A standard railroad in the United States is 4 feet, 8.5 inches wide. Why is that? Well, if you dig deep enough, the root cause is attributed to the width of a Roman chariot with two horses walking side-by-side. There is no modern reason, but we keep doing it, and it makes sense. There are plenty of stories where we use tradition based upon what always made sense. Sometimes, this history makes for interesting trivia. Other times, it points out bad habits. And there are others where a fresh look at an old concept might even offer a new idea.

In my 15-plus year career, drilling technology has advanced in leaps and bounds. Nobody could predict where we would be now when I first started. While technology has advanced, it seems that many of our habits and behaviors develop at a much slower pace. We revisit old technologies and topics as if they are new again every few years. As soon one generation advances outside direct operations, the incoming generation is ready to try something new – that is, in fact, old.

Understanding this history – the applications, successes, and failures – takes time. It becomes challenging to find mentors with direct experience, leaving me to read old magazine articles, technical papers, and patents to find the origins of a concept or idea. Once I understand the history, I know the “why” from the past, and I can better help our customers understand the “why” or “why not” as it relates to the latest practices and technologies today.

It’s inspiring to investigate the past and realize the challenges we don’t even think about today. In a few instances, those old technologies resulted in new applications that didn’t even exist when they were invented. My experience is that so many steps from the past hold the building blocks from the future.

I wish it was easier to know more about drilling fluids history and perhaps understand my own habits. Still, even the “light reading” of old technical literature leads to an unexpected discovery. That and a profuse number of citations on the technical papers I write with my colleagues.

Blog Author: Matthew Offenbacher, Director of Technology and Marketing