How To Spot A Drilling Rig?

A major part of unconventional oil & gas extraction (fracking) is the drilling of the wells which requires a specialised drilling rig. Keeping track of the fracking industry and effectively resisting it may require communities across the country to be able to spot the presence and movements of these drilling rigs.

In the past, the first a community has heard about fracking is a rig turning up next door. If you spot a drilling rig then try to take pictures to document the activity. Ideally get in touch (i.e. email info@frack-off.org or phone 07858 614 861) so we can confirm what you have seen (it’s important to weed out numerous other bits of machinery which can be confused with a drilling rig/or the rig might be being used for another purpose).

PR Marriot Rig 50, A Drillmec HH-220, Bought For Cuadrilla Resources But Has Also Rented To Other Fracking Companies (Click To Enlarge)

Drilling Rigs

Land based drilling rigs come in a wide variety of sizes, from rare 2,000 ton monsters to small caterpillar track mounted rigs which can which be operated by a couple of people. Unconventional oil & gas (fracking) exploration uses rigs in between these two extremes, but they are the largest land based drilling rigs in the UK.

There are a limited number of such large drilling rigs in the UK, though rigs can and have been brought in from abroad rented from large international drilling companies (e.g. KCA Deutag). Drilling contractors supplying rigs to the fracking industry in the UK include PR Marriott Drilling, Meehan Drilling and British Drilling and Freezing. Follow the links to locate these companies yards and offices. >>Click Here<< for a full list of companies associated with fracking in the UK.

Targeting the Bowland Shale in northern England requires the largest land drilling rigs available in the UK, but smaller rigs such as Meehan’s Rig-1 can be used for shallower coalbed methane (CBM) or shale/tight oil (e.g. in the South East). UK fracking companies have tended to use the newest (shiniest) rigs for PR purposes.

Meehan Drilling Rig 1 Contracted By Cuadrilla Resources At Balcombe, Sussex In Summer 2013 (Click To Enlarge)

British Drilling & Freezing (BDF) Rig 28 Contracted By IGas Energy At Ellesmere Port, Cheshire In November 2014 (Click To Enlarge)

Meehan Rig 1 Being Escorted Out Of Balcombe, Sussex In September 2013 (Click To Enlarge)

Drilling Rigs On The Move

Drilling rigs pack down on to multiple HGVs for transport but the ones used in fracking exploration in the UK are often built around a central specialised vehicle which has the the drill motor and derrick attached. Even when this is the case the component parts of the rig will be spread across many dozens of vehicles. A large amount of additions infrastructure, including portacabins, tanks and flare stacks are also needed to support the rig, increasing the number of vehicles on the roads still further.

The HGV tractor units pulling the main components of the rig are often from haulage companies very closely associated with the oil & gas industry, such S Lyon & Son or Walker & Son. The main rig components of modern rigs are often painted white/grey though older rigs (e.g. BDF) may be painted other colours like dark green.

Central Part Of PR Marriot Rig 16 Leaving Farndon, Cheshire In April 2014 (Click To Enlarge)

Parts of PR Marriot Rig 50 Leaving Barton Moss On Flatbed Trucks In March 2014 (Click To Enlarge)

PW Well Service Workover Rig At Horse Hill, Surrey In February 2016 (Click To Enlarge)

Workover/Ancillary Rigs

Rigs are needed for a number of other tasks in addition to drilling fracking wells. In particular, workover rigs are smaller rigs used for well completions, such as hydraulic fracturing and well maintenance. A workover rig bought by Cuadrilla Resources has been used by a number fracking companies, but after a number of health and safety issues the rig has not been seen for a while and may have been sold abroad. Recently a services company, PW Well Services, has been active in providing workover rigs at Horse Hill and other sites in the South East.

Small ancillary drilling rigs and augers are also used by the industry for various purposed including the drilling of monitoring wells and placing conductor casing prior to the main drilling rig arriving. The rigs range in size from self-contained truck mounted rigs down to small caterpillar track mounted rigs which can be operated by a few people. It should be noted that these rigs can be used for a variety of purpose outside the oil & gas industry such as drilling agricultural water wells. If you see something take pictures, record the location and get in touch.

Small PR Marriot Rig Drilling Water Monitoring Well On Barton Moss Site (Click To Enlarge)

Small Track Mounted Rig Being Used By Cuadrilla Resources To Drill Seismic Monitoring Boreholes On The Fylde Peninsular In 2012 (Click To Enlarge)

Pair Of Cranes Being Used To Erect Drilling Rig At Farndon, Cheshire In March 2014 (Click To Enlarge)

Related Equipment, Supplies & Components

Various other equipment is used in conjunction with with drilling rigs. One common combination is the use of pairs of large cranes to erect the drilling rig. The arrival of two large vehicle mounted cranes at a site is a strong indication that the drilling rig is about to arrive.

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It is also possible to spot smaller components such as drill bits and drill assemblies on the roads. This consignment from U.S fracking support company Halliburton was being transported by ARR Craib and destined for a new IGas well at Ellesmere Port. It was spotted on a motorway in Yorkshire.

If you see something, take pictures, record the location and get in touch: outreach@frack-off.org