Separation of Drilled Solids from Drilling Fluids

The types and quantities of solids (insoluble components) present in drilling mud systems play major roles in the fluid’s density, viscosity, filter-cake quality/filtration control, and other chemical and mechanical properties. The type of solid and its concentration influences mud and well costs, including factors such as drilling rate, hydraulics, dilution rate, torque and drag, surge and swab pressures, differential sticking, lost circulation, hole stability, and balling of the bit and the bottom-hole
assembly. These, in turn, influence the service life of bits, pumps, and other mechanical equipment. Insoluble polymers, clays, and weighting materials are added to drilling mud to achieve various desirable properties.
Drilled solids, consisting of rock and low-yielding clays, are incorporated into the mud continuously while drilling. To a limited extent, they can be tolerated and may even be beneficial. Dispersion of clay-bearing drilled solids creates highly charged colloidal particles (<2 μm) that generate significant viscosity, particularly at low shear rates, which aids in suspension of all solids. If the clays are sodium montmorillonite, the solids will also form thin filter cakes and control filtration (loss of liquid phase) into the drilled formation. Above a concentration of a few weight percent, dispersed drilled solids can generate excessive low-shear-rate and high-shear-rate viscosities, greatly reduced drilling rates, and excessively thick filter cakes. As shown in Figures 2.3 and 2.4, with increasing mud density (increasing concentration of weighting material), the high-shear-rate viscosity (reflected by the plastic viscosity [PV]) rises continuously even as the concentration of drilled solids (low-gravity solids [LGSs]) is reduced. The methylene blue test (MBT) is a measure of the surface activity of the solids in the drilling fluid and serves as a relative measure of the amount of active clays in the system. It does not correspond directly to the concentration of drilled solids, since composition of drilled solids is quite variable. However, it is clear that, in most cases, drilled solids have a much greater effect than barite on viscosity and that the amount of active clays in the drilled solids is one of the most important factors. Thus, as mud density is increased, MBT must be reduced so that PV does not reach such a high level that it exceeds pump capacity or causes well-bore stability problems.

As shown in Figure 2.4, increasing the mud density from 10 lb/gal to 18 lb/gal requires that the MBT be reduced by half [M-I llc]. Different mud densities require different strategies to maintain the concentration of drilled solids within an acceptable range. Whereas low mud densities may require only mud dilution in combination with a simple mechanical separator, high mud densities may require a more complex strategy:
(a) chemical treatment to limit dispersion of the drilled solids (e.g., use of a shale inhibitor or deflocculant like lignosulfonate).
(b) more frequent dilution of the drilling fluid with base fluid,
(c) more complex solids removal equipment, such as mud cleaners and centrifuges [Svarovsky].
In either case, solids removal is one of the most important aspects of mud system control, since it has a direct bearing on drilling efficiency and represents an opportunity to reduce overall drilling costs. A diagram of a typical mud circulating system, including various solids-control devices, is shown in Figure 2.5 [M-I llc].

While some dilution with fresh treated mud is necessary and even desirable, sole reliance on dilution to control buildup of drilled solids in the mud is very costly. The dilution volume required to compensate for contamination of the mud by 1 bbl of drilled solids is given by the following equation:

where Vsolids is the volume of drilled solids expressed in volume percentage. As discussed earlier, drilled solids become less tolerable with increasing mud density. For drilling-fluid densities less than 12 lb/gal, Vsolids<5% is desirable, whereas for a density of 18 lb/gal, Vsolids<2 or 3% is best. When Vsolids=5%, the equation above gives Vdilution=19 bbl
drilling fluid/bbl drilled solids. The cost of this extra drilling fluid (neglecting downhole losses) is the sum of the cost of the drilling fluid itself plus the cost to dispose of it. This dilution cost is generally so high that even a considerable investment in solids-control equipment is more economical.
Solids removal on the rig is accomplished by one or more of the following techniques:
. Screening: Shale shakers, gumbo removal devices
. Hydrocycloning: Desanders, desilters
. Centrifugation: Scalping and decanting centrifuges
. Gravitational settling: Sumps, dewatering units
Often these are accomplished using separate devices, but sometimes these processes are combined, as in the case of the mud cleaner, which is a bank of hydrocyclones mounted over a vibrating screen. Another important hybrid device is the cuttings dryer (also called a rotating shaker), which is a centrifuge fitted with a cone-shaped shaker; this apparatus is used to separate cuttings from NAF-based muds and strip most of the mud from the cuttings’ surfaces before disposal. Additional devices
can help to enhance solids-removal efficiency. For example, a vacuum or atmospheric degasser is sometimes installed (before any centrifugal pumps, typically between the shakers and desanders) to remove entrained air that can cause pump cavitation and reduction in mud density. Refer to Chapter 5 on Tank Arrangements for more details.
With the advent of closed loop systems, dewatering of WBMs has received strong impetus, and it has been found useful to add a dewatering unit downstream of a conventional solids-control system [Amoco]. Dewatering units usually employ a flocculation tank—with a polymer to flocculate all solids—and settling tanks to generate solidsfree liquid that is returned to the active system. Dewatering units reduce waste volume and disposal costs substantially and are most economical
when used to process large volumes of expensive drilling fluid.
Solids-control equipment used on a rig is designed to remove drilledsolids—not all solids—from a drilling fluid. As such, the equipment has to be refined enough to leave desired solids (such as weighting material) behind while taking out drilled solids ranging in size from several millimeters to just a few microns. Although such perfect separation of desired from undesired solids is not possible, the advantages offered by the solids-control equipment far outweigh their limitations. Each
device is designed to remove a sufficient quantity and size range of solids. The key to efficient solids control is to use the right combination of equipment for a particular situation, arrange the equipment properly, and ensure that it operates correctly. This, in turn, requires accurate characterization of the drilled solids, along with optimal engineering and maintenance of the drilling fluid.


This handbook describes the method and mechanical systems available to control drilled solids in drilling fluids used in oil well drilling. System details permit immediate and practical application both in the planning/design phase and in operations.
Good solids-control programs are often ignored because basic principles are not understood. This book explains the fundamentals of good solids control. Adherence to these simple basic principles is financially rewarding.
This American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) textbook/handbook is a revision of the American Association of Drilling Engineers (AADE) Shale Shaker Handbook, which was a revision of the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) Mud Equipment Manual. Many of the authors of this book were authors of those books as well. Patience, dedication, many long hours of work, and evaluation of the latest technology have been required of all members of this committee. Ten years were required to write the IADC Manual;
7 years were required to write the AADE Handbook; and 2 years were required to write this textbook.
None of the authors of any of the three books have received any compensation for their work and writing. The group was dedicated to providing the drilling industry with the best technology available, and many hours of discussion were frequently required to resolve controversial issues.
Fallacious arguments persist that drilled solids are beneficial. Drilled
solids are evil and insidious. Increases in drilled-solids concentrations
generally do not immediately reveal their economic impact. Their
detrimental effects are generally not immediately obvious on a drilling
rig; so skeptics fail to believe that drilled solids foster the havoc that they
truly do. The secret to drilling safely, fast, and under budget is to remove
drilled solids. Drilled solids increase drilling costs, damage reservoirs,
and create large disposal costs. Specific problems associated with drilled
solids are:
. Filtrate damage to formations
. Drilling rate limits
. Hole problems
. Stuck pipe problems
. Lost circulation problems
. Direct drilling-fluid costs
. Increased disposal costs
These bad effects of drilled solids are explored in greater detail here
and in the rest of the book. The eradication of these effects is discussed
in great detail in this book. The book may be used for planning and
designing a drilling-fluid processing system, improving current systems,
troubleshooting a system, or improving rig operations. Drilled solids are
evil, and this is the theme of this Handbook.
The effects of drilled solids on the economics of drilling a well are
subtle. Increasing drilled-solids content does not immediately result in
disaster on a drilling rig. When a drill bit ceases to drill and torque
increases, a driller knows immediately that it is time to pull the bit.
When drilled solids increase, the detrimental effects are not immediately
apparent. Decreasing drilled solids is analogous to buying insurance for an event that will not happen. Proving that something will not happen—
like stuck pipe—is difficult to do. This is somewhat like the story of
Salem, who was walking down Main Street snapping his fingers. Friend
asks, ‘‘Why are you snapping your fingers?’’ Salem: ‘‘Keeps the tigers
away.’’ Friend: ‘‘There are no tigers on Main Street.’’ Salem: ‘‘Yeah,
works doesn’t it?’’ No drilling program calls for stuck pipe or fishing
jobs even if they are common in an area with a particular drilling rig.
The evil effects of drilled solids are real. Acknowledging that fact and
preparing to properly handle them at the surface will result in much
lower drilling costs.
Good drilled-solids removal procedures start at the drill bit. Cuttings
should be removed before another drill bit cutter crushes rock that has
already been removed from the formation. These cuttings should be
transported to the surface with as little disintegration as possible. In
addition to the cuttings produced by the drill bit, slivers or chunks of
rock from the well-bore walls also enter the drilling fluid stream. Large
drilled solids are easier to remove than small ones. After the cuttings
have reached the surface, the correct equipment must be available to
handle the appropriate solids loading, and the processing routing must
be correct. Surprisingly, after all these years of using drilling fluids, the
simple principles of arranging equipment are seldom practiced in the
field. Some drilling rigs, particularly offshore ones, have a complex
manifold of plumbing in the surface drilling fluid pits. The concept is
that any one of the centrifugal pumps can pump from any compartment
to any other compartment by adjusting valves. This concept is incorrect
and detrimental to proper drilled-solids removal. Generally, arranging
the complex routing for correct solids-removal processing is so
unobvious that all of the drilling fluid is not processed by the equipment.
Also, valves can leak in this system and go undetected for many wells.
Better to follow the rule, One pump/one purpose. Add additional
plumbing or pumps but do not use solids-removal equipment feed
pumps for anything but their stated purpose. This book shows how the
equipment works and how it should be plumbed.
While drilling wells, drilling fluid is processed at the surface to remove
drilled solids and blend the necessary additives to allow drilling fluid to
meet specifications. Drilling-fluid processing systems are described in
this book from both a theoretical point of view and practical guidelines.
It will be as useful for a student of drilling as for the person on the rig.
Drill bit cuttings and pieces of formation that have sloughed into the
well bore (collectively called drilled solids) are brought to the surface by
the drilling fluid. The fluid flows across a shale shaker before entering the
mud pits. Most shale shakers impart a vibratory motion to a wire or
plastic mesh screen. This motion allows the drilling fluid to pass through
the screen and removes particles larger than the openings in the screen.
Usually drilled solids must be maintained at some relatively low
concentration. The reason for the need for this control is explained in
the next section. The shale shaker is the initial and primary drilled-solids
removal device and usually works in conjunction with other solidsremoval
equipment located downstream.
Solids-control equipment, also called solids-removal equipment or
drilled-solids management equipment, is designed to remove drilled
solids from a circulating drilling fluid. This equipment includes gumbo
removers, scalper shakers, shale shakers, dryer shakers, desanders,
desilters, mud cleaners, and centrifuges. These components, in various
arrangements, are used to remove specific-size particles from drilling
fluid. Knowledge of operating principles of auxiliary equipment, such
as agitators, mud guns, mud hoppers, gas busters, degassers, and
centrifugal pumps, is necessary to properly process drilling fluid in
surface systems. All of this equipment is discussed in this book.
However, the best equipment available is insufficient if it processes only
a portion of the active drilling fluid coming from the well.