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The Job of a Mud Engineer on an Oil Rig

Updated on December 14, 2020
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For several years I worked on drilling rigs on the Gulf Coast before moving on to another career.

Drilling Rig

A drilling rig near Shiner, TX.
A drilling rig near Shiner, TX.

What A Mud Engineer Does On a Rig

When you hear the term mud engineer what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of a civil engineer that designs roads through muddy areas?

The term mud engineer or "mud man" refers to a drilling fluids technician on a drilling rig. Often he or she does not have an engineering degree but instead has taken classes at a "mud school" which can last as long as three months. They are highly paid technicians that work on oil and gas drilling rigs to help ensure that dangerous "blowouts", such as the one that happened on the Deepwater Horizon rig a few hears ago, do not occur.

What Does A Mud Engineer Do?

The mud engineer's duties are to stay on the rig site (usually) and constantly monitor and readjust the properties and weight of the drilling fluid or "mud".

The mud or drilling fluid is what lubricates the drill bit, keeps it cool, flushes cuttings from the hole being drilled and holds back underground pressure from dangerous zones that contain natural gas.

If the mud weight is not heavy enough or is "under-balanced" a blowout can occur, burning down the rig and causing an out of control wild well, and possibly loss of human life and dire environmental consequences.

If the mud or drilling fluid becomes too heavy, it can flush out into the formation causing a "lost circulation" situation which in the best of cases delay drilling and the the worst case, ruin the well being drilled, costing millions of dollars.

To maintain the proper weight, the mud engineer adds weight to the drilling fluid or mud by means of adding the mineral barite. Barite is a heavy mineral that mixes with both oil and water-based drilling fluids. The weight of the drilling fluid is measured in PPG or pounds per gallon. If a rig worker were referring to "ten pound mud" they would simply be talking about drilling fluid that weighed ten pounds to the gallon.

As part of his mobile lab, often set up in a mobile home near the rig, the mud engineer uses a set of scales to constantly weight the mud and make sure that it is heavy enough for the pressures that are to expected at a certain depth.

An influx of gas or water, mixing with the drilling mud can cause it to suddenly get light, causing an under-balanced situation so the process of monitoring the weight of the mud is constant during the drilling of the well as it becomes deeper and as the variables of pressure change. It's a challenging job, yet one which can pay well in excess of $100,000 a year, plus benefits.

Must Be Willing To Relocate and Travel

Most oilfield jobs require that employees live near the company's base of operations, though the work itself may be located almost anywhere in the world. When starting out in the oil and gas industry one will usually have to take an entry level type job and in the case of a mud engineer trainee, that usually means a drilling rig somewhere on land in North America. Offshore and overseas work often requires more training and skills due, to a number of factors including stricter regulations and the types of high tech, synthetic drilling fluids that are used offshore to protect the marine environment.

Education and Training

Persons wishing to become mud engineers should have a good background in math and science, be able to lift heavy objects, climb steep stairs, work in all types of weather and willing to travel extensively. Though oil and gas jobs may not be one's idea of politically correct, or come with stereotypes and stigmas attached, this type of work is still necessary as we continue to rely on oil and gas to power much of our existing economy. For many of those such as myself, in the areas where we grew up it was the main source of employment and means of feeding one's family. If you're interested in a career as a mud engineer, the industry is often hiring qualified trainee candidates. Some of the companies that hire mud engineers include Schlumberger, Baker Hughes, Newpark Drilling Fluids among others.

© 2008 Nolen Hart

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