Barite Production in Mexico
Drilling fluids are a vital part of any drilling operation. Normally containing suspended solids and emulsified water or oil, drilling fluids or drilling mud are primarily used to provide hydrostatic pressure to prevent naturally occurring liquids and gases (formation fluids) from entering the borehole, to keep the drill bit cool as it drills the well, and to carry out drill cuttings as they are created. In order to increase the overall density of drilling fluid, which ensures that formation fluids are kept out of the well by maintaining sufficient bottom hole pressure, a weighting agent is added to the fluid. Barite is commonly used in drilling fluid as this weighting agent. As a non- abrasive, heavy non-metallic mineral, barite is ideal for this application in powder form.
“There is no substitute for barite, and there is no substitute, technologically speaking, for drilling fluid,” explains José Antonio Valdés Rodríguez, CEO of Petrovita. “The logistics involved in the production of barite and other raw materials, and the logistics involved in drilling fluids, are essential to the industry. Depending on the location of the well and other factors, drilling fluids account for between 10 to 15% of the total cost of drilling a well.” Consumption of barite around the world has risen from 7 million tonnes per year in 2010 to 9 million tonnes per year today, which means that there is a need to develop production, according to Valdés Rodríguez, who also points out that particularities in the markets of China and India, two of the world’s largest barite producers, have led costs to double, making domestic production increasingly attractive. By developing barite mines in Mexico, Petrovita hopes to be able to not only supply the demand for the non-metallic mineral in the domestic market, but also produce enough raw material for eventual export. Mexico is currently a net importer of barite, but Valdés Rodríguez believes that in the years to come, it will become a net exporter. “Many raw materials, for many years, have come from China to Mexico, because it was cheaper to get a line of credit and bring a container of barite from there, than to produce it here. Our group was the first to import barite from China, and now we are working to develop barite mining in Mexico.”
As a one-time owner of a drilling fluids company, Valdés Rodríguez explains that the market today is simply too dominated by the global oilfield service companies for a mid-sized, nationally focused business to compete. “These companies have many other services, such as cementing, directional drilling and wireline services, which they can provide alongside supplying drilling fluids to operators. Given this, and the difficulty of doing business with Pemex, we decided to sell our drilling fluids supply business and focus on providing barite to our former competitors.”