Attapulgite Supply and Oilfield Applications

This presentation was delivered on 05/09/2023 to Oilfield Minerals and Markets Forum Houston 2023 by Thomas Cortner, Active Minerals International

Structure and Typical Properties

  • Attapulgite is characterized by its rodlike shape and chainlike crystal structure
  • Tunnels and channels running the length of each rod contribute to a high surface area
  • It has a high water absorption capacity, but swelling is limited compared to smectite
  • Its gelling and binding characteristics make attapulgite a popular additive in drywall compounds, agricultural suspensions, zeolite beads, drilling fluids, and more


Attapulgite Operations

  • Active Minerals performs mining, stockpiling, drying, and milling activities in the area of Climax, Georgia
  • Operations in Quincy, Florida are used for additional air classification and for all packaging
  • Finished product is shipped by bulk rail, bulk truck, export container, flatbed, and dry van
  • Plants are conveniently located near the port of Savannah for export shipments


Drilling Applications

  • Attapulgite is used as a thickener or rheology modifier in water-based drilling fluids
  • Drilling grade quality is based on industry standards set by the American Petroleum Institute in Spec 13A
  • Attapulgite offers two distinct features:
  • Exceptional tolerance to salts
  • Unique rheological profile
  • Unlike gums, attapulgite is not susceptible to shear degradation or microbial attack


Salt Tolerance

  • Bentonite clay is commonly used in water-based drilling muds, but its viscosity is unstable in the presence of salts
  • Attapulgite maintains a stable viscosity even at high salt concentrations
  • This is because bentonite viscosity is driven by electrostatic interactions, vs physical interactions in the case of attapulgite
  • This unique property has earned attapulgite the nickname “salt gel” in the drilling industry


Rheology (Flow Properties)

  • Attapulgite suspensions exhibit high viscosity at low shear rates and low viscosity at high shear rates – this is often called “shear thinning”
  • Improves carrying capacity, hole cleaning, and barite sag, while minimizing pump pressures through the drill string


Looking Ahead

  • Active Minerals remains focused on execution and innovation
  • Recently announced addition of a second attapulgite processing line in Georgia will significantly expand capacity and improve supply reliability
  • New R&D center in Houston is actively working on product development, targeting new markets and new applications