A Cleaner Way Forward in the Eagle Ford Shale Play

With officials of the state of Texas earnestly examining the environmental impact of drilling operations, oil and gas companies are eagerly looking for new ways to make their drilling operations and consequent waste disposal more environmentally acceptable. New attention is being focused on potential contamination from drill cuttings and the oil-based drilling fluids that convey them.

This is especially true in the Eagle Ford shale play, where high-performance water-based drilling fluids are emerging as a strong alternative to conventional oil based mud alternatives (OBM). New innovations in water-based fluid formulations allow engineers to provide comparable or even better performance than OBM, while mitigating the need for drill cutting disposal.

Drill cuttings produced with conventional OBM must be disposed of via off-site land farming methods, as owners of the properties on which drilling has taken place typically forbid operators from burying the drilling waste on their land. This process results in land farming costs of $5-$10 per barrel plus associated transportation and bioremediation expense.  In the Southwest Texas area that includes the Eagle Ford play, this can amount to total disposal costs of as much as $250,000 for a well with a total depth of 12,000-15,000 feet. These costs are often not linked to the total drilling fluids expenditures of a well, providing false economics for oil based mud justification.

However, with high-performance water-based fluids, disposal options are far more flexible. In many instances, based on the environmentally friendly nature of water-based mud, landowners are willing to allow the operator to simply deposit the drilling cuttings at the well site, virtually eliminating the related disposal and transportation costs. Even in instances when landowners do require that the cuttings be transferred to a land farm, the cost of hydrocarbon bioremediation associated with OBM is eliminated. 

As environmentally stringent guidelines continue to become more commonplace, cost effective solutions that meet both environmental and performance demands are paramount to the success of the oil and gas industry. Innovative technologies like Newpark Drilling Fluids’ EVOLUTION™ fluid system prove that operators, landowners and the local communities can have the best of both worlds.


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