WorldWide Drilling Resource

43 SEPTEMBER 2022 WorldWide Drilling Resource® History of Fishing Tools in the Gas and Oil Industry Adapted from Information by the American Oil & Gas Historical Society From the oil industry’s earliest days, drilling stopped when a tool became stuck downhole. The challenge of retrieving broken and often expensive equipment obstructing a well is known as fishing and it has been tormenting gas and oil exploration companies since the first tool stuck irretrievably at 134 feet deep and ruined a Pennsylvania well. Just four days after the first U.S. oil discovery by Edwin L. Drake in Pennsylvania in 1859, a far less known drill operator, John Livingston Grandin, began drilling America’s second oil well using a simple spring pole - but soon his iron chisel became stuck downhole. Although the 22-year-old improvised his own well fishing tools, he still managed to lose his drill bit. The term fishing came from early percussion drilling using cable tools. When the derrick’s rope or wireline rope broke, a crewman lowered a hook and attempted to pull out the well’s heavy iron bit. As drill operators gained experience with deeper wells, patent applications included hundreds of designs for catching some tool or part that had been broken or lost in the borehole. Basic fishing tools included the spear and socket, each with milled edges. Using nails and wax, an impression block helped determine what was stuck downhole. These and other devices, when used with an auger stem in various combinations called jars, secured a powerful upward stroke or jar, and dislodged the tool being sought. By the early 1900s, rotary drilling introduced the hollow drill stem which allowed broken rock debris to be washed out of the borehole. Most rotary fishing jobs were caused by twist offs (broken drill pipe), broken bits, drill coupling, or tool joints. As in cable tool fishing, an impression block was often needed to determine the proper fishing tool. Even back then, and especially now with wells miles deep and often turned horizontally, when a downhole problem occurred, the well could be lost for good. Spudded in November 1972, in western Oklahoma, and averaging about 60 feet per day, the Bertha Rogers borehole was heading for the history books as the world’s deepest well. In March 1974, after 16 months of drilling and nearly six miles deep, the Bertha Rogers No. 1 rotary rig drill stem sheared, leaving more than 4100 feet of pipe and the drill bit stuck downhole. The enormous investment of Lone Star Producing Company, and partner GHK Company of Oklahoma City, was about to be lost. Desperate, company executives decided to call a Houston fishing company. As millions of dollars hung in the balance, Houston-based Wilson Downhole Service Company was called, and fishing expert Mack Ponder was sent to the rescue. Utilizing the latest technology for the 1970s, Ponder was able to retrieve the pipe sections and drill bit from 30,019 feet down, bringing operations back online and enabling drilling to continue even deeper into Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin. Although the remarkable fishing achievement was celebrated, the Bertha Rogers No. 1 had to be completed at just 14,000 feet after striking molten sulfur at 31,441 feet. The well set a world record at the time and remains one of the deepest ever drilled. According to the U.S. Labor Department, an Oil Well Fishing Tool Technician (Occupational Title 930.261-010) analyzes conditions of unserviceable gas or oil wells and directs use of special well fishing tools and techniques to recover lost equipment and other obstacles from boreholes of wells. They are also responsible for planning the fishing methods and tools, while directing the drilling crew in applying weights to drill pipes, using special tools, applying pressure to circulating fluid (mud), and drilling around lodged obstacles or specified earth formations, using whipstocks and other special tools. Today’s drilling professionals have a wide range of fishing tools to choose from. Photo courtesy of Hole Products. G&O