To "Mud" Or Not To "Mud"....That Is The Question

To "Mud" Or Not To "Mud"....That Is The Question

I have had many questions in regards to the application of “drilling mud” on our crops here in north central Oklahoma.  Here is some information and some thoughts:


Drilling mud is created and pumped into the hole during drilling to help cool and lubricate the bit, suspend the cuttings, seal the formation, and stabilize well pressure.  It is usually recycled at the well until it is unusable or they are done drilling.  Additives to this mud prior to drilling may include bentonite clay, sodium carbonate, lime, barium sulfate, lignite, ground peanut shells, mica, cellophane, walnut shells, cottonseed hulls and plant fibers.  After drilling, this mud will usually contain some of whatever it is that they drilled through as well. This may include some good stuff like calcium carbonate, Mg, Ca, and K as well as some not so good stuff like lead, arsenic, chromium, molybdenum and salt.  It is possible but unlikely that some of the stuff coming up could be radioactive.

There seems to be two types of “mud”, water based and oil based.  It is my understanding that there is usually more water based mud generated per well than there is oil based.  Oil based mud is usually applied as a solid and the bulk of the “oil” is diesel as it is used as the solvent for the mud.

The biggest concern for ground application of water based mud probably is the salinization or salt content of the solution and what it may do to the growing plants or the ground from which they come.  About the only thing that can be done with too salty of soil is to leach it out of the ground, or wash it out.  That takes lots of rain.

Hydrocarbons in the oil based mud on the other hand are often easier to degrade because naturally occurring micro organisms eat them up and break them down. The growth of the micros is often enhanced by fertility (N,P,K) which a well kept farm might have anyway.

Application of drilling mud is regulated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and just some of the rules are as follows:   A maximum of 8% slope on land mud is applied, buffer zones must be observed around property boundaries, ponds and wells, 4 soil tests for every 10 acres prior to spreading, no water table within top 6 feet, at least 12 inches of “suitable texture” soil (top soil?), water based sites may not be re-applied until 3 years have passed and oil based sites may not be re-applied with either water based or oil based, samples of the fluids being applied should include electric conductivity (EC) and oil and grease content, topography maps and aerial photos of the application site should be obtained.

Much or most of the above information can be reviewed in OSU fact sheet WREC-102 “An Introduction to the Land Application of Drilling Mud in Oklahoma”. I believe the research is still on going.


They are PAYING you to let them apply these products to your land.  If it was beneficial they would CHARGE you.  So you usually can expect a yield hit on whatever crop or pasture you are applying this to.

So much of the benefit of application of anything is dependent on the applicator and the type of job he does.  The detriment (if any) to your property goes down with a uniform, proper rate, unhurried application of whatever is being spread.  Conversely the harm goes up when the valve opens “at the gate” every time they hit the field and then rush back to the well site.

Is your applicator providing all the different tests, maps and photos?

Check with your insurance carrier before application of drilling mud, especially on a growing insured crop.  You may get a nasty surprise if you don’t.

Check with the government if you are in any shared programs with them such as CRP, or EQUIP, etc..  You may get a nasty surprise if you don’t.

 Will future technology shed any detrimental light on yesterday’s applications that will cause any devaluation on your major asset, your land?

Generally our wheat and canola crops at this time are under duress due to lack of moisture. The same can be said for our native grass pastures. Whatever added stress that the application of “mud” on these crops now will likely reduce yield even more than they would under more normal conditions.

It is a monetary decision.  Are you getting compensated well enough to assume these risks?





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