Prospecting for oil takes big bucks, but the costs don't lighten up once drilling begins. The steel tubing inside wells alone can run into millions. Not that oil companies have many choices: They can buy carbon-steel tubing, which must be replaced once a year or so, or they can choose stainless-steel piping, which should last for a well's productive life but costs an arm and a leg. Another option may soon be available, however: A Chicago startup called Inductametals Corp. says it has developed a metal coating that ensures long-lasting tubing for one-third the cost of stainless steel.
So far, Inductametals has gained the attention of U. S. Steel, which is interested in making the tubing, and at least one major oil company. Both are testing the patented process in which a thin stainless-steel coating is applied to carbon-steel tubing. Early results seem promising. An executive at the oil company reports no wear "whatsoever" after a hot salt solution was pumped through tubing for 5,000 hours.
Inductametals President Philip Bernstein Jr. says other coatings don't offer this durability. And he is confident that his process can be geared up for mass production and extended to other industries that require durable piping.