In a perfect world where cost is no object and environmental concerns are nil, a contractor would mix new batches of fluid as the pumps ran low. This, however, is not the case and contractors look for ways to reclaim the spoils, filter out as much muck as possible and reintroduce the newly cleaned fluid to the bore.
This task falls on the mud cleaning system, a series of pumps, shakers, screens and cones that come in a variety of configurations from smaller single shaker setups to behemoth five shaker setups. Manufacturers make systems for any size job.
“As far as the trenchless industry is concerned, in most applications whether it be directional drilling or microtunneling and several other trenchless type applications, it is going to require some form of drilling fluid or lubrication fluid of some kind and in several instances it takes a great deal of that,” said American Augers director of product management Richard Levings. ”So you have to be able to reuse the mud as it exits whatever hole that you are cutting rather than just letting it be disposed of or run away from you. It’s more economical if you’re able to reclaim it and take it back and clean it and then reuse it in the fluid stream.”
Between the energy market’s increased need for pipeline networks and routine utility installation and rehabilitation projects, coupled with being more environmentally conscious with an increased eye on the bottom line, the market for mud cleaning systems has grown.
Levings explained the twofold growth of this segment in the last decade.
“First of all, the energy market is driving the need for new pipeline networks. And generally the larger pipeline networks are associated with the larger-end directional drilling products. The market has grown because the number of large rigs is growing. When you get up above 100,000 lbs of pullback, it’s a 1:1 ratio of fluid cleaning system to every directional drill because in those size drills, the volume of fluid is so high you have to recycle, you can’t not recycle. Secondly, the market is growing because we are seeing the number of 100,000-lb and down directional drilling systems look for ways to reclaim, recycle, the fluids and they are having to do it because of the regulations.”
John Miller, CEO of Athens, Texas-based Mud Technology International, has seen the market evolve in the last 10 years to include industries that formerly did not use the technology.
“HDD operations have become more experienced with utilizing a mud system and, therefore, they are no longer an afterthought but, now a necessity and an integral part of the drilling equipment package,” Miller said.
To accommodate this growth and grab the largest slice of the mud cleaning systems pie, manufacturers like West Salem, Ohio-based American Augers, Mud Technology and Kiefer, Okla.-based Tulsa Rig Iron, work diligently to make sure the systems are as easy to use, reliable and durable as possible.
“Changes we have made are minor, basically small but important changes in the areas of reliability, serviceability and operation of the products,” said Tulsa Rig Iron president Trevor Young. “We keep the operators in mind when designing products. The market has shown greater need for more compact size units.”
One new change from Tulsa Rig Iron is the option to add the Adjustable While Drilling shaker deck angle adjustment feature on three of its systems. American Augers recently introduced the MCD-1000, which features Derrick linear motion shakers, Derrick’s patented Pyramid Screens and Krebs G-Max desanding hydrocyclones.
“Equipment designs now offer multiple configurations with smaller footprints for ease of portability and maneuverability and are more efficient and easier to setup and tear down on location,” Miller said. “Efficiency, engine management controls and design improvements coupled with lean manufacturing techniques have all contributed to the evolution of the mud system.”
In addition to improved durability, ease of use and efficiency, the cleaning systems have increased in size to better mate to larger drill rigs.
“Let’s say for instance, a half million pound drill five or 10 years ago has grown to a 1.1 million-lb drill and so the fluid needs for a half-million pound drill and a 1.1 million-lb drill are different,” Levings said. “The sizes have grown with the power characteristics of the maxi rigs but the way that it cleans, the way that it utilizes the fluid and transfers the fluid hasn’t necessarily changed. It’s just scaled up and/or scaled down as they creep down into the utility side of the business.”
According to Young, determining how much a contractor wants to process is the most important piece of design criteria. Everything else added to the system correlates to that number.
The three companies listed offer systems that range from 110 gallons per minute (gpm) to more than 1,000 gpm, all of which are trailer-mounted for easy transport. Mud Technology and Tulsa Rig Iron both offer skid-mounted systems, but trailer-style units are more popular.
Levings agreed that that is the contractor’s main concern. “They are asking them to clean the fluid properly, for them to be easy to service and for the system to be durable and reliable in terms of the uptime.”
Based on the projected workload, it’s important to select the right-size machine for the task. One way to do that is by renting a cleaning system, which both Mud Technology and Tulsa Rig Iron offer.
For some, especially those who may be unfamiliar with mud cleaning systems, trying the machines, which average anywhere from $140,000 to more than $800,000, before buying them is a prudent decision.
After using the system for the rental period, a contractor can accurately determine what is and, is not, needed and then select a standard machine or have one custom built to meet their needs.
Mike Kezdi is an assistant editor for Trenchless Technology.