Industry Knowledge: What Is Directional Drilling?

Updated: Jul 10, 2019

Directional drilling is defined as the practice of controlling the direction and deviation of a wellbore to a predetermined underground target or location. The term is also used as a catch-all for the method of drilling for oil or gas or for installing underground utilities in which special assemblies are used to drill at any angle and around obstacles.

At ClearPath, we use this application of technology to place various distribution and pipelines underground without disrupting the land above. This allows us to go beneath roads, waterways, buildings, and more, all in a minimally invasive way to ensure the integrity of a project site.

Let’s take a look at some key facts about how directional drilling works, core directional drilling techniques, and why directional drilling is so beneficial.

Directional Drilling History

Directional drilling techniques have been employed by various industries, particularly the oil and gas sector, for nearly one hundred years, with the first directional drilling operations coming about in the 1920s.

Prior to this, the internal structure of natural oil and water wells was less clear to those within the industry, and the fuller, more horizontal nature of most wells provided for the opportunity for methods other than traditional vertical drilling.

Some of the advances in directional drilling included:

  • 1920s-1930s – A methodology was developed by the Sperry Corporation to determine the position of a wellbore. This included the point of depth in the borehole’s course, the inclination at that point of depth, and the magnetic azimuth. The result of this information was referred to as a survey.

  • 1934 – George Failing patented a portable drilling truck which allowed for the fast drilling of numerous slanted wells. The innovation proved so successful, in fact, that the company he represented, Eastman Whipstock, Inc., grew to become the biggest directional drilling company by the 1970s.

  • 1970s – Downhole drilling motors, or mud motors, were adopted by many within the industry. Their design allowed for a wellbore’s direction to be altered by way of a bent piece of pipe, meaning that pipes did not need to be removed, saving significant time, effort, and money.

How Does Directional Drilling Work?

Directional drilling denotes any drilling or boring that does not go straight down in a vertical line. Any deviation from a 180-degree bore would then technically classify as directional drilling, and even in vertical wells it can be beneficial or necessary to avoid various geological features or equipment by way of a directional sidetracking technique.

Here are some key points to be aware of:

  • Since those who practice directional drilling are not able to see the progress of the work underground, a guide created by engineers and geologists lets them know their current status. At intervals along the path of the drilling, survey information is transmitted to engineers to ensure that the predetermined path is being adhered to.

  • The software utilized during directional drilling techniques obtains information from a variety of sensors which are built into the drill bit, allowing operators to check the status of various factors. These factors include torque, weight, pipe bend, global positioning, and formation type (by way of vibration information).

  • During the drilling process, a high-pressure drilling fluid is sent through the pipe in advance of the drill to facilitate boring which helps to grind and remove the soil and other natural materials.

  • Once the pilot hole has been bored, the area is expanded with a cutting tool known as a back reamer to facilitate whatever size is needed for pipes, cables, or other materials. Drilling fluid is used during this process to ensure the area is lubricated as well.

Directional Drilling Equipment

Some of the pieces of equipment used by directional drilling professionals depending upon the needs of a given job include:

  • Mud Recycling Systems

  • Bottomhole assembly (BHA) configurations

  • Three-dimensional measuring devices

  • Multi-shot cameras

  • Rotary steerable systems (RSS)

  • Mud motors

  • Specialized drill bits

Now that you have a better grasp on what directional drilling is, let’s explore some of the key benefits of utilizing directional drilling techniques.

The Value of Directional Drilling Techniques

Directional drilling techniques offer a host of benefits for companies and organizations, which include the following:

  • Delivering a lower cost for the client and a shorter completion time

  • Being able to drill multiple holes from the same rig, which can in turn minimize disturbance on the surface and reduce the environmental impact due to the technique

  • Providing less traffic disruption compared to conventual drilling which can make it easier to plan and implement the boring

  • The ability to make adjustments to the drilling in real time as the process is underway thanks to the variety of sensing equipment present in the drills, helping to ensure the project is moving according to plan

  • Providing convenient and less costly drilling for more difficult drilling circumstances, such as for congested areas, environmentally sensitive areas, and the crossing of waterways and roadways

Additionally, directional drilling methods can supply premium, reliable drilling when projects need to avoid or take into account such aspects as:

  • Water lines

  • Sewer lines

  • Power conduits

  • Cable conduits

  • Communication conduits

  • Environmental remediation casings

  • Gas lines

  • Oil lines

  • Roadways

  • Waterways

  • Sidewalks

  • Buildings

About ClearPath’s Directional Drilling Services

At ClearPath, we have the ability to provide essential directional drilling services all across the United States, with most of our recent projects being completed within the Midwest and South.

You can visit our projects page to get a look at some of the diverse jobs we’ve completed, and on that page you’ll also get access to our project gallery which features pictures of projects at various stages, our team hard at work, and the equipment we utilize.

And if you’re looking for a breakdown of our drilling services, head over to our what we do page where we outline our expansive service capabilities.

Contact Our Team!

If you’re looking for a dedicated, experienced team to handle your directional drilling, choose ClearPath. Contact us with any questions or project details and we’ll get back with you shortly!

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