OK, all y’all air drillers just thumb on over to Porky’s column or something. This is for mud drillers. On second thought, I know a lot of you air guys drill about three mud wells a year, and consider it a hassle to rig up mud. So, maybe something I say will be interesting …
The mud pump is the heart of the circulating system, and mud is the blood circulating in the hole. I’ve talked about mud before and will again, but this month, let’s talk about the pump.
Historically, more wells, of every kind, have been drilled with duplex pumps than any other kind. They are simple and strong, and were designed in the days when things were meant to last. Most water well drillers use them. The drawbacks are size and weight. A pump big enough to do the job might be too big to fit on the rig, so some guys use skid-mounted pumps. They also take a fair amount of horsepower. If you were to break down the horsepower requirements of your rig, you would find out that the pump takes more power than the rotary and hoist combined. This is not a bad thing, since it does a lot of the work drilling. While duplex pumps generally make plenty of volume, one of the limiting factors is pressure. Handling the high pressures demanded by today’s oil well drilling required a pump so big and heavy as to be impractical. Some pretty smart guys came up with the triplex pump. It will pump the same — or more — volume in a smaller package, is easy to work on and will make insane pressure when needed. Some of the modern frack outfits run pumps that will pump all day long at 15,000 psi. Scary. Talk about burning some diesel.
The places that triplex pumps have in the shallow drilling market are in coring and air drilling. The volume needs are not as great. For instance, in hard rock coring, surface returns are not always even seen, and the fluid just keeps the diamonds cool. In air drilling, a small triplex is used to inject foam or other chemicals into the air line. It’s basically a glorified car wash pump. The generic name is Bean pump, but I think this just justifies a higher price. Kinda like getting the same burger at McDonald’s versus in a casino.
One of the reasons water well drillers don’t run triplex pumps, besides not needing insane pressure, is they require a positive suction head. In other words, they will not pick up out of the pit like a duplex. They require a centrifugal charging pump to feed them, and that is just another piece of equipment to haul and maintain.
This brings me to another thought: charging. I know a lot of drillers running duplex pumps that want to improve the efficiency of their pumps. Duplexes with a negative suction head generally run at about 85 percent efficiency. The easy way to improve the efficiency is to charge them, thus assuring a 100 percent efficiency. This works great, but almost every one of them, after doing all that work and rigging up a charging pump, tells me that their pump output doubled. Being the quiet, mild mannered type that I am, I don’t say “Bull,” but it is. A duplex pump is a positive displacement pump. That means that it can deliver no more than the displacement it was designed for. You can only fill the cylinder up until it is full. It won’t take any more. The one exception to this is when you are pumping at very low pressure. Then the charging pump will over run the duplex, float the valves and produce a lot more fluid. Might as well shut off the duplex and drill with the charging pump.
Another common pump used in the water well industry is the centrifugal. You see them mostly on air rigs that don’t use mud too often. They have their place, but are a different breed of cat. They are not positive displacement. Flow is a function of speed and horsepower up to the limits of the pump. After that, they just dead-head. With large diameter drill pipe they make a lot of mud, but after the hole gets deeper, friction losses — both inside and outside the drill pipe — build up. This means that the deeper you go, the less circulation you have. This slows the whole process. Positive displacement pumps don’t do this; they pump the same per stroke regardless of pressure. It just takes more horsepower. Also, displacement calculations like bottoms-up time and cement placement are just about impossible. One way to get around the limited pressure of centrifugal pumps is to run two of them in series. I’ve seen a few of these rig-ups and they work very well for large diameter drilling. They will make almost the same pressure as a big duplex for a lot less money. They are still variable displacement, but they roll so much fluid that it doesn’t seem to matter. And run at pretty reasonable depths, too: 300 to 400 psi at 400 gpm is not uncommon with two 3 x 4 centrifugal pumps in series.
I reckon there are pumps for every type of drilling. It is just a matter of using the right one correctly. I once drilled a 42-inch hole 842 feet deep with a 5½ x 8 duplex. Talk about long bottoms-up time … but we got the casing in with less than two feet of fill on bottom! Took time, but we got-er-done.