Oklahoma Water Resources Center

Tips for drilling mud application

6/24/2105

Part of the process of drilling for oil and natural gas involves the use of water-based drilling mud. Once a well is bored, the fluid needs to be disposed of, and applying the mud to private lands has become a popular option.

However, after a few years of researching the impacts of drilling mud, Chad Penn, associate professor in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, has a few things to keep in mind before dumping the mud all over certain properties.

The research started three years ago by applying the drilling mud to wheat fields at the OSU North Central Research Station in Lahoma, Oklahoma.

“Initially, for the first year, there was no statistical difference between plots that had received water-based mud and those that had not,” he said. “After the first year, we didn’t really see reductions in yield and everything was fine.”

Year two of the research began to show some longer-term effects. Penn and his team did not apply mud the next year, but did maintain the plots and continued to monitor them. Bare spots in the fields began to form from the excessive sodium absorption ratio.

“The soil became saturated with a bit too much sodium in these plots,” he said. “While that isn’t a problem for wheat that is already established, it created a very difficult environment for the wheat seed to germinate, so it turned out when Google took their aerial imagery in March 2014, we could actually see the overlay of the plots.”

This year, most of the bare spots have gone away, due, in part, to all the rainfall most of the state has experienced. The water helps move out the salt.

Because wheat is an annual crop, a seed has to be sown every single year. That is not the case with grass, so Penn said pastureland could handle an evenly spread out load of drilling mud the best.

“The most important thing to consider is the quality of the applicator,” he said. “There are many different land application companies in the state and some of them are very high quality and extremely professional.”

At the same time, there is evidence of a lot of land application companies that do not have very good quality control and as a result there are a fair number of sites that end up having problems. Penn suggests checking with neighbors to see what their experience was like.

The drilling mud research is ongoing in Lahoma. The next variable tested will be the effectiveness of tilling part of the plot.

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