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SPE 150737

Advances in Mud Design and Challenges in HPHT Wells

Woha Godwin (Jnr), Joel Ogbonna and Oriji Boniface; Institute of Petroleum Studies, University of Port
Harcourt, Nigeria

Copyright 2011, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the Nigeria Annual International
Conference and Exhibition held in Abuja, Nigeria, 30 July3 August 2011.
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 have not been reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are
subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any
position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its officers, or members. Electronic
reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper 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 SPE copyright.

The worlds energy demand is rising and
favourable economics has allowed oil companies
prospect and drill for oil in deeper, more
challenging frontiers (which are prone to high
pressures and high temperatures) than ever
before. There are vast reserves of hydrocarbons in
these remote locations that promise to bridge the
gap between demand and supply for energy.
However HPHT prospects can be a formidable
challenge. The mud weight (which is higher for
HPHT wells) must be accurately controlled
because of the very narrow mud weight windows.
This high mud weight requirement leads to
problems of high solid loading and barite sag.
Technology to effectively monitor downhole
pressure and temperature conditions is not well
developed. Rig crews need to be adequately
trained to adopt best practices in HPHT drilling to
minimize the risk of well control issues. In this
study, the conventional practices and procedures
in mud design were studied and analyzed.
Advances in mud design were highlighted and
case studies of some HPHT wells in regions
around the world were reviewed to learn the
lessons and best practices that led to their
success. Many of the conventional practices were
found to be inadequate for HPHT drilling. Rigorous

laboratory testing is necessary to generate

detailed engineering guidelines for HPHT drilling
fluids. Furthermore, a standard temperature
concept used for controlling the surface mud
weight was defined. The results of the new
approaches to mud design and practices have
been phenomenal. The importance of a stable
mud system, detailed drilling program, best
practices and correct field execution are
fundamental. With the new approaches, many
HPHT wells have been successfully completed in
a cost effective manner and with no well control
incidents recorded.

The aim of this study is to investigate the trend in
mud design advancement as the search for oil
takes us into even deeper frontiers. Drilling and
producing petroleum from remote locations and at
great depth has become increasingly attractive for
several reasons :
Abundant infrastructure in the way of
pipelines that would allow new production
to flow quickly to market.
New technology such as 3D seismic and
faster computers to locate potential
The challenge facing the oil industry presently is
that the process of economically extracting what
remains of the worlds hydrocarbon reserves is
stretching the traditional drilling and completion
fluids to their performance limits and beyond. This
is particularly true in the case of offshore and High
Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) field
developments where the application conditions are
extremely challenging and the required fluid
performance demands are exacting .

Woha G. (Jnr) and Joel O.F.

A HPHT well has been defined by United

Kingdom Continental Shelf Operations Notice as
any well where the undisturbed bottom hole
temperature is 300 F or greater and either the
pore pressure exceeds 0.8 psi/ft or pressure
control equipment greater than 10,000 psi rated
working pressure is required.
This study examines how conventional drilling and
completion fluids have been failing to fully meet
the demands of difficult HPHT well construction. It
then charts the development of newer formulation
as the new improved HPHT drilling and completion
fluids. Fortunately, these improvements in
techniques and better mud design have opened
up possibilities that were previously very difficult to

Drilling Fluids
The term drilling fluid refers to a liquid, gas, or
gasified liquid circulating continuum substance
used in the rotary drilling process to perform any
or all of the various functions required in order to
successfully drill a usable wellbore at the lowest
overall well cost .
The objective of the drilling and completion
process is to safely deliver high quality wells that
are optimized in terms of providing shareholder
Best well productivity at lowest drawdown
Best well integrity and longest structural
Lowest well construction cost
Lowest environmental impact and liability
Best reservoir information capture.
The choice of drilling and completion fluid used in
a well construction operation has a critical
influence on the extent to which an operator can
meet this objective. In particular the fluids
performance will play a significant part in
determining whether or not an operator meets its
key performance indicator targets in the following
Time to drill and complete
Well control and safety incidents
Well integrity
Well lifetime and maintenance costs
Well productivity index
Waste management costs
Logging capability and interpretation
Environmental footprint and impact
Exposure to liability (short- and long-term)

SPE 150737

The drilling fluid chosen for the upper well sections

must offer a host of functionalities:

Ability to maintain the integrity of weak

Ability to minimize fluid loss into
permeable rocks
Ability to provide stable well control
Ability to efficiently transfer hydraulic
Ability to move cuttings to the surface
Provide steel/steel and steel/rock lubricity
Provide protection against all forms of
Allow formation evaluation
Pose little or no hazard to rig personnel
Have little or no adverse effect on the
Have little or no adverse effect on

If the drilling fluid is to be used in reservoir

sections without further intervention, it must cause
minimal change to the native permeability of the
reservoir rock in the near wellbore area. The
drilling fluid filtrate must also be compatible with
other filtrates that might leak-off from subsequent
cementing and completion operations. A
completion fluid should have the same overall
properties as a reservoir drilling-in fluid and,
ideally, should be the same fluid minus any drilled

The limitations of conventional drilling

fluids in HPHT drilling
Conventional drilling fluids have inherent
limitations in HPHT drilling conditions . The high
loading of barite in conventional muds creates
high frictional pressure losses during circulation in
long sections, leading to unacceptably high ECDs
(Equivalent circulating densities) in narrow drilling
windows . High downhole temperatures can
conventional muds, causing both dynamic and
static barite sag and increasing the risk of loss of
well control in high-angle wells. Oil-based muds
can absorb large volumes of gas and this can
cause well control problems too if the muds
remain static for long periods in long horizontal
holes . To make things worse, an influx of
hydrocarbon gas into oil-based mud may
destabilize the formulation and cause barite sag.
Pit gains may be more subtle as compared to

Advances in Mud Design and Challenges in HPHT Wells

kicks in water-based mud and may take longer to

manifest an observable gain, so extended flow
checks (ten minutes or more) are advisable when
using oil muds. This difference in response should
be included in rig crew training when drilling deep
gas wells . Laboratory return permeability tests
done on samples of a range of conventional mud
types taken directly from the field show that they
can cause considerable formation damage , and
the presence of very high levels of barite in highweight muds formulated for high-pressure wells
cannot improve matters. The use of Corrosion
Resistant Alloys (CRA) in HPHT wells has been
exposing fundamental flaws in the performance of
conventional completion fluids based on chloride
and bromide brines . It is well-documented that
severe localized corrosion and stress corrosion
cracking of CRA tubulars will take place in HPHT
wells if they are exposed to chloride and bromide
brines containing oxygen, carbon dioxide or
hydrogen sulphide
Furthermore, the sulfur-containing corrosion
inhibitors commonly used in halide brines are
known to decompose to H2S at high temperatures
and create another source of stress corrosion
cracking . To date the vendors of halide brines
seem to have made little progress towards finding
an effective inhibitor to mitigate the serious
corrosion problems created by their products in
HPHT wells.

In conclusion , a review of the challenge posed to

conventional fluids by the demands of HPHT
operations indicates that the use of hydrocarbons,
solid weighting agents and halide brines (chloride
and bromides) in drilling muds and completion
fluids increases the risk of problems with well
control, well integrity and well productivity. The
negative influence of conventional fluids on drilling
and completion operations can be sufficiently
serious to compromise safety and degrade the
economics of difficult or ambitious HPHT field
developments .

Formulations Commonly Used in HPHT

Invert emulsion fluids have been utilized for drilling
HP/HT wells and the technology is adequate for
temperatures up to 500 F, but recent HPHT
activity presents even harsher environments with
estimated Bottom Hole Temperature (BHT)
o 1
approaching 600 F .
It is a common occurrence to have hole washouts
while drilling with water-based mud . There are

SPE 150737

several reasons for this and until a concerted effort

is taken to address the issue, such holes are
bound to develop. Some of the problems that large
washed-out holes cause are poor hole cleaning
while drilling the hole, increased chances of stuck
pipe, poor wireline log quality, bad zonal isolation
after cementing primary casing strings, and loss of
production due to inadequate zonal isolation .

Drilling HPHT Infill Well in a Highly

Depleted Reservoir
Drilling infill wells on HPHT fields after a significant
depletion has occurred represents a real
challenge. It requires drilling from a cap rock
remaining at or close to virgin pressure into a
reservoir in which pore and fracture pressures
have largely decreased due to production. No
mud-weight-window exists anymore at the
transition between cap rock and reservoir . The
difficulty is further increased by uncertainties in the
pressure profile along the well path, the rock
mechanics and their change generated by the high
and rapid depletion, and also by depth uncertainty
on the top reservoir .
For this reason, most HPHT fields are developed
by drilling all wells before a pre-defined limit of
depletion level is reached at which the mud20
weight-window closes . This limit is usually low.
However, HPHT producer wells face depletion
related threats to their integrity: sand production
and / or deformation of the production liner under
rock movement. When these threats become
effective, the well and its associated production
will be lost. Replacement wells will need to be
drilled. Additional wells are also needed to
increase reserves by creating new off-take
points .
All these challenges were tackled with a good
degree of success by a recent depleted reservoir
the North Sea). The success of this first HPHT
infill well after significant depletion proved the
feasibility of drilling such wells. It opened the door
to new opportunities in HPHT developments.

Advances in mud design


showed that for non

A review of the literature
HPHT wells, the effects of pressure and
temperature on mud weight can be ignored.
However, for HPHT wells, the effects of pressure
and temperature on surface mud weight, the
equivalent downhole mud weight, and the

Woha G. (Jnr) and Joel O.F.

equivalent circulating density (ECD) must be taken

into consideration .
It would be easier to define and manage if a
constant bottom hole pressure can be maintained
during drilling operations. Unfortunately, due to the
changes of downhole mud temperature profile and
the effect of temperature profile on equivalent mud
weight, it is impossible even to maintain a constant
hydrostatic pressure for a given well operation .
The hydrostatic overbalance always varies within
a certain range, depending on the pump rate and
the mud properties. Although the circulating mud
temperature profile is constantly changing, the
geothermal temperature profile can be assumed to
remain in a constant state. Therefore a constant
hydrostatic overbalance can be designed and
maintained under geothermal temperature profile.
Using this concept, new procedures have been
developed to achieve this . The circulating
temperature profiles at different operating
conditions are then established, and the
hydrostatic overbalances are calculated to ensure
that a minimum acceptable overbalance is
maintained during different operations. Listed
below is the review of some selected advances
made during some HPHT drilling campaigns.

Bottom-Hole Mud Pressure and PVT

The main objective of any hydraulics design, along
with optimization of drilling efficiency, is to
minimize the risk of a well control incident. Gao et
al (1998) defined bottom-hole mud pressure Pmud,
as a general term for mud hydraulics with the
following equation.

!!"# ! !!"#"$% ! !!!"#$%&' ! !!!"##$%&' !(1)

In the above equation Pstatic is the hydrostatic mud

pressure, which may vary depending on the
downhole temperature profile. The "Pdynamic is the
dynamic mud pressure(s) which is defined as mud
pressure variation caused by any disturbance to
the mud in the hole. The "Pdynamic can be positive
or negative depending on the direction of the
operation. The dynamic mud pressure(s) can be a
single pressure or combination of different
dynamic pressures such as surge and swab
pressure, inertial pressure due to string
acceleration or deceleration and pressure required
to break gels. The "Pcuttings is the equivalent mud
weight increase due to cuttings loading in the
annulus, which is dependent on the pump rate,
rate of penetration, well geometry, mud properties
and cuttings size.

SPE 150737

Using the above equation, the bottom-hole mud

pressure is generalised , enabling different
components of the pressures to be analyzed in
isolation depending on the operation. Thereafter,
the operating margin and operational guidelines
can be derived.
The limitations in HPHT drilling can be so severe
that MWD/LWD tools become unusable, rendering
down-hole annular pressure measurements used
for pressure management, unavailable. We can
temperature/hydraulic models as our best or only
source of down-hole pressure information .
Although the hydrostatic pressure !!"#"$% is
constantly changing, it has been realized that one
of the few constant parameters in the well bore is
the geothermal temperature profile . If the
hydrostatic pressure is calculated based on the
geothermal temperature gradient, a constant
hydrostatic pressure can be obtained for a given
surface mud weight. Obviously, the hydrostatic
overbalance would vary during circulation. But, as
soon as circulation is stopped, the hydrostatic
overbalance will change towards the overbalance
under geothermal temperature gradient. To ensure
that an adequate hydrostatic overbalance is
maintained immediately after stopping circulation,
circulating temperature profiles are established
and used to calculate the hydrostatic pressure
!!"#"$% .23
Ron et al (2006) carried out a series of studies on
temperature modeling, equivalent static density
prediction (ESD) and a new viscometer. He
illustrated isobaric PVT results on a commonly
used base-fluid. This illustration showed that
HPHT and deepwater wells required adjustments
for the temperature and pressure driven
compression and expansion characteristics of the
whole drilling fluid. This is shown in Figure 1.
As shown in the Figure, according to Ron (2006),
laboratory measured data to 30,000 psi are
represented by the blue circles; a third-degree
polynomial (blue line) provides a good fit for these
measurements. Using a third-degree polynomial
based on historically available # 20,000 psi data
and extrapolating to 30,000 psi (red curve) will
compression, introducing significant errors in
down-hole pressure calculations. This example
highlights the necessity for measured data
reflecting down-hole conditions .
In drilling, PVT information is used to achieve an
accurate pressure profile of the well due to
hydrostatic pressure from the drilling fluid. Whole
mud density under downhole conditions can be

Advances in Mud Design and Challenges in HPHT Wells

precisely predicted if the PVT data on the base

fluid and brine phases used in the composition of
the whole mud is available. A retort analysis from
the rig site can be used to determine the volume
fractions of base fluid, brine and solids of the
whole mud. The volume fractions of each
component are then used in a compositional
model to determine the change in density due to
pressure and temperature. Peters et al. (1990)
presented a compositional model in 1988 which
considers each component in expressing the
density of a whole fluid as a function of pressure
and temperature:

!!!! !!=

!! !! !!!! !! !!! !! !!! !!

!!!! ! ! !!" !! !!! ! !!" !!

Performing the density correction every 100 feet of

vertical depth has proven to be an acceptable
method for Equivalent Static Density (ESD)
prediction. Figure 2 shows a corrected pressure
profile, expressed as ESD in pounds per gallon,
due to compressible fluid components and an
uncorrected pressure profile. This example is an
18.21 lb/gal, 89:11 oil/water ratio (OWR) invert
emulsion drilling fluid.

With the depth horizons of HP/HT drilling
expanding, a technology gap was recognized in
the measurement of fluid viscosity at down-hole
conditions. Historical viscometer technology is
limited to measurements at # 500F/20,000 psig.
Some completed and on-going HPHT wells have
bottom-hole conditions approaching 600F and
40,000 psig. Since this was identified as a major
technology gap and fluid behavior had never been
evaluated at these extreme conditions, Ron Bland
et al (2006) set out to develop a new viscometer
suitable for HP/HT drilling. Criteria for the new
HP/HT viscometer included:
Working pressure up to 40,000 psig
Working temperature up to 600F
Ron et al succeeded in designing and fabricating a
new HPHT viscometer capable of testing fluids
used for deep gas drilling and this was made
available to the industry. The new viscometer, the
Chandler 7600, has met the design criteria
40,000 psig/600F and is capable of accurate
measurements in fluids containing ferromagnetic

SPE 150737

An Accurate Hydraulics Program

For a given oil/water ratio in an invert emulsion
mud, the hydraulics program used in the HPHT
sections can generate the following information in
addition to normal hydraulics information such as
pump pressure and bit hydraulics:
Hydrostatic pressure Pstatic at a given
downhole temperature profile.
The dynamic pressure(s) as described in
Eq. 1, including an individual dynamic
pressure or any combination of the
dynamic pressures such as surge and
swab, pressure required to break gels and
inertial pressure.
Surface mud weight versus temperature
Thermal expansion of mud in the hole.
Effects of the various parameters on
bottom hole mud pressure or ECD.

A Temperature Simulator
The mud temperature profile in a wellbore
changes depending on the drilling parameters and
circulating history. The changing temperature
profile leads to varied mud hydrostatic pressures
Pstatic. Therefore, a temperature simulator is
required to establish the temperature profiles at
different pump rates and times from initiation of
circulation. The information generated from the
temperature simulator is then used by the
hydraulics program to predict the Pstatic element at
circulating temperature profiles. The purpose of
this is to ensure that a certain hydrostatic
overbalance is maintained at different pump rates
to keep the well under control immediately after
stopping circulation. This also helps to analyze the
ECD more accurately.
The temperature simulator used generates the
following temperature profiles for both steady state
and transit conditions:

Mud temperature profile in the annulus

Mud temperature profile inside the drill


Time dependency of the temperature


From a safety aspect the FLT (Flow Line

Temperature) needs to remain within the
temperature limits of the blow out preventer
(BOP) : usually below 200F. From a cost

Woha G. (Jnr) and Joel O.F.

perspective the BHCT is important with regards to

the downhole tools used for formation evaluation
and geosteering; usually limited to about 350F
before heat damage occurs . Either or both of
these scenarios could be addressed by the use of
mud coolers to reduce circulating temperatures.
The effects of insulated drill pipe and risers,
multiple lithologies with variable thermophysical
properties and cooling effects from surface area of
the active mud system should not be ignored as
they act like mud coolers . Ron (2006) showed the
results of modeling with and without mud coolers
on an HPHT well . A typical plot of the established
temperature profile is shown in Fig. 3.
It can be seen from Figure 3, that when the mud
is in circulation, the temperature increases at
shallow depth and the temperature decreases at
deeper depth. As a rule of thumb, in about 2/3 of
the wellbore from the top down, the mud
temperature will be increased and in about 1/3 of
the wellbore, the mud temperature will be
decreased. As the mud temperature increases, the
mud weight wiII be reduced and vice versa.
Therefore, comparing with the hydrostatic mud
pressure under geothermal temperature gradient,
the Pstatic element in the total mud pressure Pmud
will be reduced under circulating temperature

The Use of Cesium Formate Brines

Experience shows that conventional drilling and
completion fluids have been failing to fully meet
the demands of difficult HPHT well construction .
Cesium Formate brines, originally developed from
Shell research in 1986 and improved with time
have been touted as the new improved HPHT
drilling and completion fluids . They have been
widely used in the North Sea and the Gulf of
The limitations of conventional muds were
discussed extensively in the literature review.
Problems of high barite loading and its effect on
ECD, barite sag caused by high temperature and
oil muds absorbing high quantities of gas are
Shell, in the early-1990s, began research to meet
these challenges. They developed an aqueous
formulation of solids-free, non-corrosive brine with
densities up to SG 1.57 (13.1 ppg) that had
viscosity and fluid loss control stability at high
temperatures. They further realized that with
cesium formates, the density could be extended
to SG 2.30.

SPE 150737

At the closing stages of the first phase of product

development in 1995 the perceived advantages of
the formate brines when compared with
conventional HPHT drilling and completion fluids
were :
Minimal formation damage
Maintenance of additive properties at high
Elimination of barite and its sagging
Reduced hydraulic flow resistance
Lower ECDs
Lower swab and surge pressures
Better power transmission to motors and
Low gas solvency
Better kick detection and well control
Faster flow-checks
Low potential for differential sticking
Naturally lubricating
Reduced torque and drag
Inhibition of hydrate formation
Very low corrosion rates, local and general
No stress corrosion cracking
Compatibility with elastomers
Biodegradable and posing little risk to the
The advent of fluids with such a unique set of
performance advantages promised to eliminate a
host of HPHT well construction problems caused
by the inherent deficiencies of traditional drilling
muds and brines .
In 1996 Mobil conducted the first field trial of a
formate-based drilling fluid in a high temperature
well . Over the next 3 years Mobil used
potassium formate brine as a drill-in fluid in a
further 15 deep gas wells in Northern Germany.
The performance of these fluids was reviewed in
2000 . Mobil concluded:
Formate-based fluids have been applied
as high density, temperature stable, low
solids, environmentally friendly, nondamaging, non-corrosive drilling and
reservoir drilling fluids.
The use of formate-based fluids has
resulted in a dramatic increase in drilling
performance and hydraulics.
Since the use of formate-based fluids has
been implemented, the productivity of
wells has increased compared to wells
drilled with conventional muds.
significantly reduced with formate-based
fluids due to thinner filter cakes and the

Advances in Mud Design and Challenges in HPHT Wells

naturally low friction coefficient of

Despite exposure to temperatures of up to
165C (329F) BHST (Bottom hole static
Temperature) the polymers in the formate
brine have retained their stability.
Corrosion has been minimal to negligible.

A decade later potassium formate brines are

continuing to provide the solution to the challenges
posed by drilling deep high-angle gas wells. In
SPE paper 92407 and accompanying texts
Saudi Aramco have described how they have
successfully used fluids based on potassium
formate brine to drill and complete a series of long
horizontal wells at 13,900 ft to 14,600ft TVD in
hard and abrasive sandstone. Aramco reported
that one of the first wells drilled with a low-solids
SG 1.44 (12.0 ppg) formate fluid exhibited greatly
improved drill string/wellbore lubricity and bit
performance, reduced torque and drag, reduced
ECDs and lower pump pressures.
Since entering service in 1999 cesium formate
brines have been used in 101 individual HPHT
operations in 21 different fields. In this time they
have passed extensive and rigorous field-testing :
At densities up to SG 2.25 ( 18.7 ppg)
At temperatures up to 215 C (420 F)
For periods up to 18 months downhole
In hole-angles from near-vertical through
to horizontal
In oil, gas and condensate reservoirs (all
sandstone) with permeabilities from <
1mD to 2 Darcy
In the Kristin field, which is the most extreme
HPHT field in Norway with a reservoir pressure of
911 bar and a temperature of 175 C, the well R-3
H was drilled with an inclination of 75 without any
well control incidents and 2 days ahead of
schedule . Thus Kristin introduced a new term in
the Oil and Gas industry: HAHPHT, High angle
High Pressure High Temperature wells .
The first two of four high angle wells were drilled
using cesium formate brines because of the lower
ECD and higher operational margin that it confers
on the narrow mud weight window. However its
use had to be discontinued after the first two wells
because extensive fluid loss was reported of the
magnitude of 10 times higher than with
conventional oil based mud . With this type of
drilling fluid total loss of circulation was
experienced in the reservoir. Cesium formate mud
was also reported to be very expensive.
After the experiences with Cesium formate mud
system it became apparent that drilling high angle

SPE 150737

well would not be possible with this type of drilling

fluid. So for the high angle wells an oil based mud
system was chosen . The big challenge with a
conventional oil based mud system is weight
particles in mud weights above 2.0 sg. Barite is
used as weight particles. It is very difficult to avoid
any sagging of barite with so much weight
particles in the mud system, especially if the well
is left without circulation for days. Experience from
Kristin shows reduction from an original mud
weight of 2.05 sg down to 1.80 sg.

Review of some Published case studies

HPHT drilling of four wells in HERON field,
UKCS central Graben23
The Heron field is located in Central Graben, block
22/30a in the UK sector of Central North Sea. Its
main reservoir is the Upper and Lower Skagerrak.
The well information is summarised below:
Measured Depth (MD)/True Vertical Depth
(TVD) = 15613 /15279 ft
Maximum pore pressure gradient at 13873
ft TVD = 12494 psi (Temp=314 F)
Maximum bottom hole static temperature
[BHST) = 343 F
Base fluid % by volume = 48, water % by
volume = 13
Sea Level = 90 ft
Water depth=301 ft
Atmospheric temperature = 60 F (from
surface to sea level)
Seawater temperature = 40 F
Before drilling the HPHT hole sections, extensive
hydraulics design work was carried out and the
following design procedures were developed and
1. Gather well data including formation tops
(prognoses and possible shallow depths),
pore pressure, fracture pressure and
geothermal temperature profile.
2. Define
hydrostatic overbalance over the expected
maximum pressure gradient: For this
HPHT section, about 200psi overbalance
over the maximum expected pore
pressure gradient was considered as the
minimum acceptable level. Therefore, the
required equivalent downhole mud weight
at top of the reservoir under geothermal
temperature gradient was set to be 915
pptf (psi/1000 ft)
3. Determine the required surface mud

Woha G. (Jnr) and Joel O.F.

4. Determine the standard temperature for

surface mud weight based on the
geothermal temperature gradient: This
was the most important parameter in the
new process. It was assumed, based on
temperature gradient from the drill floor to
the top of the reservoir i.e. maximum
expected pore pressure gradient at
13,8731 ft TVD is 2.7 F per 100ft TVD.
Drill floor temperature is 60 F. With this
geothermal temperature gradient, the
hydraulics program calculated that if the
surface mud weight was measured at
120 F, the surface mud weight would be
exactly the same as the equivalent
downhole mud weight.
Therefore 120 F was defined as the
standard mud temperature for surface
mud weight control. The required surface
mud weight was defined as 915 pptf at
120 F. As the flowline temperature
deviates, the surface mud weight is
5. Establish the circulating mud temperature
profiles at different pump rates and time
6. Calculate the equivalent downhole mud
weights at the established temperature
profiles to ensure that hydrostatic
overbalance is maintained immediately
after stopping circulation. If necessary,
increase the hydrostatic overbalance and
repeat the above process until meeting all
the criteria: Under geothermal gradient,
the hydrostatic overbalance at the
maximum pore pressure gradient or top of
reservoir was designed to be 200 psi.
Since Pstatic tends to decrease when the
temperature profile is changed from
condition and the circulating temperature
profile is pump rate dependent, the
hydrostatic overbalances at different pump
rates must be analyzed to ensure that a
certain hydrostatic overbalance can be
maintained immediately after stopping
circulation .
It was established that if 915 pptf surface
mud weight is maintained at 120 F, the
equivalent downhole mud weight or Pstatic
at different pump rates will be about 910
pptf at different pump rates and the EMW
under geothermal gradient is 915 pptf at
depth 13873 ft TVD. This provides

SPE 150737

(200psi) during static condition and 131

psi minimum when immediately stopping
It was thus recommended that the surface
mud weight be maintained at 915 pptf at
120 F.
As flowline temperature changes, define how
the surface mud weight should be maintained:
obviously, the surface mud temperature will vary
depending on the flowrates and other drilling
parameters. The surface mud weight will then
change with this changing temperature. Once the
oil/water ratio of the mud is given, the hydraulics
program can be use to produce a surface mud
weight versus temperature chart as shown in
figure 4.
The chart shows that to maintain a constant
hydrostatic overbalance in the geothermal
temperature gradient, the surface mud weight
must be controlled based on the return mud
temperature. When the surface temperature
increases, the surface mud weight wiII be allowed
to reduce due to thermal expansion and vice
versa. For example, the surface mud weight will
be allowed to decrease from 930 pptf to 906 pptf
when the return temperature is increased from 70
to 150F. The effect is very significant.
7. Establish the ECD and design the
maximum applicable pump rate.
8. Analyze the tripping speeds based on
surge and swab pressures: Given the
bottom hole assembly (BHA), the ECD,
surge and swab pressures to ensure safe
operation can be determined.
Defining the standard mud temperature is a major
difficulty with this approach . The rule for the
standard temperature is that if the surface mud
weight is measured at the standard temperature,
the equivalent downhole mud weight under
geothermal temperature gradient will be exactly
the same as the surface mud weight .

The Procedure to Measure Surface Mud

It has already been shown that the conventional
procedure to measure the mud weight could lead
to significant errors. A new procedure to measure
the mud weight was applied. It involves measuring
surface mud weight and reporting it against a
temperature .

Advances in Mud Design and Challenges in HPHT Wells

Conventional Procedure of Measuring Mud

Conventionally, the following procedure is used
when measuring flowline/active pit mud weight:
Take a sample from the flowline or active
Measure the Marsh Funnel viscosity
Measure the mud temperature (after the
mud passes through the Marsh Funnel )
Measure the mud weight
Record the mud weight and the
Some engineers measure the mud temperature
directly from the flowline. Surface mud weight was
not correlated against the temperature and the
mud weight was always kept as a constant no
matter the mud temperatures.
The above procedure was monitored and the
results showed that the measured mud
temperature with such a procedure was 5 F to
15 F different from the mud temperature inside the
mud balance at the time of measuring the mud
weight. Consequently, about 1.5 to 4.5 pptf error in
the mud weight results. This is both risky and
easily preventable. A new procedure was
developed for measuring the surface mud weight
so that it can be correlated with temperature.

New Procedure for Measuring Surface Mud

From the effect of temperature on surface mud
weight, it is clear that surface mud weight will be
increased from 906 pptf to 930 pptf if the mud
temperature is decreased from 150 F to 70 F. On
average, for an oil to water ratio of 80/20 and 915
pptf fluid, the mud weight decreases by +/-3 pptf
with each increase of 10 F in temperature. The
differences in surface mud weight will directly
affect the equivalent mud weight under downhole
conditions, which is very significant considering
the small hydrostatic overbalance of 200 psi for
typical HPHT sections.
Therefore, accurate measurement of the surface
mud weight and the corresponding temperature
becomes important .
Due to the inaccuracy in the traditional way of
measuring flowline temperature and mud weight, a
new procedure was developed and implemented
for the HPHT sections of the wells in the Heron
field, the procedure is as follows:

SPE 150737

Take a sample from the flowline or active

Measure the viscosity (Marsh Funnel)
Flush the mud balance twice with the mud
Fill up the mud balance
Measure the mud temperature inside the
mud balance
Measure the mud weight
Record the temperature and mud weight
Measure and record the flowline

With the above procedure, the flowline

temperature and the mud temperature at which
the surface mud weight is measured are different.
Flowline temperature will be used to calculate the
equivalent mud weight during circulating
conditions and the temperature at which the
flowline mud weight is measured will be used as a
baseline for surface mud weight control. It is
pertinent to note that maintaining a constant
surface mud weight is not practical as the mud
weight tends to increase due to water evaporation
and accumulation of fine drill solids. Therefore, the
surface mud weight was allowed to fluctuate within
a 5 pptf (0.01 S.G.) band. That is to say, for the
given wells, the surface mud weight was allowed
to change from 915 to 920 pptf at 120 F. However,
the aim was to maintain the value at 915 pptf and
every attempt was made in this regard. The
surface mud weight versus temperature chart was
updated on a regular basis to correct for any
changes in oil/water ratio. This procedure was
proved to be successful.

Kill Mud Weight Calculation

In case of a well control situation, a kill mud is
required. The kill mud weight can be calculated
based on the shut-in-standpipe pressure.
However, the kill mud weight should be fine-tuned
based on the mud weight at the standard
temperature. For example, if the shut-in-pipe
pressure is reported to be 450 psi with a standard
mud weight of 915 pptf at 120 F and the TVD
depth is 15,000 ft, the kill mud weight can be
calculated to be
915+ (1000 * 450/ 15,000) = 945 pptf at 120 F.
When the kill mud is mixed, the surface kill mud
weight should be controlled based on the mud
weight versus temperature chart shown in Figure
5. From the chart, if the mud temperature in the kill
mud pit is 100 F, the surface kill mud weight
should be set at 951 pptf instead of 945 pptf
considering the effect of temperature on surface


Woha G. (Jnr) and Joel O.F.

mud weight. Obviously, if 945 pptf kill mud is

mixed in the pit, the well cannot be killed. This
procedure was not applied however, as no well
control incidents occurred during the project .

Field Results
No drilling related problems occurred during the
four HPHT sections. 20 days were allocated in the
drilling plan to drill the HPHT section of the well,
this section was completed in only 10 days. About
10 rig days were saved for the HPHT section
alone as no well control incidents occurred . In
other HPHT wells, well control incidents occurred
once or twice per well on average. The improved
performance was attributed, at least in part, to the
new procedures and mud design. To further
illustrate this point, maximum flowline temperature
reached 150 F during the HPHT sections, if
conventional procedures had been followed, the
mud weight would have maintained at 915 pptf at
(the elevated temperatures. This is equivalent to
a9.0 pptf increase in mud weight. This is
significant enough to fracture the formation .

HPHT drilling in the Shearwater Field,

North Sea, UK
The Shearwater project is located in Block 22/30b
of the UKCS with a reservoir pressure in excess of
15,000 psi and a maximum temperature of 380 F.
The principal factor making this project most
challenging is the extremely narrow drilling
windows, in the worst case less than 480 psi,
which is the difference between the pore and
fracture pressures . This was reported to be
much narrower than in other HPHT projects in the
North Sea. Erhu (2000) discussed the technical
issues including the mud design that contributed to
the success of the project. They include:
Mud system and formulation
Criteria for the optimum level of treatments
with emulsifier and oil wetting agent
Specification of critical mud properties
Management of bottom-hole pressure
Hydraulics program versus downhole
pressure tool
HPHT procedures
Operational practices
At this point, this study shall review the
specification of critical mud properties and the
HPHT procedures that guaranteed the success of
the shearwater campaign.

SPE 150737

Specification of Critical Mud Properties

In the HPHT sections, four mud properties,
including mud weight, S/W ratio, rheology and
HPHT fluid loss were defined as critical, which
were tightly controlled and maintained to optimize
the drilling operation .

Mud weight
The same new approach to the mud weight as
applied in the Heron fields and reported by Erhu
(1998) was applied in the Shearwater project. A
standard temperature was defined and used to
correlate the surface mud weight with the
equivalent downhole mud weight. Surface mud
weight was then controlled by a temperature
versus mud weight chart . The surface mud
weight was allowed to increase with decreasing
flowline temperature and it was also allowed to
decrease with increasing flowline temperature so
that a constant bottomhole pressure can be

S/W ratio
An increase in the brine phase or a reduction in
S/W (Synthetic/Water) ratio will significantly
increase the viscosity of the mud system, which
will reduce the requirement on viscosifier. The
traditional argument for low S/W ratio muds is that
the dispersed brine phase will increase the
suspension capacity due to the effect of hindered
settling, which minimizes barite sag . However,
with low S/W ratio, less viscosifier will be required,
which will reduce the formation of the gelling
structure. In theory, therefore, there should be an
optimum S/W ratio, at which the optimum
combination between the gelling structure for
suspension from viscosifier and the dispersed
brine droplets for hindered settling can be
achieved to minimize barite sag. Erhu (2000)
reported that the optimum S/W ratio for this project
at which minimum tendency for barite sag exists
was found to be 80:20.
During drilling operations the S/W ratio was
maintained in the range from
79:21 to 83:17 in the HPHT sections. The S/W
ratio was maintained in the specification
throughout the drilling phase, with an effort of
keeping the S/W ratio as close to 80:20 as
possible .

Mud Rheology
Traditionally, PV (plastic viscosity) and YP (yield
point) were used to define the specification of mud


Advances in Mud Design and Challenges in HPHT Wells

SPE 150737

rheology. These two parameters were used to

optimize mud formulations with the aim of
achieving as low a PV as possible. This worked
well in most wells due to the large tolerable errors.
However, for HPHT wells, this has significantly
increased the drilling problems such as lost
circulation, surging/swabbing and kicks . The
perception in the industry was that the higher the
PV, the higher the ECD . Therefore, every effort
was made to minimize the PV in the optimization
of mud formulations. In a 1998 paper, Fennel and
Gao argued that the PV and YP were not
relevant to the ECD as they were derived from the
600-rpm and 300-rpm readings of the Fann
viscometer. However, during a typical drilling
operation, the shear rate in the annulus is usually
in the range of 80 to 100 rpm equivalent. As a
matter of fact, it has been demonstrated that mud
with a lower PV can result in a higher ECD than
mud with a higher PV .
The PV and YP correlate to the shear rate range
inside the drillstring, where the majority of the
pump capacity is consumed. If there is a limited
pump capacity, the PV should be controlled as low
as practically possible. However, for HPHT wells,
the main concern is the pressure loss in the
annulus or ECD rather than the pump capacity.
Therefore, the
100-rpm reading should be controlled to minimize
the ECD. In the Shearwater project, the 100-rpm
reading was defined in the range of 35 to 42. A
reading of 35 was defined as the minimum
rheology as a further reduction would cause barite
sag and the reading of 42 was defined as the
simulations on the ECD . Mud was formulated
and maintained with optimum 100-rpm reading
instead of the lowest PV.
During normal drilling, an attempt was made to
maintain the rheology at the lower specification.
Before pulling out of hole for tripping, logging or
running casing, simulations with hydraulics
program were made to determine the maximum
tolerable rheology for surging and swabbing. The
mud was then treated to achieve the maximum
tolerable rheology prior to pulling out of hole to
minimize sag.

HPHT Procedures

HPHT fluid loss

In the reservoir sections, the HPHT fluid loss was
programmed to be less than 5 cc at the maximum
geothermal temperature from 360 F to 380 F and
in practice it was maintained below 3 cc to
minimize the risk of differential sticking in the
deeper section of the reservoir.

Due to the complexity and potential risks, training

is necessary. The objective of the training was to
make sure that all rig personnel were made aware
how their operations might affect the well and how
to react in case of an unexpected incident .

Operational practices were also developed and

used to achieve the outstanding drilling
performance in the Shearwater project.

Calibration of mud balance

To maintain an accurate mud weight, the mud
balance must be properly calibrated. The balance
should be calibrated with cesium formate heavy
brine at a density close to that of the active mud
system . The brine density should be measured
with two different hydrometers to ensure their
accuracy. In one of the HPHT sections, it was
found that an inaccurate reading from the
hydrometer led to a lighter mud being used in the
hole and this resulted in a loss of 24 hours rig
time . However, it could have led to a kick if it had
not been picked up from the PWD tools. To ensure
the accuracy of the mud balance, a procedure has
been developed for its calibration.

Pilot testing
HPHT muds are very sensitive to treatments. Pilot
tests must be carried out before adding any
chemicals into the active system. Furthermore, the
mud should be pilot tested on a continuous basis
to ensure that any depletion of additives is
compensated for, particularly for the emulsifier and
oil wetting agent. The effects of emulsifier and oil
wetting agent concentrations on the PV were
monitored on a regular basis to identify their
depletion and any necessary treatments were
deteriorated .

Mud sampling and testing

To ensure the mud stability in the reservoir
sections, a Fann 70 rheometer was used to
measure the mud rheology under downhole
pressures and temperatures by sending mud
samples onshore . Static barite sag was also
measured on a regular basis. Any signs of
increasing sag tendency could be identified and
rectified by chemical treatment.

HPHT training


Woha G. (Jnr) and Joel O.F.

Continuity of personnel
Mud engineers are part of the integrated part of
the rig team. In addition to mud treatments, the
mud engineers must work closely with the drilling
supervisor, the rig crew and other third parties. To
ensure that the operation can be run smoothly on
a continuous basis and lessons learnt can be
captured and carried from well to well, no changes
of the mud engineers should be allowed
throughout the project period and especially during
the HPHT sections . The above strategy proved
to be a success in Shearwater and is strongly
recommended on future multi-well HPHT projects.

Field Results
Application of the new procedures from mud
formulation to best operational practices has
proved to be a great success. The Shearwater
project has set new standards for the drilling of
HPHT wells.
The Shearwater project has outperformed the best
in class HPHT wells by about 60 days from
handover to production. It is also on record that of
the North Sea HPHT wells, that four out of the five
best performing wells were delivered by the
Shearwater project . In total, the six-well HPHT
project was 230 days ahead of schedule and $48
million below budget.

Recent developments and advances have
contributed to the successful drilling of many
HPHT wells. The importance of a stable mud
system, detailed drilling program, best practices
and correct field execution are fundamental. The
following main conclusions and recommendations
about fluid engineering and management in HPHT
wells have been drawn.
1. Rigorous laboratory testing is necessary to
generate detailed engineering guidelines
for HPHT drilling fluids. PVT information of
the base fluids is used to achieve an
accurate pressure profile of the well due to
hydrostatic pressure from the drilling fluid.
2. A compositional model to determine the
change in density due to pressure and
temperature has been presented. Each
component is considered in expressing
the density of a whole fluid as a function of
pressure and temperature. Performing the
density correction every 100 feet of
vertical depth has proven to be an
acceptable method for Equivalent Static
Density (ESD) prediction.

SPE 150737

3. A new viscometer has been designed

which has met a higher design criteria for
HPHT fluid testing 40,000 psig and
4. An accurate hydraulics program calibrated
with down-hole pressure gauge coupled
with a temperature simulator is a critical
5. A methodology is required to accurately
predict a constant hydrostatic overbalance
when the well temperature profile is the
geothermal gradient.
6. Once the minimum overbalance is
determined, the standard temperature for
surface mud weight must be defined.
Thereafter the mud weight is maintained
within a matrix which references the
7. The standard temperature concept has
proved to be useful in controlling the
surface mud weight.
8. There is an optimum S/W ratio, at which
minimum barite sag will be experienced.
The optimum S/W ratio is mud system
dependent, which should be determined
for the given operating conditions.
9. Mud should be calibrated and maintained
with 100-rpm reading instead of the lowest
10. The mud balance must be properly
calibrated using the new established
method. HPHT drilling cannot afford much
error in intended mud weight due to wrong
11. The rig crew should be briefed by the fluid
engineers on procedures that differ from
previously accepted practice and the role
that they have to play in management of
bottom-hole pressure.
12. The mud temperature must be reported
with any mud weight measurement.
13. Due
overbalance, particular care must be
exercised immediately after stopping
circulation. Any operations which have the
effect of reducing the bottomhole mud
pressure must be carried out carefully.
14. Continuity of key personnel is also
15. Use of cesium formate brines, a lowsolids, non-halide, high-density fluid which
has a good reputation as a shale drilling
fluid has met expectations.


Advances in Mud Design and Challenges in HPHT Wells

1. Ron, B. et al.: HP/HT Drilling Fluids
Challenges IADC/SPE 103731, presented at
the IADC/SPE Asia Pacific Drilling Technology
Conference, Bangkok, Thailand, 13-15
November 2006.
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Difficult HP/HT Wells With the Aid of Cesium
Formate Brines-A Performance Review
IADC/SPE 99068, presented at the IADC/SPE
Drilling Conference, Miami, Florida, U.S.A.,
21-23 February 2006.
3. U.S.
Administration. June
International Energy Outlook 2006. Report #
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Manual on Mud Engineering, Institute of
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Development Techniques, Editions Technip,
Institut Francais Du Petrole Publications,
Paris, 1996.
8. Baroid Drilling Fluids Inc., Manual of Drilling
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Texas, 1990.
9. Rommetveit, R., Fjelde, K.K., Aas, B., Day,
N.M., Low, E. and Schwartz, H.: HPHT Well
Control; an Integrated Approach, OTC 15322,
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10. Francis, P. A., Eigner, M.R.P., Patey, I.T.M.
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using Reservoir Conditions Core Flood
Testing, SPE 30088, SPE European
Formation Damage Conference, The Hague,
The Netherlands, 15-16 May 1995.
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Corrosion in High Temperature Gas Wells,
SPE Production Engineering, Vol. 5, pp 295298, August 1990.
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P.S., Nakamura, K. and Ueda, M.: Corrosion
Behaviour of S13Cr Martensitic Stainless
Steel in Completion Fluid, Corrosion/2003,
Paper No. 03097, NACE International 2003,
Houston, Texas, USA.

SPE 150737

13. Silverman, S.A., Bhavsar, R., Edwards, C.,

Virally, S., and Foxenberg, W.: Use of High
Strength Alloys and Elastomers in Heavy
Completion Brines, SPE 84515, SPE Annual
Technical Conference, Denver, Colorado,
October 5-8, 2003.
14. Stevens, R., Ke, M., Javora, P.H. and Qu, Q.:
Corrosion Cracking of Corrosion Resistant
Alloys in Completion Brine, SPE 90188, SPE
Annual Technical Conference, Houston,
Texas, USA, September 26-29, 2004.
15. Craig, B.D. and Webre, C.M.: Stress
Corrosion Cracking of Corrosion Resistant
Alloys in Brine Packer Fluids, SPE 93785,
presented at 2005 SPE Production and
Operations Symposium, Oklahoma City, OK,
USA, April 17-19 2005.
16. Leth-Olsen, H.: CO2 Corrosion in Bromide
and Formate Well Completion Brines, SPE
95072, SPE 2nd International Symposium on
Oilfield Corrosion, Aberdeen, UK, 13th May
17. Scoppio, L., Nice, P.I., Ndlans, S., LoPiccolo,
E.: Corrosion and Environmental Cracking
Testing of a High-Density Brine for HPHT
Field Application. Corrosion 2004 NACE,
Paper No. 04113, New Orleans, USA, March
28 April 1, (2004)
18. Mack, R., Williams C., Lester, S. and
Casassa, J.: Stress Corrosion Cracking of
Cold Worked 22Cr Duplex Stainless Steel
Production Tubing in High Density Clear Brine
CaCl2 Packer Fluids, Corrosion/2002, Paper
No. 02067, NACE International 2002,
Houston, Texas.
19. Osama, B., Ahmed, K.: Custom Designed
Water-Based-Mud System Helped Minimize
Hole Washouts in High-Temperature Wells:
Case History From Western Desert, Egypt
SPE/IADC 108292, presented at the
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Conference and Exhibition, Cairo, Egypt, 2224 October 2007.
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a Highly Depleted Reservoir: Case Study,
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Woha G. (Jnr) and Joel O.F.

of Oil Muds at High Pressures and

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Temperature Drill-In Problem, Journal of
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S.A., Zhou, S.,Treece, M.D. and Ansari, A.A.:
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& Gas Show and Conference, Bahrain, 1215th March 2005.
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SPE 150737

Source: Ron et al. SPE 103731

Source: Ron et al. SPE 103731


Advances in Mud Design and Challenges in HPHT Wells

Source: Ron et al. SPE 103731

Figure 5: Kill mud weight versus temperature

(kill mud weight = 945 pptf @ 120 Deg F).
Source: Erhu Gao et al. SPE 50581

SPE 150737

Figure 4: Surface mud weight versus

temperature (surface mud weight = 915 pptf @
120 Deg F).
Source: Erhu GAO Et al. SPE 50581