Few would dispute the significant advances shale operators have made over the last few years when it comes to technology developments and the impact on profit margins.

Chief among these advances are the technologies at the well pad and the rise of multiwell pad drilling. The market for multiwell pad drilling technology is expected to surpass $180 billion by 2024, according to a report by Global Market Insights, with the accompanying technologies related to drilling, completions and production enabling multiple wells to be effectively activated from a single drillsite.

The impact on the bottom line is also significant. Today rigs can be mobilized in just a matter of days rather than weeks with unconventional operators understandably frustrated if there are any delays. At a time when there is a greater focus than ever on profits, margins and reduced costs, multiwell pad drilling could not have come at a better time.

However, for well pad drilling to operate at its full potential, there is a need for accompanying technologies to meet the same requirements well pads demand. These criteria include a light environmental footprint, quick and flexible installation as well as the ability to deliver returns in a matter of days, which can be particularly challenging.

Some technologies, however, have struggled to achieve this. One of those operations is solids control.

Importance of solids control

There is little doubt as to the importance of solids control in shale operations. The cost-effective and efficient handling of waste in unconventionals (i.e., everything from drilling cuttings to spent mud to flowback water at the fracturing stage) is vital and central to a company’s license to operate.

However, solids control technologies are equally important at the drilling efficiencies level. The effectiveness of drilling fluids or muds—and their many roles in cooling and lubricating drillbits, carrying drill cuttings to the surface, and controlling pressures and formations—are highly dependent on the ability to separate the mud from rock particles. That way, clean mud can be recycled and circulated back into the drilling system to support drilling efficiencies.

Given the importance of their role, traditional solids control technologies are struggling to provide the lean, immediate return on investment focus that today’s shale pad operators demand.

For example, traditional shale shakers tend to be unwieldy and expensive, with the need for the screen panels to be continually replaced at significant cost and man-hours spent.

There are also size implications on already crowded well pads. One screen panel weighs about 22 lb and a three-deck has up to 16 panels giving a total of 353 lb per shaker. This does not take into account the costs and space and weight of secondary equipment, such as drying shakers, cuttings dryers and centrifuges, which all result in more onsite equipment, personnel and potential HSE risk at the well pad.

This, together with the inefficiencies of the shaleshaker- based process itself that uses more solids in the drilling fluid than necessary and higher volumes of mud being lost, seem an unsuitable companion for today’s lean and flexible well pad technologies.

Cubility has developed the MudCube, a compact, lightweight solids control system that uses a vacuum-based/ rotating screen filtration system. Compared to the 22-lb shaker screen panel, the MudCube rotating filter belt weighs only 6 lb.

Drilling fluids are cleanly separated from drill cuttings by the combination of high airflow, vacuuming the cuttings clean, and micro vibrations that direct all g-forces to the particles instead of surrounding structures. The results are clean drilling fluids that are returned to the active mud system and the drilled solids carried forward on the filter belt for disposal. As much as 80% more mud is recovered than competing technologies—a significant benefit when taking into consideration the large number of rigs and wells shale operators deploy.

The MudCube is a compact, lightweight solids control system that can be added to existing operations. (Source: Cubility)

Operator deployments

The MudCube has been deployed in a number of shale operations, including with EQT Corp. in the Marcellus Shale in western Pennsylvania and for Murphy Oil in Canada.

In the Marcellus, the size and weight of each MudCube offered an array of options to meet EQT’s demands for a particular pad. As an additional benefit, the setup was also very clean compared to normal shaker operations, helping to keep rig cleanliness at an all-time peak.

However, it is with the continued demands for rapid deployment on well pads, limited space and manpower, and fast mobilization/demobilization requirements that Cubility has launched the MudCube X. The MudCube X comes with an enhanced modular design allowing integration into all rig designs and fast installation and maintenance so that the MudCube X is up and running and delivering immediate value to shale operators.

Also, as opposed to shakers, the MudCube X processes 100% of the mud, thereby immediately increasing performance. The MudCube X also is engineered for local manufacturing and assembly worldwide.

Cubility also has teamed up with Stage 3 Separation (S3S) to incorporate the MudCube into Stage 3’s modular S3S Performance Platform for onshore shale operations. Through the platform, the MudCube is again easily and inexpensively installed in rigs and well pads with minimal impact on ongoing operations.

Have a story idea for Shale Solutions? This feature highlights technologies and techniques that are helping shale players overcome their operating challenges. Submit your story ideas to Group Managing Editor Jo Ann Davy at jdavy@hartenergy.com.