Royal Dutch Shell is a famous, major, historic Dutch-English oil company. Its petroleum engineers out in Brunei in the South China Sea were frustrated that they were able to find several pockets where there was oil but they could not justify the expense of drilling because the anticipated quantity of oil was too small.
Technology to the rescue! In 2005, the engineers hit upon a new technique to reach the oil pockets. A Shell video dramatization shows an engineer, Jaap van Ballegoolien, watching his teenage son finish a shake by steering his straw around the glass. Voila! Instead of drilling down - about 2 miles - to each pocket, Shell would drill vertically down to one and then drill horizontally to the other nearby pockets. (Watch the video here) This is called "snake well" drilling. Exactly how one can steer a drill bit around twists and turns, Shell isn't exactly explaining, but they are doing it! Up to six separate pockets can be connected using valves and sensors to guide the bit and control the flow of oil. This maximizes the amount of oil that can be recovered from each location. Each snake well is equivalent to three conventional drilled wells.
With the success out in Brunei, Shell is planning to take this process to about 20 other oil fields. Costs are, of course, higher but the productivity payoff is larger. The black crude that comes up will eventually be turned into kilometers (miles) on someone's odometer, perhaps on a hybrid, or mixed with a renewable fuel. We have to burn the fuel from these snake wells (or any wells) slowly so by the time they are dry, they are no longer needed.
[Source: Business Week Magazine, Shell]