Chapter 7
Sand Control

Sand production is usually associated with wells which are completed at shallow depths
of tertiary age. It can also be associated with unconsolidated formations encountered in
depths of 16,000 feet or deeper. The appropriate selection of well completion practices is
critical in formations that have a tendency towards sand production. Very often problems
of sand production are created due to inadequate completion practices.

According to Allen and Roberts, 1989 and DePriester, 1972 producing sands are solids
that form part of a mechanical structure in formations. Loosely attached fines on the pore
surface are always produced and are beneficial because the more they are free to move,
the less likely they are to plug the pore by forming bridges across the pore channels. Most
sandstone reservoirs can be described as:

- Solids smaller than 90 percentile are interstitial fines and are produced when
production is initiated.
- Solids between 90 and 75 percentile range bear the smallest formation load and
are likely to be produced.
- Solids larger than 75 percentile are load bearing solids. If a significant part of
solids are produced (50-75 percentile) they will certainly present production

From past experience industry has developed a basic strategy for controlling sand
production. For example, for oil wells in the Gulf Coast, the limit of sand production is
considered to be 0.1 percent or 900 lbs/1000 bbl (28gm/m
). In wells with high GOR
(>10,000 scf/bbl) the limit is set at around 10lbs/100bbl (28gm/m
). In areas where costs
of well operation is high, such as the North Sea, this limit is set at as low as 5 lbs/1000
bbl (14 gm/m
). There has been no norm for gas wells as it has been difficult to estimate
a sand production limit. Historically, the limit for gas wells was determined based on the
erosion in chokes, probes etc in flow lines.

Sand production causes reduction in hydrocarbon production and reduces life of
subsurface and the surface equipment which significantly reduces the economics of the
project. In addition to this, sands need to be separated before the hydrocarbon can be
transported to the sale point and environmentally safely disposed. This requires expensive
facilities, in particular in offshore environment. Some specific problems associated with
sand production can be summarised as follows:

- Production interruptions are caused by sand plugging of casing, tubing, flow lines
or separator. This involves additional expenses with “clean out” workovers to
return wells to production.
- Collapse of casing due to changes in overburden stresses within the formation.
Casing may buckle due to void space created by the sand production (unsupported
casing). Also, casing or liner is subjected to an additional compressive loading as
subsidence occurs, which may lead to casing buckling or collapse
- Downhole and surface equipment can be damaged due to erosion, thus costing
time and money for equipment replacements, spills, clean ups or even a dangerous
uncontrolled blow-out.
- Sand accumulation in surface lines and equipment leading to abrasive wear on
surface controls, valves and pipes.
- Sand production causes very serious problems with subsurface safety valves by
eroding or jamming them. Operating subsurface safety valves are mandatory
under government regulations.
- Lost revenue due to restricted or shut-in production.
- Disposal of produced sand is costly.

In this chapter first the causes of sand production and different techniques used to reduce
and or prevent sand production are discussed. Finally, design and implementation of
gravel pack technique with Chapter objectives are as follows:

- Causes of sand production
- Different techniques use to reduce and to prevent sand production
- Design and Implementation of a Gravel Pack (including examples) examples are

7.1 Causes of Sand Production

Sands and formations fines are produced with formation fluids (oil/water/gas) due to the
lack of grain bonding or consolidation. Miocene (tertiary or 5-23 million years before the
present) and later sands lack consolidation due to young age. Due to the young age and
shallow deposition these sands are prone to movement when disturbed by the produced
fluids. Thus, loosely consolidated or unconsolidated sands move when subjected to
stresses caused by:

- fluid pressure drop,
- fluid friction and
- overburden stress.

When the net effect of the above conditions exceeds the formation restraining forces,
sand grains and formations fines may be produced.

Laboratory studies and field experience suggest that sand production may take place by
one or more combination of the following mechanisms:

- The simplest mechanism is the grain by grain movement away from the formation
face at low fluid viscosities under low pressure.
- At high fluid flow rates small masses of sand break away leading to rapid failure of
the formation.
- In cases, where high overburden stress combined with high fluid flow rates exist
formation become fluidised, resulting in the gross flow of sands with the produced
- Semi-competent formations can initially produce fines followed by sands that are
loosely bonded. The cause of this sand production is primarily due to fluid friction
(drag force). As the reservoir pressure declines the individual sand grains carry more
and more over burden stress which eventually causes the bonding (cementing
between the sand grains) to fail, leading to sand production.

Changes in fluid phases, such as oil to water and/or gas result in the reduction of
intergrain cementing /bonding due to change in interfacial tension. Water has the highest
interfacial tension (72 dyne/cm). This phenomenon of sand production (water wet
situation) has been observed frequently when the well starts to produce water.

Fluidisation of formation may take place in unconsolidated formations (tertiary age)
which have excessive overburden stress combined with high pressure drawdown and
fluid velocity.

Among the factors discussed previously fluid velocity plays a critical role in sand
production problem as this causes a drag force where separated grains are transported
with the flowing fluid.
Particle fluid drag force is a function of:

- particle geometry and diameter,
- particle density,
- fluid velocity,
- interfacial tension,
- fluid density.

The two equations most commonly used to determine the critical flow at which sands of a
given geometry and diameter begins to move with the producing fluid are the:
- critical transport velocity for oil/water wells and
- critical transport velocity for gas wells.


2 2
3 (9 . . )( )(0.015476 0.19841. ) /( (0.011607 0.14881. ))
f s f f
V g r r r u u µ µ µ µ = ÷ + + ÷ + +

V= critical transport velocity(cm/sec)
u =dynamic viscosity of fluid (mPs)
g=gravity (980 cm/sec
µ =density of sphere (gm/cm
µ =density of fluid (gm/cm
r=sphere radius (cm)

In gas producing wells, the appropriate equation to predict critical velocity of formation
sand that can be carried up the production string is:

µ ) 36 . 165 (
052 . 2

Where, the particle diameter (d) is in inches.

These equations help predict whether formation sands will be lifted through the
production string or the sands will be accumulated at the bottom of the borehole.

7.2 Characteristics of Formation Sand

In order to control the sand production successfully one need to look at the background of
the sand production problem so that potential solutions can be found. Formation sand
characteristics which impact sand production include depositional environment, physical
and chemical properties.

7.2.1 Physical and chemical properties of formation sands


Sand can be defined in the geological sense as a granular material with particle size
ranging from 2 to 0.625 mm in diameter. The primary composition of sand is silicon
dioxide (SiO
) although other material is present. The strength of sandstone is given by a
process called oregenesis where after deposition sand grains undergo compaction by the
overburden pressure of subsequent layers. This process also includes cementation
between grains which leads to natural consolidation. The most common cementing
material is calcite calcium (carbonate), dolomite (magnesium carbonate) and clays. Some
sandstone formations are formed in environments where cementing materials are not
available which cause the sand to remain unconsolidated.

Most sandstone formations contain some clays and detrital fines. They can be attached to
the sand grains or interbedded within the formation or placed interstitially. If sandstones
are consolidated by clays as the cementing agent this will results in a very weak


Porosity is a measure of void space while permeability is the fluid’s ability to flow in the
rock. Porosity and permeability of rocks generally decreases with poorer sorting, tighter
packing, more cementing and smaller grains. There are two types of packing: tight
packing and loose packing as described in Fig.7.1.


Fig. 7.1: Idealised comparison of tight pack vs. loose pack.


Relative permeability is a measure of the effective permeability of one phase (oil) in the
presence of another phase (water) and a function of relative saturation of individual
phases. Most sandstone formations are naturally water wet and the individual grains are
surrounded by a thin film of water resulting in about 10% to 30% water saturation. In
water drive reservoirs water saturation increases as the production continues. In water
drive reservoirs, when water saturation increases sand production also increases.
7.2.2 Sand categories

There are three general categories of sands which are related to sands strength:

- quick sand,
- partially unconsolidated sand and
- friable sand.

Quick Sands:
Quick sands usually refer to completely unconsolidated formations. Sands of this type
have no effective cementing capabilities and are only held together by small cohesive
force and compaction. Quick sands occur all over the world, including California, Libya,
Venezuela and Nigeria where tons of sands are produced from wells each year. This type
of formation usually produces sands of constant concentration. Special gravel packs with
screen liners could be used to control sand production (to be discussed later).

Partially Consolidated Sands:
Sand grains are partially cemented making the formation weakly consolidated.
When production is initiated the formation crumbles behind the casing to form small
cavities which cave in to fill the rat hole and form bridges in the tubing (rat hole meaning
a hole that extends below the perforation level). Because of partial consolidation, these
formations show inconsistent sand production. If production is continues without sand
control measures, shale beds in close proximity may collapse to form a mixture of clay
and sand which is harder to control and thus reduces near well bore permeability (as
discussed in chapter 1).

Friable Sands:
Friable sands or fragile sands are semi-competent and susceptible to movement. Core
analysis from this type of formation appears to be consolidated enough not to produce
sand; however, when fluids are produced the face of the formation will produce sand.

7.2.3 Formation Sand Analysis

Usually sand types are identified by core sampling. Types of sand also can be identified
by monitoring the concentration of sand produced and logs which measure the relative
strength of rocks. The following guide can be used to identify sand types:

- Quick sand: usually indicated by a constant sand production.
- Partially unconsolidated sands: indicated by fluctuating sand concentration.
- Friable sands: indicated by a high initial sand concentration, this eventually tapers

Figure 7.2 describes the relation between sand production and stress.

Fig. 7.2: Regimes of sand production.

Types of information essential for characterising sand include:

- regional geology,
- statigraphy and
- hydrodynamics.

Other sources with respect to formation evaluation include:

- wire line logs,
- porosity analysis,
- completion histories,
- temperature and pressure,
- permeability, porosity and saturation and
- production histories.

The most essential design parameter for sand control, however, is the determination of
formation sand size and their distribution. This information is used to decide which sand
control measure is most suitable. Formation sand size and the respective distribution can
be best obtained by:

- collecting a formation sample,
- conducting sieve analysis
- plotting data on a cumulative weight and frequency diagram.


To acquire a representative formation sand sample entire interval through the field must
be considered as the formations are heterogenous in nature. Samples are usually obtained

- coring with rubber sleeve core barrel,
- side wall cores and
- bailings.

Rubber Sleeve Core Barrel:
The most representative of actual size can be obtained from rubber sleeve core samples
which are undisturbed and provide accurate information about the lithology. This form of
sampling is expensive.

Sidewall cores:
Sidewall coring can be carried out where there are no full size cores available. Due to
their small sample size these samples are less representative than full cores.

Where there are no cores (full cores or sidewall cores) available, produced sands or
bailings can be used in order to characterise sand size and size distribution. Because of
intermixing and tendency for larger grains to settle at the bottom (including the rat hole)
these samples cannot be related to any statiography or depth. Sometimes it is better to
have some form of information than no data.


Sieve analysis involves sorting of sand grains of similar sizes using a series of sieves.
Prior to conducting sieve analysis, it is important to clean and dry the sample (core or
bailings). It is also important that the samples do not break during preparation. Then the
weighted sample is placed on the top sieve of a series of sieves (see Fig. 7.3) which are
shaken either mechanically or sonically. The screens are arranged progressively finer
mash as the sample moves downward by combination of gravity and shaking. Materials
(grains) retained in each sieve are weighed and plotted in a cumulative weight vs.
diameter graph.

Fig 7.3: A series of sieve showing sieve analysis procedure.

Common measuring scales for mesh are the opening sizes of the screens as presented in
Table 7.1 whose typical ranges for sands, silts and clays are given in inches and
millimetres. For example, mesh 8 corresponds to 8 openings for every linear inch as
shown in Fig. 7.4 and has the opening diameter of 0.094 inch (2.380 mm).


Fig. 7.4: Sieve opening and its relation with US mesh.
Interpretation of grain size and grain size distribution:
A typical grain size distribution is presented in Fig 7.5. Where d
represents sand in the
10 percentile on the distribution scale and is described as the point on the distribution
scale where 10% of the sand size (by weight) is of a larger grain size. Where d

represents sand in the 90 percentile on the distribution scale and is described as the point
where 90% of the sand (by weight) is of a larger grain size and 10% of smaller grain

Fig. 7.5: Graph for grain diameter vrs. cumulative weight percentage.

Sand size distribution varies greatly from formation location to formation location. An
example is shown in Fig. 7.6 where the left-hand graphs show a wider grain size
distribution (non-uniform grain size distribution) whereas right hand curves show grain
size distribution in a narrow band (uniform grain size distribution).

Fig. 7.6: Cumulative sand size distribution for different sand sorting.

Table 7.1: Sand sieve sizes

US Mesh D[mm] D[in]
4 4.670 0.187
5 4.000 0.157
6 3.360 0.132
7 2.830 0.111
8 2.380 0.094
10 2.000 0.079
12 1.680 0.066
14 1.410 0.056
16 1.190 0.047
18 1.000 0.039
20 0.841 0.033
25 0.707 0.028
30 0.595 0.023
35 0.500 0.020
40 0.420 0.0170
45 0.354 0.0140
50 0.297 0.0120
60 0.250 0.098
70 0.210 0.0083
80 0.177 0.0070
100 0.149 0.0059
120 0.125 0.0049
140 0.105 0.0041
170 0.088 0.0035
200 0.074 0.0029
230 0.063 0.0025
270 0.053 0.0021
325 0.044 0.0017
400 0.037 0.0015

7.3 Sand Control Methods

Production of sand can be controlled by one or combination of the following methods:
1. reducing drag force,
2. bridging (mechanical) and
3. increasing formation strength (chemical).

7.3.1 Reducing Drag Force

Reducing drag force on sand grains by production fluid makes sand grains less prone to
movement and hence is a more effective method of avoiding sand production problems.
Drag force can be reduced by:

- increasing flow area and
- restricting production rate.


When flow area increases, the velocity of the produced fluid decreases. This can be
achieved through a number of ways:

- large perforation interval,
- large number of perforations by increasing perforation density,
- large diameter, long and clean perforations and
- a long conductive path some distance into the reservoir by hydraulic fracturing.

Good Engineering practises use perforation charges that produce large diameter long
holes and less debris which is an effective method to controlling sand production.


Reducing production rate is, will in essence, reduce the drag force on the sand grain by
the producing fluid velocity. According to Allen and Roberts, 1982 it is possible to
control sand production by carefully observing sand production rate with fluid production
rate which is known as the “Bean-up” technique.

7.3.2 Mechanical Method of Control

Mechanical sand control provides a physical barrier to sand movement while allowing
fluid to flow across passages. In the rock, physical barrier is provided either by

- a screen,
- a combination of a screen and gravel pack

The flow passages through screen or gravel or gravel pack and screen must be small
enough to stop the formation sand but large enough to achieve adequate well
productivity. The flow passages are reduced with time due to plugging by clays,
asphaltenes, wax and scales.

Choice of sand control method depends on specific well characteristics which include:

- grain size distribution,
- interval length,
- bottom hole temperature and pressure,
- clay content,
- well bore deviation,
- mechanical deviation,
- mechanical configuration,
- anticipated production rate and
- economics.

Screens are effective in controlling sand production from formations which are composed
of clean large grained sands with very narrow grain size distribution. These are primarily
water wells. Oil and gas wells are much deeper and formation sands are smaller grained,
poorly sorted and often contain clay sized particles. This type of sand plugs the screens.
Use of screens as a sand control technique has a number of inherent problems. They

- slots or openings are eroded before sand control is achieved,
- well productivity is reduced due to sand plugging,
- because screens have always annular gap (between screen and formation)
formation collapses and fills the annular gap which leads to sand movement and
causes intermixing of sands and
- intermixing of sands results in reduction in near wellbore permeability(please
refer to chapter 2).


The screen/liner must be designed to effectively trap formation sand while retaining
maximum productivity. This is achieved by selecting appropriate size (slot width),
geometry and density of slots to trap the larger grains which inturn stop smaller grains.
Smaller grains are trapped in the interstices of larger grains.
Hence, important design considerations for screens are as follows:

- slot opening and slot geometry,
- ratio of screen outside diameter to well bore inside diameter and
- slot spacing, orientation and density.
Slot Opening and Slot Geometry:
Once the formation has collapsed behind the screen, the largest sand grains tend to form a
trap fro th smaller grains entering the screen. These large grained sands must be stopped
by the screen slot opening. Common slot openings used by the industry are:
- Parallel face opening and
- V-shape opening
Parallel Face Vrs. V-Shaped Opening:
In Figures 7.7 and 7.8 describe the bridging mechanism of sand grains at the slot
opening. In the case of parallel slot openings sand grains are likely to bridge across the
opening, thus forming a plug, whereas in a V-shape opening sand grains are stopped at
the entry and form bridges at the face of the slot opening. Because of the V-shape, sand
grains entering the slot can easily pass through the slot and prevent formation of bridges
across the opening. This V-shape is achieved in wire-wrapped screens by using
trapezoidal cross section wire (see Fig. 7.9).

Fig 7.7: Parallel face screen slot opening and sand bridging across the slot opening.


Fig 7.8: V-shaped screen slot opening and sand bridging at the face of the slot opening.

Fig. 7.9: Wire Rap Screen with continuous trapezoidal wire.

Slot Size (width):
Common industry practice of selecting slot size is based on correlations. These
correlations are derived from laboratory experiments and field experience. Most widely
used correlations are the work of Coberly,1930 and Wilson, 1938. Coberly’s correlation
is based on average sorting of formation sand where slot width, w is determined from the

d (
d is the 10 percentile of formation sand)

The above correlation is based on the understanding that the sand grains form stable
bridges on slots that are twice the size of 10 percentile of formation sand. Following
Coberly’s work Wilson derived a correlation for the Gulf Coast where the sand grains
tends to be more uniform as:


This means that the width of the screen should be selected based on 10 percentile of the
formation sand. Gill, 1937 suggested a more conservative correlation to select slot width


A general rule was provided by DePriester,1972 in relation to selecting slot size for
formation for which very little information is available. To avoid plugging the minimum
slot width should be 0.05 inch. If the 20 percentile of sand is less than 0.05 inch then an
alternative approach should be adopted.

05 . 0 d w inch s s

Slot Spacing and Slot Orientation:
The two basic types of screens which are widely used by the industry are slotted pipe and
wire wrapped. On tubing slots of various patterns are milled to produce screen. These
patterns include taggered, multiple vertical and horizontal patterns (see Fig.7.10)

Fig. 7.10: Horizontal, staggered and multiple vertical patterns (clockwise).

Coment ari o [ A1] : Why are
these the same?
Wire wrapped screens are manufactured in many forms which include ripped welded,
grooved and wrapped on pipe. They are made as continuous slot on outside of the pipe
that has already milled or machined holes or slots. The wrapping wire is usually made of
403 stainless steel and the core pipe is usually grade S or K. The typical screen sizes used
by the industry are presented in Table 7.2.

Coment ari o [ A2] : One for
H2S? explain

Table 7.2: Typical dimensions of slots for slotted and wire wrapped screens (dimensions
vary with different manufacturer)

Slotted pipe Wire Wrapped
OD 0.010 0.020 0.030 0.010 0.020 0.030 0.010 0.020 0.030
1-1/2 0.4 0.8 1.3 4.9 9.3 13.0 9.0 16.4 22.0
3-3/8 0.5 1.1 1.6 5.7 11.4 17.0 10.8 19.7 27.1
2-7/8 0.7 1.3 2.0 6.9 13.8 20.7 12.7 23.1 31.8
3-1/2 0.9 1.8 2.7 8.4 16.8 25.3 15.1 27.4 37.7
4 1 2 3.1 9.4 18.8 28.2 17 30.8 42.4
4-1/2 1.1 2.3 3.4 10.6 21.2 30.6 18.8 34.2 47.1
5 1.3 2.5 3.8 11.8 23.6 35.6 20.7 37.6 51.8
5-1/2 1.4 2.8 4.1 13.0 26.1 37.8 22.6 41.1 56.5

Special applications of screen liners include:
- highly deviated and horizontal wells where gravel placemtn become cumbersome
- wells completed in semi-competent (not fully consolidated) reservoir formation
where moderate sand production is expected.

Gravel Pack refers to uniform graded commercial sand placed between the wellbore and
slotted screen to retain formation sands from movement. Figure 7.11 describes a typical
gravel pack. The main advantages and disadvantages of a gravel pack are described in
Table 7.3.




Fig. 7.11: Schematic of gravel packing.

Table 7.3: Advantages and disadvantages of gravel pack

Advantages Disadvantages
1. Effective control of formation sand as sands
are stopped in pores formed by gravel
2. High production is achieved because the near
wellbore permeability remained mostly
undamaged due to grain intermixing
3. Screen is subject to less erosion
4. No chemical reaction involved
5. Regulating acid wash is feasible
1. Effective flow diameter of the
wellbore is reduced
2. Zone isolation is not feasible
3. Screens are susceptible to

Key to the successful sand control using gravel pack includes:

- selection of gravel size,
- selection of screen type and slot operating,
- selection of gravel pack interval,
- gravel placement and
- selection of gravel pack to minimise formation damage.

Selection of Gravel Size:
Selection of gravel is important as the gravels must form interstices which can effectively
trap formation sands and prevent sand movement. Similar to selection of screen slots
gravel size is determined based on well established correlations. These correlations are
summarised in Table 7.4.

Table 7.4: Summary of gravel to formation sand relationships (correlation) developed by
the industry:

Authors Pack sand Formation sand Rule
Coberly and
Wagner 1937
Narrow Broad
10d D s
Gumpertz.1940 Narrow Broad
10d D s
Hill,1941 Narrow Broad
8d D s
Department of US
Narrow Broad
50 50 50
8 . 3 5 . 6 d D d > >

Depriester,1957 Broad Broad
50 50
8d D s
90 90
12d D s
90 10
3d D s
Stien,1969 Broad Broad
15 85
4d D s
Soucier,1974 ------ ------
50 50
d D s
Note: D is the diameter of gravel and d is the diameter of formation sand.

From the table, it is apparent that the diameter of the gravel sands is selected by matching
the diameter of certain percentile formation sand. Rules for selection of gravel sands are
based on the correlation present in Table 7.4 which varies significantly and that the
distribution of sand size is described by a particular percentile on the distribution curve.
To overcome the above anomaly of the selection process, Schwartz,1969 came up with a
unique uniformly coefficient, C. The uniformly coefficient is determined by comparing
40 percentile formation sand (d
) with 90 percentile formation sand (d
) as:
C =
C<3, sand is considered to be uniform
C>5, sand is non-uniform
C>10, Sand is very non-uniform.

For the above uniformity coefficient Schwartz gave the following correlations:
- for uniform sand(C<5),
10 50
6d D =
- fro a non-uniform sand (C>5),
40 40
6d D =
The flow velocity for all the range of C should not exceed a critical value and be
calculated as:
Flow velocity = production rate (ft
/sec)/ 50% of the open area of slots, ft

Gravel Thickness:
Gravel thickness is also an important factor which affects productivity of the well.
Through laboratory experiments, Allen and Roberts, 1989 have shown that the gravel
pack thickness of 3 to 4 grain diameter should be sufficient in order to stop sand
movement. In practice, however, a thicker gravel pack is needed for effective sand
control. Sage and Lacey, 1942, based on their work, provided a rule for gravel thickness.
Based on their work it is clear that 3 inch or greater gravel pack thickness is required to
effectively control sand production.

Mixing Gravel with Sands:
The work of Sperlin, 1972 has shown that the mixing of gravel sand with formation sand
reduces pack permeability significantly. With 100% of gravel sand (no mixing of gravel
sand with formation sand) the pack sand has shown to have the highest permeability
whereas with 50-50 mixing of gravel and formation sand a 20 fold reduction in
permeability can be observed. Based on this experiment it is recommended that well
sorted gravel sand should be used as pack sand.

Physical Properties of Gravel Sand:
In addition to gravel diameter, suitability of gravels for a sand control job depends on a
number of physical properties. They include:

- roundness or sphericity,
- grain strength,
- acid solubility,
- uniformity,
- presence of clay and clay size materials and
- wetness.

Gravels should have a uniform geometry with roundness or sphericity 0.6 in Krumbein
scale or better. Flat or angular geometry reduces the porosity and hence reduces trap
capacity of gravels. Gravels should have strength greater than 2000 psi so that they do not
breakdown on formation stress and produce clay size particles. Presence of clay size
materials reduces gravel pack permeability. Usually turbidity is used to determine the
presence of clay and the turbidity should be less than 1. Gravel should have a Uniformity
Coefficient, C=1.5. Materials finer than 1.5 (C=1.5) would have little effect on the
control of sand movement.

Gravel should also be resistant to acid as often acid treatments are employed to clean up
of sand pack to remove pore blockage (formation damage).

Finally, gravel should be water wet to increase the effective permeability. It has been
shown that when water wetness increases relative permeability to oil increases greatly
(Williams et al, 1972).


Gravel pack can broadly be classified as:

1. inside pack between casing and screen
2. outside pack between formation and casing
3. combination-inside and outside casing packing
4. open hole gravel

Inside Gravel Pack:
A slotted or wire wrapped screen/liner is placed inside the casing as shown in Fig.7.12.
Various methods are used to place the gravels between the casing-screen annular gap.

Fig. 7.12: Inside pack.

Outside Casing Gravel Pack:
Perforations are cleaned and washed prior to the gravel placement. Then slurry (mixture
of gravel and viscous fluid) is circulated under pressure to squeeze the gravel behind the
casing as shown in Fig.7.13. Under pressure the gravel transport fluid squeezed into the
formation leaving the gravel dehydrated. The gravel transport fluid must be carefully
selected in order to avoid formation damage due to fluid invasion.

Fig.7.13: Outside pack.

Combination of Inside and Outside Casing Pack:
Combination packs involves 3 steps:
1. washing behind the casing,
2. placing the gravel behind casing,
3. finally, placing gravel between the casing and screen as shown in Fig.7.14.

The combination pack provides an effective sand control and is widely used in the

Fig. 7.14: Combination- washout technique.

Open Hole Gravel Pack:
Open hole gravel pack involves underreaming to enlarge the hole diameter and then
placement of gravel between the open hole section and screen/liner (see Fig.7.15). This
technique provides a thick gravel pack with large unrestricted flow area and is very
effective in controlling sand production and increasing oil/gas production. Since it is not
possible to produce from multiple zones simultaneously, open hole completions are often
used to control sand production fro each completion.

Fig. 7.15: Inside pack-open hole completion-under reamed.

Under Reaming of Open Hole Section:
A hole opener is used to under-ream the pay section as shown Fig.7.16. About 4 to 6
inch on the diameter should be under-reamed to provide sufficient annular gap for the
gravel pack.

Fig.7.16 Under reaming for open hole gravel pack.

Washing Behind the Casing:
In order to provide thick gravel pack, perforations are required to be washed. A typical
washing technique (after Tausch and Corley, 1958) or a cup type (after Allen and
Roberts, 1989) can be employed to wash behind casing and perforation tunnel (see

Fig. 7.17a.: Washing of perforations.

Fig.7.17b: Cup type perforations.

According to Tausch and Corley, 1958 a wash pipe is run with a packer which is set half
way through the perforation interval. Brine is pumped through the annulus into the
perforation and back to the surface through the wash pipe as shown in Fig.7.17a. In a cup
type washing technique, a ball is dropped before circulation commences. A selective
circulating sleeve is used to direct brine to the perforation tunnel via wash pipe. Brine and
sand mixtures are recovered back to the surface via the annular gap (casing and wash
pipe, see Fig.7.17b).

Telltale is a device to indicate the position that can not be easily seen, in this case a short
section of the screen/liner located below the screen. A seal sub is installed between the
telltale and the screen to seal the wash pipe therefore ensuring that the return is from the
telltale only. The objective is to direct the gravel to the bottom of the screen to achieve a
tight pack.

Crossover Tool:
Crossover tool is used to divert down flowing slurry (mixture of sands and fluids) to the
outside of the liner and flowing fluid into the annulus to return to surface. The slurry is
pumped down the tubing, as shown in Fig.7.18, through the crossover tool into the
casing-screen annulus. This prevents the gravel to travel back to surface.
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Fig. 7.18:Crossover tool.

Gravel Blending Unit:
The surface equipment needed to run a gravel pack job is a truck mounted fluid tank, a
mechanical mixture/blender, a slurry tank (gravel and fluid mixture) with a positive
mechanical injection device shown in Fig.7.19. Fluid (viscous brine) is injected from
the tank into a jet which sucks the gravel from the mixing hopper and mixes the gravel
with the viscous brine (slurry). The slurry is then directed to the well head. Usual
pumping ranges from 2 to 6 barrels per minute.

Fig. 7.19: Gravel blending unit (Courtesy of Solum Oil Tool Corporation).


Gravels are placed down hole by a number of techniques which include:
- gravity circulation,
- normal circulation
- reversed circulation and
- squeeze gravel pack

Each technique is unique for certain bottomhole conditions and has associated advantages
and disadvantages. Selection of appropriate circulation technique is important for
effective sand control.

Gravity Circulation:
In gravity circulation the slurry is dumped down the casing and allowed to settle (see
Fig.7.20). To allow the gravel to settle, low viscous brine is used as a carrier fluid. This
technique results in a poor gravel pack as the different gravel size travel down the well at
different velocities leading to segregation of gravel. This results in poor compaction of
the gravel and hence is primarily used in shallow water wells. Gravity circulation would
be used as a cost effective solution for water wells.

Fig 7.20: Gravitate placement technique.

Normal Circulation:
In normal circulation, the slurry is pumped down the working string via a crossover tool
and the carrier fluid is returned through the annulus as shown Fig.7.21.

Fig. 7.21: Normal Circulation Technique.

It is primarily used for the inside casing gravel pack. Due to the injection pressure, the
same gravel may flow through the perforation tunnel. In order to achieve a gravel pack a
two step procedure is used: Outside pack and inside pack. The circulation is described in
the following steps:

1. Gravel is pumped down the tubing and forced into the perforation as shown in
Fig.7.22. The carrier fluid passes through the liner and up the wash pipe leaving
the gravel behind.
2. The tubing and wash pipe are then pulled up to some distance and step1 is
repeated again allowing more gravel to settle (see Fig.7.23).
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3. Figure 7.24 shows the final outcome of repeating stage one. Gravel is tightly
packed behind the casing and inside the casing.
4. The second stage is a wash down procedure. It consists of pumping fluid down
the wash pipe to displace the gravel, thus allowing the screen to be placed down
hole. This procedure is demonstrated in Fig.7.25.

Fig.7.22: Gravel placement behind casing.

Fig. 7.23: Gravel placement inside casing.

Fig. 7.24: Gravel packed inside and out casing.

Fig. 7.25: The Wash pipe is pushed down with the screen to remove gravel from inside.


Wash Down Procedure:
The wash down procedure, described in Fig.7.25, is also used inside the gravel pack. In
the wash down method, the gravel is injected into the perforations before the screen is
placed. Then the screen is run into the hole. The assembly is then “washed down” into its
final position by circulating brine through the wash pipe and shoe. When the shoe reaches
the bottom,circulation is stopped and the gravel is allowed to settle around the screen and
liner (see Fig.7.26).

Fig. 7.26: Wash down technique.
Reverse Circulation:
In reverse circulation a conventional water/gravel mixture is circulated down the casing-
tubing annulus allowing the fluid to return up the tubing (see Fig.7.27). The slurry flows
down the annulus and the gravel is retained on the outside of the screen. The carrier fluid
flows through the screen and up to the surface through the tubing.

Assemblies for reverse circulation usually involves running in the hole, down hole
functional check, packing of gravel to a selected point in the casing, pack off after
packing and disengagement. A production packer with an overshot assembly is then run
over the polished bore nipple. A prepack should be used as discussed earlier in case of
outside casing gravel pack.

Fig 7.27: Reverse Circulation Technique.

Squeeze Gravel Pack:
In a squeeze gravel pack, the gravel pack assembly is positioned opposite to the
completed interval, the packer is set and the crossover tool is opened. The gravel is
pumped with a viscous carrier fluid down the tubing via crossover tool into the casing-
screen annulus and the perforations under pressure (see Fig.7.28). The viscous fluid is
squeezed into the formation leaving the gravel in the annulus as a dehydrated gravel
pack. Pumping is continued until screen out occurs. After the circulation of completed
excess gravel above the screen is circulated back as the wash pipe is pulled out. This
technique is designed for only a short interval of 30 feet or less. The major disadvantage
fro the squeeze gravel pack is that the carrier fluid is “squeezed” into the formation
causing formation damage.


Fig 7.28: Squeeze Technique.


In order to obtain a successful gravel pack it is important to select fluids with the
appropriate properties for effective transportation. Essential characteristics of gravel
transport include:
- Viscosity,
- fluid leak off control and
- density.

Brine has been the common fluid used for transportation of gravel as it readily leaks off
into the formation, thus providing a tighter gravel pack. It must be a clean and contain
minimum amounts of any clay-like solids (clear fluid) and its water wettability should not
be impaired. Low viscosity has limited transport capability to 0.5-1 lbs gravel/ gallons of
fluid with a pump rate of 5 bbls/min.

High viscous fluid is needed to increase the carrying capacity characteristic of the fluid.
This is achieved by adding gelling agent such as the hydroxyethyl cellulose (HEC) or x-
tham gum polymers. For 8 to 9 lbs of HEC in 100 gallons of brine can yield a viscosity of
100-200 mPaS at 100 S
and can transport upto 15 lbs of gravel /gallon of brine. By
adding beaker fluids this viscosity can be easily broken and recovered by producing
fluids (oil and gas) without much formation damage.

Fluid Leak off Control:
Formation damage by transport fluid leak off must be considered. Most viscosity building
agents provide good fluid leak off control, however additional fluid leak off control
material can be added. Common material used to control fluid leak off include: ground
calcium carbonate and oil soluble particles.

Ground calcium carbonate provides good fluid leak off by plugging pores of formation
sands. Calcium carbonate is also acid degradable such that with acid (HCl) treatment
carbonate particles can be removed. Finely graded oil soluble particles are used to control
leak off.

Fluid Density:
Densities of up to 10 lbs/gallon can be achieved in common brines which are adequate to
control formation pressure in shallow and low pressure reservoirs. In deeper and high
pressure wells brine densities are often required to increase densities up to 19 lbs/gallon.
Using calcium chloride, brine density can be increased to 11.4 lb/gal. Calcium and zinc
bromide can provide densities between 12 and 19.2 lbs/gal. These brines are expensive
and corrosive. In most cases, ground calcium carbonate is added to the common brine in
order to increase density between 12 and 14 lbs/gallon and polymers to suspend both
gravel and carbonate particles, leading to a cost effective solution,


When the inclination angle exceeds 60 degrees from the vertical, significant changes
must take place in the dynamics of gravel transportation. This can be illustrated by
calculating the fall of gravel. For example, 15 lbs/gallon slurry has a fall velocity of
approximately 500 ft/min in a vertical wellbore. The slurry fall rate in a horizontal well
will become zero. And any angle between 90 degrees and 0 will depends on the cosine of
the angle. For a 60 degree inclination angle, in a high angle well slurry flows along the
low side of the well forming dunes of gravel as shown in Fig.7.29.


Fig.7.29: Dune formation in lateral holes.

Laboratory studies by Maby et al, 1974 using 1/10
scale model show that the packing
efficiency decreases rapidly as the hole angle reaches 60 degrees and more (see Fig.7.30).
Similar results were also observed by Gruesbeck et al., 1977.

30 60 90 120

Fig 7.30: Effect hole angle on gravel packing efficiency(After Maly et al).

Various laboratory and field experience have shown that the transport efficiency of grave
can be significantly improved by:
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- Use of flexible baffles in the wash pipe/screen (Unocal).
- Selection of outer diameter of the casing 0.8 (or more) times greater than the inner
diameter of the screen (Chevron, Halliburton, Dowell and Marathon).
- Vibration of the liner during gravel packing operation (Solum oil Tool
- Selection of transport fluid with high viscosity and low fluid leak off.
- Circulating the slurry using reverse flow.

These measures have been successful in improving transport efficiency however they
cannot solve every problem. For example, high viscous fluids can improve suspending
gravel, but do not allow the slurry to fully dehydrate when the gravel reaches the
perforation interval. Also, the use of reverse flow has the potential to mix formation sand
with gravel sand resulting in a looser gravel pack.

7.3.3 Chemical Method of Sand Control

In this method, sand grains are consolidated by plastic resin. In general, with the use of
plastic resin, strengths between 1000psi and 3500psi of the consolidated sand can be
achieved. Measured limits plastic consolidations are:

- It is more expensive (per foot) than conventional gravel pack.
- The formation permeability is reduced due to plastic consolidation.
- Limited length of interval can be treated (15-30ft).
- Storage and handling of plastic is hazardous.
- Plastic resins are subject to chemical degradation (temperature related).

Consolidation by plastic resin involves injection of liquid plastic resin into the formation
following a preflush. Then an after-flush is carried out to displace the resin from the pore
space and distribute it around the grain surface. Certain resin treatments have an inherent
self-activation and others are activated during the afterflush. Thus the procedure for
chemical consolidation is as follows:
- 1. Preflush
- 2. Resin injection
- 3. Afterflush


Consolidation of formation sand by plastic resin is dependent on a) the type of resin used
b) the activation mechanism and c) formation temperature.

Type of Plastic Resin:
Commonly resins used in industry are furan, phenolic and epoxy. Furan and phenolic
deteriorate over time due to their inherent imperfection (chemical makeup). This can
result in stress concentrations leading to premature failure when subject to production
related stress (hydrodynamic stress).

Expoxy resins on the other hand, deposit around sand grains and spread out to coat the
surface and create strong bonding between grains. After consolidation it produces little
shrinkage, no harmful polymerisation as a by product and also crosslinks to produce a
strong inert plastic.

Activation Mechanism:
Activation is the reaction process by which liquid resin turns into a solid resin, which
provides a physical strength to bond individual grains. A catalyst is used to activate the
reaction that causes the resin to cure with time and temperature.

The two types of activation mechanisms are:

- internal and
- external

In an interval activation system the resin contains a catalyst which activates the curing
with time or temperature. Once the resin reaches a certain time or temperature the curing
begins. The drawback of this system is that it can put a constraint to the operation. The
resin could set prior to proper placement of around the sand grain and therefore can plug
the entire interval.

In an externally activated system catalyst is pumped with the afterflush. This system has
no time or temperature constraints. It is, however, possible that the activator may not
contact the resin leaving behind an uncured resin.


Important considerations in the design and implementation of plastic consolidation
- resin characteristics,
- pay thickness,
- formation characteristics,
- operational conditions and
- timing of the treatment.

Resin Characteristics:
A number of chemical and physical properties of resin must be considered in the sign.
They include:

- viscosity,
- adhesion,
- strength,
- storage,
- chemical resistance,
- formation compatibility and
- safety.

Resin must remain pumpable during the execution of the job. To achieve this, the
viscosity of the resin must not be high. Also high viscosity prevents the resin to be placed
deeper into the formation and remain trapped in the formation pores. It should be wet to
the sand grain so that it can easily coat the grain to provide a strong bond. It is important
that the resin, after forming a coating around the grain, develop a strong tensile strength
which can resist formation forces. During the life of the well the resin must be resistant to
any chemical deterioration and remain compatible with formation fluid. Its operational
safety must meet the HSE guide lines and have a reasonable storage life.

Pay Thickness:
Pay thickness is an important consideration as the resin consolidation is limited to a short
interval. If possible, long intervals should be treated at different stages for quality

Formation Characteristics:
Operational characteristics that are essential include:

- heterogeneity,
- clay content,
- formation fluid compatibility and
- temperature

There is a potential for the plastic to bypass sections with low porosity and permeability
when intervals with high heterogeneity (porosity and permeability varing vertically or
horizontally or both) exist. To ensure good zone coverage it is important to select small
section (preferably 30 feet or less) with uniform porosity and permeability for the

Formations with high clay content in the pore space are susceptible for fines
mobilisations, resulting in formation damage. To avoid this damage, the formation must
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be treated (acidised) before the consolidation treatment commences. The general rule of
them is to avoid consolidation treatment if the formation contains clay in excess of 10%.

Formation fluids (water, oil, gas) may contain chemicals that may reduce the
effectiveness of the resin. To overcome this problem a preflush must be designed to
separate the formation fluid coming into contact with the resin. This will keep the resin
free from contamination by formation fluids.

Bottom hole or formation temperature influences the activation of catalyst. Selection of
plastic system is very much dependent on the formation temperature.

Operational Requirements:
Operational requirements that must be taken into considerations include:
- storage and handling facilities at the rig,
- surface facilities such as pumps and
- rig time.

Rig should have sufficient quality storage facilities so that the resin does not degrade
overtime. Appropriate handling facilities are required in order to prevent physical contact
with handling crews. Surface facilities should have excess pumping capacity as viscous
fluids require high injection pressure in order to be injected into low to average formation
permeability. It is also important to consider mixing the resin offsite to reduce rig time
which can significantly reduce job cost and prevent contamination at the rig site.

Depth of Treatment:
Most plastic treatments use 200-300 gallons per foot to allow sufficient penetration depth
better distribution of the resin and allow well compacted sand matrix with a high strength
bonding of grains.

Timing of the Treatment:
Plastic consolidation should be considered at the time of well completion to achieve a
good result. This is because sands and clays remain undisturbed and have less chance to
intermix due to production of hydrocarbon. The strength of the consolidated sand become
high as the sand remain tight rather than loose due to production.


As discussed earlier, sand consolidation by using plastic involves: preflush, injection of
resin and an after flush. This sequence is important for a successful execution of the
treatment. The pore level displacement process involved during the implementation of
chemical consolidation is described in Fig. 7.31.

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Fig 7.31: Displacement process at pore level.

Preflush is designed to separate resin from the formation fluids and clean sand grains for
good bondage. For phenolic and furan resins, diesel oil is used to drive the water and
prevent water dilution or acids that may accelerate the settings process. Similarly, for an
epoxy resin, all free water must be removed and a large volume of oil and alcohol is used.
A typical preflush is presented in the Fig.7.32.


Fig. 7.32: Plastic consolidation - preflush

Resin Solution Injection:
Once the well and formation grains are cleaned and formation fluid is displaced by the
pre-flush, the resin solution of a given volume is injected (see Fig.7.33). The resin
solution usually contains solvent, coupling if internally activated - a curing agent and a
catalyst or activator.


Fig. 7.33: Plastic consolidation – resin injection
The final step of this process is to distribute the resin around the grain forming a coating
deep into the formation. This is achieved by an afterflush of a non-contaminant and an
immiscible fluid usually hydrocarbon (see Fig.7.34). The viscosity and density is about
the same as the resin to have a uniform displacement. For external afterflush an activator
is mixed with afterflush. The amount of afterflush determines the thickness of the resin
coating and hence the porosity and strength of the bonding.

Fig. 7.34: Plastic consolidation – activator injection

Fig. 7.35: Plastic consolidation - overflush
7.4 Exercises

Example 7.1

For a formation with the following sand distribution, plot a relationship to determine liner
slot size:

Cumulative Weight (%) Diameter (inch)
0 0.04
5 0.03
10 0.02
15 0.015
20 0.012
25 0.0093
30 0.008
35 0.0075
40 0.007
45 0.0065
50 0.006
55 0.0055
60 0.005
65 0.0048
70 0.0045
75 0.0042
80 0.004
85 0.0037
90 0.0035
95 0.0027
100 0.002


1. Plot sand distribution (see Fig. 7.35).
2. Calculate the value of the uniformity coefficient, C as:

C = d
= 0.007/.0035 = 2

3. Determine the liner slot width for fifty percentile (D
) and ten percentile (d
rule as:

inch d D 12 . 0 02 . 0 6 6
10 50
= × = × =

4. Plot liner slot distribution line on same curve (see Fig. 7.36).


Fig.7.36: Sand size distribution plot as function of diameter.

Fig.7.37: Selection of slot width based on sand size distribution.

Selection of a screen or slotted liner, once the slot size has been determined, depends on
well conditions. Sawcut slots are cheaper. Wire-wrapped screen permits use of harder,
more corrosion-resistant metal. Screens set inside casing usually reduce productivity
since fine sand moving through the perforations fills the annulus between the screen and
casing. Use of largest diameter screen possible is good practice.


1. What are the two major factors controlling sand production?

2. What are the three basic sand-controlling mechanisms?

3. How large should the screen slot size (i.e. slot width) be? What is the minimum thickness of a
gravel pack?

4. In planning/designing a gravel-packing job, what are the two key aspects that you should
normally consider?

5. Describe the major parameters which are normally considered in selecting a gravel pack

6. What are the advantages and disadvantages of sand control by plastic resin?

1. Allen T.O and Roberts AP, Production Operations - well completion, Workover and
stimulation, 3
Edition, 1989, Oil and Gas Consultants International Inc., pp 37-59.

2. DePriester, C L, Sand Control - Production Operations Course1- Well Completion,
1972, Soceity of Petroleum Engineering’s Publication, pp 354-401.

3. Coberly, CJ, Selection of Screen Openings for Unconsolidated Sands, API Drilling
and Production Practices, 1937, pp 189-201.

4.Coberly,CJ, and Wagner, EM, Some Consideration in the Selection and Installation
of Gravel Packs for Oil Wells, Journal of Petroleum Technology, Aug. 1938 pp 1-20.

5.Wilson, HD, Discussion of Some Consideration in the Selection and Installation of
Gravel Pack for Oil Wells, Journal of Petroleum Technology,Vol 20, August1938.

6.Gill S, Discussion of Selection of Screen openings for Unconsolidated Sands API
Drilling and Production Practices, 1937.

7.Gumpertz.B, Screening Effect of Gravel on Unconsolidated Sands, Transactions,
AMIE, 1941, pp 76-85.

8.Hill, KE, Factors Affecting the use of gravel in Oil and Gas Wells, Drilling and
Production Practices,1941, pp 134-143.

9.Stein and Hilchie, DW, Estimation of Maximum Production Rate Possible from
Friable Sandstone Without Using Sand Control, Journal of petroleum Technology,
Sept. 1972, pp 1157-1160.

10. Smith, HF, Gravel Packing Water wells, Water Well Journal, Jan-Feb 1954.

11. Saucier, RJ, Consideration in Gravel Pack Design, Journal of petroleum
Technology, Feb 1974, pp 205-212.

12. Schwartz, RH, Successful Sand Control Design for High Rate Oil and Gas Wells,
Journal of Petroleum Technology, Sept 1969, pp 1193-1198.

13. Sage BH and Lacy, WN, Effectiveness of Gravel Screens, Transactions, AMIE
1941, pp 89-107.

14. Sparlin DD and Copeland CT, Pressure Packing with Concentrated Gravel Slurry,
SPE 2649, 1972.

15. Williams BB, Elliott, LS and Weaver R.H, Productivity of Inside Casing Gravel
Pack Completion, Journal of Petroleum Technology, April,1972, pp 419-425.

16. Tausch, GH and Corley CB, Sand Exclusion in Oil and Gas Wells, Drilling and
Production Practices, 1958, pp 66-81.

17. Maly, GP, Robinson, JP And Laurie, AM, New Gravel Pack Tool for Improving
Pack Placement, Journal of Petroleum Technology, Jan 1974 pp 19.

18. Gruesbeck, C, Salathiel WM and Echols, DE, Design of Gravel Packs in Deviated
Wells, 10 October 1977, SPE 6805.

19. Thompson, GD, Effect of Formation Compressive Strength on Perforator
Performance, Drilling and Production Practices, 1959, pp 249-260.