1846 – PIERRE PASCAL FAUVELLE EXPERIMENTS FIRST HYDRAULIC ROTARY DRILLING IN PERPIGNAN

May 31, 2020

Before the mid 1800s, a modest French engineer from a remote area of rural France invented the rotary and hydraulic drilling technique as well as the reverse circulation drilling process.
It is well established that around 2250 years ago, in the Sichuan Province, Chinese, were able to drill wells up to 400 ft deep using bamboo poles. An amazing depth for the time.
However it was not until the middle of the eighteenth century that the first experiments of hydraulic rotary drilling could see the light of day.
J. E. Branly (History of Well Drilling) confirms: “The first well on record drilled by a method that requires circulating fluid to remove the displaced formation debris was drilled in Perpignan in 1846 by the French engineer Pierre Pascal Fauvelle.”
All started in 1843 as Fauvelle was drilling for water through a shallow artesian aquifer in Rivesaltes, near the city of Perpignan, in the Roussillon plain, between the Pyrenees mountains and the Mediterranean coast.
He was struck by observing that it was no longer necessary to pull the drilling tools out of the hole to get rid of the cuttings and that the water rising from the bottom could bring them to the surface in a state of solution.
He was commissioned in 1846 to carry out the drilling of an artesian water well for the needs of the city, on Place St Dominique, in Perpignan.
The well was spud on July 1, 1846 using Fauvelle’s equipment and technique. Drilling ended on July 23 with the flow of gushing water at 558 ft deep. Fauvelle said, “if you deduct Sundays and six lost days there are fourteen days or 140 hours of actual work remaining, which represents more than 1 meter of drilling per hour. It’s more than 10 times the work of an ordinary probe.” It was a complete success.
Fauvelle gives specific details regarding the drilling of the well. They can be found in the book “Oeuvres complètes de Francois Arago”, published in 1856.
“The device that I use consists of hollow pipes screwed end to end, the end being armed with a perforating tool suitable for the terrain encountered. The diameter of the tool is larger than the diameter of the tubes in order to reserve an annular space through which the cuttings and the water can rise. The end of the probe is in communication with a pump by means of articulated tubes which follow the downward movement of the probe over a length of a few meters. The probe is animated by a rotary or percussion movement by a snap winch.
The hoisting equipment is basic. To start drilling you shall start the pump first. Water is injected inside the probe and circulation established. The probe is then worked normally. The parts of the earth that detaches are instantly entrained in the rising current.
In the system I describe, water is injected inside the probe but when we meet gravel or stones of a certain size it is better to inject water through the hole and have the return through the inside of the probe. The circulation speed obtained is greater and by this way I was able to recover pebbles 6 centimeters long and 3 centimeters wide. This process is an easy way to drill below a gushing water layer without the need for a pump. It is just necessary close the well opening tightly.”

Following this success, new wells were drilled in the city of Perpignan, the last was completed in 1857. These wells were still in use in 1911.
The Fauvelle drilling system was used for the first time in the Pechelbronn basin in eastern Fance in 1879 for well No. 123, located on the southern heights of the village of Merkwiller.
Circa 1880, the Baker brothers used a windmill pump water into a drill string in North Dakota. Around 1895 steam powered fluid circulating rotary well drilling rigs came into use in the oilfields of esat central Texas. The earliest known pump built especially to circulate mud laden drilling fluid on a rotary rig was manufactured by Parker Company of Beaumont, Texas, in 1905. Rotary drilling was developing inexorably.
Pierre Pascal Fauvelle passed away in Perpignan in 1867. Most likely he could not see his inventions used for the drilling of oil wells.
In 1846, he paved the way for modern drilling with techniques that have become universal.
(Source: Oeuvres complètes de Francois Arago, Vol. 6/History of Well Deilling/ J. E. Brantly)