A drilling rig is a machine that creates holes in the earth sub-surface. Drilling rigs can be massive structures housing equipment used to drill water wells, oil wells, or natural gas extraction wells, or they can be small enough to be moved manually by one person and are called augers. Drilling rigs can sample sub-surface mineral deposits, test rock, soil and groundwater physical properties, and also can be used to install sub-surface fabrications, such as underground utilities, instrumentation, tunnels or wells. Drilling rigs can be mobile equipment mounted on trucks, tracks or trailers, or more permanent land or marine-based structures (such as oil platforms, commonly called ‘offshore oil rigs’ even if they don’t contain a drilling rig). The term “rig” therefore generally refers to the complex of equipment that is used to penetrate the surface of the Earth’s crust.
Small to medium-sized drilling rigs are mobile, such as those used in mineral exploration drilling, blast-hole, water wells and environmental investigations. Larger rigs are capable of drilling through thousands of metres of the Earth’s crust, using large “mud pumps” to circulate drilling mud (slurry) through the drill bit and up the casing annulus, for cooling and removing the “cuttings” while a well is drilled. Hoists in the rig can lift hundreds of tons of pipe. Other equipment can force acid or sand into reservoirs to facilitate extraction of the oil or natural gas; and in remote locations there can be permanent living accommodation and catering for crews (which may be more than a hundred). Marine rigs may operate thousands of miles distant from the supply base with infrequent crew rotation or cycle.
Oil and natural gas drilling rigs are used not only to identify geologic reservoirs but also to create holes that allow the extraction of oil or natural gas from those reservoirs. Primarily in onshore oil and gas fields once a well has been drilled, the drilling rig will be moved off of the well and a service rig (a smaller rig) that is purpose-built for completions will be moved on to the well to get the well on line. This frees up the drilling rig to drill another hole and streamlines the operation as well as allowing for specialization of certain services, i.e., completions vs. drilling.