Shale shaker machines help California contractor stay ahead of the game in fast-paced oilfield industry.
The stakes are high every time contractor Matt Reyes brings his solids control machinery to a drilling pad. The bottom line: Keep up the pace or get out of the way for another contractor who can. The solution? Four-panel shale shakers made by GN Solids America.
“If they start pumping at 800 gpm and you have liquids (drilling mud) coming over instead of just solids, you’re going to have issues,” says Reyes, a manager at CGE Services and Solutions in Bakersfield, California. “Those drilling fluids cost money, and our customers want to retain and reuse as much of them as possible.
“Plus you have to remember that these customers also have big pumps that they use to get fluids from the mud pit into the hole,” he adds. “So if our machines don’t remove the cuttings, they go through the customer’s pumps and eat up their pump liners. It’s like a piece of metal getting into a car engine cylinder — imagine what that does to a piston. And if a pump goes down, it might take eight hours to fix it.”
CGE provides solids control and dewatering services for a variety of industries, including oilfield drilling companies. Reyes says the company bought its first GN Solids shale shaker more than one year ago. At the time, the main allure was the competitive price. But Reyes quickly discovered the machine also lived up to its performance specifications, which explains why CGE now owns 10 GN units — or nearly half its fleet of shale shakers, he notes.
HOW IT WORKS
In a nutshell, shale shakers — as their name implies — use a vibrating screen to sift out, or “shake,” drilling cuttings so fluids can be reused. The screen is about 4 feet long by 2 feet wide. The size of the screen’s mesh holes can vary from fairly large (20 holes per square inch) to very fine (400 per square inch), depending on drilling conditions. “Sometimes they use drilling programs from other wells drilled nearby to tell what size mesh to use,” Reyes explains. “We adjust the mesh size as needed, depending on how much sand, clay and other materials they expect to drill through.”
Here’s how the shale shaker works: Fluids coming back out of a wellhead are diverted by a pincher nipple into a pipe that carries them over to the shale shaker, which is transported by flatbed truck and typically set by a crane over a mud pit (the unit weighs about 3,500 pounds). If the flow in terms of gpm exceeds what one shaker can handle, more than one shaker is used. “We usually need two shale shakers and one mud cleaner,” Reyes says.
The drilling fluids enter the shaker through a weir feed on the front of the machine, then pass over the screen, which is vibrated by two electric motors — made by Martin Engineering — that run on opposite polarities. “If both motors run with the same polarity, the solids will not convey across the screen to the end of the shaker,” Reyes explains.
The fluids pass through the mesh screen and fall into the mud pit. At the same time, the mesh screen sifts cuttings from the fluids; the cuttings eventually travel to the end of the screen where they drop into a sump or a cuttings bin. Later, the cuttings are collected for appropriate disposal. If the fluid flow increases during operations, employees can raise the end of the machine incrementally to prevent fluids from running over the screen and into the sump or cuttings bin, he says.
The key productivity factors in shale shakers are fluid capacity and the G-force generated to vibrate the screen; the higher the gpm and G-force ratings, the more the unit can process per hour. The specs for a GN Solids four-panel shaker show a flow capacity of up to 616 gpm and G-force of 8, and the unit delivers on both counts, which is critical, Reyes says. “A lot of units say they’ll give you this much G-force, but when you do a motion analysis, it hardly ever hits spec,” he notes. “But this one does.”
Reyes also praises the machine for its reliability, no small thing in an industry where downtime costs drilling companies significant amounts of money per hour — and can ruin an oilfield services contractor’s chances for repeat business. “They won’t call again if your equipment breaks down,” he says. “You can have a great name, a great work ethic and perfect safety record, but if your equipment breaks down, they’re not going to use you any more. In this business, your reputation is only as good as your equipment.
“I’ve run these units for 24 hours a day for three months straight,” he continues. “You might shut them off every now and then for a day or so, but then you’re back up and running again. Customers want someone who can come in and do the job so they don’t have to worry about it.”
Overall, Reyes says the GN Solids shakers have been a great investment. “You need to get your money back, and you know what? They do the job,” Reyes says of the units. “Depending on where it’s used, we sometimes can run one for six months and it pretty much pays for itself. After that, it’s all profit.”