What is “Loss of Circulation” When Drilling Underground for Pipelines?

“Loss of circulation” sounds like a terminal condition–and perhaps it is, in a human body. But that phrase applied to drilling underground to install pipelines holds a different meaning. Loss of circulation is the technical term used when drilling fluid migrates out of the hole being drilled, and into (eeks) groundwater. Thing is, drilling fluid used to drill for pipelines is non-toxic–the primary component being bentonite clay. Bentonite is the same thing used to make kitty litter, cosmetics and toothpaste. So a little bentonite clay escaping into a water supply is not a big deal–unless it’s a LOT of bentonite escaping. Then it can foul a water supply, at least until the clay settles and the water clears again. A former geologist working for the Texas Railroad Commission (the government body in charge of regulating oil and gas in Texas) has written a thoughtful column in the Harrisburg Patriot-News to talk about loss of circulation that has happened in several locations while drilling for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in PA. The former geologist knows a thing or two about drilling, about benonite, and about spilling a little mud here and there. He provides some much needed perspective on the issue–a counterbalance to the wild speculations and false claims made by anti-fossil fuelers…

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