A method for increasing the efficiency of drilling operations by using a drilling fluid material that exists as supercritical fluid or a dense gas at temperature and pressure conditions existing at a drill site. The material can be used to reduce mechanical drilling forces, to remove cuttings, or to jet erode a substrate. In one embodiment, carbon dioxide (CO.sub.2) is used as the material for drilling within wells in the earth, where the normal temperature and pressure conditions cause CO.sub.2 to exist as a supercritical fluid. Supercritical carbon dioxide (SC--CO.sub.2) is preferably used with coiled tube (CT) drilling equipment. The very low viscosity SC--CO.sub.2 provides efficient cooling of the drill head, and efficient cuttings removal. Further, the diffusivity of SC--CO.sub.2 within the pores of petroleum formations is significantly higher than that of water, making jet erosion using SC--CO.sub.2 much more effective than water jet erosion. SC--CO.sub.2 jets can be used to assist mechanical drilling, for erosion drilling, or for scale removal. A choke manifold at the well head or mud cap drilling equipment can be used to control the pressure within the borehole, to ensure that the temperature and pressure conditions necessary for CO.sub.2 to exist as either a supercritical fluid or a dense gas occur at the drill site. Spent CO.sub.2 can be vented to the atmosphere, collected for reuse, or directed into the formation to aid in the recovery of petroleum.
This invention was made under contract with the United States Department of Energy, under Contract Number DE-FG03-98ER82696, and the United States government may have certain rights in the invention.