Directional Drill Maintenance Tips to Keep in Mind

Neglected maintenance can produce costly equipment breakdowns midbore

Directional Drill Maintenance Tips to Keep in Mind

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Equipment maintenance is never a trivial matter, but when it comes to directional drilling, it perhaps carries a bit of extra weight.

That’s because an equipment breakdown in the field due to neglected maintenance doesn’t just mean downtime. It could mean completely abandoning a hole midbore and starting a job over at the beginning. It’s not easy to remove broken-down equipment from belowground and still make use of that hole.

If directional drilling is part of your service offerings, here are some maintenance tips to always be mindful about.

Rotate the drill pipe

Drill pipe is one of the most wearable items on a directional drill. To help extend the pipe’s service life, don’t start with the same piece of drill pipe every time. Instead, regularly rotate it throughout the drill string so that every piece of pipe gets more even wear. Drill pipe may not be the most expensive component, but keeping it serviceable is important because it can make or break a directional bore.

Always use drilling fluid

Drilling fluids greatly reduce the amount of wear on the drill pipe, as well as the tooling on the bottom of the drill string. And just because you’re tackling a 100-foot bore as opposed to a 1,000-foot bore, don’t think you can get away with not using drilling fluids. 

Industry experts estimate that an operator can expect to see about 20% more life out of a drill by regularly using fluids, and even more so for the tooling going into the ground. Adjust your fluid formula as needed. If you have sand that’s super abrasive in one area, you may need to approach it differently than if you were drilling in clay soil. If the machine’s gauges are showing excess rotary torque, it could be a sign that the wrong type of fluid is being used.

Use quality makeup water

You may have selected the right formula of drilling fluid for the job, but if you’re not careful about your water source, you may still find yourself vulnerable to potential equipment damage.

For example, if you are pulling water out of a fire hydrant and that hydrant has sat dormant for a while without being flushed, you may have sand that has settled in those lines go directly into your mixing tank. The sand can then get mixed up in the drilling fluids and run through the mud pump. Alternatively, if you’re pulling out of a creek, you need to make sure you’re using a strainer system for that water before it goes into the tank. Otherwise you may end up with pebbles, small rocks and larger grains of sand in the mud system, and those will get pumped through the mud pump also.

Clean tooling regularly and protect threads

Beyond the good practice of cleaning tooling when you pull it out, be particularly mindful about protecting all threads on the equipment.

Whether you specifically use a thread cap or just some tape, anything you can do to protect threads from gouging will go a long way to keeping your equipment in good shape. Remember: Anytime you have thread damage, it’s also damaging anything it’s connecting to down the drill string.

Conduct a thorough prejob inspection

The prejob inspection is particularly important in directional drilling since an equipment malfunction during a bore can mean having to start over at square one. On an inspection checklist, there should be items such as ensuring all connections are tight and looking for hairline fractures or signs of excessive wear on tooling.

If there’s a fracture on the tooling or if something is not tight, you could lose your bit downhole or the tooling could break. It’s important to catch such things above ground because once you’re downhole, if there’s a breakdown, (a.) you don’t know exactly what happened and (b.) it’s difficult to get these things out and still use that hole. A lot of times you have to start over.

Make sure drill operators are properly trained

A lot of what goes into good directional drill maintenance is simply proper operation. Be sure operators are properly trained and are familiar with the limits of a drill and the drill pipe. Staying within those limits and not pushing the drill too fast will help prevent pipe from coming back bent or having pipe that doesn’t come back at all. 

Many manufacturers recommend a deviation of 10%. For example, a 10-foot piece of pipe could be steered 1 foot in a given direction over that length. Even if going beyond a recommended deviation doesn’t result in a piece of pipe breaking downhole, you want to be sure you’re practicing consistent steering so you don’t compromise the machine for future jobs. You want a gradual turn rather than constant overcorrection. Anything that you’re oversteering can cause damage to the pipe or the tooling, causing it to potentially break downhole on the next job.

For more of a look at directional drilling training, check out this article featured in the September 2020 issue: "Why It's Smart to Seek Out Hands-On Horizontal Directional Drilling Training."


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