The “Straight Skinny” on bentonite-based drilling muds & their standard practice use in the horizontal remediation well industry


Courtesy of Directional Technologies, Inc.

Let’s make our point up front: 1) bentonite-based drilling fluid is NOT bad for horizontal remediation well (HRW) projects; 2) it does not damage the formation; 3) it is a naturally occurring clay material that is mined; and 4) it does flush easily/adequately during well development.

Most remediation professionals have designed and/or installed vertical wells at one time or another during their careers. After advancing the boring, setting the screen/riser and sand pack, the driller usually pours dry bentonite chips or pellets into the annular space between the well and formation. The driller then adds water to hydrate the bentonite, creating a very effective seal as the bentonite swells (or “yields”).

Why are we discussing a topic that is common knowledge/practice to most remediation professionals? Because some people who claim to be experts at installing horizontal remediation wells assert that bentonite-based drilling fluids damage the formation and cannot be adequately flushed from the annular space during development. These are false assertions that distort what actually happens when bentonite-based drilling fluid is used. These false assertions feed off of most remediation professional’s real-world experience when dry bentonite is intentionally hydrated in situ to create a seal in a monitoring well. In other words, an attempt is being made to make you think that because straight bentonite hydrated in situ makes a great seal, it does the same thing when used in a drilling fluid when installing a HRW.

The argument turns on the fact that: 1)bentonite-based drilling fluid is hydrated ex situ and yields prior to commencing drilling; and 2) bentonite is a component of the mud system, not the sole component .

A “seal” is never formed by bentonite in a HRW and in addition Directional Technologies, Inc. uses a proprietary process to develop HRWs based on years of field experience in the oil field, the utility industry and the environmental industry. This development process results in fully functional wells.

The same HRW professionals that criticize bentonite-based drilling mud also advocate the use of “bio-polymer” drilling muds. These are manmade products based on gaur gums and vegetable products that biodegrade after use to various types of sugars that purportedly “jump start” the bioremediation process by supplying nutrients to naturally occurring bacteria. The problem with this is that the sugars tend to enhance undesirable bacteria that can create slime that damages the formation.

Directional Technologies, Inc. develops and formulates-specific drilling fluid programs for each HRW we install. We do not use a one-dimensional, “one-size-fits-all” drilling program. There is both a science and an art to creating the optimal drilling fluid program for each well installation. It is imperative that the selected drilling fluid(s) build the bore path to: 1) prevent formation damage; 2) enable safe cost efficient drilling/well installation; and 3) prevent bio-fouling.

Stay tuned for additional technical communications regarding the HRW installation process.

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