No. 1, 2011
Ph. D. (History), Member, Russian Academy of Natural Sciences
THE TURBODRILL OF ENGINEER KAPELYUSHNIKOV
The history of turbodrilling began with a Russian engineer’s invention
the technical breakthroughs in the world oil industry in the 1920s, a special
place is held by the invention in 1922 of the reduction-geared, single-stage
downhole turbodrill motor by the Russian engineer Matvey Kapelyushnikov, which
opened the way for the subsequent mass introduction of turbodrilling in the
The drumbeat rhythm of the first
rapid implementation of the government program for the technical reequipping of
oil industry yielded its first visible results as early as the mid-1920s. In
drilling technology, the rod-tool percussion method had been replaced by the
more productive technique of rotary drilling. By 1928-29, rotary drilling had
become the undisputed champion of the domestic oil industry, finding 86.7%
application in Baku and 73.2% in Grozny. Changes in
drilling technology led to a more than tenfold increase in the speed of
drilling. The production cost of drilling had come down as well. In the
"American" method of reinforcing wells, fewer casing pipes were used than in
the old percussion method. Well design was made considerably lighter, the
initial diameter was now smaller, and the number of pipe strings was reduced.
the American experience was being assimilated on Soviet oil fields, however,
tests had already begun of a new method for drilling wells that was destined to
mark the opening of a new era in the development of the oil industry. Credit
for this achievement goes to the talented Russian engineer Matvey
Kapelyushnikov (1886-1959). In 1914, he graduated from the mechanical
department of Tomsk Technological Institute and then worked as a designer at
the Baku Society of Russian Oilmen. In May of 1920, he was appointed chief
engineer at one of Baku's
the beginning he appreciated the rotary drill that had replaced the archaic
rod-tool percussion method on the oil fields of the Apsheron Peninsula.
Yet he quickly put his finger on a major shortcoming and substantial problem of
this method. In rotary drilling, the rotor motor that rotates the drilling
column with a bit at the end is located on the surface. If the length of the
drilling column is considerable, all of its weight has to be rotated just to
transmit the rotary motion to the little bit boring through the rock at a great
depth. The upshot is that only a small amount of the expended energy of
rotation goes toward useful work, and a great deal of it is wasted uselessly.
The pipes themselves rotate, their external walls abrade on the rock of the
well's walls, and the internal walls of the pipes are scoured by the sand that
is always present in the clayey drilling fluid. The drilling pipes therefore
wear out quickly; they break and buckle, and require repeated replacement.
began to think about how it might become possible to escape from this
technological dead end. His thorough knowledge of the scientific and technical
literature pointed him in the right direction: he had to construct a reliable,
high-performance downhole motor.
On the road to success
intense efforts produced their long-awaited result in 1922: the problem of
creating a workable downhole motor - a reduction-geared turbodrill - had been
solved for the first time in world engineering. On September 26, 1922, he
applied to Moscow
to patent his invention.
first test model of Kapelyushnikov's turbodrill weighed around one metric ton.
The motor, a single-cycle turbine powered by drilling fluid pumped in through
cavities in the drilling pipe, was placed inside a cylindrical housing. The
turbine was connected to the bit by a reduction gear used to lower the number
of the bit's revolutions.
the summer of 1923, the first turbodrill prototype tests were held on the
water, from the dock of the former Baku Petroleum Society. The turbodrill was
then tested at one of the wells of the Surakhany oil field. The next year, the
first well in the world with a depth of around 600 meters was drilled
with Kapelyushnikov's turbodrill on the Surakhany oil field.
principle, the test of Kapelyushnikov's downhole motor model confirmed its
workability. The advantages of the turbodrill were immediately obvious to oil
engineers: during drilling, only the bit rotated. The heavy column of pipes did
not rotate, and moved along the walls of the well only as it grew deeper. It
turned out that it was considerably easier to bore to a great depth with the
turbodrill, since there was no friction between the pipes and the walls of the
well, and there were far fewer pipe accidents than in standard rotary drilling.
the support of Azerbaijan's
Party leader Sergey Kirov, a large order for the manufacture of a consignment
of turbodrills was placed at the Maltsev Machine Plant. The turbodrills were
produced in four standard sizes, from 4 ¾ inches to 11 inches, based on the
outer diameter of the housing.
the same time, tests showed that the clear advantages of Kapelyushnikov's turbodrill over rotary drilling were dramatically
reduced, since the turbodrill's efficient operation was limited to only a few
hours, while the average commercial speed of turbine drilling lagged behind
that of rotary drilling under identical conditions. The weakest links in the
turbodrill's original design were the turbine and the reduction gear. The
turbine could operate for only a few hours, since the working parts of the
reduction gear were worn badly by the great unit pressure and the drilling
fluid entering the motor's gear casing, requiring that they be replaced more
A special design bureau for turbine
drilling, headed by Kapelyushnikov, was set up at the Azneft Trust. Its
technicians worked enthusiastically to perfect the turbodrill's design. The
reactive turbine was soon replaced with an active one, a planetary multi-stage
reduction gear substituted for the earlier system, and the sealing and support
elements were improved.
turbodrill replaces the American system
The notice that a patent had been issued in
the name of Engineer Matvey Kapelyushnikov was published in the central Soviet
press on August 31, 1925, where it was noted that his patent would be
considered valid for a period of 15 years, starting from September 15, 1924.
It is interesting that as early as October
1923, Kapelyushnikov filed for a patent in Great Britain. His application was
approved by the British patent office.
The invention of a turbodrill in the Soviet Union soon attracted the attention of the American
engineering community. In 1928, the American journal Petroleum requested that
Kapelyushnikov send them a description of his invention and invited him to
deliver a report on the turbodrill at the World Exhibition of Oil Industry
Equipment in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1929.
At the same time, the huge oil companies
Standard Oil of New York and Texaco, Inc. submitted a request to the directors
of AMTORG to demonstrate on American oil fields how wells were bored with the
The Soviet government agreed to their
request and a Soviet drilling team, led by Kapelyushnikov himself, was sent to
the United States
with two reduction-geared turbodrills.
In the United
States, Kapelyushnikov presented several reports on the
operating principles of his turbodrill, and a demonstration of drilling with
one of the downhole motors they had brought with them was given in Earlsborough, Texas,
on a field of the Texas Oil Co.
As further demonstrations were held in the United States
over the course of almost two years, the Soviet team successfully passed the
difficult examination conducted by experienced and demanding American drilling
road to a new turbodrill
The results from the two years of the
Kapelyushnikov team's work at American oil fields generally made a huge
impression on the world's business and engineering communities. A number of
foreign firms in countries other than the United States applied to the Soviet
trade representatives (and directly to Kapelyushnikov himself) with offers to
buy either the invention or the license to it. The Soviet government, however,
preferred to make independent efforts to perfect the turbodrill, insisting on
its right as the exclusive user. This arbitrary decision, however, was hardly
justified, since in those years there were no rolling drill bits in the Soviet Union; neither were there any powerful pumps, or
the means for treating the clayey drilling fluid. Under conditions like these,
the introduction of turbine drilling, which over the next nine years was
persistently enforced under the personal direction of Sergey Kirov, the Party
leader of Azerbaijan,
still could yield no quick and desireable results.
The turbodrill was first used at the Grozny oil fields in 1928, in the New Region
sector. In its production and financial plan for 1928/29, the Grozneft trust
noted: "in the 1927/28 operating year, 18,478.6 meters
were drilled by the rotary method in Novogroznensk region. Of these, 483.7 were
bored with turbine drilling."
If the share of turbine drilling in 1927
was as much as 1.1% of all drilling nationwide, by 1932 it had risen to only
At the same time, it should be emphasized
that Kapelyushnikov's turbodrill system obviously pointed the way toward the
subsequent solving of complicated engineering problems on the road to creating
the commercial version of the turbodrill manufactured in 1934 in the form of a
multistage gearless turbodrill created by a design team of Soviet engineers
headed by the talented inventor Pyotr Shumilov. The speed of the drill bit
reached 600 revolutions a minute, and the turbine blades' resistance to wear
was 40-50 times higher than before as a result of reducing the flow rate of
fluid in the turbodrill itself. In 1936, a turbodrill of a new design successfully
underwent industrial tests. In 1940, the team produced a new multistage turbine
equipped with a strengthened single-stage reduction gear that generated the
number of revolutions required for drilling directly on the axle and was
capable of drilling through all types of rock encountered in the production
This allowed them not only to change the
negative attitude of drilling experts to downhole motors, but to bring the
overwhelming majority of the industry's drilling efforts in the Soviet Union over to turbine drilling shortly after the
Second World War.