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Drill Stem: Mastering Holes with Precision

In the vast expanse of oil and gas exploration, understanding the subterranean landscape is paramount.

Among the array of techniques employed, the drill stem test (DST) stands out as a pivotal procedure for gauging the pressure, permeability, and productive capacity of geological formations during well drilling.

Let’s delve into the history, methodology, and applications of this indispensable technique.

A Glimpse into History

The genesis of drill stem testing traces back to the fertile grounds of El Dorado, Arkansas, in the 1920s. It was here that E.C. Johnston and his brother M.O.

Johnston pioneered the first drill stem tester, culminating in the execution of the inaugural commercial drill stem test in 1926.

Their innovations garnered recognition, leading to the granting of a patent (U.S. Patent 1,709,940) to the Johnston Formation Testing Corporation in April 1929.

Over the ensuing years, advancements continued, with Schlumberger introducing wireline-based formation testing in the 1950s, further revolutionizing the field.

The Essence of Drill Stem Testing

At its core, drill stem testing serves as a conduit to unveil the mysteries hidden beneath the Earth’s surface.

By isolating and assessing geological formations, it provides vital insights into the presence of hydrocarbon reservoirs and their commercial viability.

Employing a suite of tools known as the test bottomhole assembly (BHA), drill stem testing enables the evaluation of parameters such as pressure, permeability, and fluid composition.

The BHA comprises essential components like packers, valves, and recorders, meticulously orchestrated to orchestrate the testing process with precision.

The Versatility of Drill Stem Testing

Drill stem testing finds application in diverse scenarios, catering to both cased and open hole environments.

In cased hole stimulation, conducted post-casing, a retrievable production packer is deployed to facilitate flow testing through perforations in the casing.

Conversely, open hole testing, conducted pre-casing, offers an economical means to gauge reservoir characteristics before the well is encased.

This versatility extends further, with drill stem testing seamlessly integrating with complementary procedures such as fluid loss control, well stimulation, and more.

Into the Depths: The Procedure Unveiled

As the drill bit gives way to the DST tool, a symphony of mechanisms springs into action.

Packers, positioned strategically above and below the target zone, form a seal, isolating the region of interest.

With a deft maneuver, a valve is opened, equalizing the pressure within the drill stem and allowing formation fluid to ascend to the surface.

This fluid, a testament to the geological secrets unearthed, undergoes meticulous scrutiny, unraveling the narrative of the subterranean realm.


In the ever-evolving landscape of oil and gas exploration, the drill stem test remains an indispensable tool, illuminating the path to reservoir discovery and optimization.

From its humble origins in the 1920s to its contemporary iterations, it continues to shape the contours of exploration endeavors, driving innovation and progress.

As we peer into the depths, guided by the beacon of technology and ingenuity, the journey of discovery unfolds, beckoning us to unravel the mysteries that lie beneath.


What is the primary objective of a drill stem test (DST)?

The primary objective of a DST is to evaluate the commercial viability of a geological formation by assessing parameters such as pressure, permeability, and productive capacity to determine if it contains a commercial hydrocarbon reservoir.

What role do packers play in drill stem testing?

Packers are essential tools in drill stem testing, used to create a seal between the borehole wall and the drill pipe.

They isolate the specific section of the wellbore to be tested, allowing for accurate measurement of formation characteristics without interference from surrounding formations or fluids.

Can drill stem testing be performed in both cased and open holes?

Yes, drill stem testing can be conducted in both cased and open holes.

In cased hole testing, a retrievable production packer is set above the zone of interest, and flow testing is conducted through perforations in the casing.

In open hole testing, the zone of interest is isolated using inflatable or compression-set packers before casing is installed.

What information can be obtained from a drill stem test?

A drill stem test provides valuable information about the geological formation, including pressure behavior, permeability, fluid composition, and the presence of hydrocarbons.

This data helps in assessing the economic potential of the reservoir and making informed decisions about further exploration or production strategies.

How does drill stem testing differ from wireline formation testing?

Drill stem testing involves deploying tools downhole within the drill string to isolate and test specific sections of the wellbore, providing real-time data on formation characteristics.

In contrast, wireline formation testing uses wireline tools lowered into the well after drilling is complete to collect samples and measurements, typically in cased holes.

What are some alternate procedures that may be combined with drill stem testing?

Depending on the objectives and scope of work, drill stem testing may be combined with various exploration and completion processes.

These include fluid loss control, well stimulation techniques, closed chamber tests, and a combination of drill stem testing and tubing-conveyed perforating (TCP) for enhanced reservoir evaluation and productivity assessment.

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