, Louisiana State Geologist, to be used as an educational piece for use in Louisiana schools to teach students the story of the discovery and development of oil and gas in Louisiana. The original manuscript was transcribed by his son, Dr. Jay V. Huner, and his wife of Boyce, LA. Dr. Huner is a regular correspondent for The Piney Woods Journal, who writes about birds and environment in Louisiana. The narrative is of an old oil field man telling his grandson of his work in the oil fields.

• Part 2

"I arrived in Beaumont the day the Lukas well was brought under control. The excitement in town was very high, higher in fact than anything I had ever seen. I was told Beaumont had almost doubled in population during the past two weeks as oil men came from all over the United States flocked in to buy leases. The actual history of the Lukas gusher, as I was able to pick it u- from various bystanders, was that drilling the well had begun on October 27, 1900, in a rice field three miles south of Beaumont. The well was drilled with newly invented equipment called the rotary drill. The rotary drill is the only type of drill you see in Louisiana nowadays. However at that time it was just beginning to be used."

Before the little boy could interrupt to ask just what a rotary drill really was, or what had been used before the rotary drill was invented, the old man continued. "The rotary drill, in it simplest form, consists of long pieces of pipe, one connected to the other which are attached to a bit. The pipe and the bit are lowered into the hole and turned by means of very powerful machinery."

"Is the post hole auger a rotary drill?" asked the little boy.

The old man chuckled and said, "Well, it might be called a rotary drill. Certainly the idea is the same."

"Well, what kind of drill did you use before the rotary drill?" asked the little boy.

The old man replied, "Well, it has many names. Some call it a churn drill, others call it a cable tool. Actually, what it amounts to is a long wire cable to which a bit is attached, and instead of twisting the cable as you do with a piece of pipe for the rotary drill, the cable and the b it are raised and lowered so that the bit actually chops like an axe and digs the hole in this manner. The cable tool is still used, but it is mostly used where the rocks are hard, such as up in Illinois, and western Texas and in parts of Arkansas."

"In the rotary drill," the old man continued, "a mixture of clay and water, known as drilling mud, was forced down the pipe so that it came out of little holes in the bit and was then pumped back to the surface again. The mud not only plastered the walls of the hole and kept them from caving, but also picked up little pieces of rock which the bit tore loose in excavating the hole and carried them back to the surface and dumped out."

"Using the new rotary drill," Gram continued, " the men drilling the Lucas well were able to drill through quicksand and rock that defied earlier efforts to complete a deep well. Casing was set and kept abreast of the bit as the hole was drilled. Drilling mud was made by milling cows about in a slush or mudpit which produced a kind of mud fluid, but nothing like the expensive chemicals muds which your Dad uses in drilling today."

"What's casing," the boy inquired.

"Well, now, casing is just a fancy name for an ordinary piece of pipe which is down into the hole made by the bit. THe casing not only keeps the hole open but in the early daubs permitted the oil to flow back to the surface without being lost in the formations around the hole, Nowadays, the oil is produced through what is known as tubing, which is again just pipe that fit inside the casing. Often times the well has to be repaired or cleaned out, an when this is necessary all of the tubing is taken out of the well, but the casing remains in place and holds the hole open. This permits the driller to go in and out of the hole without having to worry about getting stuck. It is necessary of course, to always leave drilling mud inside the casing because otherwise the tremendous pressure which is exerted on the casing by the formation would cause the casing to flatten out like an empty tin can when you step on it. The drilling mud inside of the casing helps to prevent the formation from squeezing it."

• To be continued