While oil-base muds have given satisfactory performance in the past, environmental concerns motivate the further development of water-base muds. Often associated with water-base muds are operational problems such as bit balling, high torque, and stuck pipe. Tests commonly used to evaluate muds are typically conducted on nonpreserved, unstressed shale and disparate formations. There is a need, therefore, for means of evaluating non-oil mud systems in the laboratory to predict relative performance under field conditions.

This paper describes two methods of testing water-base muds on preserved, stressed shale specimens. One test method utilizes the Microbit Drilling Rig (MDR) to study bit balling characteristics of shale in a given mud system. The test results showed that the clay matrix of the rock can influence balling. The type of cations present are critical, whereas cation exchange capacity and moisture content are not directly correlatable to bit balling. Analysis of the rock to determine composition and plasticity can be used to determine the tendency of a given formation to ball the bit.

The second method utilizes the Downhole Simulation Cell (DSC) to study wellbore instability resulting from exposure of shale to drilling muds under downhole temperature and stress conditions. An elasto-plastic model is presented showing how mud type can affect wellbore stability. These results caution against reliance on tests of unconfined shale particles (cuttings) or even unconsolidated shale specimens when studying effects of muds on shale instability.

Tests results from the MDR and DSC test equipment can be used to develop data bases for the selection of mud system and bit type and to suggest hydraulics to prevent balling of PDC bits. The data has been applied to the selection of a water-base mud that reduced both mud and operation costs when drilling deviated wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

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