Greek philosopher Heraclitus thought of change as the only constant in life. In that vein, manufacturers and producers constantly change, upgrade or reformulate products to keep up with — or even stay ahead of — current market conditions and competition. The consumer/end-user wins. As companies compete for their business, they end up with a better end product.

In over 21 years working for CETCO, it has amazed me to see the importance placed on research and development in our industry and my company. I have experienced first-hand the way new products get created and existing products improved. Often, demands of drilling contractors out in the field drive these product changes. For example, consider something like a one-sack 200-mesh bentonite/polymer horizontal direction drilling (HDD) fluid product. A product like that exists because, before it did, contractors wanted it. Before it did, if you had asked a contractor who uses an HDD specialty bentonite product what improvements they would like to see, many would have answered: Make it mix faster and easier, improve how it keeps a hole open and suspends cuttings, and do it all at a lower dosage. Our company — and others like it — keep all of these things in mind as we innovate on this and similar products.

Most of the time, HDD contractors work on a cost-per-foot basis. Downtime to mix drilling fluid is time spent not drilling or making footage. Adding to that, I find that contractors in the telecommunications market do not always have the best drilling fluids mixing equipment. This can dramatically increase mixing time and decrease the amount of time the drill makes progress. A reformulated HDD bentonite drilling fluids product, tailored to be user-friendly and support drilling contractors’ less-than-optimal mixing equipment, would save valuable time — time that can be spent completing the drilling process.

Most of the time, HDD contractors work on a cost-per-foot basis. Downtime to mix drilling fluid is time spent not drilling or making footage.

For a drilling fluid to keep a hole open, especially at and below the water table, it must develop a filter cake, an almost impermeable barrier between it and the formation. Filling the hole with fluid creates positive pressure against the surface of the filter cake and, thus, maintains borehole stability. When fluid permeates through the filter cake and into the formation, we call that “fluid loss.” We can measure the fluid loss using a filter press. The lower the fluid loss, the better the drilling fluid is at keeping the hole open. A new-and-improved HDD bentonite product would raise the bar on managing fluid loss and maintaining borehole stability.

One of the most important functions of an HDD drilling fluid is to suspend cuttings and transport them to the surface. If drill cuttings are left in the borehole, the drill bit and drill stem can get stuck. Additionally, a lack of annular space prevents product line installation. People often overlook this critical aspect of a horizontal directional drilling fluid, yet it is the easiest function to diagnose. Simply take a clear container and fill it with the drilling fluid used on site. Go to the entry or exit pit, grab a sample of the soil, stir, and wait. If the material settles in the sample cup, it will settle downhole. Cuttings that settle can lead to everything from stuck pipe to stretched product line to raised roadways. A new-and-improved HDD bentonite drilling fluid product would offer better carrying capacity to transport cuttings to the surface, increasing the success rate of product line installation.

 Barrel yield describes the ability of a drilling fluid to create viscosity. For example, the standard bentonite drilling fluid used in the oilfield drilling industry (API specification 13A) is a 90-barrel yield. One ton of that product make 90 barrels of drilling fluid (at 42 gallons per barrel) with a viscosity of 35 seconds. The minimum yield of today’s best HDD drilling fluid products is more than double the oilfield's grade 90-barrel yield bentonite (taking less than half as much to get the same viscosity). A new, reformulated HDD drilling fluid product should take barrel yield to a new level, giving the drilling contractors more bang for their buck.

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Change truly is the only constant in life and the horizontal directional drilling industry constantly evolves. Lessons from the past have helped advance technology for future products. The end-user (drilling contractor) benefits from changes and improvements. For contractors working in the horizontal directional drilling, water well, geothermal, environmental and exploratory drilling industries, it continues to be encouraging to see the many innovative and newly reformulated products being developed from your favorite drilling manufacturers. I know my company has several innovative products we are working on bringing to market.