“All that is gold does not glitter” - Drilling Mud

ScienceNewsforKids.org has recently posted an article titled “Mud worth than gold”, which happened to be the “Nose in the News” project for my 3rd grade son. Though this article is a little hard for a 3rd grader to analyze, its title is rather attractive. The article tells the sample mud collected from far below Antarctica’s ice by two scientists and their drilling crew contains valuable information. This might help reveal the secrets of the continent’s ancient climate, thus help on future weather prediction.

Coincidentally, in this September, a report from “marketsandmarkets.com” also has something to say about mud. The report with a long title "Drilling Fluids (Drilling Mud) Market and Completion Fluids Market: by Types (Water-Based Systems, Oil-Based Systems, Synthetic-Based Systems, Other Based Systems), Application Areas (Onshore and Offshore), & Geography - Global trends and forecast to 2018 " defines and segments the global drilling fluids and completion fluids market with analysis and revenue forecast. It predicts that the drilling fluids and completion fluids market will grow from an estimated $10.6 billion in 2013 to $15.2 billion by 2018.

All that is gold does not glitter

Regardless of its meaning and the context, the title of J. R. Tolkien’s poem “All that is gold does not glitter” would certainly apply to drilling mud. According to industry statistics, drilling mud takes approximately 10% to 15% of the total drilling cost. With the needs of more deep sea drilling and ever fast drilling rate, drilling fluids are used on day-to-day basis and plays a vital role in drilling process: controlling formation pressure, sealing permeable formations, stabilizing the wellbore, suspending the drill cuttings, and cooling and lubricating the drilling bit etc.

Drilling fluids are basically categorized into 3 types: water-based mud (WBM), oil-based mud (OBM) and synthetic-based fluid (SBM). When choosing a drilling fluid, factors like well design, cost, technical performance, environmental impact all need to be considered. WBM and OBM are commonly used nowadays. They are complex compositions with various additives such as minerals and chemicals. As the well drilling reaches various depths, it requires different type of drilling fluids to meet the specific drilling condition, where demands the balance between the properties and the additives in the mud. Small problems with mud may lead to severe problems like lost in mud circulation, gas escaping or even blowout.

Among those who work on the drilling rigs, mud engineers are the ones who frequently and closely deal with the drilling mud. Their job is 24/7.  A mud engineer’s duty not only involves in prescribing mud treatments, maintaining the drilling fluids, but also keeping continuous mud reporting every day. To them, time management is more important than ever. Besides powerful computer aids, software like MUDPRO developed by PVI is a great way to enhance the mud engineer’s ability on mud data recording and analyzing, hydraulics calculating, inventory tracking and daily reports/recap generating.

As drilling technology advances, drilling fluids are innovated and designed to be not only cost effective but also environmentally safe. Research on Non-toxic bio degradable drilling fluids with nanotechnology is being conducted and huge investment is being made. This type of fluids not only provides higher transfer efficiency and better thermal conductivity but also removes toxic metals. After all, protecting the environment has enormous impact to our future generations.

Diamond vs. Oil

I have been subscribing to Discover magazine for my son who is in high school for two years now. It has become his favorite magazine as well as mine. It fascinates me with all its bizarreness and terminologies, some of which are interesting, and many that are much beyond my understanding.

Recently, a column in the magazine titled “The Afghanistan of Gemstones - Diamonds” caught my eye. I love diamonds, as all women do, but would never relate diamonds to Afghanistan, though I briefly know that this country has a history of abundance of gold. To my surprise, the short statement simply tells how light travels in diamonds.

Many people know the speed of light in a vacuum, which is usually denoted by c (as in Einstein’s icon equation E = mc2), but may not know the speed of light in a diamond. Here’s the answer: the speed at which light travels in diamond is slowed to less than half of that in a vacuum. Why? It is because the diamond plays a reflecting trick.

Like getting stuck in a thicket of carbon atoms, any photon that enters the diamond quickly gets bogged down. Within the many facets of the gem, the light pings back and forth inside the multitude of carbon atoms to find an exit, thus reducing its speed considerably. Does this situation sound familiar in Afghanistan? Reading up on these facts somehow reminded me of crude oil. The two just happen to have some striking similarities.

Color

Diamonds come in a variety of colors. Most diamonds are yellow or brown; even diamonds in “colorless” grade would have little or no detectable color. Color has a significant impact on diamonds’ value and appearance.

Crude oil has many colors as well and is one of the indications of its quality. Oil can not only be black or brown, but it can also be red, yellow, or even colorless. Higher quality oil can be golden or amber in color.

Composition

Diamonds are composed of pure carbon. Minute traces of minerals such as boron and nitrogen mixed in with the carbon give the diamond its color.

Crude oil consists of roughly 85% Carbon (C), 12% Hydrogen (H), 5% Sulfur (S), and less than 2% of Nitrogen (N), Oxygen (O), and other metals.

Formation

Diamonds were formed hundreds of millions of years ago under extreme heat and pressure. These conditions deep within the Earth transformed the carbon into colorless crystals. Diamonds surface from within the Earth through magma that cools into igneous rocks known as kimberlites. Vertical structures in the Earth’s crust known as kimberlite pipes are the most important diamond mines.

Millions of years ago, organisms such as algae, plankton, and other living things were buried and decomposed under tremendous pressure and heat. Over time, these organisms turned into the fossil fuels we use today. Often, the oil lies at sandstone and limestone beds.

Geography

The mines containing quality diamonds are primarily in Botswana, Russia, South Africa, Angola, Namibia, Australia, and Congo. It takes an average of 250 tons of mined ore to produce one-carat diamond. According to geophysical surveys, approximately 5,000 kimberlites are currently known in the world.

The ten great crude oil reserves in the world are in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, UAE, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Libya, Mexico, and USA. About 70% of conventional oil/gas reserves are concentrated in a region stretching from the Middle East to the North of West Siberia - an area deemed as the “Strategic Ellipse.”

Conclusion

Both diamonds and oil are harder and harder to come by, not only due to political reasons, but also because of geographic distribution and technical availability. Natural diamonds can be substituted by synthetic ones (lab-created) at a lower cost. But what about crude oil? Can it be replaced by some type of artificial oil or another alternative? Yes, unconventional oil can be extracted and refined from heavy oils, oil sands, oil shale, and tight sands, but besides its costly and less efficient processes of extraction and production, environmental controls are also taken into consideration.

After all, we can live without diamonds, but can hardly imagine what our lives would be without those things made out of crude oil, for example, gasoline.