The Ins and Outs of Drilling Fluids


Sean Lobo of Johnson Specialty Instruments mentioned all of it in a brief summation: “Effectivity. It’s all about effectivity.”

His topic was drilling fluids. Particularly, as we speak’s superior drilling fluids. What goes into making these fluids—and the way they’re utilized—is a narrative that’s inextricably linked with the enterprise of, properly, drilling itself. And simply because the enterprise of drilling is all the time consumed with effectivity, so is the enterprise of drilling fluids themselves.

However earlier than we get into as we speak’s drilling fluid refinements, let’s overview the fundamentals. What are drilling fluids? And what do they do?

We’d like a definition, and Wikipedia offers us this one:

“In geotechnical engineering, drilling fluid, additionally known as drilling mud, is used to assist the drilling of boreholes into the earth. One of many capabilities of drilling mud is to hold cuttings out of the outlet. [Two] principal classes of drilling fluids are water-based muds (WBMs), and non-aqueous muds, normally known as oil-based muds (OBMs)…. The primary capabilities of drilling fluids embrace offering hydrostatic stress to forestall formation fluids from coming into into the properly bore, holding the drill bit cool and clear throughout drilling, finishing up drill cuttings, and suspending the drill cuttings whereas drilling is paused and when the drilling meeting is introduced out and in of the outlet. The drilling fluid used for a selected job is chosen to keep away from formation injury and to restrict corrosion.”

Lobo, at Johnson Specialty Instruments, mentioned that during the last 5 to 10 years, adjustments within the realm of drilling fluids have been all about reaching effectivity, whether or not that effectivity comes from value financial savings, from higher efficiency, or from streamlined drilling processes. Lobo’s employer, Brett Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Johnson Specialty Instruments, agrees, including that artificial drilling fluids are gaining a foothold within the business.

Craig (left) and Brett Johnson, the daddy/son founders of Johnson Specialty Instruments.

“There’s nonetheless plenty of operators that run their legacy mud applications that they’ve run for many years out right here within the Permian,” Johnson mentioned. “However we’ve received plenty of main operators—the Oxys, Chevrons, Diamondbacks, ConocoPhillips, the massive, massive gamers out right here which are working 10, 20 rigs. These guys are adopting new mud applications which have artificial fluids. It’s artificial mud that maximizes the viscosity downhole.

“They maximize their period of time they will drill with out having to make a bit journey. It’s all about your gap situation downhole. When your gap situation is good—and that may occur as a result of effectivity of the mud you’re utilizing—it saves you cash by not having to vary your bit out two, thrice a properly.”

Johnson mentioned that’s what the majors, and the key independents, try to attain. “You need preferrred gap situation in your drilling course of. And these newer muds—these synthetic-based muds—try this.”

Throughout the previous decade, builders of drilling fluids have created their artificial merchandise which have the identical viscosities and properties of oil-based muds, however usually are not made utilizing an diesel oil inversion. (Oil-based muds sometimes use the mineral barite, together with different components, to extend the density of the mud and to attain different properties.) However as we speak numerous producers, together with Newpark Drilling Fluids, are making new artificial fluids, a few of that are known as “Pink Muds.”

Mentioned Johnson: “Pink muds provide the similar properties as OBM, however they’re cheaper than a diesel-based mud. But you get the identical properties that mean you can ‘scoot’ and drill downhole as you’re within the lateral part of the properly.”

Johnson mentioned that oil-based muds are identified for having that profit. “OBM actually comes into play within the lateral sections of horizontal wells. You’re making an attempt to scoot your drilling instruments and your techniques down via that lateral… [Gravity is of no help once the borehole turns from the vertical and moves horizontally.] And these laterals hold getting longer. You’ve heard of two miles, three miles, and even some going 4 miles on a lateral. The longer you go, the extra essential the mud is to what you might be doing downhole.”

Drilling fluids assist to steadiness the stress inside a borehole when the drilling fluid is pressurized sufficient to maintain formation fluids from coming into the borehole This course of is illustrated by YouTube video discovered right here:

One other consider drilling mud efficiency is solids management. Solids management comes all the way down to controlling the so-called “low gravity”

parts. Mentioned Johnson: “They’re making an attempt to reduce the presence of, or quantity of, low gravity. Low gravities are rocks or shale the scale of a penny as much as the scale of 1 / 4. You’re making an attempt to get all that out of your gap and cycle all of it out of your mud. That’s essential with drilling as we speak—to remove the wear-and-tear in your bit and all of your instruments downhole.” So the standard (and make-up) of the drilling mud makes a distinction in solids management.

Ken Goldsmith, founding father of Midland-based Mudsmith, describes himself as a wholesaler of bulk commodity merchandise to the retail drilling mud firms—these being the personnel who’re going to really use [apply] the expertise on the wellsite. Previous to 2015, Mudsmith was concerned in that retail finish of issues. However Goldsmith determined, throughout that bust yr of 2015, to refine his enterprise mannequin. And Mudsmith nonetheless affords completion, workover, and kill fluids retail to end-users.

Reached for remark, Goldsmith dismissed the concept he had something authoritative to say on drilling fluid exercise as it’s performed on the wellsite. That was extra of a query for mud engineers or others nearer to the drilling exercise, he mentioned. Simply the identical, listening to Goldsmith’s model of how the drilling mud world has modified over time is itself a revealing train.

Talking of his experiences of a decade or so in the past, Goldsmith mentioned he had been, at the moment, quite reluctant to enter the oil-based mud market on a retail [that is, direct to end-user] foundation “since you go from a non-hazardous drilling fluid [water-based mud] to extra of a hazardous drilling fluid [oil-based mud.]. That requires, as an illustration, hazmat truck drivers. And also you’ve received to purchase thousands and thousands of {dollars}’ price of diesel oil. And the components are costly.”

About ten years in the past, when the shale increase was starting to erupt within the Permian Basin, use of oil-based mud was on a steep incline.

Ken Goldsmith

“It [OBM] is nice throughout the increase, as a result of you’ll be able to promote all of it that you could make,” Goldsmith mentioned. “However when the bust comes—and everyone knows it’s going to come back—the mud firms should take again in lots of of hundreds of barrels of mud on credit score. They usually might have it sitting in storage tanks for 2 or three years. These firms begin going broke as a result of they’re renting tanks, they usually can’t afford to have all that stock available.”

Even when the increase begins again up, the expertise and the product traces might have modified, and dirt firms which have held drilling mud in storage for years may discover they should all however give away their mud to grease and fuel operators to eliminate that stock and top off on what’s new.

Goldsmith mentioned one of many principal adjustments he sees as we speak is that, personnel sensible, many of the drilling mud jobs “have gone to camp jobs.”

In different phrases, the crews are largely dwelling on location. “They usually could also be introduced in from everywhere in the United States, as a result of we have now such a labor scarcity within the Permian Basin. And they also’re transient employees. The entire countryside is roofed up in man camps and that type of factor. They usually’re drilling these wells about as a lot horizontally as they do vertically [in terms of total footage drilled]. So in the event that they go down 10,000 toes they could go sideways 10,000 toes, or longer. The laterals may be longer. In instances like that, in an effort to hold the holes clear and secure, and to have good penetration charge, they’ve [at least until very recently] favored diesel oil-based drilling fluid.”

Goldsmith mentioned that that’s as a result of diesel drilling fluid is straightforward to run—it’s not as tough to handle as a water-based drilling fluid.

“Shale won’t swell within the presence of diesel like it would within the presence of water, as a result of water hydrates the shale and it could actually swell. If it swells, it falls aside, and also you wind up with gap instability… and getting caught within the gap… and all these form of issues.

A flooring hand pours anti-foaming agent down the drilling string on a drilling rig. (Credit score: Wikimedia Commons)

“So these are the sorts of causes that they went to diesel based mostly drilling fluids.”

Goldsmith truly mentioned “again to,” as a result of oil-based mud was not exactly a brand new factor within the Permian within the 2010s. It had been used a few years prior. However there got here an extended layoff (about 25 years) in oil-based mud on this area, in order that the re-introduction of it previously decade or so made it look like one thing new.

“Now, nevertheless, they’ve achieved a lot of it [OBM], they’re involved in regards to the environmental affect of diesel, as a result of, as talked about earlier, it’s a hazardous materials. And so some operators have truly gone again to water-based drilling fluid.”

Or to artificial drilling fluid.

“It’s like a pendulum swinging,” Goldsmith mentioned.

PB Oil and Gasoline requested Brett Johnson if he, too, had observed a swing again to water-based drilling fluids.

“Sure,” he mentioned. “Notably so within the Midland Basin. Within the Delaware basin, that’s not achievable. However within the Midland Basin, which is the legacy basin of the Permian, plenty of these massive operators like Pioneer and Diamondback, who’ve the most important presence within the Midland Basin, are getting wherever between 60 and 80 p.c water-based drilling solely on all their rigs now.

And that may be a hundred p.c a value deal. They’re solely doing that to attempt to save prices.”

Johnson Particular Instruments (Brett’s firm) affords a product and repair to assist operators make water-based mud work for them in these environments. For extra on that, see the associated merchandise (Going with the Move).

Talking of what may be achieved as we speak with water-based mud, Johnson mentioned this:

Johnson Specialty Instruments additionally rents tools. Right here is one in all their mud vacuums (foreground) on the foot of a drilling rig.

“In a nutshell, if I’m going to go one hundred pc water-based drilling within the Midland Basin for [say] Diamondback, in an effort to undergo the lateral course of and drill a two-mile lateral, and be as near [the performance of] oil-based mud as I can, I’ve received to have a very excessive effectivity water-based mud program. So, if I give away [get away from] oil-based mud, I can’t lose drill time. As a result of my firm doesn’t need me to lose three days of drilling or 4 days of drilling, and even 5 days of drilling. I don’t need to add 5 days of drilling to save lots of, I don’t know, $00,000-400,000 price of oil-based mud. So that you need to hold the identical drill time, similar effectivity, similar wear-and-tear in your instruments, however hold it water-based. So in an effort to try this, you bought to have the ability to maximize your effectivity on location whilst you’re mixing mud. You need to combine and emulsify the mud fluid at a speedy sufficient charge to get it downhole on the similar tempo [as the drilling process requires it, without losing drill time].

From there Johnson went into improvements within the mixing of water-based mud, a few of which is described within the accompanying merchandise (Going with the Move.) Different firms are developing with their very own variations on this theme.


For the Lengthy Haul

No matter is perhaps the subsequent path(s) for the drilling fluids business, one path for sure is that it’s going UP. Globally at the least.

The worldwide drilling fluids market, which in 2021 was pegged at $6.1 billion in worth, is predicted to develop at a Cumulative Annual Progress Charge (CAGR) of seven.8 p.c to succeed in $12.9 billion by 2031, in line with

Elevated analysis and improvement actions are underway to develop extra environment friendly drilling fluids whereas decreasing the fee. The shift towards the utilization of water-based drilling fluids is because of WBM’s setting pleasant and cost-effective nature, Analysis and Markets mentioned. And the onshore business is the primary driver for change on this sector, in line with the supply.

“Effectivity. It’s all about effectivity.”

By Jesse Mullins


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