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Petroleum Engineering and Its Ongoing Trends Report

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Updated: Dec 15th, 2020


Fossil fuels have been the primary source of energy for humankind for at least 200 years. They amount to over 40% of the world’s energy consumption. Since the events of Deepwater Horizon in 2010, the industry was forced to adopt new policies of safety, quality control, and professional ethics. Sustainability, environmental friendliness, efficiency, and innovation are paramount to the oil-drilling industry in the 21st century. Continued utilization of new technologies, such as BOP, ROV, satellite oil spill detection, IT, AI, and more efficient drilling techniques will ensure the industry’s value in the global market for the future.


Ever since the second half of the 19th century, fossil fuels have become the primary source of energy for humankind. According to Doric and Dimovski,1 oil accounts for roughly 40% of the entire energy mix, while gas amounts only for 15% in that regard. With the modern global economy expanding exponentially, the demands for oil are on the rise. It is unlikely for oil to be replaced by other, renewable sources of energy in any foreseeable future.

Petroleum engineering remains one of the most lucrative industries across the globe. Activities related to it include extraction, transportation, production, and recycling of hydrocarbons as well as the construction of various utilities necessary for the facilitation of the process. These processes are very complex and revolve around careful planning as well as diligent labor and maintenance. However, hydrocarbons as a resource are finite. At the world’s current rate of consumption, some researchers estimate the world’s oil resources to last for 53 years.2 Therefore, it is necessary for the fuel industry to obtain a measure of sustainability until reasonable alternatives can be found.

Oil drilling is a complicated, expensive, and environmentally unfriendly process, which further affects its sustainability and eco-friendliness. The goals of the industry for the next 50 years should be the promotion of energy efficiency through the use of advanced and innovative technologies combined with efforts to reduce negative environmental impact in order to protect our fragile ecosystem.

Environmental Impact of Oil Drilling

The expansion of oil excavation efforts is associated with negative environmental impact coming from trying to access the oil deposits found in locations difficult to access. As it stands, the majority of fuel deposits located on the surface have already been explored. However, the deep sea remains a largely uncharted vault of hydrocarbons for humanity to utilize. Both deep-sea and surface operations present an inherent danger to the surrounding environment.

Suffosion sinkhole caused by drilling.
Fig. 1. Suffosion sinkhole caused by drilling.

urface excavation is associated with pollution and unsafe alterations to the geological stratum. Oil extraction leaves empty vacuums underneath the surface, which cause cave-ins and disruptions on the surface, as demonstrated in Figure 1.

Deep-sea drilling is even more dangerous to the local ecosystems than surface drilling, due to multiple variables introduced to the equation. Some of the greatest concerns regarding underwater oil and gas exploration revolve around the lack of information and complexity of the local ecosystems, which creates challenges to safe drilling and ecological management. In some cases, improper management of oil drilling platforms can cause planet-scale disasters. One of the most known incidents revolving around deep-sea drilling is the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of 2010, which is considered the largest oil spill in the world’s history. Over 4.9 million barrels were released into the sea, and the spill itself was enough to facilitate worldwide climate change due to alterations to the flow of the Gulf Stream.3

The map of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill 2010.
Fig. 2. The map of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill 2010.

Figure 2 shows the scope of the massive oil spill caused by the accident on a British Petroleum drilling platform. The creation of infrastructure for deep-sea oil drills always poses a significant environmental risk. Some of the inescapable effects include re-suspension and seafloor digging for pipelines, which have the potential to cause a 2-kilometer oil discharge. According to Cordes et al.,4 these spills have the potential to affect not only the ecosystem in the immediate vicinity of the spill but also the environment outside of it.

The massive public backlash in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill significantly increased the rigidity of international environmental guidelines and regulations. These changes lead to the improvement of oil-drilling practices and greater concerns for the environment in an effort to mitigate the negative impacts of deep=sea drilling. Some of the effective mechanisms to reduce the chances of chemical pollution and controlling the aftermaths of oil spills include blowout preventers (BOP), the use of remotely operated vehicles (ROV), and satellite detection systems.

The blowout preventer is a mechanism that helps minimize the amount of oil discharged into the sea. Deep-sea drill operations require various fluids and chemicals in order to run the machinery, such as hydrostatic liquids, lubrication oils, and coolants. When the pipe is inserted into the oil well, it causes a spread of contaminated drill cuttings to spread around the seafloor. BOP operates similarly to a gate valve, using a pair of opposing steel plungers in order to confine well fluids to the wellbore. The valves controlling the well enable drill fragments and fluids to be directed to the surface through a pipeline, where they are recycled.5

Remotely operated vehicles (ROV) are some of the primary tools used by deep-sea oil-drillers in order to explore, inspect, and perform underwater activities necessary for conducting the extraction of hydrocarbons from underneath the ocean floor.6 These machines can go far deeper than any divers or human-operated vehicles. They are equipped with manipulators and use an automatic slave system in order to allow the operators to perform routine operations under extreme pressures. The lack of use of ROVs was one of the systemic failures that led to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. These machines were also utilized to manually activate failsafe switches on the BOP in an attempt to curb the oil flow.

Finally, one of the advanced methods of oil spill detection involves satellite detection, tracking, and remote sensing. They implement an array of sensors in order to detect oil spills from space. Conventional sensors include infrared cameras, optical detectors, and microwave radiometers. Active detection systems include laser fluorosensors and radar systems. One of the most reliable and efficient ways of detecting oil spills using satellites is the use of synthetic aperture radars (SAR). Some of its advantages include a wide area of coverage and all-weather capabilities.7 Due to the number of satellites orbiting the planet, it is possible to cross-reference satellite reports in order to ensure the accuracy of the results. Satellite surveillance allows for rapid and accurate responses to oil spill incidents around the world.

Due to public attention surrounding deep-sea oil drilling, the industry needs to adapt high ecological standards of labor in order to protect the planet and be able to compete with environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuels. In addition, these measures are necessary for accordance with government regulations for oil drilling. Mitigating public scrutiny and restoring the trustworthiness of the industry in the eyes of the general public is paramount to the economic success of any deep-sea drilling venture.

Improving Drilling Efficiency

Because hydrocarbons are a finite and increasingly rare natural resource, drilling efficiency plays a key role in improving the quality and production volumes of deep-sea oil. Historically, the industry measured petroleum products based on the number of operational oil rigs. However, this approach is inaccurate, as oilrigs do not accurately represent the measure of productivity, which is calculated based on petroleum production rates and volumes.8

Drilling efficiency is influenced by several variables, which include the amount of extracted oil, the quality of the extracted oil, the expenses associated with oil extraction and transportation, and the volume of oil accessed through a single drilling action. The amount of the extracted oil correlates with the volume accessed through a single drilling action. Typically, a single sea-based oilrig can extract oil from a single basin. When that basin becomes shallow, the oilrig is forced to dig deeper or change location, which is associated with additional expenses. Modern technologies enable drills to dig deeper and change direction during drilling, enabling access to the farthest reaches of the basin.9

The quality of the oil is a very important aspect of hydrocarbon extraction. There are many ways to potentially ruin a prospective oil well either by contaminating it with water or remains of drilling activities, which lowers the quality of the oil and forces to use costly refining techniques. The drilling and entry point stages define the quality of the extracted oil. Some of the advanced techniques aimed at improving the quality of drilling are steerable liner drilling, one-trip SDL drilling, and perf-wash-cement techniques.10

Drilling efficiency is connected to energy efficiency and environmental security. As it stands, there are many policies and regulations that affect the productivity of the petroleum industry. Refineries and wells differ one from another based on their technological processes, locations, and hydrocarbons they extract. Crude and heavy products are unprofitable and strongly associated with increased greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, the primary objectives for the petroleum industry are efficiency optimization and emission reduction, both of which are economically viable and ecologically friendly.11

Digital Computing in Drilling Operations

Drilling operations are technologically intensive processes. They require extensive design, control, and maintenance in order to resume petroleum refining. The logistical components include supply chain management, distribution, and transportation of products. Managing this extensive net of responsibilities is impossible without sophisticated planning and engineering software. Digital technology has the potential to improve the efficiency of the petroleum industry in a highly competitive global business environment. Computers have many potential applications in oil drilling and excavation. Some of them include operational management, capacity efficiency improvement, capital expenditure reductions, seismic projections, refinery design, and construction as well as advanced process controls.12

Information technology can be used to acquire, transfer, analyze, and synthesize important data pertaining to the petroleum production processes. Big data and artificial intelligence can be used in order to improve drilling operations and make accurate market predictions. The speed of information flow in addition to advanced analytical tools would enable determining the expected demand for petroleum and modify output accordingly. Advances in robotics and the development of AI would help eliminate the factor of human error during exploration, design, drilling, and excavation processes.

The three primary trends for digital computing in petroleum engineering include future operations through predictive maintenance and transformative functions. Reservoir design and construction requires advanced calculations as well as seismic imaging technology. Finally, digital marketing would enable producers to track and manage consumer habits.13


This report outlines the ongoing trends in petroleum engineering. Since the incident of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of 2010, the industry has made an effort to optimize its production by making it safer, more efficient, and ecologically friendly. These changes were enforced by close government scrutiny and public opinion. Using advanced technologies has proven to be a profitable venture from technical and economic perspectives, as they help protect the surrounding environment while simultaneously improving drilling efficiency and the quality of the extracted oil. Ecological sustainability is necessary for fossil fuels to be able to compete with other prospective sources of energy in the next 50 years. The end goal for the evolution of the petroleum industry is to become a self-sufficient, sustainable, and fully automated venture that promotes environmental safety and ensures that the disruptions caused to the surrounding environment are minimal. Humanity cannot afford another tragedy like Deepwater Horizon, which means that the oil industry should always hold itself to the highest standards of scrutiny.

Appendix A: Effects of Surface and Deep-Sea Oil Drilling

Suffosion sinkhole caused by drilling.
Fig. 1. Suffosion sinkhole caused by drilling.
 The map of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill 2010.
Fig. 2. The map of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill 2010.


Doric, Barbara, and Vlado Dimovski. “Managing Petroleum Sector Performance – A Sustainable Administrative Design.” Economic Research – Ekonomska Istrazivanja, vol. 31, no. 1, 2018, pp. 119-139.

Niblock, Tim, and Richard Lawless. Prospects for the World Oil Industry. Taylor &Francis, 2016.

Beyer, Jonny, et al. “Environmental Effects of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: A Review.” Marina Pollution Bulletin, vol. 110, no. 1, 2016, pp. 28-51.

Cordes, Erik E., et al. “Environmental Impacts of the Deep-Water Oil and Gas Industry: A Review to Guide Management Strategies.” Frontiers in Environmental Science, vol. 4, 2016, pp. 1-26. Web.

Cordes, Erik E., et al. “Environmental Impacts of the Deep-Water Oil and Gas Industry: A Review to Guide Management Strategies.” Frontiers in Environmental Science, vol. 4, 2016, pp. 1-26. Web.

Shukla, Amit, and Hamad Karki. “Application of Robotics in Offshore Oil and Gas Industry – A Review Part II.” Robotics and Autonomous Systems, vol. 75, 2016, pp. 508-524.

Fingas, Merv, editor. Handbook of Oil Spill Science and Technology. John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

Lieskovsky, Jozef, and Sam Gorgen. U.S. Energy Information Administration. 2013, Web.

OG21. Technologies to Improve Drilling Efficiency and Reduce Costs. 2014, Web.

OG21. Technologies to Improve Drilling Efficiency and Reduce Costs. 2014, Web.

Han, Jeong-woo, et al. “A Comparative Assessment of Resource Efficiency in Petroleum Refining.” Fuel, vol. 157, no. 1, 2016, pp. 292-298. Web.

Choudhry, Harsh, et al. McKinsey & Company. 2016, Web.

Choudhry, Harsh, et al. McKinsey & Company. 2016, Web.

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