Drilling hydrocarbon-producing wells is a risky business. Drilling hazards, such as unexpected overpressure and shallow water flows, can lead to catastrophic and costly disasters like the one shown on this month's cover. Wild Well Control, a worldwide provider of firefighting and well control services, responded to more than 70 such emergencies in 2003. Other costly drilling risks include dry holes or reduced hydrocarbon production because of poor well placement. Thus, management of drilling risk is an important facet of any hydrocarbon exploration program.

One way of managing risk is to use technology to reduce the chances of a failure. Traditionally,...

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