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Cheap Drilling Mud = Well Failure, or Worse

In January of 2018, a surge of gas ignited and caused an oilfield fire that killed five men on a drilling rig near Quinton, Oklahoma. A following lawsuit alleged the deadly blowout was preventable: Red Mountain Energy, the owner and operator of the well, used a lighter drilling mud than recommended by experts. Why the cheaper mud? It was chosen to impress investors with cut costs.

Unfortunately, the temptation to use cheap drilling mud remains, alongside numerous other shortcuts that lure oil and gas operations into unsafe practices. Petroleum and its products are valuable, but we value our workers more. Preventing serious and fatal oilfield accidents must always take precedence.

What is drilling mud?

Drilling mud is a semi-viscous mixture of water, sediments, and other chemicals that is injected through the drillstring during drilling.

Drilling mud has many purposes. It lubricates the drillstring and cools the drillbit. It displaces rock cuttings and carries them to the surface to clear the well. It also prevents well blockages by suspending debris and crude oil in its mix. One of its most important functions, however, is as a well control agent: muds play a crucial role in balancing well pressure.

How do companies know which mix to use? Isn't it a guess?

Geologists recommend different drilling mud mixtures for different geographical regions, but they can also base them on functional mixtures used at nearby wells. Creating drilling mud from scratch requires some professional guesswork, but well logging (surveying and sampling) provides good clues as to which mixture serves best.

Oil and gas companies that skimp on contracting good logging services (which are generally more expensive) also risk getting an unfitting mixture, but that might not matter to them so long as production is sustained.

Why companies settle for less

Drilling mud - an already expensive component of the drilling process - can rapidly get much pricier. Some ingredients increase the bill so much that companies reduce or waive them altogether.

Some mixtures such as aerated foams or oil-based muds serve better depending on site geology, but they come with higher prices. Though more expensive up front, gravitating toward expert-recommended muds usually proves better and safer, allowing for better circulation of cuttings, better retrieval of crude oil, and more precise well control.

Opting for cheaper drilling mud or ignoring logging indicators often backfires on companies. Unfit mud can cause clogging or polymer/clay/shale reactions that permanently kill the well. Also, cheaper drilling mud, as in the case of the 2018 Quinton oilfield accident, can have deadly ramifications when it compromises well pressure or reacts explosively with other contents down the hole. Seemingly small "shortcuts" can result in preventable oilfield accidents that harm workers.

Why you shouldn't settle for less

To a company, "settling for less" means saving some money. To experts, it means the company jeopardizes a well's integrity. To workers, it means they bear the very real consequences when things go wrong. We believe that workers shouldn't bear those consequences of negligent decisions: don't settle for less just because your employer did.

If you have been injured or your loved one has been killed in an oilfield accident, know that you may be entitled to compensation.

Our oilfield accidents attorneys at the Wyatt Law Firm have litigated corporate negligence successfully for over 25 years. We fight for oil and gas workers who suffer the life-changing consequences of irresponsible company decisions. Call us at 210-255-2231 for a free case review, or contact us through our website.

We value workers more. Don't settle for less.

Explore our legal blog for more information on oilfield accidents, or browse our website to learn about our practice areas.


References

Devereux, S. (2012). Drilling Fluids. In Drilling Technology in Nontechnical Language (pp. 155-172). Tulsa, OK: PennWell Corporation.

Insurance Journal. (2018, December 13). Lawsuit: Drilling Company Knew Oklahoma Rig Was Unsafe Before Explosion. Retrieved from https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southcentral/2018/12/13/512100.htm

KFOR-TV, & Querry, K. (2018, October 11). Lawsuit: Deadly drilling rig explosion was result of company trying to save money. Retrieved from https://kfor.com/2018/10/11/lawsuit-deadly-drilling-rig-explosion-was-result-of-company-trying-to-save-money/

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