Impact of Environmental Regulations on Drilling-Fluid Technology
- R.K. Clark (Shell Development Co.)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- September 1994
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 804 - 809
- 1994. Society of Petroleum Engineers
- 4.1.2 Separation and Treating, 2.1.7 Deepwater Completions Design, 1.6.5 Drilling Time Analysis, 2.7.1 Completion Fluids, 4.3.1 Hydrates, 2 Well Completion, 1.10 Drilling Equipment, 6.5.3 Waste Management, 1.14 Casing and Cementing, 4.1.5 Processing Equipment, 1.6 Drilling Operations, 1.10.1 Drill string components and drilling tools (tubulars, jars, subs, stabilisers, reamers, etc), 1.6.1 Drilling Operation Management, 1.11.4 Solids Control, 4.2.3 Materials and Corrosion, 6.5.4 Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials, 1.11 Drilling Fluids and Materials, 5.4.10 Microbial Methods
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A multitude of new drilling-fluid products, systems, and treatment processes have been developed recently in response to increasingly stringent environmental regulations. Many fluid additives and systems that once played a major role in the drilling industry are in little use today or are no longer available. New water-based mud systems are approaching the performance levels typical of conventional oil-based muds, levels largely achieved by new synthetic-based fluids. However, these new drilling fluids do not have the adverse environmental impact associated with oil-based systems when waste fluids and cuttings are discarded.
Drilling-fluid technology has undergone significant changes in the past 5 to 10 years. Much of the change has been in response to new demands placed by regulatory agencies on drilling-fluid disposal from offshore locations. The response has led to increased use of polymer drilling fluids, the application of glycol and glycerol additives, and the development of synthetic-based muds, water-based spotting fluids, and many other new additives. The tried-and-true drilling fluids of the 1970's and early 1980's now play a much smaller role in the industry. The successful response to changing environmental regulations resulted primarily from the efforts of service, oil, and chemical company laboratories working independently toward a common goal.
The event that had the most profound effect on drilling-fluid technology in the U.S. occurred in 1986. On July 2, 1986, regulations took effect that placed a limit on the toxicity of water-based drilling fluids being discharged into the Gulf of Mexico. Until mid-1986, operators in the Gulf of Mexico were allowed to discharge water-based drilling fluids and cuttings that did not contain diesel oil or "free oil." The presence of free oil was defined as a visible sheen on the receiving waters. After the early 1980's and before the toxicity limitations, water-based muds could be discharged if they could be assigned to one of eight authorized (generic) mud systems and the composition held within prescribed limits. Oil-based drilling fluids and cuttings could not be discharged, particularly if the oil-based mud was formulated with diesel oil.
Equally important to the changing environmental requirements are the performance demands dictated by the new types of wells being drilled-e.g., deepwater, extended-reach, horizontal, and slim-hole wells. Fluid requirements for such wells have also resulted in new systems and additives. Wells are being drilled at higher penetration rates over longer, higher-angle intervals without bit trips than in the past owing to improvements in rig, bit, drillstring, and directional technologies. These improvements must be met by enhanced drilling-fluid performance.
Most of the changes in drilling-fluid technology have taken place at a time of low oil prices and reduced industry employment. In July 1986, oil prices dropped below $10/bbl from almost $28/bbl just 6 months earlier. This intensified the industry downsizing that had started in the early 1980's. While some research projects were terminated or delayed as resources were reduced, drilling-fluid technology continued to advance, and the performance of today's drilling fluids far exceeds those of just a few years ago.
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