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IADC/SPE 81631

Design and Operational Considerations to Maintain Underbalanced

Conditions with Concentric Casing Injection
C.G. Mykytiw, I.A. Davidson, Shell UBD Global Implementation Team, P.J. Frink, Blade Energy Partners
Copyright 2003, IADC/SPE Underbalanced Technology Conference and Exhibition
This paper was prepared for presentation at the IADC/SPE Underbalanced Technology
Conference and Exhibition held in Houston, Texas, U.S.A., 2526 March 2003.
This paper was selected for presentation by an IADC/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 International Association of Drilling
Contractors or 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 IADC,
SPE, their officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of
this paper for commercial purposes without the written consent of the International Association
of Drilling Contractors or 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.

Underbalanced drilling (UBD) has the potential to add value
by maximizing productivity and ultimate recovery by reducing
formation damage. The benefits of UBD are of course
dependent on the ability to maintain underbalanced conditions
throughout the entire life of a well, especially during the
drilling phase.
The ability to maintain underbalanced
conditions is complicated because real UBD wells are rarely,
if ever, in a steady-state condition and are subject to
constantly changing or transient flow behavior. Improved
understanding of the transient flow behavior will increase the
ability of the rigsite engineer to maintain the desired
bottomhole pressure and thus minimize potential formation
damaging, overbalanced periods. This paper illustrates how
detailed transient analysis provides a rigorous engineering
basis for selection of the appropriate methods, to maintain
optimum downhole conditions by minimizing bottomhole
pressure instability.
Methods to mitigate destabilizing transient effects with
drill pipe injection are relatively well understood, due to
extensive case histories, but less experience is available with
concentric casing (CC) injection and thus less is known on
options to control pressure instability.
The UbitTS transient flow simulator is used to optimize
design and operational parameters to minimize well slugging
tendency and pressure instability when the concentric casing
injection technique is employed. Reference is made to a
generic test well, but the methodology has application to all
UBD operations considering CC injection.
The primary purpose of this paper is to provide insight for
underbalanced drilling operations utilizing a concentric casing
injection method. Since pressure instability is inherently a

time dependant, or transient effect, steady state hydraulic flow

models provide little assistance in mitigating against this
behavior. Therefore, the use of transient flow simulations
during UBD well design and implementation is discussed, to
enable wellsite personnel to make real time decisions in order
to achieve desired downhole conditions.
At the time this paper was prepared three projects utilizing
the CC injection method were being performed by Shell in the
Middle East. A recurrent problem in the initial wells in these
projects was transient slugging behavior and resultant well
instability associated with CC injection of gas. The ability to
properly analyze this problem, and develop practicable
methods to obtain pressure stability was limited by the use of
steady state flow simulations. Steady state modeling provides
a level of understanding whether a project is technically
viable, and gives clues as to the transient controllability of the
well, but does not model the true well behavior after flow
disturbances, such as choke manipulation, are introduced.
This deficiency is normally addressed in the design process
thru the use of safety factors incorporated into the steady state
design of maximum pressures and flow rates.
This paper details design considerations, such as gas to
liquid ratio, critical gas injection rate, concentric casing
volume, injection port restriction, and fluid density, to
minimize pressure instability. Also discussed are operational
techniques that in combination with real time transient
modeling will assist the well site engineer make more
informed decisions to efficiently stabilize pressures. It will
also expose methods that actually amplify the problem.
Realtime transient modeling may prove to be a more costeffective approach to address pressure stability problems,
when compared to the commonly adopted time-consuming
and expensive trial and error approach.
Since detailed transient modeling is required for both the
design and operational methods to minimize pressure
instability, it is first required to validate the transient flow
model. The model was validated against real well data
collected from Shells recent wells during periods of well
slugging using the concentric casing injection method. An
acceptable level of confidence was established with the model
results, after actual data trending was properly matched.
Thereafter, detailed sensitivity analyses on various control
parameters were conducted to determine the most effective
approach to reduce pressure instability. The validation
exercise results are outside the scope of this paper but will be
detailed in a subsequent paper.

UbitTS/Olga; UBD Transient Simulator

Both UbitTS and Olga were used in the pressure instability
analysis. Both applications use the Olga engine, which is a
mechanistic transient two-phase flow model originally created
for analysis of complex transient pipeline flow problems.
UbitTS is a UBD interface to the full Olga Simulator, which
allows interactive control of parameters, such as injection rates
and choke pressures amongst others. This enables the user to
analyze the impact of user controlled changes to well
conditions before the actual changes take place. It also allows
visualization of dynamic well responses. The full Olga
program, on the other hand, is not interactive. Olga requires
that all inputs are entered into the program in batch mode.
This of course requires pre-knowledge of exactly what
conditions will be changed and the duration of each change.
Figure 1 summarizes the relationship between Olga and
The Olga program was employed for the validation
exercise because accurate well data was available and the
sequencing of changes was known. The data and sequencing
were thus entered as a single time series into Olga. Again, the
results of this analysis will be detailed in a subsequent paper.
UbitTS was used to illustrate well behavior for each design
parameter. Olga was used only for the analysis of downhole
injection port restriction or sizing.
Design Criteria for Unconditional Pressure Stability
Unconditional pressure stability exists if operator intervention
is not required to achieve and maintain steady state
bottomhole pressure. An example UBD well employing CC
injection of gas has been assumed for the design and
operational analysis to reduce well slugging. Table 1 describes
the details of this example well.
Essentially, for a given well, there are very few parameters
that can be controlled to achieve stability; gas and liquid
injection rates, density and viscosity of injected fluid, and
back pressure (choke pressure). Stability has to be achieved,
within the context of these controllable parameters. In what
follows, the impact of controlling these parameters and the
subsequent response of the well is described.
Gas to Liquid Ratio in the Primary Annulus. Regardless of
the injection method used during underbalanced drilling,
whenever the gas to liquid ratio (GLR) is too low, well
slugging will most likely result. At constat gas injection rate,
if liquid injection rate or reservoir fluid production reduces,
the tendency for the well to slug is reduced. Equally, if the
gas injection rate or reservoir gas influx rate increase, the
tendency for slug flow, is decreased.
Establishing and maintaining the ideal GLR in the wellbore
is the fundamental requirement to minimize slugging
tendency. The lower boundary for the liquid rate down the
drill pipe is dictated primarily by the minimum annular liquid
velocity required for adequate hole cleaning. The upper
boundary is generally dictated by either the positive
displacement motors maximum volumetric throughput or the
risk of becoming overbalanced. Other secondary factors that
may impact liquid injection rates are:

IADC/SPE 81631

Required pump rate for MWD signal transmission.

Amount of reservoir influx assisting annular liquid
Desired pressure drawdown on the formation.
Pump limitations (generally when mist pumps are
Lubrication of the bit.
The gas injection rate is the single most important factor
with regard to maintaining bottomhole pressure stability and is
primarily dictated by the volume required to achieve an
underbalanced state. A secondary consideration is the impact
on liquid velocity required to clean the hole. A low GLR is
often the primary culprit when stability issues arise with CC
injection. This is quite different from two-phase drill pipe
injection, where the lower limit at which stable two-phase
flow results, is often guided by the onset of friction
domination. Therefore, optimum multi-phase flow in the
wellbore depends on the highest GLR that can be achieved,
within equipment (motors, MWD) and operating parameter
(pressure, velocity) constraints. The first step in designing the
optimum underbalanced injection parameters is to conduct
steady state modeling to determine an operating envelope of
injection rates, bound by the UBD parameters. The transient
effects within this operating envelope may then be evaluated
and potentially further restrict the envelope by setting a lower
boundary for the GLR.
Referring to the example well, steady state modeling
predicts that an operating window of 700 to 900 lpm of liquid
and 20 to 35 m3/min of gas, satisfies all underbalanced drilling
and equipment constraints. Membrane nitrogen, which is
commonly used in UBD, is assumed for the example well
design, and thus the upper boundary of gas injection is
constrained by the capability and availability of a single
membrane nitrogen package. This assumption results in
further complicating the well design since providing an
infinite gas source simplifies the mitigation of well slugging
by increasing the gas rate.
Increasinge the GLR, besides simply adding more gas,
may also be achieved by dynamically manipulating the fluid
pump rate. If pressure trends are monitored closely, the pump
rate may be reduced at a point when the pressure trending
represents a sinusoidal loading situation. In other words,
when the pressure profile displays a sequence of peaks and
troughs, the mud pump rate may be decreased, thus increasing
the GLR. However, this technique has proven to be inefficient
to reduce well slugging as timing is critical when to increase
the pump rate again. Waiting too long may result in hole
cleaning problems or allow the well to unload completely.
Not waiting long enough will simply allow the ongoing
transient situation to continue or even become worse. In either
case an entirely new transient situation is introduced.
Understanding Critical Gas Injection Rate. As discussed
earlier, steady state modeling results in a range of fluid
injection rates. It is then necessary to evaluate the minimum
gas injection rate required to reach steady state and determine
whether this rate resides in the determined operating envelope.
Figure 2 illustrates the concept of critical gas injection rate by
calculating the required gas injection rate to simply balance

IADC/SPE 81631

the compression of gas in the CC annulus, which is in effect a

large accumulator, as a fluid slug is moving up the wellbore.
The key assumptions in the calculations, are as follows:
The injection point is at a depth of 890 m (40
The fluid below the injection point is all dead oil
(GOR = 0).
Frictional effects are considered negligible.
The well is assumed to be void of fluids above the
injection point.
The injection pressure and bottomhole pressure are
the same and constant.
Deviation from these assumptions may drastically alter the
calculation especially with the onset of high frictional pressure
losses (associated with high viscosity and fluid pump rates).
The calculation, although very simplistic in nature,
illustrates a very important point. Assuming the injection
ports are at 40 degrees and 890 m, 39 m3/min of injected gas is
required to just balance the slug rise rate and corresponding
pressure increase. Less than this critical injection rate will
result in a zero gas injection rate during the slug rise period.
The critical learning here is the accumulation effect of the
CC annulus. The critical rate must be pumped to just balance
the increase in pressure at the injection ports. Essentially,
most of the gas is being compressed in the CC annulus and
very little volume is available to assist lift in the primary
annulus. Therefore, a rate greater than the critical rate, must
be pumped to ensure sufficient gas volume, and thus lift, at all
The calculation underlines the importance of gas injection
rate, CC annulus volume, depth of injection ports, inclination
of injection ports and fluid pump rate. Recall the steady state
determined gas injection rates of 20 to 35 m3/min. The critical
gas injection rate calculated in Figure 2 (39 m3/min) is outside
of the determined operating envelope. However, this critical
rate determination may in fact be considered a worst case
scenario, because frictional effects will not be negligible,
especially with high viscosity fluid and high pump rates. In
addition, the equivalent circulating density (ECD) will likely
be lower than that of single phase oil (due to GOR), resulting
in a lower pressure rise rate than calculated. Both of these
assumptions yield a higher critical gas injection rate than
likely required and thus a risk of over specified equipment. It
is thus recommended that a transient simulator be used to
more accurately determine the critical gas injection rate, for
unconditional pressure stability, and thus effectively specify
required equipment.
Determination of Critical Gas Injection Rate. In order for
the pressure to be stable, without operator intervention
(unconditional pressure stability), it is necessary to design for
the ideal gas to liquid ratio in the wellbore. As illustrated in
Figure 2, a critical gas injection rate is required to just balance
the slug rise rate. However, due to some key assumptions
made in the calculation, the critical gas injection rate
calculated may not be accurate. A transient flow model is then
required to determine the effective critical gas injection rate
for stability. As mentioned above, the calculation illustrates a
worst case scenario and thus one would assume a lower

critical gas injection rate calculated with the transient model.

Of course the model takes frictional effects, fluid properties
(viscosity), GOR of produced fluids, into account, and does
not assume an evacuated wellbore with only N2 leaving the
well at start-up.
For the example well, recall the steady state modeling
operational window was determined to be between a liquid
pump rate of 700 to 900 lpm of oil and 20 to 35 m3/min of gas.
As discussed, it is ideal if the required gas injection rate
resides within this range, which will eliminate the need for
operator intervention, but critical gas injection rate analysis is
required to determine if this is the case. The following
discussion details the results of the modeling, assuming a
constant 900 lpm oil injection (5 cP viscosity), while varying
the gas rate.
Pre-Critical Gas Injection Rate (20 m3/min). As observed
in Figure 3, well slugging is inevitable at 20 m3/min gas
injection and will continue infinitely, without operator
intervention. The Pressure Response Curve shows that the CC
annulus is cyclically charging, as indicated by the variations
in pressure between 4000-8000 kPa. It is also interesting to
observe from the Gas Injection at Ports Response Curve that
there is a period without flow from the injection ports. This
occurs when the pressure inside the primary annulus is
increasing faster than the CC annulus pressure, i.e. the
accumulator effect. At a pre-critical gas injection rate, the gas
compression rate in the CC annulus (accumulator), is unable to
overcome the pressure rise rate in the primary annulus due to
the hydrostatic pressure increase. As a result, it is not until the
pressure increase ceases (fluid to surface), that gas exits the
injection ports and the charged accumulator unloads the well,
as observed by the high gas volume exiting the injection ports.
The CC annulus is then quickly de-pressurized and the entire
process repeats itself as follows:
1. The fluid rises past the injection ports,
2. The gas injection to the wellbore ceases until fluid
reaches the surface
3. Hydrostatic pressure rise stops
4. Gas pressure builds in the CC annulus
5. Gas enters and subsequently evacuates the wellbore.
This process may be further verified by the period of zero
gas injection lasting about 15 minutes. As shown in Figure 2
the slug rise rate is 48 m/min (vertical), the depth of the
injection ports is 890 m, resulting in a time to surface for the
fluid of 18 minutes, corresponding very well to the zero gas
injection period observed in Figure 3.
Critical Gas Injection Rate (25 m3/min). As determined
above, 20 m3/min is less than the critical gas injection rate,
defined as the gas rate required to just balance the slug rise
rate. Further modeling was performed to determine the critical
rate to create a continuous positive volume gas lift in the
primary annulus. Figure 4, shows the improved pressure
stability achieved by pumping the critical gas injection rate.
The amplitude of the pressure oscillations (peaks and troughs),
indicate both the pressure rise due to slug movement, and the
pressure decline due to gas unloading the slug. This confirms
that sufficient gas is being injected to balance the hydrostatic
pressure rise in the wellbore experienced at the injection ports,
enabling gas to enter the wellbore and contribute to lifting the
fluid. However, the volume of gas available is insufficient to

create stabilized flow. The sequence of peaks and troughs will

continue infinitely, however the peak pressure will be less than
that for the pre-critical gas injection rate (20 m3/min) due to
the lowered ECD above the ports. This is noted by the peak
pressure at 5500 kPa compared to the peak pressure of the precritical case of 8000 kPa, which is equivalent to the
hydrostatic pressure of a full column of fluid.
To achieve stable flow, it is therefore necessary to increase
the gas injection rate beyond the critical gas rate so that
sufficient lift gas is available to achieve a GLR that is high
enough to discontinue the gradual well loading.
Post Critical Gas Injection Rate (30 m3/min). It may be
observed in Figure 5 that the pressure profiles are flattening
out over several cycles of disturbance. However, even after 2
hours the well is not completely stable. This may not be
considered a practical situation due to the lengthy stabilization
time. Although the above rate may be used in a combination
of dynamic choking of the well (discussed later), to minimize
the stabilization period, it is good practice to design the
injection parameters so that operational intervention is not
required for adequate stabilization time.
Ideal Gas Injection Rate (35 m3/min). Figure 6 shows the
required gas injection rate for a liquid pump rate of 900 lpm of
oil. With this rate the well becomes stable in a single
oscillation, a 45 minute stabilization period. This is far more
practical than the previous rate. If these parameters are used,
the well will reach stabilized flow conditions without the need
for operator intervention, unconditional pressure stability.
However, given the above situation, if reservoir influx
occurs and the GLR reduces below the recommended ratio,
then a form of operator intervention, such as well choking,
may be required. This must achieve two things; first it must
reduce the amount of drawdown on the well and thus limit the
amount of influx, secondly it must minimize the pressure
stabilization period.
Concentric Casing Annular Volume.
Due to the
accumulation effect discussed earlier, the volume of the CC
annulus is directly proportional to well slugging tendency.
The greater the volume of the CC annulus, the greater will be
the probability of pressure stabilization problems. For this
reason parasite injection strings, which have a small hydraulic
volume, are less prone to well slugging than large volume CC
injection systems. In CC design, as the pressure rises, due to
positive change to the fluid column above the injection port,
the gas injection system compresses the gas in the CC annulus
to compensate for this increase. Therefore, reducing the
volume of the CC annulus will have a significant and
beneficial impact on the required gas injection rate. If the
accumulator can be made smaller slugging tendency will
reduce and the required gas injection rate may also be reduced.
For example, if the casing design used a 9 5/8 x 7 5/8
combination casing and tie back string, the reduced CC
volume would have a positive impact on reducing the slugging
tendency. On a practical note, flush OD connections would be
required to fit within the 9 5/8 casing and this approach
would most likely only be applicable to a long term project
where the well design could be optimized for underbalanced
drilling. This option may be the most effective way to reduce
well slugging tendency. Further analysis will be required to

IADC/SPE 81631

ensure that the increased clearance in the primary wellbore

annulus will not lead to reduced annular velocity and poor
hole cleaning.
Figure 7 illustrates the impact of reducing the CC volume
by utilizing a 7 5/8 casing (opposed to 7) string with flush
joint connections. The key assumptions in the simulation are
that the well is slugging with a constant wellhead pressure
(500 kPa separator pressure) and the injection rates are 900
lpm of fluid and 28 m3/min of gas.
As demonstrated in Figure 7, the reduced CC annulus
volume has a direct and dramatic effect on well slugging
tendency. The reduced annular (accumulator) volume, results
in BHCP stability in less than one hour, compared with 7
casing in which stability is never obtained.
As discussed previously, pressure stability is not an issue if
the gas injection rate is sufficiently high. The cost benefit of
decreasing the CC annular volume should be compared to the
cost of additional equipment required to achieve the adequate
gas injection rate.
Flow Restriction for Annular Injection. A method to reduce
potential for well slugging that has been effectively adopted in
other UBD operations is to create a downhole choke between
the CC annulus and the primary annulus. This geometry
produces a variable pressure drop across the injection port and
reduces the maximum rate of gas discharge into the well
during the unload period or during pressure oscillations. The
effectiveness of this solution of course depends on the size and
configuration of the restriction. For instance, in the case of
critical sonic velocity, the gas expansion through the
restriction is at the maximum and thus the injected volume is
also at the maximum. Additional gas injection into the CC
annulus at this point would not be possible. As a result the
maximum gas volume required must be accurately defined to
determine the optimum port size.
Achieving the desired restriction, by sizing the total flow
area (TFA) of the injection ports, is not a simple matter. It is
complicated by the impact of backflow of fluid and
subsequent jetting of fluid through the ports. Solids plugging
and wear will also potentially complicate the calculation.
Some, but not all, of the above may be circumvented by the
use of non-return valves, or screens to cover the ports.
The Olga simulator was used to determine the ideal
restriction and the size of the ports to achieve the ideal
pressure drop at steady state flow. This was accomplished
within Olga by inserting a variable choke valve at the injection
point to represent the restriction. The objective of this
analysis was to evaluate the effect of the restriction when
injecting gas at a higher pressure drop, thereby dampening the
transient behavior of the system. For the example case, the
separator pressure was set to be 1000 kPa and the injection
rates assumed were 900 lpm liquid down the drillstring and 28
m3/min gas down the CC annulus. The calculation results
from Olga, for the minimum restriction required before the
well becomes stable at these rates, is presented in Figure 8.
Modeling the port size showed the desired result as the
restriction (choke size) was decreased gradually until pressure
stabilization was realized. Surprisingly, no impact was
noticed until the total flow area (TFA) was 1% of the crosssectional-area of the CC annulus or 0.57 in2 (equivalent to a

IADC/SPE 81631

diameter of 0.85 in). It is interesting to note that this

restriction has an insignificant effect on injection pressure. In
fact, even with this small restriction, only a 50 kPa pressure
drop across the ports results, once steady state flow occurs.
Operational considerations due to back flow into the CC
annulus, such as plugging and fluid jetting, may make it
impractical to implement a port restriction as a standalone
solution. However, combining this reduced flow area with a
check valve would reduce backflow through the port and help
avoid solids plugging.
In conclusion it can be stated that unless a non-return valve
is employed, it is not feasible to depend on port sizing alone to
minimize well slugging tendency.
The Influence of Density. In general the lower the density of
both injection and produced fluids the lower will be the
tendency for slugging. Of course the density of the produced
fluid may not be influenced, however the volume produced
can be, by maintaining an optimum drawdown. The density of
the injection fluid can be designed to be as low as feasible
(hole cleaning critical) and this will generally have a positive
impact on the slugging tendency.
It has been observed operationally that high GOR reservoir
fluids reduce slugging tendency while low GOR produced
fluids increase the slugging tendency due to the the reduced
Inclination at Injection Ports. Little design alternatives are
generally available for well inclination at the injection ports.
The primary design point relative to inclination of the ports is
the depth of the liner top which permits underbalanced
pressures to be obtainable. Therefore the inclination of the
ports may be considered the least significant design alternative
for CC injection.
Operational Considerations for Reducing Well Slugging
Rigorously implementing the established design criteria and
verifying the real time results, with both static and dynamic
flow models, will provide the best opportunity to create
optimum UBD conditions throughout the drilling phase.
However, unexpected reservoir conditions or equipment
performance below expectation, may result in unwanted well
slugging. This section discusses operational options to reduce
well slugging if, despite design objectives, slugging still
occurs. The impact of key sensitivity parameters; separator set
point pressure, fluid viscosity and fluid injection rate, on
pressure stability are analyzed using UbitTS to predict the
transient well responses.
Separator Set Point Pressure Process Control. During
operations it has been observed that setting the separator
pressure and maintaining a fully opened choke had a negative
effect on pressure stability. In one occurance it was
impossible to achieve well stability during a 24 hour period,
regardless of the adjustments made in injection rates. This
attempt to stabilize the well included operator intervention to
maintain constant wellhead pressure, by holding constant
pressure in the separator. The separator control system
effectively maintained constant pressure by bleeding off gas
volume as required, to keep the pressure constant. After

analyzing the operational well behavior described, it became

apparent that maintaining constant wellhead pressure is not a
form of stability control. The intention here is to explain why
this approach will not achieve pressure stability and to qualify
the findings theoretically with simulations.
Firstly, to think about the situation intuitively, there are
two accumulators in the system responding to pressure
fluctuations in the primary annulus. The first is the CC
annulus and the second is the separator itself. The process
control system of the separator, be it a manual or automated
process, acts in reverse to the desired response to stabilize
bottomhole pressure. When the wellbore is unloading (high
flowrates from the well) the correct response is to increase
wellhead pressure and thus restrict the volume of gas
evacuating the wellbore. However, maintaining constant
separator pressure allows excessive amounts of gas to vent,
thereby increasing the discharge rate from the well.
Conversely, as the well subsequently loads with liquid, the
wellhead pressure should decrease to allow more gas
expansion and evacuation of fluid to balance the fluid being
added. As discussed previously, as the well is loading and
pressure is building opposite the downhole inlet ports, gas
does not enter the the primary wellbore. Gas merely
accumulates in the CC annulus matching the pressure rise due
to liquid loading. The separator control logic then closes the
back pressure valve to maintain pressure in the separator when
it is required to allow the pressure to drop and allow downhole
gas injection into the primary wellbore. In other words, to
obtain the desired well response the bottomhole circulating
pressure (BHCP) needs to be the set point and not the
wellhead pressure. Unfortunately it is not possible for both
the BHCP and wellhead pressure to be fixed. Recall the
simplified bottomhole pressure calculation:


Since the hydrostatic and frictional losses cannot be

controlled, setting the separator pressure constant will allow
the BHCP to fluctuate, unless steady state flow is achieved
due to unconditional pressure stability (sufficient gas
injection). From the discussion above it becomes apparent
that unconditional pressure stability is not achieved and thus a
fixed wellhead pressure will not allow the well to stabilize.
The above discussion may be further verified by analyzing
the results from transient modeling. For the example well two
different set point pressures (500 and 1500 kPa) are shown as
a function of gas injection rate and viscosity of wellbore fluid
and are included as Table 2 and 3. Comparing Tables 2 and 3,
it may be noted that increasing the separator set point pressure
decreases the potential for pressure stability. Noticing the
1500 kPa set point pressure, only a high viscosity fluid (100 to
500 cP) will result in steady state flow, opposed to any
viscosity (for 35 m3/min gas injection rate), for the 500 kPa set
point case
In summary, stabilized flow and unconditional pressure
stability will not be achieved at a constant wellhead pressure
(separator pressure) unless the gas injection rate is greater than
the critical gas rate. The BHCP is the desired set point and
thus the wellhead pressure must be permitted to fluctuate.

Choke Pressure Sensitivity Process Control. If, as

discussed earlier, a gas injection rate less than that required to
eliminate operator intervention (35 m3/min in example case),
then surface choking may be required to stabilize the well. It
has already been postulated, that setting a constant wellhead
pressure will not result in a constant bottomhole pressure
being achieved. It has also been established that wellhead
pressure must be allowed to fluctuate to allow the bottomhole
pressure to stabilize.
Figure 9, illustrates the results of varying the choke
opening for an assumed 3 bore choke. The injection
parameters assumed are a drillstring injection rate of 900 lpm
of oil and CC injection rate of 28 m3/min of gas. Several fixed
choke settings were selected (10%, 30%, 50% and 100%
open) and kept constant for the duration of the simulation.
It is observed that the smaller the choke opening the more
rapid the BHCP stabilizes. Correspondingly, as expected, the
BHCP stabilized pressure is also higher with the smaller choke
opening. The response curves illustrated in Figure 9 illustrate
the reduction in pressure oscillations achieved by increasing
the choke pressure and thus decreasing the propensity for
rapid evacuation of the wellbore. It may be concluded that
choking the well does indeed reduce the stabilization time by
reducing gas evacuation. Fixing the choke opening allows the
wellhead pressure to respond to fluctuations in the flow rate
and thus the bottomhole pressure may stabilize. This is the
fundamental difference between setting the separator pressure
constant, which results in a constant wellhead pressure and
setting the choke opening, which results in fluctuating
wellhead pressure (until steady state is reached).
Therefore, as indicated in Figure 9, a 10% open 3 choke
is ideal for stabilized flow. It is also necessary to determine
beforehand that overbalanced pressures will not result from a
higher choke pressure. It is thus apparent that a transient
simulator may be further utilized to assist in effective choke
Dynamic Choke Control. Dynamic choking of the well,
involves manipulating the choke pressure (wellhead pressure)
in attempt to dampen the pressure oscillations in the wellbore,
For instance, if the pressure trending, represents a harmonic
(sinusoidal load) behavior, the back pressure may be increased
at a point in the unloading cycle of the well to restrict gas
expansion and evacuation. The back pressure would therefore
be increased once the bottomhole pressure is at the maximum,
peak pressure and decreased once the pressure is at the
minimum, trough pressure. The ideal situation is that a
constant bottomhole pressure will eventually result and choke
manipulation may then be ceased.
Unfortunately, dynamic choking is extremely dependant
on the operators ability to predict the extent and behavior of
gas and liquid slugs in the well and to manipulate the choke
appropriately. The technique is something of a hit and miss
method and often takes lengthy periods of trial and error to
perfect. Since the engineer cannot design for, nor assume,
competence of the operator, it is not possible to rely on this
method to reduce and manage well slugging. Dynamic
choking should only be used as a last resort to reduce well
slugging. However, a situation may arise, such as higher than
expected fluid production, where dynamic choking is the only

IADC/SPE 81631

option available to reduce well slugging. If this is the case the

choke should always be manipulated as to maintain a constant
bottomhole pressure. If continuous real time bottomhole
pressure readings are available the choke opening should be
decreased with decreasing bottomhole pressure as gas is
rapidly expanding and evacuating the wellbore. Then as the
well begins to load and the bottomhole pressure begins to rise,
the choke opening should be increased to reduce surface
pressure and allow more gas to enter the wellbore and expand.
As discussed previously the ultimate theoretical situation is
to maintain a constant GLR BHCP at all times.
If continuous trending of bottomhole pressure is not
available (often the case) dynamic choke manipulation is
further complicated. However, if single phase fluid is being
pumped down the drill pipe (often the case with CC injection),
in theory, an approach similar to the drillers method of well
control could be employed using standpipe pressure as an
indication of bottomhole pressure. As compression of the drill
fluid may be considered negligible, the trending of the
standpipe pressure represents trending of the BHCP during
steady state. However, this practice is complicated by the
standpipe pressure reflecting the performance of the downhole
motor and in a situation where the motor becomes more
loaded or even stalls, the standpipe pressure will respond,
potentially resulting in incorrect adjustment of the choke and
the introduction of new transients. In addition, the response
delay from the choke to the standpipe is approximately one
second for each 300 meters the pressure wave must travel or
two seconds for each 300 meters of measured depth.
In summary, due to the operational complexity of dynamic
choke control, this method of reducing well slugging should
be avoided. It is recommended to set the choke opening
constant, higher than the separator set point, and await
pressure stability than it is to try and dynamically manipulate
the choke. If an automated process is in place to manipulate
the choke with BHCP fluctuations, dynamic choke control
may prove effective.
Viscosity Sensitivity. As noted in Table 1, the viscosity of
the injected and produced fluid, for the example well, are
drastically different. This being the case it may be necessary
during design and execution to understand the transient effects
that may occur once reservoir influx is realized. The viscosity
of fluid in the annulus has a direct impact on pressure stability.
During underbalanced drilling of the reservoir, influx from the
formation will combine with injected fluid and dictate the
viscosity of the return fluid, for the impact of return fluid
viscosity will increase (for the example well) as more of the
reservoir becomes exposed. Due to this fluctuating viscosity it
is necessary to determine the impact of viscosity on pressure
stability. Table 4 illustrates the results of this sensitivity due
to changing viscosity over several gas injection rates.
The important assumptions in the Table 4 are the constant
wellhead pressure of 500 kPa and constant liquid injection rate
of 900 lpm. As observed, higher viscosity actually reduces
well slugging. At 500 cP the well is stable regardless of the
gas injection rate. This is due to the viscosity of the fluid
creating a greater resistance to flow up the wellbore and thus
impares the ability of gas to evacuate the wellbore as rapidly

IADC/SPE 81631

as with a low viscosity fluid. This response is similar to that

observed when maintaining a constant choke opening.
Injection Set Point Control. Also evaluated was the ability
to use annular injection pressure as the objective variable in an
automated control function. This is based on the premise that
changes in annular injection pressure are an indication of
bottomhole pressure at the injection point. Likewise, changing
surface choke pressure has a direct effect on bottomhole
pressure, the pressure at the injection point and consequently
the amount of gas injected, which in turn influences the
hydrostatic pressure in the annulus. If the response control
(the choke), could detect and react to changes in the
observation variable (surface annular injection pressure), then
it is theortically feasible that an automated control loop could
be applied to stabilize pressure. From the simulations some
improvement in stability is noted however, it proved very
difficult to "tune the controller" to completely stabilize the
well. In other words, the transient rate of gas discharge at the
injection point was too rapid to control via surface pressure
Theoretically, it may be possible to employ a pressure
controlled injection rate concept with a typical membrane
nitrogen system. Such systems have a set pressure that
corresponds to a certain injection volume. Therefore, if the
injection pressure dropped, the volume would increase in
attempt to regain the previous set point pressure. This is
limited by the maximum deliverability rating of the membrane
package selected.
However, when operating in
hydrostatically dominated flow regimes (typical for oil wells),
the system will lead itself to deliver the maximum rate, as this
would be the only stable control point because the injection
pressure tends to decrease with increasing gas rate. The result
of this would be that the system increases constantly until the
maximum rate is reached. It is thus apparent that this option
will not work unless the flow system is very near a steady state
situation anyway and thus would not be beneficial.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The following are key learnings determined from the work
detailed in this paper:
Steady state flow modeling is not a standalone solution to
design and implementation challenges for UBD projects,
especially in the case of concentric casing (CC) injection
methods where more opportunity exists for transient flow
Steady state modeling determines flow regime, but will not
determine if well slugging will occur, since it does not
model effects such as concentric casing gas accumulation.
Once an operational envelope is determined from steady
state modeling, the transient effects within this envelope
(simulations) should be evaluated using a dynamic flow
model to determine the optimum parameters.
The most important design consideration for pressure
stability with concentric casing injection is the gas to liquid
ratio. If the gas injection rate is not high enough well
slugging will result.
The concentric casing acts as an accumulator. Gas is
compressed in the CC annulus as pressure increases at the

injection ports. The compressed gas volume is discharged

to the primary annulus once the pressure rise at the
injection ports stops.
Annular gas injection rates above critical should be chosen
to achieve pressure stabilization in an operationally
acceptable amount of time.
Volume of the concentric casing creates the accumulator
effect. The greater the CC annular volume the greater the
tendency for well slugging to occur. The CC volume
should be minimized in the design of the well. This may
be achieved by minimizing the depth of the injection port
to that required to satisfy underbalanced requirements or by
reducing the annular clearance between the concentric
casing and the previous casing (using larger OD tie back).
This will reduce the critical gas injection rate and thus
slugging tendency. The additional casing cost should be
evaluated against the cost of additional gas supply.
If a restriction at the flow ports is used, the slugging
tendency is reduced. Maintaining a positive pressure drop
across the injection ports minimizes the ability for the
accumulator to unload the wellbore. In addition, continual
positive flow will reduce plugging tendency at the ports.
The flow restriction has almost no effect on injection
pressure if only gas is injected.
Setting the separator pressure constant and maintaining a
fully opened choke will not stabilize a slugging well, it
may in fact make it worse. Maintaining constant wellhead
pressure will result in fluctuating bottomhole pressure,
unless greater than the critical gas injection rate (at the
wellhead pressure) is achieved.
If fully steady state conditions are not achieved, the choke
pressure must be maintained at a higher pressure than the
separator set point pressure (wellhead pressure permitted to
fluctuate) or well slugging may actually be induced.
If the pressure at the choke is higher than the separator set
point pressure, maintaining a constant choke opening
results in flow stabilization. The smaller the choke
opening the more rapid the stabilization period.
Dynamic choke control can be utilized to stabilize BHCP,
but this requires a high level of operator competence and
experience and time consuming, Trial and Error,
techniques are needed to effectively manipulate the choke.
Dynamic simulators can be used to prepare a pre
operations choking philosophy but this would be difficult
to employ in practice.
Unless an automated process loop is designed, dynamic
choke control is not recommended as the best operational
practice to reduce well slugging.
It is recommended to determine the ideal choke opening
(no overbalance) and not manipulate the choke.
Well slugging tendency is decreased with increasing
viscosity. High viscous flow up the wellbore produces
results similar to a constant open choke.
The ability for gas to evacuate the wellbore is reduced with
high viscosity. Therefore, as more viscous oil is produced
while drilling, well slugging tendency will be reduced.
It is recommended for the industry to evaluate automated
process control systems to automatically manipulate the

IADC/SPE 81631

choke by utilizing the bottomhole, wellhead or injection

pressures as the objective variables.
There was good correlation between the UbitTS/Olga
predictions and real well data for bottomhole pressure,
wellhead pressure and total return fluid predictions.

CC Injection Example Well Data

Well Depth
True Vertical Depth
Measured Depth
Max Inclination
Well Geometry
Production Casing
Tie Back String
Drill Pipe
Injection Port
True Vertical Depth
Measured Depth
Injection Fluid
Injection Liquid

UbitTS = Underbalanced Interactive Transient Training
= Concentric Casing
= Gas to Liquid Ratio
MWD = Measurement While Drilling
= Bottomhole Pressure
BHCP = Bottomhole Circulating Pressure
GOR = Gas/Oil Ratio
= Equivalent Circulating Density
= Total Flow Area

We wish to acknowledge Shell Global Implementation Team,
for permission to write this paper, Petroleum Development
Oman, Scandpower and Blade Energy Partners.

Ubitts vs Olga

Olga Interface

Olga Engine

Non-interactive batchmode analysis

Requires greater user
Detailed analysis tools
Greater versatility
Greater flexibility in
component description
Sensitivity studies
3D Plots

Figure 1: Relationship Between Olga and UbitTS

5 cP
780 kg/m

0 m /m
500 cP

930 kg/m

SS Operating Window
Oil Injection Rates

700 to 900 lpm

Gas Injection Rates

20 to 35 m /min

Table 1: Example Well Data Used For Design

and Transient Modeling
Example Calculation:
Oil Density = 840 kg/m3 (8.24 kPa/m)
Oil Injection Rate = 900 lpm (0.9 m3/min)
Depth of Injection Ports = 890 m
Inclination of Injection Ports = 40 degrees

161.72 88.92
= 0.0143m2
Cross Section Area of Primary Annulus = A1 = 4

215.92 177.82
* (890) = 10.485m3
Volume of CC Annulus = VCC = 4

min = 62.94 m
Slug rise =
= 48.2
TVD rise rate = cos(40) 62.94
ASSUMING only N2 is leaving the well then:
Pressure rise is = 48.2 m/min x 8.24 kPa/m = 397.168 kPa/min
ASSUMING a BHCP of 7000 kPa and the annular injection pressure of 7000 kPa:

(7000kPa)(10.485m3 )(273.15 + 25C)

= 689.825m3
(101.3kPa)(273.15 + 40C)

For 500 kPa pressure increase:

V2 =

Interactive Control
Visualization of dynamic
Interactive analysis of
impact of user control or
change in conditions
Procedures analysis
Simulation of UBD

700 m
890 m


V2 =

Ubitts Interface

9 5/8"
3 1/2"

Injection Gas
Reservoir Fluid

1. P. J. Frink, P. V. Suryanarayana, P. R. Brand, J. E. Wooten,
Blade Energy Partners; J. O. Romma, Scandpower SA.,
Development and Use of an Underbalanced Transient Training
Simulator, IADC Underbalanced Operations Technology
Conference and Exhibition, Scotland, 27-28 November, 2001.
2. Underbalanced Advanced Well Design Manual, Blade Energy
Partners, Dallas Texas, 2001
3. Bendiksen, K. H., Malnes, D., Moe, R., and Nuland, S., The
Dynamic Two-Fluid Model OLGA: Theory and Application,
SPE Production Engineering, May 1992, pp. 171-180.
4. Straume, T., Nordsveen, M., and Bendiksen, K., Numerical
Simulation of Slugging in Pipelines, Proceedings of the ASME
International Symposium of Multiphase Flow in Wells and
Pipelines, Anaheim, Nov. 1992.
5. Zheng Gang Xu., Solutions to Slugging Problems Using
Multiphase Simulations, Presented at Multiphase Meeting
Conference, Aberdeen, March 12-13, 1997.
6. Olga 2000 User Documentation, Scandpower A/S. Norway,

890 m
1500 m

(7500kPa)(10.485m3 )(273.15 + 25C)

= 739.1m3
(101.3kPa)(273.15 + 40C)

Volume required for pressure increase =

(739.1m3 689.83m3 )
= 0.099

N2 rate required for pressure rise = 397.17

(critical rate)
= 39.3

Figure 2: Example Calculation for Critical Gas Injection Rate

IADC/SPE 81631

Pre-Critical Gas Injection Rate;

Annular Pressure Response Curve

Pre-Critical Gas Injection Rate;

Gas Injection at Ports - Response Curve

Figure 3: Pre-Critical Gas Injection Rate (20 m /min)

Well Response Curves

Critical Gas Injection Rate;

Annular Pressure Response Curve

Critical Gas Injection Rate;

Gas Injection at Ports - Response Curve

Figure 4: Critical Gas Injection Rate (25 m /min)

Well Response Curves

Post Critical Gas Injection Rate;

Annular Pressure Response Curve

Post Critical Gas Injection Rate;

Gas Injection at Ports - Response Curve

Figure 5: Post-Critical Gas Injection Rate (30 m /min)

Well Response Curves

Ideal Gas Injection Rate;

Annular Pressure Response Curve

Ideal Gas Injection Rate;

Gas Injection at Ports - Response Curve

Figure 6: Ideal Gas Injection Rate (35 m /min)

Well Response Curves


IADC/SPE 81631

7 Casing 500 kPa Wellhead Pressure

Annular Pressure Response Curve

Separator Pressure Set Point at 500 kPa

Gas Rate

7 5/8 Casing 500 kPa Wellhead Pressure

Annular Pressure Response Curve

BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)

Viscosity (cP) of Injected Fluid


3200 to 8800 kPa
4000 s
3200 to 8400 kPa
3000 s
3200 to 8300 kPa
2500 s
3200 to 8300 kPa
2000 s
3300 to 8000 kPa
1800 s
4200 kPa

3500 to 8500 kPa
4000 s
3500 to 8500 kPa
3000 s
3500 to 8500 kPa
2500 s
3600 to 8500 kPa
2100 s
3800 to 6600 kPa
1800 s
4500 kPa

5000 to 9000 kPa
3500 s
4900 to 9000 kPa
2800 s
4800 to 9000 kPa
2400 s
5500 to 6500 kPa
2000 s
5800 kPa
5600 kPa

11500 kPa
11300 kPa
11100 kPa
11100 kPa
10700 kPa
10500 kPa

Table 2: Impact of Separator Set Point at 500 kPa on Pressure

Stability Various Gas Injection Rates and Fluid Viscosity

Separator Pressure Set Point at 1500 kPa

Gas Rate

Figure 7: Impact of Concentric Casing Annular

Volume Reduction 7 to 7 5/8 Casing


Flow stabilisation by annular flow injection choking







Gas Rate




4700 to 9300 kPa
3500 s
4500 to 9400 kPa
2800 s
4300 to 9400 kPa
2300 s
4200 to 9300 kPa
1900 s
4200 to 9200 kPa
1700 s
4200 to 9000 kPa
1500 s

5200 to 9500 kPa
3500 s
4900 to 9500 kPa
2700 s
4800 to 9500 kPa
2200 s
4700 to 9400 kPa
1800 s
4700 to 9300 kPa
1700 s
4700 to 9000 kPa
1500 s

6700 to 10000 kPa
3000 s
6300 to 10000 kPa
2500 s
6000 to 10000 kPa
2200 s
6000 to 9800 kPa
2000 s
7500 kPa
7200 kPa

12500 kPa
12400 kPa
12300 kPa
12200 kPa
12100 kPa
12000 kPa

Viscosity Sensitivity - Varied Gas Rates - WHP = 500 kPa









BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)

Viscosity (cP) of Injected Fluid


Table 3: Impact of Separator Set Point at 1000 kPa on Pressure

Stability Various Gas Injection Rates and Fluid Viscosity







Time [h]



UnderBalanced SEQUENCE v iscosity 5 cp ANNULUS CHOKE -

Figure 8: Minimum Port Restriction for Well

Stabilization Pressure Drop and Injection Volume versus Time


BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)
BHP Fluctuation (UP)
Slug Frequency (UT)

Viscosity (cP) of Injected Fluid


3200 to 8800 kPa
4000 s
3200 to 8400 kPa
3000 s
3200 to 8300 kPa
2500 s
3200 to 8300 kPa
2000 s
3300 to 8000 kPa
1800 s
4200 kPa

3500 to 8500 kPa
4000 s
3500 to 8500 kPa
3000 s
3500 to 8500 kPa
2500 s
3600 to 8500 kPa
2100 s
3800 to 6600 kPa
1800 s
4500 kPa

5000 to 9000 kPa
3500 s
4900 to 9000 kPa
2800 s
4800 to 9000 kPa
2400 s
5500 to 6500 kPa
2000 s
5800 kPa
5600 kPa

11500 kPa
11300 kPa
11100 kPa
11100 kPa
10700 kPa
10500 kPa

Table 4: Impact of Viscosity on Pressure stability at 500 kPa

WHP Various Gas Injection Rates and Viscosities

IADC/SPE 81631

Choke 100% Open, Time to Stability ~ 3 Hrs

Choke 50% Open, Time to Stability ~ 2 Hrs

Choke 30% Open, Time to Stability ~ 1 Hrs

Choke 10% Open, Time to Stability ~ 1 Hr

Figure 9: Impact of Constant Choke Opening on

Pressure Stability Simulated Well Response Curves