why aren’t there oil gushers anymore?


You hear about people that hit “gushers” back in the day. Do we not hear about them now or is it no longer a thing that happens?

In: 38

Nobody suddenly strikes oil anymore, based off of geological surveys, scans and core samples we know where it is now.

It is no longer a thing that happens, because all of the oil deposits under enough pressure to gush out when tapped, have been tapped. Nowadays oil is harder to find and has to be found other ways, even scanning for rock (shale) that you wouldn’t think contained oil if you saw it or held a piece in your hand, but oil can still be extracted from it.

Oil is a finite resource. It won’t last forever. The “peak oil” point, at which oil production is at its peak and we start running out, is projected to happen sometime before 2040. Wikipedia has an article on this topic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_oil

Typical “gushers” happen when the drill punctures a pocket of oil and gas in an uncontrolled or unexpected fashion. Today, things are much more measured and controlled, and drilling mud is fine-tuned to provide pressure control in the well shaft so that the well doesn’t “gush” (as much, anyway) when the drill punches through the last bit of rock into the reservoir.

This is of course vastly more complicated than my one-paragraph summary, but this is ELI5, after all.

Despite what people are saying, as long as the oil is paired with enough natural gas pressure, it’ll still come shooting out. That’s what an oil well blowout is. It’s dangerous and methods today control the pressure rather than just letting it buck and throw the oil you want to sell all over the place.

After the well loses natural pressure, that’s when you throw a pump jack on it to draw the rest of the oil and condensate up.

Gushers, aka [blowouts](https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blowout_(well_drilling)), are very dangerous. They can throw the drilling rods out of the well with tremendous force, and all it takes is a spark to turn a gusher into a fireball. They’re also an environmental disaster and a waste of valuable oil. So modern wells have a variety of mechanisms to prevent them.

A modern oil well is usually filled with drilling fluid, a muddy mix of water and clay minerals. Blowouts can happen when oil and gas enter the well: since they’re lighter than the drilling fluid they lower the pressure (a ”kick”), allowing more oil and gas to enter. If the pressure gets low enough that the gas can form bubbles, then you’re in real trouble.

So modern oil wells’ first line of defense is to carefully monitor the drilling fluid, and add dense material like clay to it to make sure it’s always heavy enough to hold back the oil and gas.

But if something goes wrong, the [blowout preventer](https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blowout_preventer) kicks in. Its job is to stop gushers. It usually has a ring seal that can grab onto the drill rod and seal the well until workers can regain control by the methods above, but if that doesn’t work it also has hydraulic ram valves that can seal the well completely, even shearing through the drill rod if necessary.

So yeah, the days of the gusher are over thanks to technological advances. They only happen today when multiple failsafes fail, and when that happens it’s considered a [major disaster](https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon).