Depth in a well


In the oil and gas industry, depth in a well is the measurement, for any point in that well, of the distance between a reference point or elevation, and that point. It is the most common method of reference for locations in the well, and therefore, in oil industry speech, "depth" also refers to the location itself. By extension, depth can refer to locations below, or distances from, a reference point or elevation, even when there is no well. In that sense, depth is a concept related to elevation, albeit in the opposite direction. Depth in a well is not necessarily measured vertically or along a straight line.
Because wells are not always drilled vertically, there may be two "depths" for every given point in a wellbore: the measured depth (MD) measured along the path of the borehole, and the true vertical depth (TVD), the absolute vertical distance between the datum and the point in the wellbore. In perfectly vertical wells, the TVD equals the MD; otherwise, the TVD is less than the MD measured from the same datum. Common datums used are ground level (GL), drilling rig floor (DF), rotary table (RT), kelly bushing (KB or RKB) and mean sea level (MSL).
Well depth values taken during the drilling operation are referred to as "driller's depth". The "total depth" for the well, core depths and all analysis of core / mud and other materials from the drilling hole are measured in "drillers depth".
Well depth values from the wireline loggers operation are referred to as "logger's depth". The loggers depth are typically considered more reliable than the drillers depth.
Sign Convention - Depth increases positive in the downward direction. This may seem intuitive but confusion can arise when using certain references while integrating data from different sources. Workers mapping surfaces typically use elevation which, by convention, increases positive in the upward direction. Be mindful when integrating depth and elevation. For example, shallow wells drilled onshore often encounter reservoir at negative depths when referenced to sea level, mappers would define these same reservoirs at positive elevations when referenced to sea level.
Differential (or relative) depths or thicknesses should generally be specified with at least two components: a unit and a path, plus any eventual specifiers to remove any possible ambiguity. No specifier should ever be left "implicit" or "understood". There are cases where a path is not needed and in fact should not be specified, because it is defined by the specifier, e.g. isochore (true stratigraphic thickness, independent of well path or inclination).
It is important to remember that depths, whether "absolute", "relative", "true", etc., have an intrinsic uncertainty and are never really true.
Specification of an absolute depth: in Figure 1 above, point P1 might be at 3207 mMDRT and 2370 mTVDMSL, while point P2 might be at 2530 mMDRT and 2502 mTVDLAT.
Specification of a differential depth or a thickness: in Figure 2 above, the thickness of the reservoir penetrated by the well might be 57 mMD or 42 mTVD, even though the reservoir true stratigraphic thickness in that area (or isopach) might be only 10 m, and its true vertical thickness (isochore), 14 m.