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Reducing the footprint of oil and gas exploration

Funding provided by ExxonMobil Exploration and Production Norway AS is helping another Norwegian company, Badger Explorer ASA, develop a revolutionary method of exploring for oil that is less expensive and minimizes environmental footprints.

The tool, called the Badger Explorer, drills into the earth using a wire that feeds out from the tool as it drills deeper. The wire provides power to turn the bit and send formation data back to the surface. The Badger Explorer would replace large, costly drilling rigs operating at sea for months at a time.

Once developed, this promising technology is expected to reduce the impact to wildlife, fisheries and the surrounding environment and minimize the risk of blowouts. Once deployed, the tool can provide exploration data as well as long-term data about the reservoir and the surrounding environment.

The Badger Explorer is in direct contact with the formations drilled, without the presence of casing, tubing or conventional drilling fluid that could affect measurements. This advance enables it to obtain new and unique subsurface information.

The concept for the Badger Explorer began more than 10 years ago. Then, in 2005, ExxonMobil, Statoil and Shell each contributed $4.8 million Norwegian kroners (NOK) (US$841,920) to support research for the device. The Norwegian Research Council provided additional funding of $7 million NOK (US$1.2 million).

While the Badger Explorer is not ready for commercial use, a full-scale prototype version of the tool has demonstrated that it is able to drill in a sandstone formation and compact the cuttings in the drilled hole above the tool. In addition to cost savings, the Badger Explorer is expected to complete exploration activities with minimal impacts to sea and air. From 2012 to 2014, commercialization of the technology will begin.

“The Badger Explorer has the potential to be a truly game-changing technology,” said ExxonMobil Senior Drilling Consultant Stu Keller, who heads Badger Explorer’s industry technical advisory committee. “This new technology may significantly impact future oil exploration by reducing costs, enabling more efficient drilling operations, and minimizing surface impacts.”

Continuous improvements in technology are necessary in order to meet growing energy demand. Previous advances in drilling technology, such as extended-reach drilling and horizontal drilling, have unlocked reserves in hard-to-reach locations, sometimes miles offshore.