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Pore Pressure & Fracture Gradients

By Tom Arnold

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Why Do we Need to Understand Geo-Pressures?

Pore Pressure - The pressure of the fluids within the pores of a reservoir, usually hydrostatic
pressure, or the pressure exerted by a column of water from the formations depth to sea level.

Transition Zone impermeable rock cap topping

an abnormal pressure zone that is usually highly mineralized and well cemented with salt, calcite, anhydrite, etc.

Fracture Gradient -The minimum pressure required to break a formation at a given

depth in either a fresh water or salt water environment.

Mud Weight -

Is the measure of the density of the drilling fluid which controls the hydrostatic pressure in the bore hole. The drilling fluid is the medium which keeps formation fluids from entering the well bore.

Casing seat - The lowest point at which the casing is set. It is usually the WEAKEST place in
the hole in terms of the pressure needed to fracture the formation.

Overburden Stress -Pressure exerted on a point from the material over lying it. Hydrostatic Pressure - Relates to the pressure exerted by a fluid at a given depth. Swab - Pressure reduction in the well bore Surge - Pressure increase in the well bore
due to pulling the pipe. This can cause formation fluids to be sucked into the well bore starting the well to flow and creating a kick. due to running the pipe into the hole. If the surge is high enough, the fracture pressure can be exceeded and an under-ground blow-out is possible.

Normal Pressure Gradients

Salt Water: .465 Psi/Ft [9 ppg] Fresh Water: .433 Psi/Ft [8.33 ppg] > .433 psi/ft is Under Pressured

Depth (TVD)

Transition Zone

Pressure (PSI / PPG)

Primary Causes of Abnormal Pressures

All abnormal pressures are created and maintained by the restriction of pore fluid movement within a formation! These zones dont have the freedom of pressure communications. If they did, the high pressures would rapidly dissipate reverting to normal pressure.
Rapid Deposition of Shale Artesian Aquifer

Uplift, Erosion, & Intrusion

Psuedoplastic Formations

Fluid Density Differences & Hydrocarbon Generation

Rapid Deposition of Shale

This situation occurs during flooding in rivers like the Mississippi. Rapidly depositing sediments into a continuous depositional basin like the Gulf of Mexico.

Abnormal pore pressures are generated under rapid deposition because the shale matrix cant support the overburden stress. Trapped water doesnt have enough time to escape under these circumstances and is still helping support the overburden.

Artesian Aquifer
Aquifer recharge is from an elevation higher than the drilling location causing a very high formation pressure encountered at a shallow depth.
Formation Pressure = (Total Vertical Displacement * .465 psi/ft * 19.23 )/ Depth of encounter


FP ppg = (.465 * 10000 * 19.23) / 7000 FP ppg = 12.7



Erosion and Uplift Causes Under Pressured Reservoirs

Underpressured reservoirs are common is rocks that have subjected to uplift and erosion. Many fields in the western US are underpressured for this reason. The Keyes field in Oklahoma produces gas from a depth of 5550 ft. Two evaporite seals are present, the Blaine Anhydrite at 1000ft. and the Wellington salt at 3000 ft. The extent of the underpressure in the Keyes sandstone at 5100 ft is 1305 psi or 4.9 ppg. Normal should be 2208 psi or 8.33 ppg.
Final burial of the formation after deposition was 8113ft. It was uplifted by 3013 feet and encountered at 5100ft. Under Pressure: 1305 PSI = (8113ft 5100ft) * .433

Intrusion & Psuedoplastic Formations

another example of a cause of under pressured formation.

Salt dome intrusions create situations where beds pressured at lower depths are pushed higher in the subsurface. Such situations will create underpressured zones. Pressures here are determined in the same manner as those in uplift and erosion discussed earlier.

Fluid Density Difference & Hydrocarbon Generation

Regional overpressured reservoirs are common in rocks that have been subjected to rapid burial and oil generation. Many fields in the Gulf Coast are overpressured in this way.
8.33 ppg 15 ppg

6000 ft

The Bakken Field of the Williston Basin is a typical example of a locally overpressured oil reservoir. The dense organic shale source rock has a central silty-sand interval that forms a reservoir. Local oil generation creates higher formation pressure and is the reason for the large overpressures of more than 14 ppg. at only 9800 feet. Normal would be 8.33 ppg.

8000 ft

14.1 ppg 9840 ft Bakken Reservoir

11000 ft

More Considerations in Abnormal Formation Pressure

Thick impermeable beds of shale or salt restrict the movement of water. These are called transition zones and should be watched carefully while drilling! Below such beds abnormal pressure may be found.

More Considerations in Abnormal Formation Pressure

Hydrostatic pressure gradient is lower in gas or oil than in water.

More Considerations in Abnormal Formation Pressure

When crossing a fault it is possible to go from normal pressure to abnormal pressure in a short interval. Faults also will often leak pressures into other formations causing another potential hazard.

More Considerations in Abnormal Formation Pressure

Underground Blow-Out
{Fractured Formation}

Here we see a formation charged with high formation pressure from a much deeper formation in an offset well. This is clearly human induced abnormal formation pressure!

Dangerous and Delicate Situation

Consider a scenario where you have crossed a transition zone and the pore pressure has risen to 14.5 ppg. The fracture pressure is 15 ppg at the casing seat. You have just taken a kick. The well is flowing salt water and the gas is rising steeply. Calculations show that you need a 14.7 mud weight to kill the kick. Coupled with the ECD, Equivalent Circulating Density, the effective mud weight at the casing seat, the WEAKEST PLACE IN THE HOLE, will be 15.1. The fracture pressure

at that depth is 15 ppg.

What do you DO???

This is a nightmare! The answer is drop the pump rate and pump pressure to a point where the ECD is below the fracture pressure while pumping the kill weight mud. Kill the well and set a drilling liner or an intermediate casing! ..drill ahead, and hope you dont cross another transition zone!



Often you will find a delicate balance between balancing the mud weight with the pore pressure and keeping the ECD below the fracture pressure at the casing seat or some other weak formation encountered while drilling.

Abnormal Pore Pressure Indicators

Seismic Data (not discussed) Wire-Line Logs (separate module) Sloughing Shale & cutting size Gas Shale Density Chloride Content Pit Level and Volume Temperature Paleo Information Drilling Rate d exponent Normalized Rate of Penetration

Indicator Cutting Size and Sloughing Shale

The size of the cuttings coming out of the hole can be a very useful tool in the detection of abnormal pressure. Sloughing shale may be the result of the following hole conditions. 1. Formation fluid pressures are in excess of the hydrostatic pressure of the mud column. 2. Hydration or swelling of shale 3. Erosion caused by the fluid circulation or pipe movement. In some situations the problems of sloughing, also called heaving, may be a combination of more than one of the above causes. For this reason the PML Surface Logger must always try to diagnose the cause. Sloughing or Heaving shale associated with abnormal pressure is easily recognizable in the samples at the shale shaker. The size of the cuttings will increase and become larger than what you were seeing before. These shale cuttings become long and splintery or long and concave.

Indicator Gas Increase

Gas cut mud has always been considered a warning signal, but is not necessarily a serious problem, Gas may enter the mud system as a result of any of the following: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Gas in shale (background gas) Gas from sands Connection gas Trip gas Gas that enters the mud due to insufficient mud weight to control formation fluids.

Connection and trip gas are introduced into the mud by swabbing or just by the reduction in total annulus back pressure when the pump is stopped. Any increase in either of these types of gas should be watched carefully. It may be the result of abnormally high formation pressure. Both gases will show an increasing trend when entering abnormally high formation pressure.

Indicator Mud Temperature

As formation pressure rise, formation temperatures rise as well. Therefore paying close attention to flow-line temperatures is another important procedure when watching for abnormal down-hole pressures.

Indicator- Shale Density

shale from the normal trend line. This is a clear indicator of the rise in formation pressure due to the increased fluid and gas content in the shale.

Shale density is one of the most reliable and best of the abnormal pressure detection methods. It is based on the assertion that the fluids and gas trapped between the shale platlets decrease the density of the cutting. Look at the plot below. There is a marked decrease in the density of the

The determination of shale density is defined by two methods upcoming.

Indicator- Shale Density (Mud Balance Method)

1. Fill mud cup with shale until the weight is 8.33. 2. Fill to top with water, and record the reading Wtot.

8.33 Spec.Gravity 16.66 Wtot

Note: Dry sample carefully with towel. Do not apply heat.

Indicator- Shale Density (Fluid Column)

A shale density column is composed of chlorothene and bromaform. Both of the chemicals are toxic and cancer producers. Setting up the column takes practice and patience.

Indicator- Chloride Trends

Chloride trends in the mud are not easily recognizable as changes in gas concentration. Methods of measurement make it more difficult to obtain information on chloride changes. Also, in many cases , the water in the mud is either brackish or salt water with a high level of salinity. A comparison of chloride trends both going in the hole and coming out of the hole may provide a warning of increasing pore pressure. The theory behind chloride trends is when entering an abnormally high pressure zone, we enter a formation which is under-compacted. Comparing this information to those drilled at shallower depths, there is an increase of native fluid. Therefore, we should see an increase in chloride content in the mud system. There are two methods that can be used to determine the mud chlorides. The first method is the same as the one used by the mud engineer. It involves adding a sample of drilling mud to a filter press and driving off the native fluid. By the use of titration and indicator chemicals, the chloride ion concentration can be determined. Or you can simply read the chlorides off the mud report! The second method we will discuss next.

Indicator- Chloride Trends

By knowing the resistivity and temperature of the mud, the chloride ion concentration may be determined. Standard surface logging practice provides resistivity probes and temperature probes where these values may be determined. Enter the chart at the bottom with the resistivity. Read up to the mud temperature. Then follow the slope to the top and read the chloride ion. A copy of this chart is available for download on this site.

Indicator- Chloride Trends

If you are so inclined as to wish to make the calculation rather than bother with the TINY lines on the chart, here is the equation on which the chart is made.

Where: CH = chlorides in ppm T = mud temperature in Deg F from a probe R = mud resistivity from a probe

Then to convert to true NaCL equivalent we have:

NaCL = Ch * 1.65
Example for a computer or calculator: Temp = 175 R = .05 71072.3 PPM = ( ( (175 / .05 ^ -1.0185) / 201315.6) ^ (1 / -.971692) * 1.65)

Putting It Together
Here is a typical response of several pressure indicators through a transition zone and into abnormal pressure.


Chloride ppm

Total Gas

Pore Pressure

Transition Zone

Indicator- Pit Volume Increase

Variations in the total mud volume can be monitored by pit level indicators. These devices monitor the level of the mud in the pits and tell us when mud is being lost into the formation or when fluids within the formation enter the well bore and the well starts flowing. The first indication of a kick while going into the hole following a trip is the observation that a pit level increases in excess of the mud displacement by the pipe run into the hole. HOLE FILL-UP: As the drill string is being pulled, the mud volume required to fill the hole should equal the pipe displacement. Keeping the hole filled is even more critical at the time the drill collars are pulled, since if the same length of collars as that of the drill pipe is pulled , the level of the mud in the hole will fall 4 or 5 times as fast. Furthermore there may be a temporary pressure reduction while the string is pulled due to the bit being balled, high mud viscosity, thick mud cake If salt water, oil, or gas, or a combination of the three, from the formation has entered the well bore, the mud volume required to fill the hole will be less than the volume of the pipe pulled and gives the first indicator of a kick. The amount of mud required to fill the hole can be monitored by the number of strokes required to fill the hole. ------ MORE ------

Indicator- Pit Volume Increase

Any abnormal rise in pit level by the mud flow from the annulus will also be reflected in an increased flow rate, which can be measured by a standard flow-meter. Actually, a flow rate measurement is superior to pit level checks since small flow rate increases can be detected before they become sufficiently large enough to show on any pit level device. If such small flows are noticed immediately, they are not as critical at this point and there is still time available to take proper control measures.


Indicator- Paleo Data

Abnormally high pore pressures are frequently related to certain environmental conditions within given geologic time periods of deposition. Formations are marked, depending on the depth of the water during a particular stage of deposition, by the presence of certain fossils. People who work with paleo information, -bug hunters-, examine samples from the well bore looking for these fossils. Encountering certain fossils reveal the potential problem of entering abnormally high formation pressures.

Indicator- Drill Rate

Drilling rate alone is an important indicator of abnormally pressured formations. Seen below, as the pressure in the well bore is reduced, the drilling rate will increase. This is the foundation of this procedure as well as d exponent and Normalized Rate of Penetration. The latter two procedures will be discussed in great depth later.

Decrease can be due to:

Chip hold down effect Well bore pressure on rock strength NOTE: Drilling underbalanced can INCREASE drilling rate!

Differential Pressure is the difference between wellbore pressure and pore pressure.

PHYD - PPORE , psi

Indicator- Drill Rate

Typical drilling rate profile in shale. The drilling rate in a normally pressured, solid shale section will generally generate a very steady and smooth drilling rate curve. The penetration rate will be steady and not erratic (normally pressured, clean shale).

Indicator- Drill Rate

Any deviation from the expected decrease in drilling rate with depth, when you are drilling in a clean shale, might indicate a transition zone. Note:
If you are drilling overbalanced in a transition zone, it will be very difficult to pick up the transition zone initially. This will allow you to move well into the transition zone before detecting the problem. This could cause you to move into a permeable zone which would probably result in a kick. The conditions you create with overbalanced hydrostatic head will so disguise the pending danger that you may not notice the small effect of the drilling rate curve change. This will allow you to move well into that transition zone without realizing it.


Pore Pressure Prediction Methods

General Comments
1. Most pore pressure prediction techniques rely on measured or inferred porosity. 2. The shale compaction theory is the basis for these predictions. 3. All measurements of the porosity indicator (density) must be done in NORMAL, clean shales in order to establish a NORMAL trend line. Trends are THE key part of abnormal pressure detection. 4. When the indicator suggests porosity values that are higher than the trend, then abnormal pressures are suspected to be present. 5. The magnitude of the deviation from the normal trend line is used to quantify the abnormal pressure.

Establishing a Normal Trend

Porosity should decrease with depth in normally pressured shales
1. Establish Normal Trend Line in good clean shale


Trend lines are plotted on semi log paper by increasing depth: 1=100. Divisions are labeled according to the type of measure.
Trend lines are KEY in evaluation of d exponent, Normalized Rate of Penetration, and other prediction methods!

2. Extrapolate normal trend line

3. Determine the magnitude of the deviation

What is meant by a TREND line?


Establishing a Normal Trend

Older shales have had more time to compact, so porosities would tend to be lower (at a particular depth).

Use the trend line closest to the transition.

Lines may or may not be parallel.

Indicator d Exponent
The theoretical base for the quantitative method for abnormal pressure detection using drill rate and engineering mechanics is:

W R K3 N d b

Where: R = Penetration Rate K = Formation Drilliability N = Rotary Speed W = Weight on Bit b = Bit Diameter d = Weight on Bit Exponent (d-exponent)

Indicator d Exponent
R log 60 N d log 12W 6 10 D R ft/hr N rpm d d exponent W Bit Weight , lbf D Bit Diameter, in
The d-exponent normalizes R for any variations in W, db and N Under normal compaction, R should decrease with depth. This would cause d to increase with depth. Any deviation from the trend could be caused by abnormal pressure. Mud weight also affects R.. An adjustment to d may be made: d c = d ( r n / r c) where dc = exponent corrected for mud density rn = normal pore pressure gradient rc = effective mud density in use

Indicator d Exponent
While drilling in a Gulf Coast shale, R = 50 ft/hr W = 20,000 lb N = 100 RPM ECD = 10.1 ppg

log R 60 N d 12W log 6 10 D

D = 8.5 in
Calculate d and dc

50 log 2.079 60 * 100 d 12 * 20,000 1.554 log 6 10 * 8.5 d 1.34

rn dc d r c

0.465 dc 1.34 0.052 * 10.1 dc 1.19

Indicator d Exponent
Plotted example of d exponent data in the table.
Normal dx Trend Line

Should a new trend be Established or is this a transition zone?

dx indicated transition zone

Notice how the dx breaks left from the normal trend line indicating the transition zone.

Indicator d Exponent
How to determine the Pore Pressure from the dx trend line shift.
Normal hard rock gradient = .465 psi./ft. Normal dx trend = 1.18 Observed dx = .95 gp = gn (dcn/dco) gp = 0.465 * (1.18/.95) 0.95 1.18

gp = 0.578 psi/ft
rp = 0.578/0.052

rp = 11.1 ppg

Indicator d Exponent

This is a pore pressure overlay. A copy is available for download from the PML training web site. When creating a pore pressure plot be carful that the scale is correct for the graph paper being used. Plot using 1=1000. Be sure the slope is correct for normal trends. You must also be sure that the overlay is correct for the formation.

Indicator d Exponent
Improvements in Pore Pressure prediction.
Try to keep the weight and rpm relatively constant when making measurements Use donwhole (MWD) bit weights when these are available. (Friction drag in directional wells can cause LARGE errors. Add geological interpretation when possible. Keep in mind that tooth wear can greatly influence penetration rates. Use common sense and engineering judgment.

Use several techniques and compare results.

Indicator Normalized Rate of Penetration (NROP)

Normalization Considerations Lithology Formation compressive strength variations Bit Weight Rotary Speed Tooth Wear Hydraulics at the face of the hole Differential Pressure
The normalization process eliminates the influence of these variations with the exception of Differential Pressure.

Affect of WOB on ROP

PR ~ W M

PR ~

Where: W = Bit Weight M = Threshold Weight HHP =

Where: N = Bit Weight = Rotary Exponent

Where: Q = Flow Rate PB = Bit Pressure Drop d = Bit Size

HHP = M AND AVERAGE VALUES OF DEPTH M 0-90005000 lbs. .6 9000- 11000 0 lbs. PR ~ Sp .6 11000-25000 5000 lbs. .6

Equation for Normalized Rate of Penetration

PRn = PRo X X X

Pr = Penetration Rate W = Weight on Bit M = Weight on bit exponent N = Rotary Speed (rpm) PB = Pressure Drop at Bit Q = Flow Rate (gpm) = Rotary Exponent Note: Values subscripted n refer to normal Values Subscripted o refer to actual or observed values.

NROP Example
NORMAL CONDITIONS Wn = 30000 Lbs. Nn = 150 RPM PBn= 1500 psi Qn = 250 gpm OBSERVED CONDITIONS - PRo = 16 FT/HR Wo = 35000 Lbs. No = 175 RPM PBo = 1300 psi Qo = 210 RPM

Constants: M = 5000 lb.s = .6

PRn = 16 X

PRn = 16 x (.8333) x (.9117) x (1.374) PRn = 16.7 ft/hr

The vertical scale (ordinate) is for depth and should be linear. It should be the same as the depth scale on any correlation logs being utilized.
NOTE: The normalized penetration rate plot is an excellent lithology log and is very useful for geologic correlation. Normalized penetration rates for each interval are plotted, and the points connected to create a continuous curve.

% Decrease vs Differential Pressure

Consulting the composite curve (Vidrine & Benit) for percent decrease versus differential pressure at a P of 728 psi: yields a percent decrease of 46.5%. This means that penetration rates achieved while drilling 728 psi overbalanced are reduced 46.5% from the rates which would have occurred if the drilling was done at exact balanced conditions.

Utilizing the extrapolated dulling trend to determine the penetration rate which would have occurred if the formation pressure had not changed, yields 13.5 ft/hr.

% Decrease vs Differential Pressure

X = 25.23 ft/hr


X 100

X 100


The negative % decrease means drilling is proceeding at a rate faster than would be expected at zero differential pressure. This means drilling is underbalanced. The formation pressure is greater than the ECD.

Determine Pore Pressure

% decrease -10.98 from calculation

-160 psi

Formation Pressure =ECD -

X 19.23
X 19.23

Formation Pressure = 10.7 ppg

Plotted Example
Following along with the example plot a deviation from the dulling trend is noted to occur at approximately 10100 ft. This penetration rate is seen to be higher than expected according to the dulling trend, reflecting an increase in formation pressure. The calculation of the magnitude of formation pressure is made at 10200 ft. where an actual penetration rate of 27 ft/hr is observed.

This procedure, with the special considerations discussed, can be utilized to maintain differential pressure at a desired value throughout the drilling of a well. Mud weights can be properly maintained, casing points located, differential sticking and lost circulation minimized, and penetration rates maximized, all without the necessity of prior knowledge of the Geologic section or Geographic area. However, the most attractive aspect of this procedure, in the author's viewpoint, is the large response to relative small increases in formation pressures. There should never again be heard "We got kicked and none of our indicators showed anything - we got no warning at all".