The trenchless industry is a vast community of highly skilled professionals from different engineering fields. Every individual in the industry plays a crucial role and carries a great amount of responsibility on their shoulders.

From planning to completion, every stage can pose problems, particularly due to the fact that trenchless construction is remotely carried out below the earth’s surface.

Considering the cost and scope of projects, companies are always on the lookout for the best in the industry. Here we will take a look at the role of a mud engineer in the trenchless industry.

Mud Engineers and their Operating Fields

A mud engineer (also called a drilling fluids engineer or mud man) is a professional engineer who is trained in the science of drilling mud, also known as drilling fluids. (Read: Mixing the Mud: The Science of Drilling Fluid in HDD.)

Mud Engineers find employment in the trenchless pipeline installation field that uses drilling fluid for processes such as horizontal directional drilling (HDD) and microtunneling.

They are highly sought after in the oil and gas industry for the drilling of oil and gas wells. Their training and knowledge help them to formulate specialized drilling fluids for specific projects that help lubricate machine components and also keeps the borehole stable.

Educational Qualifications

The mud engineer usually has a bachelor’s degree in petroleum, chemical, or mechanical engineering from a technical college with experience working on drill rigs, being a derrick hand, or as a pump man in offshore rigs.

To become a mud engineer, a person takes a specialized training course called "mud school", then gains experience by working under a senior mud engineer before becoming responsible for their own projects.

Mud schools such as those operated by Halliburton or the Oklahoma Mud School are private institutions that often absorb their students into the company.

Many mud engineers begin their careers in other positions such as drilling technicians and engineering assistants.

A mud engineer should also have analytical, math, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills to be successful in his or her career.

Responsibilities of a Mud Engineer

Drilling fluid is a very crucial part of a drilling operation. It not only lubricates the drilling components, but it also helps stabilize the wellbore. It is customized to the prevalent ground conditions in the path of the bore and requires extensive geotechnical and soil investigation before arriving at the correct mix of additives. (Read: An In-Depth Look at the Role of Drilling Fluid Systems in Trenchless Construction.)

As the drilling process progressed, drilling fluid affects the stressors acting upon the borehole wall by exerting pressure. The correct pressure must be maintained: if the pressure falls, the borehole may collapse due to the lack of support. If the pressure climbs too high, the borehole may burst, causing the drilling mud to flow out into the formation fractures.

A mud engineer, therefore, plays a crucial role in the drilling process. Their responsibilities include:

  • Design the mud mix based on the expected geology which may change as drilling proceeds and geology changes. The geotechnical information is provided to the mud engineer who examines it and along with the contractor comes up with a drilling fluid plan.

  • Work with the project manager for the delivery of material to minimize downtime and cost associated with speeding up delivery to meet timelines.

  • Help calculate the portion of the cost associated with the drilling process in conjunction with other drilling engineers and technicians.

  • Inspect the recycling plant and gain working knowledge to come up with contingency plans.

  • Check the virgin fluid to establish a baseline by recording different parameters such as marsh funnel viscosity, pH, fluid density, fluid loss, yield point, and plastic viscosity.

  • Check mud samples every hour against the baseline to detect and monitor developing problems (Read: The Top 4 Drilling Fluid Mistakes You Need to Avoid.)

  • Recognize changes in the mud during the drilling process and making necessary adjustments for the mud viscosity, mud temperature, pH balance, and chemical components.

  • Ensure the mud supply company provides adequate computer aids and manuals to troubleshoot problems and find solutions.

  • Minimize drilling fluid waste by calculating the correct quantity and having the right mix available at all times. This is particularly important due to the difficulty and cost of disposal.

  • Conduct standardized testing during the drilling process, recommending drill bits, and assisting excavating technicians.

Mud Engineers' Equipment

A mud engineer has to work on different equipment during the drilling process. The equipment includes mud mixing and brine tanks, slurry tubs with agitators, chemical mixing tank, mud agitator, mud hopper, jet shearing unit, and standpipe manifolds.

Job Risks

Mud engineers are constantly around drilling fluid and huge running equipment. There is always the danger of accidental injuries related to getting caught in running machinery and equipment. This can lead to crushing, injuries, and amputations. Proper safety measures and safe working distance should be maintained at all times to prevent such accidents. (Read: Trenchless Operations Safety Do's and Don'ts)

The preparation and use of the drilling fluids generate mist, dust, vapor, and airborne contaminants in the workplace. The most commonly observed health complications associated with the handling of drilling fluid are skin irritation and contact dermatitis.

The physical and chemical properties of the drilling fluid and the additives can affect the body differently depending on the route of exposure – oral, dermal, or nasal. Exposure can take place in the shaker house, mixing hopper, fluids pit, storage area, drill floor, or in the laboratory.

Awareness and training programs are conducted to educate workers about the handling of hazardous material, exposure to them, and potential health effects. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is very important to prevent any direct contact with chemicals. Where adequate ventilation is not available, workers are provided with respiratory protective equipment (RPE).