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Centrifuging Weighted Muds

The centrifuge is used in weighted mud applications to recover valuable weighting material from mud which must be
discharged due to unacceptable colloidal solids content. The centrifuge settles out barite and coarse drilled solids which are
returned to the active mud system to maintain density. The relatively clean centrate containing liquid and colloidal solids is
discarded.These colloidal solids cause many drilling fluid problems, such as high surge/swab pressures and ECDs,
differential sticking, and high chemical costs. Usually, the value of the weighting agent in these mud systems makes
it economic to recover the weighting agent from the whole mud before it is discarded.

Ideally, the barite recovery process should remove only colloidal solids without losing the larger particle sizes used as
weighting material. Discarding potentially reusable barite increases barite use and drilling fluid cost. Barite losses can be
reduced when the centrifuge makes the maximum liquid/solids separation.

Two-Stage Centrifuging

Two-stage centrifuging is used in weighted muds when the liquid phase cannot be discarded for economic or environmental
reasons. The most frequent application is in weighted, oil-based muds where the expensive liquid phase cannot be discarded.
The first centrifuge recovers weighting material from the weighted mud as discussed in the previous section on single-stage
centrifuging for barite recovery. The centrate, instead of being discarded, is fed to a second centrifuge operating at higher G-
force. This centrifuge is used to discard the solids and return the cleaned liquid phase into the active mud system (Fig. 13).

For two-stage centrifuging to be efficient, the first centrifuge must make a good separation since most of the solids in its
centrate will be discarded. The poorer the separation, the more barite which will be carried over in the centrate and discarded
by the second centrifuge. Similarly, the second centrifuge must operate at the highest possible G-force to remove the most
solids. Pond depths should also be deepened to just under the flood-out point for the best separation efficiency.

Economics of two-stage centrifuging are site-dependent. Variables such as time, drilling fluid, buy-back agreements, and well
plans contribute to the overall economics. Field experience has been mixed on the cost effectiveness. As a rough “rule of
thumb,” oil-based muds with barite concentrations greater than 4 lb/gal (i.e., 12 ppg mud) are usually candidates for two-
stage centrifuging. Below this concentration, centrifuging to strip all solids including barite may be more economical,
especially at lower mud weights. At intermediate mud weights, “dump and dilute” may be a viable option depending upon the
conditions of the buy-back agreement. “Dump and dilute” in this case means transferring mud laden with low gravity solids
from the active system to storage tanks for return to the mud company. Clean whole mud is used to replace the “dumped”
mud in the active system.