Friday, May 28, 2010

Question: What Drilling Fluid is BP Using?

Ever since BP initiated its “top kill” procedure, everyone now knows that oil wells are drilled using drilling fluid, or as reported in the media: “drilling mud.” And now, rather than seeing crude oil gushing out from that broken BOP a mile down, drilling fluid, or as they say on TV, drilling mud, is now gushing out into the water column

It’s not mud though, far from it.

As a former professional geologist I remember that any discharge of drilling fluid to the ocean had to be reported, because depending on the nature of the fluid, it can be toxic.

It kills things just as certainly as crude oil does.

And now instead of millions of gallons of crude oil being spewed into the Gulf, God knows how much drilling mud is gushing out of that BOP.

As I said, it is far from being "mud" although that’s exactly what it looks like. The only components that can be found in nature are the clay base, usually a clay called bentonite which is so harmless that they use it as a filler in candy bars.

Three Musketeers, for instance.

The other ingredient is water, sometimes even salt water. That is, if a water-based mud is used. Oil-based mud, or OBM contains what you might imagine is a little more toxic than water. A new mud being used is called SBM or synthetic-based mud is considered less toxic but retains some of the advantages of OBM.

So you see, there is a range of possibilities here. You don’t buy drilling fluid, you mix it up onsite with all the ingredients right there.

Trouble is, I don’t know what kind of drilling fluid BP is using in this top kill procedure and I think it might be important to know that.

All we know is that the fluid is “heavy.” It has to be. Not only do they pump it down under high pressure, it has to be heavy enough to hold the oil and gas in the formation.

And what is used in order to make the mud heavy? None other than heavy metals.

It’s a virtual Who’s Who of the Periodic Table. Here is a short list from this site:
  1. Antimony
  2. Nickel
  3. Cobalt
  4. Fluoride
  5. Arsenic
  6. Lead
  7. Mercury
  8. Cadmium
  9. Barite
  10. Vanadium
  11. Copper
  12. Aluminum
  13. Chromium
  14. Zinc

Barite is the only one on the list that is not an element. Barite is a chemical compound called barium sulfate.

The only good thing about that one is that barium sulfate is virtually insoluble in water. It still rates a 1 on an MSDS in the Health category, however.

So for now, all I am asking is this: what kind of drilling mud is BP using to kill this well? And for now, that is all I can ask.

But soon enough, I will want to know whether BP chose this mud because it was the least toxic to the environment, or chose this mud for the same rationale that was used that initiated this disaster: they are going the cheapest way out.


gobugin said...

It's a question the general public should be asking. Would you mind if posted a link on my Facebook page? I work in O&G Engineering and this has been a concern. Not sure the general public is aware so much.

Houston, TX

Hal said...

Not a problem.

Odd, don't you think, that this has not been reported in the media at all?

Or at least, not the media that I pay attention to.

Jennifer said...

Safety drilling is still the key here. The Katch Kan is doing a safety drilling take this oil and gas report to have an idea what is the company all about.