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SPE 54356 Shale Stability: Drilling Fluid Interaction and Shale Strength Manohar Lal, SPE, BP Amoco Copyright

SPE 54356 Shale Stability: Drilling Fluid Interaction and Shale Strength

Manohar Lal, SPE, BP Amoco

Copyright 1999, Society of Petroleum Engineers Inc.

This paper was prepared for presentation at the 1999 SPE Latin American and Caribbean Petroleum Engineering Conference held in Caracas, Venezuela, 21–23 April 1999.

This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE Program Committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper, as presented, have not been reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material, as presented, does not necessarily reflect any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its officers, or members. Papers presented at SPE meetings are subject to publication review by Editorial Committees of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper for commercial purposes without the written consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is prohibited. Permission to reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of where and by whom the paper was presented. Write Librarian, SPE, P.O. Box 833836, Richardson, TX 75083-3836, U.S.A., fax 01-972-952-9435.


This paper presents main results of a shale stability study,

related to the understanding of shale/ fluid interaction mechanisms, and discusses shale strength correlation. The major shale/ fluid interaction mechanisms: Capillary, osmosis, hydraulic, swelling and pressure diffusion, and recent experimental results are discussed. Factors affecting the shale strength are discussed, and a sonic compressional velocity-log based correlation for strength is proposed. Recommendations for modeling and improving shale stability are described, based on the current understanding of shale stability.


Shales make up over 75% of the drilled formations, and over 70% of the borehole problems are related to shale instability. The oil and gas industry still continues to fight borehole problems. The problems include hole collapse, tight hole, stuck pipe, poor hole cleaning, hole enlargement, plastic flow, fracturing, lost circulation, well control. Most of the drilling problems that drive up the drilling costs are related to wellbore stability. These problems are mainly caused by the imbalance created between the rock stress and strength when a hole is drilled. The stress-strength imbalance comes about as rock is removed from the hole, replaced with drilling fluid, and the drilled formations are exposed to drilling fluids. 1 While drilling, shale becomes unstable when the effective state of the stress near the drilled hole exceeds the strength of

the hole. A complicating factor that distinguishes shale from other rocks is its sensitivity to certain drilling constituents, particularly water. Shale stability is affected by properties of both shale (e.g. mineralogy, porosity) and of the drilling fluid contacting it (e.g. wettability, density, salinity and ionic

concentration). The existence and creation of fissures, fractures and weak bedding planes can also destabilize shale as drilling fluid penetrates them. Drilling fluids can cause shale instability by altering pore pressure or effective stress-state and the shale strength through shale/fluid interaction. Shale stability is also a time-dependent problem in that changes in the stress-state and strength usually take place over a period of time. This requires better understanding of the mechanisms causing shale instability to select proper drilling fluid and prevent shale instability. The basic shale stability problem can be stated as follows:

Shale with certain properties (including strength) normally lies buried at depth. It is subjected to in situ stresses and pore pressure, with equilibrium established between the stress and strength. When drilled, native shale is exposed suddenly to the altered stress environment and foreign drilling fluid. The balance between the stress and shale strength is disturbed due to the following reasons:

Stresses are altered at and near the bore-hole walls as

shale is replaced by the drilling fluid (of certain density) in the hole. Interaction of drilling fluid with shale alters its strength as well as pore pressure adjacent to the borehole wall. Shale strength normally decreases and pore pressure increases as fluid enters the shale. When the altered stresses exceed the strength, shale becomes unstable, causing various stability related problems. To prevent shale instability, one needs to restore the balance between the new stress and strength environment. Factors that influence the effective stress are wellbore pressure, shale pore pressure, far away in situ stresses, trajectory and hole angle, etc. The effective stress at any point on or near the borehole is generally described in terms of three principal components. A radial stress component that acts along the radius of the wellbore, hoop stress acting around the circumference of the wellbore (tangential), axial stress acting parallel to the well path, and additional shear stress components. To prevent shear failure, the shear stress -state, obtained from the difference between the stress components (hoop - usually largest and radial stress - smallest), should not go above the shear strength failure envelope. To prevent tensile failure causing fracturing, hoop stress should not decrease to



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the point that it becomes tensile and exceeds the tensile strength of the rock. The controllable parameters that influence the stress-state are drilling fluid, mud weight, well trajectory, and drilling/ tripping practices. For example, radial stress increases with mud weight (wellbore pressure) and hoop stress decreases with mud weight causing mechanical stability problem. The near wellbore pore pressure and strength are adversely affected by drilling fluid/shale interaction as shale is left exposed to drilling fluid (chemical stability problem). Mechanical stability problem can be prevented by restoring the stress-strength balance through adjustment of mud weight and effective circulation density (ECD) through drilling/ tripping practices, and trajectory control. The chemical stability problem, on the other hand, is time dependent unlike mechanical instability, which occurs as soon as we drill new formations. Chemical instability can be prevented through selection of proper drilling fluid, suitable mud additives to minimize/delay the fluid/shale interaction, and by reducing shale exposure time. Selection of proper mud with suitable additives can even generate fluid flow from shale into the wellbore, reducing near wellbore pore pressure and preventing shale strength reduction.

Understanding Subsurface Shale

The term shale is normally used for the entire class of fine- grained sedimentary rocks that contain substantial amount of clay minerals. Sedimentologists find shale hard to work with since shale is fine grained, lacks well-known sedimentary structure (so useful in sandstones), and readily applicable tools and models are not available to study shale. 2 The distinguishing features of shale (of interest to oil industry) are its clay content, low permeability (independent of porosity) due to poor pore connectivity through narrow pore throats (typical pore diameters range 3 nm-100 nm with largest number of pores having 10 nm diameter), and large difference in the coefficient of thermal expansion between water and the shale matrix constituents. To understand drilling fluid interaction with shale, one must start from basic properties of in situ shale (e.g. pre-existing water in shale, mineralogy, porosity), and then analyze the impact of changes in stress environment on the properties of shale. Several factors affect the properties of shale buried at various depths. The amount and type of minerals, particularly clay, in shale decide the affinity of shale for water. For example, shale with more smectite (surface area - 750 m 2 /gm) has more affinity for water (adsorbs more water) than illite (surface area - 80 m 2 /gm) or kaolinite (25 m 2 /gm). Three different types of water are found associated with clays, although each clay will not contain all of the types. Inter- crystalline water is found in associated with the cations neutralizing the charge caused by elemental substitution. Osmotic water is present as an adsorbed surface layer associated with the charges on the clay. The swelling associated with this type of mechanism occur when

sedimentary rocks are unloaded as occurs in drilling. Bound water is present in the clay molecule itself as structurally bonded hydrogen and hydroxyl groups which under extreme conditions, temperatures of 600-700 0 C, separate from the clay to form water. The free water exists only within the pore space between the grains. The porosity of shale is normally defined as the percent of its total volume that water. This value is normally measured by drying a known volume of shale at elevated temperature. Porosity then is a measure of free water, osmotic water and to a lesser extent inter-crystalline water. Chemically bound water is not measured in this procedure. Properties of shale and drilling fluid/shale interaction are strongly influenced by the bound water and to a lesser extent by the free water. Some of water associated with clay can also be removed using pressure. The majority of the loosely held osmotic water can be removed with an overburden pressure of about 290 psi. In the inner-crystalline case, up to four layers of water may be found. The third and fourth layer can be removed with about 3900 psi. Approximately, 24000 psi is required for second mono-layer and according to various estimates, 3-4 pressure over 50,000 psi is required to squeeze water in single mono- layer of clay platelets. It requires temperatures in excess of 200 o C to remove all bound water from clay. It is, therefore, doubtful that shale is ever completely void of water in typical drilling environment. Prior to drilling, the exact amount of bound and free water in shales buried at depth, however, depends on the past compaction history. Compaction of clay proceeds in three main stages. 5 The clays are removed from land by water and deposited in quiescent locations. Clays, at their initial state of deposition and compaction, have both high porosity and permeability; pore fluids are in communication with the seawater above; sediments consisting of hydratable clay with absorbed water layers prevent direct physical grain-to-grain contact. At the time of deposition, mud water contents may be 70-90%. In the normal compaction process as clay/shale sediments are buried with pore water being expelled, porosity (sonic travel time) decreases. However, any disruption of this normal compaction and water expulsion process can lead to increase in both porosity (sonic travel time) and pore pressure. In the first stage of compaction, free pore-water, osmotic water and water inter-layers beyond two layers are squeezed out by the action of overburden. After a few thousand feet of burial, the shale retains only about 30% water by volume, of which 20-25% is bound interlayer water and 5-10% residual pore water. In the early stages compaction strongly depends on depth of burial, grain size (fine-grain clays have more porosity but compact easily), deposition rate (high rate results in excessive pore pressures and under-consolidation), clay mineralogy (monmorillonitic shale contain more water than illitic or kaolinitic shale), organic matter content, and geo- chemical factors (e.g. concentration of sodium salts affects porosity).

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In the second stage of compaction, pressure is relatively

ineffective for dehydration that is now achieved by heating,

removing another 10 to 15% of the water. The second stage

begins at temperatures close to 100 o C and diagenetic changes

in clay mineralogy may also occur. The third and final stage of

compaction and dehydration is also controlled by temperature

but is very slow, requiring hundreds of years to reach

completion and leaving only a few percent of water.

To sum up, the properties of drilled shale formation, which

are important for shale/fluid interaction and shale stability, are

dictated by the past compaction history and the current in situ

stresses and temperature. For example, affinity (thirst) for

water of the shale at any depth depends on compaction/

loading history, in situ stresses, clay composition, and

temperature. These factors also determine shale porosity,

permeability and the amount of water squeezed out.

Shale/Fluid Interaction Mechanisms

Analysis of the available experimental data (O’Brien-Goins-

Simpson Associates and University of Texas, Austin, Shell and

Amoco sponsored Projects) 6 , clearly shows that the shale

strength and the pore pressure near the bore-hole are indeed

affected by fluid/shale interaction. Basic results confirmed by

this analysis can be summarized as follows:

Activity imbalance causes fluid flow into/or out of shale

Different drilling fluids and additives affect the amount of

fluid flow in or out of shale

Differential pressure or overbalance causes fluid flow into


Fluid flow into shale results in swelling pressure

The moisture content affects shale strength. Moisture

content relates to sonic velocity.

The instability and shale/fluid interaction mechanisms,

coming into play as drilling fluid contacts the shale formation,

can be summarized as follows. 7-8

  • 1. Mechanical stress changes as the drilling fluid of certain density replaces shale in the hole. Mechanical stability problem caused by various factors is fairly well understood, and stability analysis tools are available. 8

  • 2. Fractured shale - Fluid penetration into fissures and fractures and weak bedding planes

  • 3. Capillary pressure, p C , as drilling fluid contacts native pore fluid at narrow pore throat interface.

  • 4. Osmosis (and ionic diffusion) occurring between drilling fluid and shale native pore fluid (with different water activities/ ion concentrations) across a semi-permeable membrane (with certain membrane efficiency) due to osmotic pressure (or chemical potential), P M .

  • 5. Hydraulic (Advection), p h , causing fluid transport under net hydraulic pressure gradient because of the hydraulic gradient.

  • 6. Swelling/Hydration pressure, p s , caused by interaction of moisture with clay-size charged particles.

  • 7. Pressure diffusion and pressure changes near the wellbore (with time) as drilling fluid compresses the pore fluid and

diffuses a pressure front into the formation.

  • 8. Fluid penetration in fractured shale and weak bedding planes can play a dominant role in shale instability, as large block of fractured shale fall into the hole. Several papers have been written on this phenomenon. 9 In Norway Valhall field, this phenomenon is suspected to be one of the major causes of shale instability. Preventive measures include use of effective sealing agents for fractures, e.g. graded CaCO 3 , high viscosity for low shear rates, and lower ECD.

Capillary phenomenon also is now fairly well understood,

and an interesting exposition is given in a recent paper. 10

Increasing the capillary pressure for water-wet shale has been

successfully exploited to prevent invasion of drilling fluid into

shale through use of oil base and synthetic mud using esters,

poly-alpha-olefin and other organic low-polar fluids for

drilling shale. The capillary pressure is given by

p C = 2 cos /r



where, is interfacial tension, is contact angle between the

drilling fluid and native pore fluid interface, and r is the pore


When drilling water-wet shale with oil base mud, the

capillary pressure developed at oil/pore-water contact is large

because of the large interfacial tension and extremely small

shale pore radius. It prevents entry of the oil into shale since

the hydraulic overbalance pressure, p h (=P w -p o ), is lower than

the capillary threshold pressure, p C . In such a case, advection

(and pressure diffusion) cannot occur. However, osmosis and

ionic diffusion phenomena can still occur under favorable

conditions. Capillary pressure thus modifies p h and the net

hydraulic driving pressure p h ‘is given as follows:

p h =



















Capillary pressures for low permeability water-wet shales

can be very high (about 15 MPa for average pore throat radius

of 10nm). This is one of the key factors in successful use of oil

base muds or synthetic muds using esters, poly-alpha-olefin

and other organic low-polar fluids.

Osmotically induced hydraulic pressure or differential

chemical potential, P M , developed across a semi-permeable

membrane is given by 10-12 ,

P M = - P = - (RT/V)ln(A sh /A m ) (3) ..................................









maximum osmotic pressure for ideal membrane ( =1), R is the

gas constant, T is the absolute temperature, V is the molar



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volume of liquid, and A m , A sh are the water activities of mud

and shale pore fluid, respectively.

Various expressions have been obtained for the membrane

efficiency in terms of parameters that are difficult to measure.

Two such expression are: 11

  • 1 (













  • 1 /








where, ‘a’ is pore radius, r s is solute radius, r w is water

molecule radius, and s and w are the velocities of solute and

water, respectively.

From non-equilibrium thermodynamics principles,

assuming slow process near equilibrium and single non-

electrolyte solute, the linear relations between the pressure and

flow can be written as 11-12

J v x = L p p h – L p




J s x = C s (1-

)J v + P




J v =J w V w + J s V s


where Eqn. 5 simply states that the fluid flux J v into shale is

the superposition of fluxes due to hydraulic pressure gradient

p h (advection) and due to osmotically induced pressure, P M

(= P ), related through the hydraulic permeability coefficient

L p . The coefficient L p is related to the shale permeability, k,

and filtrate viscosity, , as L p = k/ . Eq. 6 describes the net salt

flux J s into the shale. Eq. 7 simply expresses the mass balance

in terms of the water and salt flux and partial molar volumes of

these components. Note that for perfect membrane, =1, since

only water can flow across the membrane, J s =0 and thus =0.

Hydraulic (Advection), p h , is implicitly included in Eq. 5.

If the test fluid is the same as shale pore fluid (which implies

equal activity and P =0 - no osmosis), Eq. 5 reduces to the

familiar Darcy’s law which gives volume flow as:

J v x = L p p h



where as L p = k/ .; k denotes shale permeability and denotes

viscosity. Such an experiment was performed by van Oort to

characterize the permeability of shale and estimate L p .

As stated earlier, a recent study on osmotic and hydraulic

effects was conducted at O’Brien-Goins-Simpson &

Associates, Inc. as part of the work sponsored by the Gas

Research Institute (GRI). General conclusions from the study

can be summarized as follows:

Increased hydraulic potential can increase the amount of

transport of water into shales and reduce rock strength

(with exposure time). Increasing the mud weight may thus

worsen a stability problem (over time) rather than curing


In hydrocarbon-based fluids, water transport into shales

may be controlled through the activity of the internal

phase relative to the shale.

Water-based fluids require a much lower activity than the

shale to control water transport. Even then the effective

strength may be reduced.

Swelling pressure and swelling behavior of shales is

directly related to the type and amount of clay minerals in a

given shale. Two types of swelling observed in clays are:

  • a) Innercrystalline swelling (IS) - caused by hydration of the exchangeable cations of the dry clay

  • b) Osmotic swelling (OS) - caused by large difference in the ionic concentrations close to the clay surfaces and in the pore water.

It may be noted that the osmosis, discussed earlier, was

concerned with ionic concentration or water activity

differences between the drilling fluid and the pore water.

The swelling stress due to inner-crystalline swelling (IS)

can be very large (approximately up to 58000 psi for the

formation of first water layer, up to 16000 psi for second, and

up to 4000 for the third and fourth layers for pure

montmorillonite in the Wyoming bentonite). The swelling

stresses resulting from osmotic swelling (OS), on the other

hand, are relatively small and usually do not exceed 300 psi. 13

Complete understanding of physico-chemical reactions

between clays and water requires a detail discussion of the

structure of compacted clay, namely the arrangement of clay

particles at the atomic level and the electrical forces between

the adjacent particles. The electrical forces act only near the

particle surface and mostly result from discontinuity at or near

the surface, they become particularly significant and dominate

the mass forces (such particles are called colloidal - 1micron -

1 millimicron (10A) size range) for clays since they have large

surface area per unit mass. Several excellent papers 13 are

available which attempt to describe various aspects of this

complex phenomenon.

A simple explanation, which may suffice for this report, is

given as follows. First the electrical forces: van der Waals

forces (secondary valence forces) between units of clay arise

from electrical moments existing within units, which are

similar to force acting between two short bar magnets. Since

there are more attractive positions than repulsive, the net effect

of such forces is attraction. These forces exist in clays because

of the nonsymmetrical distribution of electrons in the silicate

crystals, which act as a large number of dipoles. They can

attract other dipoles like water molecules, which are

permanent dipoles due to nonsymmetrical configuration of the

water molecules and position of the atoms in the molecule.

The hydrogen bond linkage between water molecules occurs as

each hydrogen atom, attracted by the oxygen in neighboring

water molecule, links its water molecule to others.

Furthermore, clay particles carry a net negative charge

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(mainly caused by isomorphous substitution - e.g. substitution

of bivalent Mg for trivalent Al). This net negative charge is

balanced by exchangeable cations, clustered at the clay surface

to neutralize the particles. When the dry clay particle is placed

in water the cations swarm around the clay surface particles,

forming a double layer with certain electrical potential that

vary with characteristics of the dispersion medium (according

to Gouy-Chapman theory). Because of the net negative charge,

adjacent clay particles repel each other as they approach each

other close enough for the double layers to overlap.

Combining this with the secondary valence attractive forces,

equations for total potential energy have been developed. If the

total potential energy reduces when adjacent particles

approach each other, they flocculate (form aggregates), but if it

increases they disperse or move apart.

Confining discussion to clay-water reaction, the clay-water

attractive force consists of two main components: attraction of

dipolar water to the electrically charged clay particles and

attraction of the dipolar water to the cation in the double layer

- the cations in turn are attracted to the clay. Based on relative

magnitude of force between water and clay (large near but

becoming weak away from the colloidal surface), water can be

categorized into three types: adsorbed - strongly held by clay;

double layer - all the water attracted to clay anywhere in the

double layer; and free water which is not attracted to clay at


For illustration, let us look at two clay minerals:

montmorollinite and kaolinite. For both minerals, the force

required to pull the adsorbed water off the mineral surface is

extremely high (varying from 100 for outside to 10,000

atmospheres for the closest molecules). The adsorbed and

double layer water on kaolinite are thicker than on

montmorillonite because of the high charge density on

kaolinite (about twice). However, the amount of adsorbed

water expressed, as a percentage of mineral weight is much

greater on montmorillonite since its specific surface is greater.

The controversy regarding particle mineral-to-mineral contact

in clay is not yet settled. According to one concept, cohesion

in a natural clay is due to “water bonds”20. Compaction and

any other stress changes on clay minerals in shale also affect

the clay structure and thus water-clay interaction.

Swelling experiments indicate that the swelling follows a

diffusion type of law, and the cumulative water flux into the

shale, Q, time t, sorptivity S, the change in equilibrium void

ratio (liquid to solid volume ratio) e, and diffusivity, D, are

related as follows 14 :

Q = S.t 0.5

S = e.(2D) 0.5


The linear dependence of S on the change in equilibrium

void ratio on swelling implied in the above equation is

observed experimentally. Diffusivity for Pierre shale inferred

from experiments is about 9x10-10 m 2 s-1 at 20 o C. D depends

on the nature of bound cations, and commonly used polymers

appear to have little effect on its value. The low values of D

for typical shales may also explain why many shales become

unstable after several weeks.

Exchange of the natural bound cation (Na + , Ca2 + , Mg2 + )

by K + can lead to a clay fraction with lower swelling tendency.

The experimental results, however, seem to indicate that a

large fraction of the clay cations must be replaced before this

effect is significant, and the action of KCl is largely osmotic

since on the time scale of the swelling experiments little ion

exchange with clay has taken place.

Atmospheric swelling and saturation experiments on

Speeton shale core were also sponsored by the GRI at the

University of Texas, Austin. An interesting conclusion from

this study was that the activities of the shale-fluid system,

nature of the ions, ionic concentration, hydrated ionic diameter

and valency of the generated cations influence the ultimate

swelling response of shale. The results of the study indicate

that water activity differential is not the only mechanism of

water transportation into shale matrix under atmospheric

conditions. The Electro-chemical forces associated with

negatively charged clay surfaces and ionic exchange may

transport water into shale matrix even in the presence of low

activity salt solutions. In summary, swelling phenomenon in

shales can be explained in terms of clay-water reaction, and

water has significant effect on the properties of clays.

Pressure diffusion phenomenon concerns the pressure

change with time near the wellbore as the drilling fluid at

wellbore pressure, P w , in conjunction with the osmotic

pressure, P M , etc. suddenly contacts and compresses the pore

fluid at the wellbore wall (which was at pressure, p o , before

drilling). The pressure away from the wall varies with time

until a steady-state pressure distribution between near and far-

away pore pressure is established. This pressure diffusion can

be compared in a way to the pressure surge when a pipe

suddenly moves in a wellbore compressing the drilling fluid,

which is analyzed as transient wave propagation instead of

diffusion phenomenon. Various expressions and numerical

simulations for pressure diffusion have been used to study this

phenomenon 15-16 . The basic point of these studies can be

illustrated with the help of Fig. 1.

If a drilling fluid cannot penetrate shale at all (e.g. perfect

oil base mud for a given shale), the pore pressure near the

wellbore wall is the virgin pore pressure p o (ignoring the effect

of stress changes) at the time drilling fluid comes in contact

with shale (t=0) and remains the same for t>0. However, when

the mud is such that it interacts with shale, the drilling fluid at

wellbore pressure P w will diffuse through shale. The pressure

near the wall in the pores will increase from p o with time. How

fast this pore pressure in the vicinity of the borehole increases

depends upon the permeability of shale, its elastic properties

and other boundary conditions. In general, lower the

permeability, more time it takes for pressure to increase and

tend to equalize with P w , thus losing pressure support for the

formation. Depending on permeability, it may take anywhere



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from a few hours to a number of days before the pressure near

the wellbore approaches the wellbore pressure, losing pressure

support, reducing effective stresses and bringing the rock to

unstable situation. This could be an explanation for the

delayed failure of exposed shale sections, often experienced in

the field.

Shale Strength Correlation

For stability analysis, an important input parameter needed is

the formation strength, which is usually characterized by

cohesive strength S 0 , and friction angle . These parameters

are traditionally determined from different rock mechanical

core tests based on a number of different core plugs from the

same depth. The test results from several plugs are then

combined to provide these strength properties from this depth.

Regarding rock strength, it is far easier to make rock grains

slide past one another than it is to crush them. Consequently,

when rocks fail in compression, they are actually failing in

shear, as a result of inter-granular slip. Their resistance to

shear, i.e. shear strength, is due to a combination of cohesion

and friction between the rock grains.

The amount of cohesion is represented by a parameter

known as the cohesive strength S 0 , while inter-granular friction

is defined by the internal friction angle . For a layer of rock

subjected to an effective compressive stress and a shear

stress , the shear failure criterion can be written simply as:

= S 0 +




Where, the effective compressive stress is related to the total

compressive stress s and pore pressure p as follows:

= s - p (11) ..........................................................................

For complex stress states, such as exist at the wall of a

wellbore, a number of different failure criteria have been

proposed for generalizing Eq. 10. However, all the criteria are

related to the parameters S 0 and .

For example, the Mohr-Coulomb 6,8 shear failure criterion

can be written as:


1 -

3 )


= S o cos



1 + 3 )





and an equivalent shear stress parameter ÷J 2 , where

÷J 2 =

(( 1 - 2 ) 2 +( 1 - 3 ) 2 +( 2 - 3 ) 2 )/6


and 2 is the intermediate effective compressive stress.

The Drucker-Prager Criterion is 8 :

÷J 2 = m I 1 + o


where, in terms of S o and :

m = 2÷3 sin

/(3-sin )



o = 2÷3 S o cos /(3-sin )



S 0 and can be determined from laboratory triaxial

strength tests, in which cylindrical samples of rock are first

subjected to a hydrostatic confining pressure, and an axial load

is then applied until the rock fails. These tests are performed

at several different confining pressures, and the results are

plotted as a series of Mohr’s circles, as shown in Fig. 2. For

linear failure criterion, the line that envelops the family of

circles has a slope equal to tan , and an intercept equal to S 0 .

Intuitively, we know that rock strength tends to increase

with compaction. Consequently, this suggests that S 0 and

can be tied to compaction-dependent wire-line measurements,

such as porosity, density, and sonic velocity.

However, determining S 0 and

on a foot-by-foot basis

presents more of a challenge. It clearly is not feasible to do

this with laboratory strength tests.

As an alternative,



desirable to develop relationships for computing S 0 and from

wire-line data. Therefore, rock strength correlation actually

refers to relation with wire-line log data for determining the

cohesive strength and friction angle.

A more fundamental look at shale physics was taken to

gain better insight into which factors need to be included in

strength correlation. Three factors were considered 6 :

clay mineralogy

clay content


The main conclusion from the study, based on several

external and internal data sources, appears to be as follows.

Under in situ stress and native pore fluid salinity conditions,

clay mineralogy and contents are of secondary importance

regarding their effect on shale strength. The degree of

compaction (characterized by water content, porosity, sonic

velocity, etc.) appears to be the dominant factor. Thus,

strength can be tied to any of the following related parameters:

Where, ( 1 - 3 )/2 is the Mohr Coulomb shear strength

parameter, and ( 1 + 3 )/2 is the average effective stress, and

1 , 3 are the maximum and minimum effective compressive

stresses, respectively.

The Drucker-Prager Criterion is defined in terms of the two

generalized stresses, the mean effective stress:

I 1 = (

1 +

2 + 3 )/3



water content



sonic velocity

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The shale strength correlations, developed by the author,

were tied only to compressional sonic velocity in shales. The

relations were developed using an extensive shale database.

The following relations for friction angle, ( degrees) , and

cohesive strength, S o (MPa), were developed as a function of

compressional sonic velocity V p (km/sec):

sin =

(V p - 1)/( V p + 1)

S o = 5(V p -1)/÷V p , or

= 10 tan



Fig. 3 plots the velocity based strength estimates computed

from both laboratory measured and sonic log-derived

velocities (reported for different core depths in North Sea),

along with the measured strength data. Both estimates are

fairly good, which show that this correlation is applicable with

sonic log derived velocities.

The sonic correlation was also found to be fairly

satisfactory for formations other than shale. The estimated

cohesive strength and friction angle parameter represent local

values at the in situ stress conditions reflected in the sonic log

measurements. For sands, Gassman Correction for gas needs to

be applied, or nearby shale points needs to be picked as in

pore pressure estimation.

The impact of clay mineralogy and contents on strength

(and stability) can become quite significant while drilling,

when a foreign drilling fluid contacts in situ smectitic shale

and alters the salinity of native pore fluid through shale/fluid

interaction. Smectitic shales have a lower tolerance to drilling

fluid invasion, and will tend to fail easier than formations in

which kaolinite and/or illite are the only clay types present.

The effect of clay mineralogy on strength can be important if

the drilling process severely disturbs a formation from its

natural state. In those cases, as discussed below, smectitic

formations will be more susceptible to failure.

The strength of all geologic materials depends upon the

effective confining. Therefore, if shale/drilling fluid

interaction raises the pore pressure in the near wellbore region,

the drop in effective confining pressure will make the hole

more susceptible to failure. However, with smectites, drilling

can introduce two additional destabilizing effects.

As discussed earlier, confining pressures in the vicinity of

500 psi are necessary to keep liquid water from getting in

between smectite platelets. The two-to-three layers of water

that remain are more competent than liquid water, and appear

to allow smectite platelets to act like thicker, stronger

particles. This effect can be reduced or lost if the effective

confining pressure drops to values low enough to permit liquid

water to penetrate between the platelets.

Salinity can also cause smectite platelets to behave like

thicker particles. However, as reported earlier this effect is not

permanent. A drop in salinity can cause a loss in strength.

Therefore, a high activity (low salinity) mud could cause a

significant drop in the strength of smectitic formations.

To summarize, smectitic formations are highly susceptible

to the effects of drilling fluid/shale interaction. Fluid invasion

not only reduces friction and interlocking between smectite

grains, it can also reduce the competency of the grains

themselves. The impact of clay mineralogy on strength (and

stability) can thus become quite significant on drilling, when a

foreign drilling fluid contacts in situ smectitic shale and alters

the salinity of native pore fluid through shale/fluid interaction.

Smectitic shales have a lower tolerance to drilling fluid

invasion, and will tend to fail easier than formations in which

kaolinite and/or illite are the only clay types present.

Finally, the effects of drilling fluid/shale interaction must

be kept in mind when using offset well log data. Wireline log

readings may not reflect true in situ pore pressure and rock

properties if the near wellbore region has been invaded by the

drilling fluid and undergone hydration. Hydration raises the

local pore pressure and weakens the rock.

Improving Shale Stability

Thus far, we have seen that there are several mechanisms

which cause or affect shale/fluid interaction. There is an

intense effort under way in the oil industry to get a better

understanding of each of these mechanisms. The stakes are

high in that understanding and quantification of each of these

phenomena is critical for designing benign drilling fluids

which would stabilize shales. Rapid progress is being made

and more results will become available in the near future. The

current understanding of various mechanisms responsible for

shale/fluid interaction indicate certain basic principles for

improving shale stability.

Based on current understanding of various shale/fluid

interaction mechanisms, we can discuss some general

principles for improving shale stability. The main objective to

improve shale stability is to prevent, minimize, delay or use to

our advantage the interaction of the drilling fluid with shale.

As our understanding of the various interaction mechanisms

improves, so will the mud systems designed to improve shale


We can list the following means of improving shale

stability corresponding to various mechanisms contributing to

shale/fluid interaction:

For fractured shale stability, use effective sealing agents,

thixotropic drilling fluid (high viscosity for low shear

rates), and lower mud weight /ECD. This would minimize

fluid penetration into fractures.

Increase the capillary pressure, p C (>p h ’) to prevent fluid

entry into shale pore throats.



suggests that

increasing interfacial tension and contact angle can

increase the capillary pressure for given shale pore throat

radii. Increasing capillary pressure through and for

water-wet shales has been successfully exploited through

use of oil base muds or synthetic muds using esters, poly-



SPE 54356

alpha-olefin and other organic low-polar fluids.









shale/fluid interaction. The net effective driving force

(pressure) at t=0+ for p C <p h (=P w -p o ) can be written as:

p h ‘= P w - p o - p C + P M



which brings about the changes with time in the near wellbore

pore pressure through pressure diffusion or transmittal and

fluid transport into (or out of) the shale. The near wellbore

pore pressure, p n , can be expressed in terms of the original

virgin pore pressure, p o , and time changes, p(t), as:

p n = p o + p(t)



to minimize p(t), we need to minimize p h , which can be

accomplished by increasing capillary pressure p c , as discussed

above, or making osmotic pressure P M equal to (or less than)

zero by matching (or making drilling fluid activity, A m , lower

than) shale water activity, A sh . If the activity of the mud is

higher than that of the shale, we need to reduce membrane

efficiency as much as possible. However, when drilling fluid

activity is made lower than shales, resulting in negative

osmotic pressure and causing pore fluid to flow out of shale

into the wellbore, the membrane efficiency needs to be


Reduction of drilling fluid activity, A m , is at the heart of

most inhibitive muds 14 . This reduction is brought about by

adding electrolytes: seawater bentonite muds, saturated salt-

polymer (xanthan, guar), KCl or NaCl-polymer (PHPA,

xanthan), fresh water calcium treated muds (lime, gypsum). A

new type of drilling fluid based on a substituted sugar, methyl

gluocide, is currently being looked at because of its ability to

form low activity muds with high membrane efficiency. The

dispersed water phase in oil base muds is treated to adjust the

activity, usually with CaCl 2 , to make activity A m <A sh .

Slow down the rate of fluid transport and pressure

diffusion rate.

It is difficult to balance water activity of shale with mud

exactly everywhere in a well because shale activity is not

known and varies with depth and mineralogy. We can,

nevertheless, control parameters that enable us to reduce the

fluid transport and pressure diffusion rates by increasing the

fluid viscosity and reducing the permeability of shales.

Regarding the viscosity increase, the problem is to find solutes

that increase the fluid viscosity significantly and yet can pass

through the narrow shale pore space to maintain high viscosity.

Most mud polymers are too large to enter shale but some low

molecular weight polymers might achieve the desired results.

As regards reducing permeability, one solution is to form

permeability barrier at shale surface or within micro-fractures.

Oil base mud achieves this as water is made to diffuse through

continuous oil phase to reach the shale. Silicate and ALPLEX

muds, for example, attempt to reduce the permeability.

Cationic polymers, which are strongly adsorbing, can also act

in the same way. In the extreme, shale formation could be

completely isolated by creating an impermeable hydrophobic

seal, using asphaltine derivatives like gilsonite. Use of charged

emulsifiers for binding the oil droplets of oil-in-water

emulsions to the clay surface and organophilic clays in oil base

muds could achieve similar results.

Although changing the clay cation with less hydratable K +

or Ca 2 + can reduce intrinsic swelling, these ions lead to more

open structure and thus increase permeability. Work is

currently underway to formulate drilling fluids containing

cesium, Ce+ for stabilizing the shale. While this fluid would be

very expensive to formulate, increased stability and rate of

penetration could compensate for this cost.

Preserve mechanical integrity of the shale cuttings.

As damage control, certain measures can be taken to limit

the dispersion of cuttings or spallings by binding the clay

particles together, if shale failure or erosion is initiated.

Polymers that can reduce shale disintegration must adsorb

onto clay platelet surface and have high enough energy to

resists mechanical or hydraulic forces pulling them apart.

PHPA and strongly adsorbing cationic polymers and

components like polyglycerol can limit the dispersion of

shale cuttings or spallings in the well. To achieve similar

results within the shale formation, polymer must be able to

diffuse into the bulk shale, requiring short flexible chains.

Future work on shale stability and understanding

shale/fluid interaction is bound to lead to better means to

stabilize shales and design of environmentally acceptable

effective mud systems. As new additives for drilling fluids are

studied to stabilize shales, major challenge would be to make

them compatible with preserving other desirable mud

properties such as, rheology, drilled solids compatibility and

drilling rates.

Finally, even if we could design the best mud system for

shale formations, continuous monitoring and control of drilling

muds are critical elements for successful drilling. The mud

composition continually changes as it circulates and interacts

with formations and drilled solids. Unless concentrations of

various mud additives are continually monitored (as opposed

to the current practice of periodically monitoring just

rheological and simple properties) and maintained, the desired

results could not be achieved. The development and

introduction of improved monitoring techniques for chemical

measurements should proceed simultaneously with the

development of more effective mud systems for shale stability,

based on improved understanding of shale/fluid interaction.


The above discussion gives an indication of the experimental

activity and progress in shale stability projects, sponsored by

oil and gas industry. However, understanding of the shale/fluid

interaction mechanisms is not yet complete to effectively

control the shale instability problem. The ongoing

developments and data from numerous active industry

SPE 54356



sponsored shale stability projects, hopefully, will provide

answers to the remaining questions. Then only, one can

develop models that can quantify the impact of shale/fluid

interaction on the stress- strength of the shale and the time-

dependent effects.

In view of the shale instability costs, it is imperative to

understand shale behavior and its interaction with different

fluids. Completely satisfactory answers to questions such as:

which drilling fluid to use for drilling a particular shale, or

how long can we keep the hole exposed to a particular fluid

without causing shale instability, can be given only after such

an understanding. The quantification of the impact of fluid

invasion on effective stresses and shale strength near the

wellbore is critical for shale stability analysis models. Simple

and realistic shale testing procedures and shale/ fluid

interaction testing procedures are required in order to achieve

practical assessments of wellbore instability risks. Efforts to

develop predictive models and to develop more effective fluids

for drilling shales, based on improved understanding of

shale/fluid interaction mechanisms must continue.


The author would like to thank Glenn Bowers,

Tron Kristiansen and Calvin Deem for their valuable help and

discussions. Their contributions and help in several wellbore

stability projects, related to shale/fluid interaction, are also

gratefully acknowledged.


A m = water activities of mud

A sh = water activity of shale

D = diffusivity

J v = fluid flux

J s = solute flux

k = shale permeability

L p = hydraulic permeability coefficient

P M = observed osmotic pressure

P w = wellbore pressure


= theoretical osmotic


p = pore pressure

p C = capillary pressure

p h = hydraulic pressure

p h = net hydraulic pressure

p s = swelling pressure

Q = cumulative water flux

R = gas constant

r = pore radius

r s = solute radius

r w = water molecule radius

S = sorptivity

S 0 = cohesive strength

s = total compressive stress

T = absolute temperature

t =


V = molar volume

V p = compressional sonic velocity



surface tension


contact angle


= membrane efficiency


s =

solute velocity


w =

water velocity


filtrate viscosity


e =

liquid to solid volume ratio



internal friction angle


effective compressive stress


shear stress

1 = effective maximum principal stress

2 = effective intermediate principal stress

3 = effective minimum principle stresses


  • 1. Lal et al. Amoco Wellbore Stability Team, “Amoco Wellbore Stability Drilling Handbook,” 1996.

  • 2. Potter, E. P, Maynard, J. B., Pryer, W. A.: Sedimentology of Shale, Springer-Verlag, N. Y., 1984.

  • 3. Mody, F. K. and Hale, A. H.: “A borehole Stability Model to Couple the Mechanics and Chemistry of Drilling Fluid Shale Interaction, SPE/IADC 25728, Proc. 1993 SPE/IADC Drilling Conference, Amsterdam, Feb. 23-25, 1993.

  • 4. van Olphin, H.: “Compaction of Clay Sediments in the Range of Molecular Particle Distances, Clays and Clay Minerals,” Proc. Eleventh National Conference on Clays and Clay Minerals, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, August 13-17 (1962).

  • 5. Burst, J. F.: “Diagensis of Gulf Coast Clayey Sediments and Its Possible Relation to Petroleum Migration,” Amer. Assn. Pet. Geol. Bull., 53, pp.73-93, 1969.

  • 6. Lal, M., Kristiansen, T., Deem, C. and Bowers, G. “Shale Stability: Drilling Fluid/ Shale Interaction Study and Shale Strength Correlations,” Amoco Report F96-P-99, 963480010 ART

  • 7. Lal, M. and Deem, C., “Shale Stability: Drilling Fluid/Shale Interaction - State of the Art Report,” F95-P-117, 953420005-TUL, December 7, 1995.

  • 8. Amoco Wellbore Stability Team, “State of the Art in Wellbore Stability,” F94-P-60, June 20, 1994.

  • 9. Santarelli, F., Dardeau, C., and Zurdo, C.: “Drilling through highly fractured formations: A problem, a Model, and a Cure,” paper SPE 24592 presented at the 1992 Annual Technical Conference & Exhibition, Washington, D.C., Oct. 4-7

    • 10. Forsans, T. M. and Schmitt, L., “Capillary Forces: The Neglected Factor in shale Instability Studies?” SPE Paper 28058 presented at the 1994 SPE/ISRM Rock Mechanics in Petroleum Engineering Conference, Delft, Aug. 29-31, 1994

    • 11. Oort, van E., Hale, A. H., Mody, F. K. and Roy, S.: “Critical Parameters in Modelling the Chemical Aspects of Borehole Stability in Shales and in designing Improved Water-Based Shale Drilling Fluids,” SPE 28309 paper presented at the SPE Annual Conference, New Orleans, Sept. 26-28, 1994.

    • 12. Fritz, S. J. “Ideality of Clay Membranes in Osmotic Processes: A review,”: Clays and Clay Minerals, Vol. 34(2), 1986, pp. 214-

    • 13. Madsen, F. T. and Muller, V.: “The Swelling Behavior of Clays,” Applied Clay Science, Vol. 4, 1989, pp. 143-156.

    • 14. Bailey, L., Denis, J. H., Maitland, G. C.: “Drilling Fluids and



SPE 54356

Wellbore Stability – Current Performance and Future Challenges,” in Chemicals in the Oil Industry: Developments and Applications, Ed. Ogden, P.H., Royal Soc of Chemistry, London, 1991, pp. 53-70.

  • 15. Horsrud, P, Holt, R. M., Sonstebo, E.: “Time Dependent Borehole Stability: Laboratory Studies and Numerical Simulation of Different Mechanisms in Shale,” paper SPE 28060 presented at the 1994 SPE/ISRM Rock Mechanics in Petroleum Engineering Conference, Delft, 29-31

  • 16. Gazaniol, D., Forsans, T., Boisson, M. J. F. and Plau, J. M.: “Wellbore Failure Mechanisms in Shales: Prediction and Prevention,” JPT, July 1995, pp. 5890595

SI Metric Conversion Factors


x 3.048*

E-01 = m


x 2.54*

E+00 = cm


x 4.535 924

E-01 = kg


x 6.894 757

E+00 = kPa

* Conversion factor

10 M. LAL SPE 54356 Wellbore Stability – Current Performance and Future Challenges,” in Chemicals in

Fig. 3-Predicted vs measured rock strengths using lab and sonic log velocities with velocity-strength correlation.

10 M. LAL SPE 54356 Wellbore Stability – Current Performance and Future Challenges,” in Chemicals in

Fig. 1-Pressure diffusion from wellbore wall with time.

10 M. LAL SPE 54356 Wellbore Stability – Current Performance and Future Challenges,” in Chemicals in

Fig. 2-Determining cohesive strength S 0 , and internal friction angle from laboratory strength tests.