As an industry, the oil extraction business has had to continually reinvent itself to meet with technological changes. But some of those changes have come about because of innovative approaches within the industry itself. When everything from simple rotary seals in the machinery to the structure of giant deep sea rigs need rethinking, everything is up for grabs. But there are a handful of true innovative shifts within the oil extraction industry that have moved it in new directions.
The Rotary Drill
This is probably the earliest example of an innovation that shifted the oil extraction industry and also moved it into high gear. Prior to the 1880s, when oil was drilled it was generally done with the very same method that pioneer Edwin Drake used when he dug the very first oil well in 1859 in Titusville, Penn. His method was to drop a drill bit into a hole via a cable, using the weight of the drill as it was lifted and dropped to increase the depth of the well.
But the rotary drill increased the depth one could reach and the speed you could drill. This was important as the uses for oil had expanded rapidly since the invention of the automobile. Prior to its use for transportation, oil was primarily drilled and refined for use in kerosene lamps for light. The development of electricity and the line production of the automobile changed this industry forever. The development of the rotary drill was an innovation that the industry needed to keep up with the new demand.
Remotely Operated Vehicles
Around the time that demand for oil began to increase because of wider use of it as a power source for transportation devices, drillers began to notice something interesting. It seemed that whenever they drilled for oil near the shore, they would often hit big payloads of oil.
This led them to begin to wonder if perhaps the biggest fields of oil might be found not on land, but offshore beneath the ocean. While in the beginning of the 1900’s there were some oil rigs built on wharfs, it wasn’t until the 1940s that true ocean dwelling oil rigs were created.
The reason they were able to set up rigs above the deepest parts of the ocean is that they could use remotely operated underwater vehicles or ROUVs that were developed by the military for retrieving lost equipment underwater. These ROUVs allowed oil riggers to remotely control equipment that could drill in dangerous deep waters and find the richest oil fields.
This may well become the most important innovation that the oil industry has created in the last century. When rocks that contain oil are too tight to release the oil within them, that oil can still be found and released by the use of pressure created when water infused with specific chemicals is pumped into a well.
The pressure creates fractures along the rock, thus releasing the oil trapped in this rock and allowing it to be pumped to the surface. The development of this fracturing method allows oil production companies to find and pump oil in areas that were once either inaccessible or so expensive to extract that it was easier to simply leave it in the ground.