Science & Technology in Action

6th Edition

Sparking the Spirit of Innovation


Oil and gas sources are often extremely hard to access. In this lesson some technological solutions to this problem are described. These include the Snake Well, the use of sensors, fibre optics, innovative pipeline seals and the use of fish proteins to prevent freezing.

Contains the full lesson along with a supporting toolkit, including teachers’ notes.

Lesson excerpt

Technology to the Rescue
Energy demand is driven by lifestyle and by population. As the world's population grows and economies develop, demand for energy is expected to double by 2050. In spite of new developments in the wind, solar and nuclear energy sectors, fossil fuels will remain the primary source of energy for many years into the future. The problem is that oil and gas sources are often extremely hard to access. A key solution to this is technology – developing new and innovative methods of accessing vital energy resources. In this lesson, we look at some of the new, often ingenious breakthroughs that Shell has made to introduce new technologies into its operations worldwide.

The Snake Well
It is surprising to learn that, when an oil field reaches the end of its normal production life, up to two-thirds of the oil can still be left in the ground. This oil is too difficult to extract because it is located in various small pockets that cannot be accessed under normal operating conditions.

According to the International Energy Agency, the world's economies would benefit from an extra 300 billion barrels if access was made possible. The innovative snake well is one of the solutions which Shell engineers have come up with in order to improve access. snake wells are so called because they can be drilled horizontally and 'snake' from one pocket of oil to another. Without the snake well, several individual wells would have to be drilled in order to access each pocket. The snake wellsignificantly lowers the cost of drilling.

Quiz questions

  1. Fish produce a special protein that prevents them from freezing. true
  2. Digital technology is never used at exploration sites. false
  3. An elastomer is a polymer.
  4. The Snake Well allows several individual sources to be tapped from one vertical drilling site. true
  5. Shell does not carry out much scientific research. false
  6. Water does not present a problem when drilling for oil undersea. false
  7. Gas tends to form hydrates at deep water levels. true
  8. The pressure at 4000 m below sea level is 100 times that at the surface. false
  9. Seismic technologies are used to locate objects under the sea. true
  10. Shell scientists have developed a polymer that can be used like cement. true