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Drilling fluid : Classification & Mud engineer

Composition of drilling mud

Water-based drilling mud most commonly consists of bentonite clay (gel) with additives such as barium sulfate (barite), calcium carbonate (chalk) or hematite. Various thickeners are used to influence the viscosity of the fluid, e.g. xanthan gum, guar gum, glycol,carboxymethylcellulose, polyanionic cellulose (PAC), or starch. In turn, deflocculants are used to reduce viscosity of clay-based muds; anionic polyelectrolytes (e.g. acrylates, polyphosphates, lignosulfonates (Lig) or tannic acid derivates such as Quebracho) are frequently used. Red mud was the name for a Quebracho-based mixture, named after the color of the red tannic acid salts; it was commonly used in 1940s to 1950s, then was made obsolete when lignosulfonates became available. Other components are added to provide various specific functional characteristics as listed above. Some other common additives include lubricants, shale inhibitors, fluid loss additives (to control loss of drilling fluids into permeable formations). A weighting agent such as barite is added to increase the overall density of the drilling fluid so that sufficient bottom hole pressure can be maintained thereby preventing an unwanted (and often dangerous) influx of formation fluids.


Factors influencing drilling fluid performance

Three factors affecting drilling fluid performance are:

  • The change of drilling fluid viscosity
  • The change of drilling fluid density
  • The change of mud pH

Drilling mud classification

They are classified based on their fluid phase, alkalinity, dispersion and the type of chemicals used.

Dispersed systems

  • Freshwater mud – Low pH mud (7.0–9.5) that includes spud, bentonite, natural, phosphate treated muds, organic mud and organic colloid treated mud. high pH mud example alkaline tannate treated muds are above 9.5 in pH.
  • Water based drilling mud that represses hydration and dispersion of clay – There are 4 types: high pH lime muds,low pH gypsum, seawater and saturated salt water muds.

Non-dispersed systems

  • Low solids mud – These muds contain less than 3–6% solids by volume and weight less than 9.5 lbs/gal. Most muds of this type are water-based with varying quantities of bentonite and a polymer.
  • Emulsions – The two types used are oil in water (oil emulsion muds) and water in oil (invert oil emulsion muds).
    • Oil based mudOil based muds contain oil as the continuous phase and water as a contaminant, and not an element in the design of the mud. They typically contain less than 5% (by volume) water. Oil-based muds are usually a mixture of diesel fuel and asphalt, however can be based on produced crude oil and mud

Mud engineer

Main article: mud engineer

“Mud engineer” is the name given to an oil field service company individual who is charged with maintaining a drilling fluid or completion fluid system on an oil and/or gas drilling rig. This individual typically works for the company selling the chemicals for the job and is specifically trained with those products, though independent mud engineers are still common. The role of the mud engineer or more properly Drilling Fluids Engineer is very critical to the entire drilling operation because even small problems with mud can stop the whole operations on rig. The internationally accepted shift pattern at off-shore drilling operations is personnel (including mud engineers) work on a 28-day shift pattern, where they work for 28 continuous days and rest the following 28 days. In Europe this is more commonly a 21-day shift pattern.

In offshore drilling, with new technology and high total day costs, wells are being drilled extremely fast. Having two mud engineers makes economic sense to prevent down time due to drilling fluid difficulties. Two mud engineers also reduce insurance costs to oil companies for environmental damage that oil companies are responsible for during drilling and production. A senior mud engineer typically works in the day, and a junior mud engineer at night.

The cost of the drilling fluid is typically about 10% (may vary greatly) of the total cost of drilling a well, and demands competent mud engineers. Large cost savings result when the mud engineer and fluid performs adequately.

Mud Pit with Fly Ash

The mud engineer is not to be confused with mudloggers, service personnel who monitor gas from the mud and collect well bore samples.

Compliance engineer

The compliance engineer is the most common name for a relatively new position in the oil field, emerging around 2002 due to new environmental regulations on synthetic mud in the United States. Previously, synthetic mud was regulated the same as water-based mud and could be disposed of in offshore waters due to low toxicity to marine organisms. New regulations restrict the amount of synthetic oil that can be discharged. These new regulations created a significant burden in the form of tests needed to determine the “ROC” or retention on cuttings, sampling to determine the percentage of crude oil in the drilling mud, and extensive documentation. It should be noted that no type of oil/synthetic based mud (or drilled cuttings contaminated with OBM/SBM) may be dumped in the North Sea. Contaminated mud must either be shipped back to shore in skips or processed on the rigs.

A new monthly toxicity test is also now performed to determine sediment toxicity, using the amphipod Leptocheirus plumulosus. Various concentrations of the drilling mud are added to the environment of captive L. plumulosus to determine its effect on the animals. The test is controversial for two reasons:

  1. These animals are not native to many of the areas regulated by them, including the Gulf of Mexico
  2. The test has a very large standard deviation and samples that fail badly may pass easily upon retesting[citation needed]

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