By Wreford Momanyi

Many may think that drilling in Kenya begun recently with the 'advent' of the Turkana oil, but drilling has been with us for over two decades. As other parts of the world may think of drilling/ petroleum engineering to be a rather old profession, in Kenya this is a career that is gaining popularity among young students looking for career paths. Its popularity arises from the data from various sites ranking petroleum engineering as among the most rewarding professions. Evens as universities rush to quench this demand, will the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) approve this? What does this field entail? What are its job prospects? Drilling refers to excavation/ digging the earth in search of naturally occurring products like geothermal steam, oil, gas and other minerals.

Drilling is a rather expensive and probabilistic operation. Before drilling, research and surveys are done concerning the mineral. For instance in drilling of steam, geo-physicists and geo-chemists carry out tests on the rocks from different sites until they find a location where they predict there might be steam. These predictions ought to have a high degree of accuracy and precision since this is a rather expensive operation. For instance, the average cost of drilling one geothermal well is about KSh.500M and any errors may results in huge loses for companies and the government.

After locating the reservoir, engineers and geologists determine the most appropriate drilling site and the methodology of drilling. Before drilling begins, engineers consider:

i) The direction of reservoir from the drilling ground- so as to determine whether the well should be vertical (straight into the ground) or directional (curved towards a certain direction).

ii) Depth of the well- Wells vary in depth depending on the location of the mineral reservoir. This assist in choosing appropriate machines and in budgeting.

iii) Rock profile- assists in choice of equipment and direction of well.

After-which, rigging begins. Rig is the structure that supports drilling machinery found on a drilling site. When drilling casings are inserted and cemented to provide support of the well. Equipment used in drilling include: drill bit, top-drive, draw-works, rotary table etc and the driller controls and monitors the progress at the driller's console situated in the rig. On average a geothermal well of about 3 km depth takes about 35 days to complete its drilling.


Geo-physicists and geo-chemists
Surveyors carry out leveling of the ground before drilling teams begin operations

Electrical engineers and technicians are on high demand since reliable power is required. Electrical engineers service motors of pumps and those used in drilling used in drilling, trouble shoot controllers and PLCs for precise drilling (especially for directional wells), service generators and all circuits at the rig.

Mechanical engineers and technicians maintain compressor, pumps, drill bits and casing.

Civil engineers and technicians are responsible for cementing of casing as drilling continues so as to avoid collapsing of the well.

Drilling Engineers
- Drilling engineers are responsible for:
- Design of the drilling
- engineers analyze and determine the optimal way to arrive at the reservoir for instance in drilling directional wells. - Deign of casing strings and cementing plans.
- Specifying equipment, material and ratings to be used.
- Provide technical support and monitoring during the drilling process
- Perform cost estimates and analysis. Advice on the safety of staff.

Logistics Engineer
Rigs shift at the end of drilling process to another site. Shifting with these heavy end expensive equipment is rather tedious. Thus a logistics engineer is required to:
- Schedule the procedure of rigging down and rigging up.
- Determine the cost of shifting.
- Ensure there are minimal loses during
- Ensure every material is available at the end of the rig shift to enable fresh drilling to begin.

In Kenya there are prospects for more opportunities in this field due to the government's commitment to explore more sources of energy. Currently explorations are on-going in Turkana Ngamia 3 by Tullow Oil Co. mining of coal is also set to begin in areas of Kitui and more geothermal wells in Olkaria, Naivasha and Menengai in Nakuru. Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) and Geothermal Development Company (GDC) are responsible for drilling geothermal wells although there are also other private and international companies that carry out the same operation.

More wells continue to be drilled as KenGEN plans to construct Olkaria V and VI. Starting salaries for drilling engineers is projected to be relatively high (above Ksh.100,000) due to the skills and expertise required, long working hours per day, hardship and risks involved in the job.