The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Mystery Solved

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted May 8, 2009

A couple of days ago, we posted a photograph taken at the Offshore Technology Conference and challenged you to tell us what it is. A sculpture at the Reliant Center in Houston? An artist's rendering of an octopus? Perhaps a close-up of a broach from the 1920s?

Actually, it's a 12 ¼" hybrid drill bit that grinds deep into the Earth in the search for oil and natural gas. But it has a lot in common with high-end jewelry. The black dots in the golden arms are diamond grit embedded in a cobalt matrix.

Drill bits are fastened to the end of a long pipe called a drill string. The drill string rotates and the bit chews its way through thousands of feet of rock to the oil and/or natural gas formation. This particular drill bit, developed by Baker Hughes, was designed to drill through alternating layers of shale and sand or sandstone. Shale is very hard and dense, making the diamond cutters necessary.

In Baker Hughes' booth at the Offshore Technology Conference, this bit was attached to an expandable reamer, which can be used to enlarge the diameter of the well bore, if needed. Its diamond cutters rotate against the sides of the hole.

These are just two of the high-tech devices that have greatly improved the efficiency, effectiveness, and safety of oil and natural gas production. If you'd like to learn more about how a drill bit works and other Baker Hughes technologies, click here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Van Ryan was formerly senior communications manager and new media advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API), where she wrote blog posts and produced podcasts and videos. Before coming to API, Jane managed communications for a large science and engineering corporation, and for a top-tier research and engineering university. A few years ago, you might have seen her in your living room when she delivered the news on television. Jane officially retired from API in 2011 and now freelances as an independent communications consultant when not gardening at her farm in Virginia.