21st Century Drilling
Now that the drilling industry has entered the 21st century, I have had the opportunity to look back at the changes I've seen in my 35 years in the business. Most of the big improvements have come in the form of increased productivity. We've gone from cable tool rigs to very sophisticated rotary rigs that just keep getting better all the time. Drillers are starting to learn that in mud rotary drilling, the key word is mud. Proper mud control often makes the difference between an economical, useable hole and a slow, inefficient, stuck-pipe nightmare. New, modern rigs are as efficient as anything that can be designed, but the mud systems that go with them are mostly leftovers from the last century. The oilfield has had good mud systems for years because they have had to, but they've been too big and heavy for the water well industry. The horizontal drilling industry has had to develop some small, very sophisticated mud mixing and processing units, but in the quest for more bells-and-whistles, they seem to have bypassed reliability and versatility. While some of the newer mud systems on the market do one thing and do it well, they seem to lack the versatility required to keep up with ever changing hole conditions. Also, I have noticed that some of the newer, more sophisticated units are completely unserviceable in the field by the average driller. They require expensive parts and highly skilled labor to repair.
There are some newer mud systems coming on the market that are designed and built by drillers, for drillers. These systems are the wave of the future. They provide the next step in productivity that we need for the new century. A properly designed mud system will speed rig-up and drilling, drastically reduce pump wear, make for a much cleaner location, and eliminate the need for a backhoe that just sits there costing money most of the time. Not to mention that you no longer have to dig up the rose bushes and phone lines to drill a well. And you don't have to put them back when you're done either. Rig-up with the new systems is as easy as - spot the unit, mix mud, set the pick-up pump behind the rig and start drilling. No more plugged suction strainers, sticks in the pump, sand-laden fluid wearing out expensive mud pumps, etc. Mud properties are controlled easily, and drilling is much faster. Cuttings can either be disposed of off to the side or dumped in a small trailer for off-site disposal. When the well is completed, there are no pits to fill in and compact, no landscaping to be done, and a much happier customer! In addition, for close pattern drilling, such as geothermal drilling, the unit can be set up in a central location, and, using remote pickup hoses, it doesn't even have to be moved during the entire job.
I've been using steel pits for several years now, and I've found that with proper mud control and desanding, I can get more than two years out of a set of pump swabs and more than twice that out of my liners. I don't even own a backhoe anymore! We will soon have a new trailer-mounted mud system that should do even better. Next time you are at a trade show, look around - there are some mighty nice units out there.