The continued rise of geothermal drilling – what about the rigs?


Geothermal projects and activities are increasing worldwide. From the dry deserts of USA to the tropical climates of the Philippines and from Iceland, across Scandinavia and through Continental Europe. The United Kingdom has also gotten in on the act – with a notable project in the Southwest of England.

 Rystad recently published that the European geothermal heating market will grow substantially over the next few years. Specifically, countries such as Germany and the Netherlands are expected to join Iceland, Hungary and Italy to increase geothermal heating by 58% by 2030 (Source: Rystad), representing a cost of $7.4 billion.

It is widely thought that geothermal is an unlimited source of consistent energy that can play a crucial role in addressing energy security and affordability for countries in Europe as they move to decarbonise their energy mix.  

As a mark of this fast-growing market, the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) has recently set up a Geothermal Committee consisting of industry members seeking a forum to share experience and support safe and sustainable growth within the market for land geothermal drilling.

What is geothermal drilling?

In the geothermal market, much like oil and gas, there are many different methods and purposes for drilling a geothermal well, such as for electricity generation, district cooling or heating.

One methodology includes utilising two land drilling rigs to simultaneously drill two vertical, large diameter wellbores deep into the earth’s formation to a pre-determined target depth. From there, a series of horizontal/lateral wellbores are drilled from the two host wellbores to a pre-determined target point – where they ‘intercept’ one-another.

This allows for a loop from surface to surface, and thus creates a ‘closed-loop’ effect. This is a means for injecting fluids down from the surface, one way through ‘hot rock’ formation with bottom hole temperatures often upwards of 300c, then returning to surface to a process facility, to provide a means for the previously mentioned power, cooling and heating energies.

Which types of land rigs can be used?

In the geothermal market, the same if not similar land drilling rigs are used as are utilised for conventional oil and gas energy exploration and production. In effect, the methodologies for drilling a geothermal well is not too dissimilar to drilling an oil and gas well. The subsurface engineering and production differ, however the land drilling rig still needs the ability to run drill pipe, pump fluid/circulate, turn a drill bit, case and cement.

ModuSpec has recent experience with ENNA Geo and Energie Beheer Nederland, supporting the inspection and acceptance of land rigs utilised in geothermal drilling projects.

Does rig supply meet demand? What can be done?

As Rystad indicates, there will be substantial growth in geothermal activity – however, it’s clear to see that there could be a shortage of land rigs in Continental Europe to drill geothermal or conventional oil and gas wells.

It is easy to think that the global land rig count would be sufficient – why not move rigs from onshore Africa to Continental Europe? One issue faced by operators is compliance.

ModuSpec can point to the fact, having in recent months first-hand experience of supporting two international drilling rig contractors keen to better understand the landscape through gap analysis/verification projects of the feasibility of deploying rigs in different jurisdictions and to meet compliance of the local regulations and requirements.

As an example, if a land drilling rig contractor was to re-deploy a rig to Germany, there are several compliance requirements including:

  • European Union Regulations and Standards.
  • ATEX and Machinery Directives.
  • Specific German legislation from the Bergamt mining authorities (Bergamt), captured in the Tiefbohrverordnung.
  • Local authority regulations and standards dependent on which region of Germany the rig will be located.

To resolve these compliance requirements requires significant investment from the contractor, not only for the physical changes or upgrades to the rig but also the capacity internally to plan, project manage, procure, install, commission and test. Local regulators also need to be involved and the correct administration process followed.


Geothermal will be raised at the IADC World Drilling Conference taking place in Madrid later in June specifically to address how contractors can engage to enhance the approach for geothermal well construction, reduce costs, and streamline collaboration.Our Business Development team of Iain Morrice and Liam Pirie will be delighted to share more about our geothermal experience and capabilities.

We at ModuSpec raise the query of rig supply meeting demand and the requirements to redeploy rigs between regions. Can there be consensus of compliance requirements to make deployment easier?

By Iain Morrice, ModuSpec Business Development Manager