What is Drilling Fluid Made From?

It seems like there’s always a new well of one kind of another going up in various parts of the country. A lot of these wells use certain techniques to get more out of the well or to drill in places where it wasn’t previously possible to drill before more recent technology became available. In many cases, this leads people to wonder more about the drilling process. They want to know how it’s accomplished and what materials are used while it’s being done. This is particularly interesting when it comes to drilling fluid. Many people also refer to this as drilling mud or in some cases, gel. The bigger question is, what is it and what is it used for?

Uses For Drilling Fluid

Drilling fluid is used in virtually all types of wells, even when a water well is going into place. The fluid is used to prevent other types of fluid from building back through the bore hole. Without an ability to control this buildup of fluid, it would be virtually impossible to drill a well effectively. With that being said, there are additional uses for drilling fluid aside from just keeping the flow of water, oil or gas in check. Drilling fluid is frequently used to keep the massive drilling bits used for these holes cool. If the drill bits were to overheat, they would fail and in some cases, they could start a fire or even cause an explosion. The fluid is used to prevent any of these things from occurring and to extend the life of the drilling bits themselves. In some cases, the fluid that is used is also an integral part of keeping things clean. This is especially important when bearings and other mechanisms have to be kept clean and the fluid in question involves oil.

Different Types Of Drilling Fluids

When it’s all said and done, there are typically three different main types of drilling fluids that are used, although there are several different categories within these main types that can cause slight differences. Generally speaking, wells will use drilling fluids that are either water-based, oil-based or gaseous. Each of these will be discussed in greater detail in the following paragraphs.

Water-Based Fluids

Obviously, water-based fluids are the safest out of the three categories. They work well with some situations, but they don’t work in every situation. They’re typically either dispersed or non dispersed and are made by mixing water with the clays that are present in the soil wherever the well is being constructed. In some extreme situations, the clay might be brought in from other areas and mixed on site. Wells that utilize water-based fluids are typically referred to as gels because the water allows this fluid to flow with the consistency of milk until the drilling process is suspended for a time. At that time, the entire mixture becomes gelatinous, effectively preventing any additional fluid from coming up through the bore hole. It also works well because this is not a flammable mixture, making it one of the top choices when it can be used effectively.

Oil-Based Fluids

As previously mentioned, water-based fluids, or gels, can’t always be used effectively. There are times when oil based fluids must be used instead. Typically, the base fluid that used for these types of operations involves diesel, although synthetic oils can also be used. There are many reasons that oil-based fluid might be used instead of other methods. First and foremost, the oil based fluids don’t have a tendency to break down as easily as those that are water-based. They also keep mechanisms clean far more effectively than water-based fluids. Therefore, there are certain operations where it’s necessary to use oil-based fluids as opposed to one of the other methods. Clearly, this method also comes with some danger. Oil-based fluids, especially those that utilize diesel as its base fluid, are flammable in nature. If the vapors collect as opposed to being dispersed, it can easily reach a point where the smallest source of ignition can cause an explosion. This is one of the things that makes drilling wells so dangerous in the first place and it’s something that everyone has to take great caution with anytime they’re around a well that uses oil-based fluids.


In some cases, neither water-based nor oil-based fluids can get the job done and the only way to effectively drill a well is to use a gaseous method that incorporates pressure from certain gases in order to keep fluid come from coming up through the bore hole. This can be one of the most difficult methods to master and it’s also one of the most dangerous. In reality, much of the danger level is associated with the specific types of gases that are used and whether or not they have any flammable properties. With that being said, this is typically the riskiest method of drilling a well because it’s more difficult to keep the pressure in check with gas than it is to use a liquid-based method. In some cases, the pressure simply isn’t enough to keep whatever is being drilled for from coming back up through the bore hole before workers are ready for it. This can cause a whole host of problems and it can be dangerous, even deadly. The other problem is that there are times when the pressure builds up too much, even to the point of causing an explosion or causing critical components of the well to fail. This can cause the well to collapse or it can cause certain components to blow out. Either way, the danger level is increased several times over when gases are used as opposed to using either water-based or oil-based fluids. As a result, this method is not used as frequently but it is used on a fairly routine basis because the method used is entirely dependent on the type of well that is being drilled and the area in which the work is being processed. In some cases, other methods simply won’t work and workers are left with only one choice in order to get the job done. With that being said, extreme caution must be used when utilizing this method.

Dangers Associated With Each Method

This is something that has already been touched on somewhat, especially in the paragraph above. However, it’s also something that is important enough to discuss in further detail. There are many dangers associated with drilling a well and those dangers are typically directly proportional to the type of well that is being drilled. In other words, it’s safer to drill a water well than it is to drill for oil or natural gas. With that being said, it’s always dangerous to drill for any type of well when using equipment that is used in modern drilling. This is because the equipment is extremely large, heavy, and capable of causing a great deal of destruction if anything goes wrong. Even when drilling a water well, a critical failure at the worst possible moment could result in the collapse of some of the equipment and severe injury to those that are nearby. The challenges are ratcheted up several times over when even larger equipment is used to drill gas and oil wells. In addition, not only are the materials being drilled for flammable, but many of the methods used to do the work also create flammable vapors in and of themselves. As previously mentioned, these vapors can build up and ignite causing an explosion and a raging fire that is difficult to control.

Additional Concerns

Many people are becoming more and more aware of the methods used to drill a lot of different types of wells and they’re rightfully concerned with how it’s done. After all, people have the right to know exactly what’s going on and how it’s being accomplished, especially if it could potentially be causing something that concerns them. Such is the case with a lot of wells that utilize a fracturing method in order to get to materials that are so far down in the earth, they are otherwise inaccessible. Many people refer to these as wastewater injection wells. There is a great deal of research to support the idea that in certain geographic locations, these types of wells can cause earthquakes to become more prevalent and in some cases, even cause earthquakes when none were present before. As a result, many people are becoming more concerned with the number of wells that are going up and how they are being managed.

In closing, the most important thing to remember is that there are several different methods available when it comes to managing wells. This is especially true with regard to the different types of drilling fluids that are available. Therefore, it’s imperative that anyone drilling a well should have an extensive amount of knowledge about the subject. This gives them the opportunity to utilize the drilling fluids that work best for that particular situation and geographic location. It also minimizes the chances that something could potentially go wrong.

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