Following the global stringent legislations regulating the wastes generated from the drilling process of oil exploration and production activities, the management of hazardous drill cuttings has become one of the pressing needs confronting the petroleum industry. Most of the prevalent treatment techniques adopted by oil companies are extremely expensive and/or the treated product has to be landfilled without any potential end-use; thereby rendering these solutions unsustainable.

The technique of stabilisation/solidification is being investigated in this research to treat drill cuttings prior to landfilling or for potential re-use in construction products. Two case studies were explored namely North Sea and Red Sea. Given the known difficulties with stabilising/solidifying oils and chlorides, this research made use of model drill cutting mixes based on typical drill cutting from the two case studies, which contained 4.2% and 10.95% average concentrations of hydrocarbons; and 2.03% and 2.13% of chlorides, by weight respectively. A number of different binders, including a range of conventional viz. Portland cement (PC) as well as less-conventional viz. zeolite, or waste binders viz. cement kiln dust (CKD), fly ash and compost were tested to assess their ability to treat the North Sea and Red Sea model drill cuttings. The dry binder content by weight was 10%, 20% and 30%. In addition, raw drill cuttings from one of the North Sea offshore rigs were stabilised/solidified using 30% PC. The characteristics of the final stabilised/solidified product were finally compared to those of thermally treated cuttings.

The effectiveness of the treatment using the different binder systems was compared in the light of the aforementioned two contaminants only. A set of physical tests (unconfined compressive strength (UCS)), chemical tests (NRA leachability) and micro-structural examinations (using scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and X-ray diffraction (XRD)) were used to evaluate the relative performance of the different binder mixes in treating the drill cuttings.

The results showed that the observed UCS covered a wide range of values indicating various feasible end-use scenarios for the treated cuttings within the construction industry. The leachability results showed the reduction of the model drill cuttings to a stable non-reactive hazardous waste, compliant with the UK acceptance criteria for non-hazardous landfills:

(a) by most of the 30% and 20% binders for chloride concentrations, and (b) by the 20% and 30% of compost-PC and CKD-PC binders for the Red Sea cuttings. The 20% and 30% compost-PC and CKD-PC binders successfully reduced the leached oil concentration of the North Sea cuttings to inert levels.

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