How Oil Drilling Works

By: Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D. & Jonathan Strickland

Extracting Oil

After the rig is removed, the crew puts a pump on the well head.

In the pump system, an electric motor drives a gear box that moves a lever. The lever pushes and pulls a polishing rod up and down. The polishing rod is attached to a sucker rod, which is attached to a pump. This system forces the pump up and down, creating a suction that draws oil up through the well.


In some cases, the oil may be too heavy to flow. In these cases, the crew drills a second hole into the reservoir and injects steam under pressure. The heat from the steam thins the oil in the reservoir, and the pressure helps push it up the well. This process is called enhanced oil recovery.

Recently, another type of oil drilling has made the news: offshore oil drilling. Learn more about it in the next section.

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