How to Get a Job as a Mud Engineer In the
Oil and Gas Drilling Industry
Rig Fire, Gulf Of Mexico
Part 3 Of The Oilfield Employment Series. Mud Engineering Jobs
The oil and gas industry is booming and there are job openings for mud engineers who are responsible for formulating and monitoring drilling fluid. If you are detail oriented, have a knack for math and science and don't mind working away from home for long periods this may be the job for you.
Have you ever seen a picture of an oil or gas rig that has experienced a "blowout", where the rig drilled into a pressurized zone and this oil and gas rushed to the surface burning down the rig? Its a dramatic picture when it happens but luckily it happens less often these days due the advances in drilling fluid technology and the mud engineers ability to formulate a drilling fluid that keeps the well balanced as well as drilling properly. Mud engineer or Mud Men are highly paid professionals and right now the oil and gas industry needs more of them. Here is a brief explanation of this job and other related oilfield jobs.
What It's All About:
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The mud engineer's job on the oil drilling rig is complex and never ending as the drill bit bores down through layers of rock in the earth in search of petroleum. Drilling fluid is typically a mixture of the minerals barite and bentonite with other components added in. Barite gives the fluid weight and bentonite clay helps build up a "wall cake" that seals the earth as the oil rig's drill bit has bored through it.
Different weights of mud are needed as the hole in the earth becomes deeper and higher pressures are encountered. The mud engineer will work closely with the geologist, company man, mud logger and driller to determine how heavy (how much barite to add) to make the mud to prevent a blowout. If the mud is out of balance, or too heavy, it will push out into the porous rock formations it encounters and cause a "lost circulation" situation to happen where the mud is no longer making the round trip up to the surface. It the mud is oil based (diesel) thousands of dollars worth of fluid can be lost if this happens.
It is this balancing act, keeping the mud heavy enough but not too heavy, that is a 24-7 job. As layers of earth where oil and gas have previously been extracted are encountered the mud engineer may have to add LCM or lost circulation material to seal up the well bore. This may include chopped up paper or wood fibers, etc. Large companies such as Baroid (Halliburton) and smaller ones such as Newpark Drilling Fluids hire mud engineers to work on offshore and onshore drilling rigs.
The "mud man" or mud engineer may reside in a mobile home or travel trailer at the oil drilling rig's location on land or work out of a portable skid unit (lab) that is transported to an offshore oil rig. His trailer or mobile lab will include shelves for his instruments and a sink to wash test tubes, etc in.
In some cases where the drilling situation does not require as much constant attention to the mud the engineer may work as a "drive By" using portable instruments set up on his pickup tailgate or car trunk as in the photo above.
The mud engineer will get a sample of the mud from the mud tank or "pit" closest to the line returning from the well bore and check it for weight using a portable scale and for it's "funnel viscosity" using a Marsh Funnel. He will use different instruments such as filter paper and a pressurized vessel to strain out liquid and check for salinity and others that will tell him how much wall cake, or coating on the inside of the drilled well bore, is being laid down and yield point, which indicates how much solids the mud can carry up and out of the drilled hole to the surface, and for dissolved solids.
How fast the well is changing due to the different rock formations being drilled and what kind of gas or oil is expected at certain depths will determine how often he has to check the fluid.
His duties may also include checking on the mud shakers and screens (equipment that separates the cuttings from the mud), ordering more sacks of drilling mud components and producing daily mud reports to deliver to the company man and oil company offices.
The engineer will also be responsible, along with help from the rig crew, for checking the level of the mud pits. If a pocket of pressurized gas has been drilled into a "kick" can occur. This can precede a blowout if someone does not notice the level of the mud increasing rapidly in the pits as a gas bubble is displacing fluid and forcing its way to the surface.
The engineer is also responsible for pumping cement or fibers down the well bore as needed to seal off certain formations if a lost circulation situation is occurring. Operations such as these require complex mathematical formulas to determine how many revolutions of the pumps on the surface are needed to "spot" the fluid in the correct place down in the wellbore. A bad calculation can cost the oil company thousands if cement is left to harden inside drill pipe or if costly fluid is pumped to the wrong spot.
If the mud engineer in staying on the oil drilling rig 24-7 then his job hours are the same, napping when he can until the well is done.
Work hours are long, conditions are dirty and at times verystressful and it can be days or weeks before he is home again. Some larger companies rotate engineers after so many days but smaller companies may leave one mud engineer alone at the rig to do the job until the drilling is done.
Taking The Good With The Bad:
Working as a mud engineer can be a rewarding job financially but it has its downsides. If long hours, time away from home and stressful situations are something you can handle in exchange for $100,000 or more a year, then the first step, if you have no prior oilfield experience, is to attend a community college (in an area where there is a lot of oil production) and take courses in oil and gas technology. Another alternative to college would be to first obtain a position working on the rig, as a roughneck or as a mud logger with a small "mom and pop" company to learn the industry and try and make contacts that can recommend you to a mud company to be hired and trained. The oilfield still relies on the "good old boy" network, and it is often who you know so try to make as many friends as possible.
If you don't have a degree in geology it is typically easier to first get on as a mud logger with a very small company (a mudlogger is one who monitors the rock cuttings and gas that are pumped to the surface in the drilling fluid ) than it is to get on as a mud engineer with no experience. See my article on mudlogging. Most large companies such as Sperry Sun, a division of Halliburton require college degrees in geology. This is not to say that the job of mudlogger is an entry level job since many companies only hire petroleum geologists but there are lots of small companies working on land rigs where the drilling is not as technical as it is offshore, that will hire qualified non college graduates and train them.
Although mudlogging as a profession is not considered a high status position on a well site due to the fact that they are not involved in the activities on the rig floor, a good mud logger can save the day if he is well trained by predicting a "kick" or gas bubble that is heading upwards in the drill pipe because the mud weight is not heavy enough. A "kick" can be the prelude to a blowout and many have been prevented by a good mudlogger.
may want to try working as a roughneck and save some money up and on your
own enroll in a school such as Oklahoma Mud School or pay out of pocket for
a three month Halliburton Mud School course in Houston at your own
expense. It will cost several thousand but you stand a chance of getting a
job making many times that. Preferably though the best option would be to
get hired by a mud company and then sent, at their expense to mud school.
Books that will help you in your job search include Geology 101
textbooks and books about offshore oil and gas drilling.