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Drilling For Oil With Megawatt Lasers

michael posted more than 13 years ago | from the lasers-do-it-hotter dept.

Science 151

Deglr6328 writes: "The U.S. Department of Energy's Fossil Energy site has a story about using lasers to drill through rock at 10 to 100 times as fast as conventional rock boring technologies. One of the lasers tested was the 2.2 megawatt M.I.R.A.C.L., which was originally designed in 1985 for the star wars program. A cool video clip of its test firing can be found at the GTI page here. It looks like we'll be stuck with fossil fuels like oil and natural gas for some time, so we might as well do it James Bond style!" Sounds more like Real Genius style to me. Who brought the popcorn?

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151 comments

What about the mud? (3)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#362162)

When I worked in the offshore oilfields before I became a programmer (don't ask) they used "mud" to fill and seal the hole behind the bit. This prevented natural gas from flowing out of the hole if a pocket was encountered. The "mud" was circulated with pumps and constantly weighed to ensure that the proper density was maintained and the "mud" was not becoming saturated with gas. If a giant pocket of gas were to escape from the well (the dreaded blowout), the ensuing gas bubbles would leave the floating drilling ship and it's attendant work and crew boats in low-density, gas-permeated water (virtually hanging in the air). In conditions like this they would quickly sink a few hundred meters to sea floor. Not a pretty scenario. Have they since developed mud-free drilling techiniques?

Sounds wonderfully fast and cheap, but... (2)

euroderf (47) | more than 13 years ago | (#362163)

thewre may be some difficulties. Although I am sure that this laser will make it a lot cheaper for big corporations, multinationals and oil companies and so forth to find fossil fuels and material resources. I must consider some of the potential difficulties.

Put simply, a laser works by evaporating rock, or Silicon. This forms SO2 and SO and SO3, the Silicon Oxides, as well as many other noxious gases. The simple fact is that the SOX's have been shown to be hundreds of times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, and they also destroy Ozone, O3, much more effectively than common or garden chlorofluerocarbons ever did. Vapourised rock is a dangerous thing indeed.

I am sure that this system could be effective though, and make things cheaper and faster for the multinationals, which is a good thing for all of us. I just hope that they take into account the potential pitfalls, perhaps by planting 100 trees every time they use the laser drill, a proven way of renewing the environment.

Corporations are usually quite amenable to this sort of idea.
--

Fires in the Gulf War (2)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 13 years ago | (#362165)

The fires at the end of the Gulf War were caused by explosives being sent off at the top of the well, then the pressurized oil and gas went through the explosion and that caused a self fueling fire. The oil deep underground wasn't on fire, nor was the gas. The well fires were all put out by those boys from Texas that have been doing that kind of thing since the 50s. So rent John Wayne in the Hellfighters and see how it's done, the Texas firm that does that...Halliburton I think it is, were technical advisors on the John Wayne film.

Tea cup - flying saucer joke probably. (no text) (1)

Derek Pomery (2028) | more than 13 years ago | (#362167)

no text. I mean it /.! Can't I post a comment with a minimum of bandwidth and DB waste without hitting lameness filters?

Cool (1)

TommyP (5282) | more than 13 years ago | (#362169)

Hey the faster we pump oil out of the ground, the sooner we will have to use renewable resources! I cant wait untill there is no oil left, and I get to have that electric car that does 0-60 faster then an F550!

This can save a lot of money, oil forever! (1)

donturn (7351) | more than 13 years ago | (#362171)

as drill bits are very expensive, and can wear out in as little as 100 feet of hard rock.

Now, if Thomas Gold's views about oil and petroleum [wired.com] are correct, wecan have as much oil as we coudl ever want!

Of course, we should still conserve and all that.

Re:Lake Vostok (2)

FFFish (7567) | more than 13 years ago | (#362172)

Some good, general information on [Lake Vostok] [nsf.gov].

Tidbits:
It's way the hell under the antarctic icecap.

It's been sealed off from the rest of earth for a helluva long time.

It's probably got uniquely-evolved microbes and stuff.

It's *really* *fucking* *cold* in that part of the Antarctic: record low of -88C (-127F).

The lake is about the size of Lake Ontario, or the island of Corsica.

Scientists are, for once, being a bit sensible: they could have tapped the lake by now, but they first want to make sure they don't contanimate it.

However, it seems they haven't thought about whether it might contanimate us...


--

frontier areas far from energy sources (2)

peter303 (12292) | more than 13 years ago | (#362174)

Much of the drilling occurs in remote Russia,
remote western US, offshore, where trucking in
high density energy sources is difficult.
Conventional gasoline and rotary drills are easier.

spaghetti holes (2)

peter303 (12292) | more than 13 years ago | (#362175)

Almost no one drills straight down anyone.
Holes bend outward from a drilling platform, snake
along curved salt interfaces, go horizontal to
maximize the number porous cracks, and so on.
I wonder how easy it is to bend laser holes?

Re:uh, bad idea? (1)

HeghmoH (13204) | more than 13 years ago | (#362176)

Wow, nobody did. Amazing. You've saved lives, my friend! It's a good thing you thought of this when none of those fancy researcher types who are actually doing this never did....

Alan Parson's Project (3)

zCyl (14362) | more than 13 years ago | (#362178)

I shall use a giant "L-a-s-e-r" to drill through the surface of the Earth, extract crude oil, distribute it to an unsuspecting population, and slowly destroy the environment!!

Uhm, that's already been done...

Throw me a fricken bone here, I've been frozen for 30 years...

Re:spaghetti holes (2)

option8 (16509) | more than 13 years ago | (#362181)

actually, the video linked in the article talks about this (after a long bit of introductory blah blah blah). they show an animation of the shaft going straight down, then bending outward, then a real demonstration of bouncing the laser off a mirror to achieve this.

Re:Lake Vostok (3)

rde (17364) | more than 13 years ago | (#362182)

The laser wouldn't, of course, but how do you keep debris from falling down into the whole you just (somewhat violently) made?

It doesn't have to be that violent. Properly done, the laser could slowly burn its way through to the lake, evaporating stuff instead of pulverising it. And permafrost is less likely to collapse, so all would be well.

Of course, if it can be done on Lake Vostok, it can be done on Europa.

Some possible uses (1)

Mage... (18148) | more than 13 years ago | (#362183)

Some of the largest problems with drilling is when it comes to hard rock. Someone posted earlier that drilling often involves making turns (usually a few degrees angle at a time), to make use of porous rock. This is because of the problems with trying to drill straight through hard rock and salt domes (many oil pockets have a dome of salt over it). This laser could be useful where normal drilling would have a problem because of extensive domes or rock layers large enough to require drilling through the layers because they can not go around them.

As for explosions, since there would be no oxygen component, there would not be an "explosion," but because it would be difficult to both fire the laser and secure the hole at the same time, there could be blowouts. I doubt that they plan on using this to actually get to the oil/gas they are looking for.

So a scenario would look like this. They start drilling, encounter a large rock layer or salt dome. After examing the geological information, decide that they have to drill through this layer or dome. They pull in the laser, fire it for a few minutes to bore most of the way through, then let the regular drilling systems take over to lay pipe and finish the job.

Just my $.02 worth.

Re:More details on MIRACL (2)

Overt Coward (19347) | more than 13 years ago | (#362186)

"I don't understand why they use chemical lasers as lasers; they would be much more efficient as bombs".

Perhaps, but they would also be pretty much unfocused (though possibly directed) energy.

--

WRONG Forms SiO2 which is ..Sand..NEW BEACHES (1)

spineboy (22918) | more than 13 years ago | (#362187)

Looks like you were thinking about Sulphur S, which can form those greenhouse gasses. Sulphur is NOT usually a large component in most rock.

Maybe the explosion of the vaporization will be strong enough to act like a blow gun and just shoot the sand and other debris out.

No, nothing will burn - no Oxygen (2)

spineboy (22918) | more than 13 years ago | (#362188)

No, you need oxygen molecules (O2) which there wont be much of down in the hole..In an inert atmosphere you can boil gasoline safely

You science bastards! (1)

Finni (23475) | more than 13 years ago | (#362189)

They're taking all the rock-hound burly-man drama right out of Armageddon!

Re:Potential Problem (2)

Shotgun (30919) | more than 13 years ago | (#362195)

The laser melts the rock, some of which then cools to form a ceramic pipe (RTFA). You make the the fiber optic cable with a sheath that you pump water through. This clears out extra debris and makes a lubricant to slide the cable through. With a flexible cable, turning a corner is just a matter of pumping more water to one side than the other. This will reduce resistance on the side with more water and make the cable bend in that direction. Talk to some of the guys who use newer equipment to lay fiber optics without digging a trench.

uh, bad idea? (1)

DirkGently (32794) | more than 13 years ago | (#362196)

Did anyone consider that these lasers run HOT, and that the resource they're drilling for is COMBUSTABLE?

D.

Re:Heh, it's a weapon alright... (1)

Whomever (35291) | more than 13 years ago | (#362198)

First one's a tea cup (i.e. flying saucer). Second one's a one "on star" (i.e. a Cadillac). Third's a missile. The rest look like sharks, maybe we should alert PETA.

Re:Danger: Natural Gas? H20 does not combust (2)

mpe (36238) | more than 13 years ago | (#362199)

An good oxygenating source for combustion is free 02, not oxygen bonded strongly to other atoms such as silicon and hydrogen.

Only a comparativly few elements are reactive enough to remove oxygen from compounds such as water. You will never find these in a borehole. Only their stable oxides.

Arrrrggg!!! Fire needs oxygen.

Or an oxidising agent, usually elemental oxygen or an unstable oxygen containing compound (N.B. such compounds are not going to be present in rocks, being unstable they don't last that long) failing that a halogen will do.

Re:Sounds wonderfully fast and cheap, but... (2)

mpe (36238) | more than 13 years ago | (#362200)

This forms SO2 and SO and SO3, the Silicon Oxides, as well as many other noxious gases

Wrong element S is Sulpher. Silicon is Si. Also Silicon oxides are solids, at ordinary temperatures, thats why then tend to form rocks...

Re:Sounds wonderfully fast and cheap, but... (2)

toto (37304) | more than 13 years ago | (#362204)

Er, Silicon dioxide is SiO2, not SO2, and it's not a gas (greenhouse or otherwise), but a solid. You'll see quite a bit of it lying about on beaches.

On Creating Sulfuric Acid (1)

Mith (43921) | more than 13 years ago | (#362206)

I know this might be wrong, but when I see SO2 near a mention of a powerful laser and water I think of the possibility of creating H2SO4, Sulfuric acid. This doesn't make sense, seing that the SO2 is Silicon and the H2SO4 refers to Sulfur.

What am I getting mixed up?

Re:No, nothing will burn - no Oxygen (1)

crm0922 (50203) | more than 13 years ago | (#362209)

No, you need oxygen molecules (O2) which there wont be much of down in the hole..In an inert atmosphere you can boil gasoline safely

Isn't the flash temperature of gasoline higher than its boiling temperature anyways? It evaporates so fast at room temperature, I assume you could boil it at even a lower temperature than water.

Chris

Re:Lake Vostok (2)

omarius (52253) | more than 13 years ago | (#362210)

The laser wouldn't, of course, but how do you keep debris from falling down into the whole you just (somewhat violently) made?

-Omar

Re:spaghetti holes (1)

bpd1069 (57573) | more than 13 years ago | (#362211)

Almost no one drills straight down anyone.
Holes bend outward from a drilling platform, snake
along curved salt interfaces, go horizontal to
maximize the number porous cracks, and so on.
I wonder how easy it is to bend laser holes?

Can you say Mirror?

Re:Heh, it's a weapon alright... (2)

babbage (61057) | more than 13 years ago | (#362213)

Those two other things would appear to be a star ("my god, it's the Death Star -- I didn't think that thing was operational!") and a cup of coffee ("my god, it's the Death Java -- I thought Python was the Javakiller, not this thing -- noooo!")

Tee hee...



Heh, it's a weapon alright... (5)

Feng (63571) | more than 13 years ago | (#362214)

Anyone notice the number of kills painted on the side of the laser in the pic [fas.org] off the page?

Looks like five planes, a missile and two other things I can't make out.

Feng.

Re:Any chance NO WAY! Fire uses OXYGEN silly fool (1)

plague3106 (71849) | more than 13 years ago | (#362215)

I'm not so sure if you're theory is right; i seem to remeber oil wells being lit by Iraq in the Persian Gulf conflict.

Re:Any chance of the laser igniting, oh, (1)

Yo_mama (72429) | more than 13 years ago | (#362216)

I think it would depend on how much Oxygen was in the pocket. Not ever having dealt with mining and drilling before I don't know how pure those pockets would be.
I think the pressure the gas is under might have some bearing as well...

Not A Particularly Useful Application (3)

geomon (78680) | more than 13 years ago | (#362218)

We've been discussing using laser ablation techniques for drilling at the USDOE Hanford Site [hanford.gov] since I arrived here in 1991. The advantages of using a laser over air or mud rotary drilling techniques in highly contaminated source areas makes a lot of sense. The downside is that you have difficulty in keeping the hole open while you advance the laser 'drill'. As has been pointed out, mud (or more precisely, bentonite) is used to carry rock fragments away from the bit face and maintain a constant flow of debris moving up the borehole. With laser ablation, the borehole would be kept open using tubular steel (carbon steel) casing; the casing moving just a couple of feet behind the lasar drill.

Another potential advantage that has been discussed in using laser drilling techniques is the "analysis on the run" that could be conducted while drilling. Because laser vaporizes the formation, and anything it contains (i.e., hazardous contaminants), this drill could be used in front of a gas chromatograph/mass spectroscopy apparatus to analyze the stream of drill waste as the laser advances.

This technique is probably only useful for shallow, high risk drilling operations. The cost of deploying this machine, not to mention maintaining it, are so far off the scale for oil drilling that it is rediculous. No oil company will spend the kind of money it would take to run this drill when conventional drilling techniques have become more cost-efficient, and more precise in directing the borehole.

Megawatt Laser (1)

Steevil (79504) | more than 13 years ago | (#362219)

I might just be being silly here, but what happens when this megawatt laser hits the oil? Does it involve flaming death?

Already Been Done (1)

Tuscahoma (84407) | more than 13 years ago | (#362222)

"Lost In Space" did this already to drill for deutronium fuel. After all, the Jupiter 2 went up in 97'.

Re:Potential Problem (1)

Ioldanach (88584) | more than 13 years ago | (#362227)

You didn't read the article, did you?

Firstly conventional drilling technology employs fixed drill bits, which use water and suction to remove rock debris. This system has no such facility for that.

Of course, if they vaporise the rock or turn it into dust, all they need to do is blow it out the top. Even if is still in a liquid state, they can pipe it out as slurry. They're also looking into if the addition of water for moving the debris out of the way would be a problem for the laser in that it would need to much energy to vaporise.

Also it is very difficult to drill down and then sideways, as is common with current methods. Without this facility, the oil rig or platform is useless once the oil below has been used up

Which is probably why they're sending the photons down in a fiber optic conduit and focusing them as they leave the conduit through a lens array.

Conventional drilling also places a pipe as the bit moves forward, cementing the drill hole. With this system the hole must be "burned" and then a pipe forced down. This process will negate any speed gains in the actual drilling

The article discusses research into the behavior of the rock on melting by the lasers. Apparently, a properly controlled laser can turn the surrounding rock into a high strength ceramic, thus completely eliminating the need to even add a pipe.

3000 seconds? (2)

Ioldanach (88584) | more than 13 years ago | (#362228)

According to the text at the url listed in the posting (M.I.R.A.C.L. [fas.org]), the laser their discussing has demonstrated "Reliable operation demonstrated in more than 150 lasing tests and over 3000 seconds of lase time during the last decade."

This laser has only fired 150 times, for a grand total of 50 minutes over its lifespan, and has a "70 seconds maximum lase duration." I'm pretty sure drilling that far down for oil will take more than 70 seconds, and quite probably a single oil well will take longer to drill for than the entire previous experience of the example laser.

Does anyone get the feeling they're getting a little overexcited? Its one thing to create a megawatt class laser in a warehouse for short duration, mostly experimental use... Its entirely another to create one that can survive a hostile environment such as a desert or sea based drilling platform and operate continuously for days at a time. I'm gonna guess technology to make this successfull is still at least a decade out.

Re:Danger: Natural Gas? (2)

Mononoke (88668) | more than 13 years ago | (#362229)

As someone else has already pointed out, the gas is subterranean and there's no oxygen around to burn the gas. Hence, it doesn't matter what temperature it reaches, it can't burn.

If it's heated above ignition point, it'll start burning the instant it leaks to the surface.

Also, there's quite a bit of subterranean oxygen. Most of it is just temporarily combined with hydrogen. I'm sure the laser does its bit to break some of those bonds along the way.


--

Re:Potential Problem (1)

BobGregg (89162) | more than 13 years ago | (#362230)

Firstly conventional drilling technology employs fixed drill bits, which use water and suction to remove rock debris. This system has no such facility for that.

Everyone knows that beam weapons cause matter to disintegrate and then just disappear. Don't you watch Star Trek?

Fossil fuels aren't inevitable (5)

fhwang (90412) | more than 13 years ago | (#362231)

It looks like we'll be stuck with fossil fuels like oil and natural gas for some time ...

Sure, the new drilling technology is cool, and its engineers are to be commended. But but the tree-hugging lefty in me feels obliged to point out that our reliance on fossil fuels isn't so much an inevitability as it is a political choice we have made.

Take, for example, the recent actions of the German government to encourage wind power [metropolitic.net]. Due to a plan initiated ten years ago, the state of Schleswig-Holstein now generates about 19 percent of electricity from wind, and nationwide the wind industry employs about 15,000 people.

The first way to lose a political argument is to agree with those who say "this is the only way to do it." There's always another way to do it (see also: Perl [perl.org]); very often, there's a better way to do it, too.

Re:Any chance of the laser igniting, oh, (1)

Vanders (110092) | more than 13 years ago | (#362235)

So I wasn't the only one to think of this as soon as I saw the story. Well, it would certainly make a far more interesting video.....

Re:Potential Problem (1)

eellis (112890) | more than 13 years ago | (#362236)

Maybe, but I would think there would be a way to drill at an angle, maybe with some high grade reflective joints. I'm not an optical physicist though
Well I am. Yes, you could use reflective joints (known in the trade as "mirrors") to deflect the beam. You would probably be using them at high angles of incidence, which makes life a lot easier (most things reflect much better the nearer you get to grazing incidence). In fact, you can guarantee that something reflective enough must exist - because that's what they use to make the ends of the laser cavity! You might need some cooling system down there though...

Re:Potential Problem (1)

eellis (112890) | more than 13 years ago | (#362237)

Yes, that's always a problem in laser cavities too. I don't know if there's a simple way to overcome this problem in the hostile environment.

But maybe for tunnels (2)

Animats (122034) | more than 13 years ago | (#362241)

As a means of drilling deep wells, it seems unworkable. Either you have to put the laser down the hole, or you have to have a clear optical path between the laser and the cutting face. Both are tough to do in oil well work.

Tunnels, though, might be more promising. Using this as part of a hard-rock tunnel boring machine might work. Those things are big enough to incorporate a big laser, and they're operated close to the cutting face. Maybe the New York City Water Tunnel #3 [nyc.ny.us] project, underway since the 1970s and scheduled for completion in 2020, could be speeded up.

Re:On Creating Sulfuric Acid (2)

joto (134244) | more than 13 years ago | (#362244)

This doesn't make sense, seing that the SO2 is Silicon and the H2SO4 refers to Sulfur.

This must be the single least insightfull correction I've ever read. At least, when you correct someone, make your correction right... Or do you believe in alchemy?

This is a vital breakthrough (1)

iainl (136759) | more than 13 years ago | (#362246)

With a bore speed of 10 to 100 times that of conventional methods, Bruce Willis could get that hole done and be back in time for breakfast instead of having to spout embarrassing speeches while dying heroically.

This could revolutionise the bad-movie industry!

Re:This is a vital breakthrough - spoiling gits! (1)

iainl (136759) | more than 13 years ago | (#362247)

"damn you! i havnt seen that film yet and now you've ruined it. twats."

Damn, sorry about that. Normally I'm pretty careful on this stuff, but since that bit doesn't really affect the enjoyment of the film (its quality cheese you just hang on for the ride with), and it was such a huge thing at the time (I guess I better not make jokes about Empire Strikes Back either) I din't think someone might be spoiled.

Of course, if you're just being ironic then I guess I've fallen for it.

Re:Heh, it's a weapon alright... (1)

iainl (136759) | more than 13 years ago | (#362248)

"The rest look like sharks, maybe we should alert PETA"

No, there's already a world shortage of sharks with frickin' laser beams, you don't want to stop development of any more...

Re:What about the mud? (1)

iainl (136759) | more than 13 years ago | (#362249)

While this post is getting modded up as interesting, the description of boats in low-density gas permeated water is exactly how current theories describe why things go missing in the Bermuda Triangle.

See, you were right when you thought all that Bermuda Triangle stuff smelt funny ;)

Re:Lake Vostok (1)

kirkb (158552) | more than 13 years ago | (#362251)

Don't you remember? "All these worlds are yours--except EUROPA. Attempt no landings there."

Re:Potential Problem (1)

GeoNerd (166345) | more than 13 years ago | (#362252)

Actually, it's worse than that.

Production of hydrocarbons depends on either the porosity of the rock or fractures within it.

By 'drilling' with a laser (really burning), the high temps instantly seal the sides of the borehole, negating any porosity and sealing any fractures in the immediate vicinity. One could figure out how far out the sealing would go from the well knowing the heat dissapation of the laser at the bottom/sides of the well and the rock type.

You can 'frac' the rock subsequently, and still produce oil/gas, but almost certainly not at the efficiency of a well drilled conventionally.

Bottom line is, for a number of reasons, this isn't going to replace conventional drilling in the near or far future. It's basically an attempt to find *some* use for all of that money poured into laser physics by the Star Wars programs of the '80's. This one just doesn't happen to be very good.

The technique has some merit for other types of drilling. Tunneling, scientific exploration, and others come to mind immediately.

Re:Danger: Natural Gas? (1)

billanderson71 (176280) | more than 13 years ago | (#362254)

There seem to be a number of problems with using this to drill for oil and gas, but combustion probably isn't a problem, since there is no oxygen.

There are two other potential problems that I see. The first is the high pressure underground. Oil companies typically use drilling mud which, in addition to cooling the bit and removing the cuttings, is weighted with additives (barite??) to increase the density. The density is controlled so that the hydrostatic pressure is higher than the pressure in the gas/oil reservoirs. This prevents blowouts, where the oil gushes to the surface (the gushers in the old movies) Oil companies hate this, because in addition to the problem of fires, you are wasteing the gas pressure that could be used to help produce additional oil. The laser process will have to supply the high pressure in some manner.

A second problem is damaging the well. Oil and gas are typically contained in sedimentary rock (NOT a liquid reservoir). In terms of flow properties, think of a massive brick saturated with oil - this is roughly what you are trying to produce oil from. Since the flow is radial to the well, damage right around the hole is the worst in terms of damaging the well. While its true that you can fracture the well to improve the production, this adds significant expense. (need to inject large quantities of liquid at high pressure to fracture the rock, as well as proppant (sand) to keep the fractures from closing back down).

Re:Some possible uses (1)

billanderson71 (176280) | more than 13 years ago | (#362255)

Its not actually a problem with drilling through "hard rock", the formations are sedimentary, and many can be crumbled in your hand.

Drilling at an angle is desirable because you want to minimize the number of offshore platforms you require. You want a large number of equally spaced wells in the formation, however, A typical platform costs several billion dollars. With current technology, you start all of the wells under the platform, then angle them out to get good coverage in the oil formation.

Re:Deep ocean rigs? (1)

nagora (177841) | more than 13 years ago | (#362256)

I'm not an engineer either but I have done some geology and I know that deep sea rigs use flexible bores, and many visible rigs on the surface are actually drilling miles away across the sea bed, and in multiple places at the same time.

TWW

Danger: Natural Gas? (2)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 13 years ago | (#362258)

Many Oil Pockets have natural gas at the top. The Laser Drill will melt rock down to open the pocket. Ordinary drills use "drilling mud" to lubricate the bit and to help pull out the debris.

I don't know about you, but I see some danger of an explosion when you have a laser strong enough to melt rock opening up a pocket of natural gas.

Maybe I haven't had enough caffiene this morning, but it seems like a potential problem to me.

Re:Any chance NO WAY! Fire uses OXYGEN silly fool (1)

0tim0 (181143) | more than 13 years ago | (#362259)

Easy, Mr. Wizard. I'm no expert on oil drilling, but what I've seen (from watching Beverly Hillbillies (sp?)) is that oil often has significant head built up so that once there is a path drilled to the oil (gas, whatever) it shoots out of the ground with tremendous force. Once it's out of the ground, there is plenty of oxygen to burn it. (This is what Saddam did.)

Anyway, I'm sure this isn't a problem for them, but it's still funny as hell. So lighten up.

--t

Re:Potential Problem (1)

aTMsA (188604) | more than 13 years ago | (#362260)

Correct me if i'm wrong, but what if the vaporized debris or some piece of rock or whatever stick to the mirror? that would render it non-reflective and then it would burn up very fast; Maybe there is a way to keep it clean, i don't know, someone enlighten me!

More details on MIRACL (5)

Vireo (190514) | more than 13 years ago | (#362262)

MIRACL stands for Middle Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser. As its name implies, it is indeed a chemical laser, that is, one that gets the lasing medium excited with a chemical reaction instead of a more conventional current source or flash lamp. The structure of MIRACL is really one of a reactor, with the starting material being C2H4 (ethylene), NF3 and helium. This mixture is burnt to provide free fluorine atoms that reacts with injected deuterium molecules further down the stream. This reaction is really violent, so that the laser is in a perpetual explosion state. Vibrationnally excited deuterium-fluorine molecules in the produced supersonic flow thus constitutes the lasing medium. So you now have to put mirrors and windows inside this reactor to get your laser. One of my profs said once "I don't understand why they use chemical lasers as lasers; they would be much more efficient as bombs".

Main source: Lasers and Electro-Optics, Davis, Cambridge Editor.

Very neat stuff, but... (1)

billcopc (196330) | more than 13 years ago | (#362264)

Having read the article, I still feel it's a little foolish to fire a big fat laser near combustibles. Since they're drilling for oil, wouldn't it be a Bad Thing for the laser to actually heat up the underground oil and ignite it ? This seems so obvious that they must have considered it in the laser design, but the risk is still there and I wouldn't want to see the chaos effect caused by igniting an underground oil patch.. the gas pressure would probably fsck up the landscape pretty quickly and nastily. Of course my high school physics and chemistry classes aren't exactly fresh in my mind anymore.

Don't hold your breath. (1)

jstott (212041) | more than 13 years ago | (#362265)

According to the send web-page, the laser has accumulated a total of 3000 seconds of active use since it was constructed in 1980. 50 hours uptime in 20 years? Even Microsoft does better than that!

-JS

Re:Any chance of the laser igniting, oh, (1)

rob lihou (215072) | more than 13 years ago | (#362266)

Using a laser to drill for flammable liquids and gases, seems a bit too much like using a match to find the gas leak.

Re:Heh, it's a weapon alright... (1)

BlowCat (216402) | more than 13 years ago | (#362267)

two other things I can't make out.
It were a Soviet spy and a Soviet general.

Re:Ummm...is this smart? (2)

Alioth (221270) | more than 13 years ago | (#362269)

There also has to be oxygen present. If there is insufficient oxygen, they won't burn.

For example, a full tank of jet-fuel in an aircraft is pretty much non-flammable. The tank contains liquid Jet-A and Jet-A vapour, but not a lot of oxygen. The mixture is far too rich to burn. A spark in that situation would just...spark.

However, a fuel tank containing very little fuel, but having plenty of oxygen (or other oxidiser) is basically a bomb. A spark in that situation (as is the probable cause with TWA-800) will cause a powerful explosion, even though there's only a tiny fraction of fuel compared to the tank when it's full.

A stochiometric mixture burns most vigorously. That's what you try and obtain in your car's combustion chambers. Stochiometric means the fuel/oxidiser ratio is just right such that the available fuel matches the amount of available oxygen.

Forget our current 50-year fossil fuel limit... (1)

AFCArchvile (221494) | more than 13 years ago | (#362270)

...now we can burn through that 10 to 100 times faster!

If some company makes an engine powered by water, we will be saved. Otherwise, we're all screwd.

Goldfinger (1)

morie (227571) | more than 13 years ago | (#362272)

To create an equilibrium, I am sure Goldfinger will attacj James Bond with some old-fashioned mining equipment next.

Robust Lasers? (1)

Socrates_of_WS (230490) | more than 13 years ago | (#362273)

Forget explosions, think about the massive changesof feet below the surface. Any downhole laser drilling system is going to have to be able to take some serious abuse. They don't call them "kicks" for nothing. The article doesn't even touch on this issue.

Re:Potential Problem (4)

bmongar (230600) | more than 13 years ago | (#362274)

Firstly conventional drilling technology employs fixed drill bits, which use water and suction to remove rock debris. This system has no such facility for that

Why not? I see no reason that they can't run pipes down as they drill to evacuate gasses and dust as the rock is vaporized

Also it is very difficult to drill down and then sideways, as is common with current methods. Without this facility, the oil rig or platform is useless once the oil below has been used up

Maybe, but I would think there would be a way to drill at an angle, maybe with some high grade reflective joints. I'm not an optical physicist though

Conventional drilling also places a pipe as the bit moves forward, cementing the drill hole. With this system the hole must be "burned" and then a pipe forced down. This process will negate any speed gains in the actual drilling

Once again there is no reason the pipes can't be pushed through the hole as you go, keeping the speed gains

Re:Lake Vostok (1)

Bug2000 (235500) | more than 13 years ago | (#362275)

Actually, following your idea, that would be a very clean way to drill the surface of planets in the quest for water. Think of Mars... Think of Europe, one of Jupiter's moons which is supposed to hide an ocean which could be warmed by the effects of Jupiter's gravity on the satellite and which could hide life. If they can make a powerful yet small source of energy to feed the laser though...

Digging with slashdot (i.e. mirrors, anyone?) (1)

ishark (245915) | more than 13 years ago | (#362278)

Geez people, if we could point an URL underground it would be enough to post it on slashdot to dig a hole so deep you'd see the sky of the opposite hemisphere....

Anyone mirrored the www.gri.org/laser link? It's not that it crawls, just getting the HTML is near-impossible, all images are broken (it also complains about my browser)...no way I can get to the "cool video clip"....

Thanks (and think of all the karma you'll get posting a mirror! :)

Lake Vostok (2)

Foss (248146) | more than 13 years ago | (#362279)

Wouldn't this be the ideal drill to use for getting into Lake Vostok? Scientists have been looking for a way to get into the underground lake without polluting it for a few years now. Surely a laser wouldn't pollute the lake at all.

They could drill to within a few centimeters of the lake and then send down a probe. The probe could disinfect itself at the bottom of the hole before bashing through the rest of the rock to get into the lake, take samples and do tests.

Re:Any chance NO WAY! Fire uses OXYGEN silly fool (1)

Choco-man (256940) | more than 13 years ago | (#362281)

actually, i do have a degree in chemistry. if you are a student of the sciences, you should realize that a -huge- portion of the earths oxygen is bound in minerals. what do you think will happen to that oxygen when the minerals are vaporized? as a student of natural sciences, you should also realize what happens when a gas under pressure suddenly finds itself vented. it's going to come out. after it rushes out, there will be a vacuum created, and guess what will rush in? and if we're talking lasers capable of vaporizing metals, you no longer are speaking of simple combustion, but you enter into plasma theory. who different ballgame than dropping a match down a water well, my friend.

and of course carbon can burn underground. i leave 100 miles from a town where there's been an underground coal fire for the last 50 years. we -can't- figure out a way to extinguish it. look up centralia.

The slashdot effect (1)

GruffDavies (257448) | more than 13 years ago | (#362283)

Grrr. It's impossible to see the video of this in action because within seconds of the post going up it got ./'ed.

Anyway, I'm sure that a better use of Megawatt lasers is in nuclear fusion which promises a much cleaner source of energy than oil.

Re:Danger: Natural Gas? (1)

GruffDavies (257448) | more than 13 years ago | (#362284)

No. As someone else has already pointed out, the gas is subterranean and there's no oxygen around to burn the gas. Hence, it doesn't matter what temperature it reaches, it can't burn.

Re:Lake Vostok (2)

eXtro (258933) | more than 13 years ago | (#362285)

They need to have a hole that seals up behind itself in combination with a sterile drilling rig. The laser would be sterile but I'm not sure if it could seal up as well. You don't want surface contamination leaking through the hole and contaminating the lake.

The hole is probably the easy part, the hard part is introducing measurement devices without contamination.

way off topic but for Derek (1)

onepoint (301486) | more than 13 years ago | (#362288)

-- perl -e 'print pack"H*","64706f6d657279406375632e6564750a68747470 3a2f2f7777772e63732e6375632e6564752f7e 64706f6d6572790a"' Good luck, spam bots!

I have been wondering for a month what this command does, If you don't mind could you fill me in ?

ONEPOINT



spambait e-mail
my web site artistcorner.tv hip-hop news
please help me make it better

Deep ocean rigs? (1)

Caid Raspa (304283) | more than 13 years ago | (#362289)

Disclaimer: I'm not an engineer.

This souds very good for drilling at sea. They can just throw the laser overboard (with some cables for I/O and electricity). Now they have to use stiff metal bores. How do waves and storms affect the metal bores used today? I imagine a storm could move the rig dozens of meters to the side, bending the bore. The tubes used to get the oil/gas back up are propable more flexible. So, to me it seems that this allows oil drilling at deep sea. The source of energy for the laser might be a problem, but I'm not sure of this. I couldn't find anything about how much maintenance this laser bore needs, so that is another potential problem.

However, I would like to hear some opinions from engineers.

Re:Deep ocean rigs? (1)

Caid Raspa (304283) | more than 13 years ago | (#362290)

I was not thinking about drilling through the water. The idea is to put the laser to the spot where you are drilling. In this case, that would mean the bottom, not surface. So, this problem is solved by living under the sea.

I think the water vapour created when drilling the surface layers would be a larger problem.

Re:Any chance NO WAY! Fire uses OXYGEN silly fool (1)

Bobo the Space Chimp (304349) | more than 13 years ago | (#362291)

I wonder if there were ever any that had a negative pressure, such that when drilling went through, workers were immediately sucked down the tube.

Kind of like those ice waterfall climbers who break through to the water inside and get pulled into the waterfall inside the ice column.

Re:Heh, it's a weapon alright... (1)

banuaba (308937) | more than 13 years ago | (#362292)

It looks like a star with the numeral '1' in the middle, and above that is a top hat with '1', '2' and '3' arrayed around it, starting from quad IV and proceeding clockwise.


Brant

Re:Sounds wonderfully fast and cheap, but... (1)

techman2 (312067) | more than 13 years ago | (#362293)

There is always some form of pitfall whenever a technology is discovered that will allow something to be achieved more easily.
As the rule states:
For every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction.
i.e every time we find something that will complete a task 10x faster, we screw the environment over 10x more.

As long as it doesn't fall into the wrong hands... (1)

tb3 (313150) | more than 13 years ago | (#362294)

Has anyone told Dr. Evil yet?
-----------------

Re:This is a vital breakthrough (1)

tb3 (313150) | more than 13 years ago | (#362295)

But the best part of the movie was Bruce getting blown to kingdom come!
-----------------

Re:Any chance of the laser igniting, oh, (1)

tb3 (313150) | more than 13 years ago | (#362296)

I'd say you've got a better chance of the laser itself going up. Did you read how the thing works? like a rocket engine! The fuel is ethylene and the oxidizer is nitrogen trifluoride. I'm not getting within ten miles of that thing!
-----------------

Laser Drilling Tech (1)

jayhole (314082) | more than 13 years ago | (#362298)

Enough already with the statements about Global Warming - the science is unproven and politically charged. Before we keep repeating it to ourselves over and over, lets be sure that the science is sound. The so called scientific reports from the IPCC are not peer reviewed and are unreliable. In the meantime - keep drilling for the black stuff!

Re:Deep ocean rigs? (1)

whanau (315267) | more than 13 years ago | (#362299)

No its rubbish for drilling at sea
The water deflects the laser Modern oil rigs are either permanently attached to the sea bed or float, with the drill bits connected to the sea bed. To pump the oil, the rig sends down another pipe to meet with the sea bed connection. Gyroscopes keep the thing stable

Potential Problem (2)

whanau (315267) | more than 13 years ago | (#362300)

This system seems cool, but there is a number of catches

Firstly conventional drilling technology employs fixed drill bits, which use water and suction to remove rock debris. This system has no such facility for that.

Also it is very difficult to drill down and then sideways, as is common with current methods. Without this facility, the oil rig or platform is useless once the oil below has been used up

Conventional drilling also places a pipe as the bit moves forward, cementing the drill hole. With this system the hole must be "burned" and then a pipe forced down. This process will negate any speed gains in the actual drilling

Explosions? (1)

xXunderdogXx (315464) | more than 13 years ago | (#362301)

I don't understand how the intense heat created by the lasers wouldn't just ignite the oil as soon as the hole hit a deposit? Yes, get your popcorn but make sure you bring sunglasses

Re:Potential Problem (1)

The Real Andrew (321273) | more than 13 years ago | (#362303)

Conventional drilling also places a pipe as the bit moves forward, cementing the drill hole. With this system the hole must be "burned" and then a pipe forced down. This process will negate any speed gains in the actual drilling

As I understand the article they won't be using pipes, the fused rock itself will be acting as the pipe. This is where the speed saving will come in, they won't be wasting time stopping and shoving new bits of steel down the hole.

Andrew

Ummm...is this smart? (1)

spiffytiffany (325931) | more than 13 years ago | (#362310)

Is "laser + (gas | oil)" really a good idea? Don't fossil fuels have a tendency to blow up and stuff when they get hot (thus making them valuable)?

Still, the movie was pretty cool!

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