Geothermal Drilling Efficiency

NREL is working with geothermal industry drillers to apply lean manufacturing concepts to improve drilling efficiency and increase profit margins.

NREL employee near an oil and gas well.
NREL researchers are leveraging lessons learned from the oil and gas industries to improve drilling efficiency and reduce geothermal drilling costs.

Declining oil prices in the late 1990s led to investments in drilling in an attempt to increase efficiency and decrease costs. The effort, which applied the principals of lean manufacturing to drilling, was successfully implemented by the onshore petroleum industry in the U.S. with a focus on standardization, optimization, and automation. The application of lean methodology to drilling realized cost savings of up to 50% and time savings of 15%–70%—even in hard-rock areas.

Achieving true lean operations requires a dedicated improvement effort that continually seeks perfection and banishment of waste. Accountability, culture, and knowledge are critical ingredients to successfully implement a continuous improvement program.

The largest savings have come from lean drilling processes, which can incur up to twice the planning man-hours of a traditional process. Successfully implementing lean methodology to the drilling process requires a significant change in mindset as well as the full support of all levels of a company, including managers, drilling contractors, operators, subsurface personnel, and drilling engineers.

NREL is working with geothermal operators to bring lean processes to the geothermal drilling industry. Time and experience have shown that significant savings are possible. If widely implemented, these savings could significantly increase profit margins and spark significant growth in the global geothermal industry.


  • Drilling efficiency
  • Process improvement
  • Risk assessment
  • Operational supervision


Geothermal Drilling and Completions: Petroleum Practices Technology Transfer, NREL Technical Report (2018)

Geothermal Drilling: A Baseline Study of Nonproductive Time Related to Lost Circulation, 42nd Workshop on Geothermal Reservoir Engineering (2017)

Completion Design Considerations for a Horizontal Enhanced Geothermal System, Transactions (2015)

View all NREL publications about geothermal research.