When it comes to accessing new oil and gas supplies with tricone drilling, companies will sometimes get a chilly reception. But ironically, one of the coldest places on earth may be a hotbed of tricone activity in the years ahead.
While tricone drilling seems to offer infinite possibilities for securing vital resources, it cannot escape one simple truth: Resources – even those that are so efficiently gathered through tricone use – are finite. As a result, many oil and gas reserves around the world are declining significantly after decades of drilling.
So it should come as no surprise that a number of countries are warming to the idea of tricone drilling in the Arctic. With 13 percent of the planet's untapped oil deposits and 30 percent of natural gas reserves located above the Arctic Circle, it's a tempting target for oil dependent nations and their future tricone projects. Russia, Canada, the United States, Norway, Iceland and Denmark have all given their energy companies a not so subtle nudge to explore tricone drilling possibilities in the region.
If tricone drilling in the Arctic was easy, anyone could do it, and the countries targeting this area would be well on their way to extracting the treasure; but there are reasons that extensive tricone drilling hasn't happened yet. In winter, much of the area is covered by sea ice and there is the constant threat of severe storms, making tricone work challenging at best and hazardous at the worst of times. Of course, should drilling activity one day proceed on a large scale, tricone bits will prove invaluable, as their durability and quality give them the best chance of withstanding the harsh northern conditions.
This is one instance where global warming could actually be beneficial. In summer and fall, it will often reduce the amount of sea ice and facilitate extensive tricone drilling. What's the catch? The same phenomenon that minimizes sea ice may also lead to difficult weather conditions and other dangers, inhibiting that same tricone activity.
As is often the case, some of the most imposing obstacles to successful tricone efforts up north may come not from weather or geography, but from people. Fearing threats to wildlife and contamination of local waters, environmentalists and indigenous communities have filed lawsuits to prevent tricone drilling unless and until a satisfactory solution is found.
And in many ways, those who are pushing hardest for tricone projects in the Arctic may be their own worst enemies. A number of the boundary lines in the region have not yet been fully set or identified. As a result, several countries are laying claim to the area and the riches available through tricone drilling, going so far as to threaten military action should one of their rivals impinge on "their" territory.
A graphic illustration of the challenges inherent in Arctic tricone work is the experience of Shell, which has yet to drill a productive well with a tricone or anything else, in spite of spending billions of dollars on their efforts. Their experience has raised fears that a major spill following tricone drilling could be highly destructive, due in part to the ice floes and sea ice that might interfere with cleanup efforts.
Of course, nothing worth having comes easily, and the vast reserves of oil and gas that await tricone drilling in the Arctic are no exception. But it's a tribute to the industry's high regard for tricone bits that, if and when the puzzle of how to access the Arctic is solved, the tricone will surely be the centerpiece.