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SPE/IADC 140228

Case History: Lessons Learned From Retrieval of Coiled Tubing Stuck by

Massive Hydrate Plug When Well Testing in an Ultra-Deep Water Gas Well
in Mexico
Victor Vallejo Arrieta, Aciel Olivares Torralba, Pablo Crespo Hernandez, Eduardo Rafael Romn Garca, Petroleos
Mexicanos (PEMEX), Claudio Tigre Maia and Michael Guajardo, Halliburton

Copyright 2011, SPE/IADC Drilling Conference and Exhibition

This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE/IADC Drilling Conference and Exhibition held in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 13 March 2011.
This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE/IADC 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 or the International Association of Drilling Contractors and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not
necessarily reflect any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers or the International Association of Drilling Contractors, 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 or the International Association of Drilling Contractors 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/IADC copyright.

A well testing operation was performed to confirm productivity potential in an ultra-deepwater area where a 5660-ft
exploratory well had been drilled. This was a gas well, drilled from a semi-submersible drilling rig. As well testing from
submersible rigs is a critical and sensitive operation; all planning had been carefully reviewed by the operator to ensure a
safe, environmentally friendly operation.
The formation of hydrate plugs during ultra deepwater well testing is a critical concern, since water can be trapped and
form a solid crystalline structure around gas when there are low temperatures near the mud line. This hydrate formation is a
common occurrence in deepwater drilling operations, particularly while using water-based mud. Thermo-dynamic inhibition
may not be effective in these cases, as several limitations in achieving the required injection rate exist.
Oilwell testing operations in deep and ultra-deep water have become common practice around the world, and vast
experience with these types of operations has been acquired; experience with gas wells, however, has not been as
comprehensive, and only a few gas wells have been tested under the conditions presented in this type of scenario. Because of
the low number of gas wells tested in these deepwater conditions, best practice information is limited.
The intention of this paper is to present a case history and the lessons learned during a well testing operation in which
water production in the gas-well was greater than anticipated during the clean-up period. A massive hydrate plug was formed
while coiled tubing was being pulled out of hole, and the coiled tubing became stuck. The steps taken to free the coiled
tubing will be discussed, and the discussion will include:
Conditions that must be present to form hydrates
How the problem in this case was resolved
How to help prevent hydrate formation
Best practices for well testing in deep-water gas wells to maintain safety and economic viability.
This case history discusses a gas well being drilled with a semi-submersible drilling rig in ultra deep water, offshore Mexico.
The forming of gas hydrate during well-testing operations in deep and ultra-deepwater wells is a critical concern, since
several limitations in achieving the required injection rates needed for thermodynamic inhibition can occur. In the case
history discussed here, water production greater than anticipated during the clean up period occurred, and a hydrate plug was
observed while the coiled tubing was being pulled out of the hole to 2144 m.
The well testing operation was being conducted in an ultra-deepwater area in Mexico where an exploratory well had been
drilled in 1725 meters of water depth (5,660 ft). Figure 1 is a photo of the semisubmersible drilling rig, the Max Smith, that
was used for the welltest operation. After performing the logging evaluation, it was decided that well testing should be
performed to confirm well productivity. As well testing from a semi-submersible drilling rig is a very critical and sensitive
operation; all planning was documented and reviewed by Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX in order to ensure a safe and
environmentally friendly operation. In accordance with PEMEXs safety strategy, a dynamic positioning Class 2
environmental process boat (Toisa Pisces), capable to processing up to 20,000 BOFD, was contracted to receive all fluids
during the well testing operations. (Figure 2)


SPE/IADC 140228

Figure 1 Semisubmersible Drilling Rig, Max Smith

Figure 2 The dynamic positioning Class 2 environmental process boat (Toisa Pisces)

The formation of hydrate is one of the biggest concerns during a well-testing operation, and several actions must be taken
into account to prevent the formation of hydrates (Chen, S. et al., 2008). It is known that at certain thermodynamic
conditions, water is trapped and forms a solid crystalline structure around the gas. Due to having very low temperatures near
the mud line, the formation of hydrate commonly occurs in deepwater drilling operations around the world, especially while
drilling or well testing with water-based mud. (Shaughnessy, J. et al., 2007)
In the case-history well, the temperature at mud line is approximately 4.1 C and remains close to this value until 800
meters is reached, at which point, the temperature starts to increase (Graph 1).

SPE/IADC 140228



Graph 1: Labay location Temperature curve

Considerations for Well Testing in Deepwater Gas Wells:

It is well known that there must be four conditions present for hydrates to form:
1. Presence of Gas (especially methane)
2. Presence of Water
3. Pressure
4. Low Temperature
Graph 2: Conditions that must be present for hydrates to form.

r 120
b 100
u 80
r 60
s 40

Co nd itio ns in whic h hyd rates are

likely to b e f o rm ed
E X A M P LE A t g as p res sure o f 78
b ar hy d rates will f o rm
when tem p erature
f alls to 17.5 C
Natural Gas S G 0.65

Hy d ro carb o n Co m p o sitio n S G 0.8


G as Temperature, C




SPE/IADC 140228

Efforts are normally made to eliminate or minimize at least one of the above components or conditions in order to avoid
the formation of hydrate (Peavy, M.A. et al., 1994). On several previous occasions, increasing the temperature did not
provide the sought-after results, or the operation would have been too costly.
Another common method has been to circulate hot fluid through the kill or choke line, but the volume involved lacks a
good terminal distribution. In this situation, the coiled-tubing volume was very low (about 3 barrels up to mud line), and
displacing the hot brine yielded positive results in the hydrate disassociation.
As gas and water presence are also part of the well testing process, a few actions are recommended in order to avoid
hydrate remains. Routinely, measures are taken in order to reduce the hydrostatic pressure or separate the water from the gas
while flowing the well. This is accomplished by using appropriated cushions and flow regimes that will keep the well
conditions out of the hydrate formation envelope. The use of thermodynamic inhibitors such as methanol and ethylene glycol
are widely used also to prevent hydrates (Thieu, V, et al., 2005) These inhibitors are effective, but high concentrations are
required, especially when water production is observed. There are several limitations in the injection rate of inhibitors, since
the injection lines usually are restricted (generally -in.). The point of injection is also another issue to take into
consideration, as injected chemicals below the SSTT require special configurations, extra lines, and tools for most
Performing oil-well testing operations in deep and ultra-deep water scenarios became common practice around the world,
especially in GOM, West Africa and Brazil where vast experience with these operations was acquired.
On the other hand, the experience with gas wells has not been as vast, and there has been limited documentation of gas
wells being tested under these conditions. By comparing gas-well testing with similar oil-well testing operations when
considering hydrate formation, there have been several issues noted that require additional consideration:
Gas is one of the required components to form hydrate
The thermal capacity of the gas is poor, and the temperature, while flowing, will not change significantly as is the
case in oil wells
Gas has much lower specific gravity, and by managing the flow rate during the clean up period, it is possible to keep
the flow conditions outside of the hydrate
envelope by eliminating or minimizing
Exploratory Well: LABAY- 1
Drilling Rig : MAX SMITH

Coil Tubing Injector

Surface Flow Tree

Water Depth = 1722.89 M

1,000 M

Tubing puncher at 750 m

Tubing puncher at 875 m
Tubing puncher at 1000 m

Hydrate Plug , Top at +/- 850 m

Tubing puncher at 1150 m

Tubing puncher at 1301 m

BOP / Well Head 18

Mud Line Temperature = 4.5C (ROV)

1 Coi Tubing

Tubing puncher at 1780 m

1 Coil Tubing stuck

at 2144 m

2,000 M
20 Csg

Brine 1.27 gr/cc

2,151.09 m

13 3/8 Csg

2, 550.65 m

Mechanical Conditions and Operational

A drillstem test (DST) string with a 7-in. packer
and TCP gun was run into the hole, and after the
packer was set, the coiled-tubing injector was rigged
up. The process boat was connected, and 44 bbls of
10.5 ppg brine and 96 bbls of diesel were displaced
as a cushion. The exploratory well coiled-tubing
configuration and the well schematic of the
operations required to remove the hydrate plug are
shown in Figure 3. The following sections will
discuss the operations performed when it was
determined that a hydrate plug had formed, impeding
movement of the coiled tubing.
The select tester valve was opened, and 6300 psi
was applied to activate the firing head. The wellhead pressure was reduced to 1500 psi in order to
achieve a desirable underbalanced pressure of 200
psi. The well was perforated at 4045 meters with a 4
5/8-in. TCP Gun, 60-degree phase. The pressure at
the wellhead immediately rose from 1500 to 1800
psi, confirming that the desired underbalanced
condition had been reached, but the well was shut in
as the wind direction was unfavorable to the process
boat position. During this period, the wellhead
pressure rose to 2300 psi. It is important to note that
it is required to circulate the kill- and choke-line
drilling fluid in order to condition for hydrate
prevention as per the procedure for the drilling
contractor. It was assumed that during this operation
the select valve was closed by annulus

Packer Champ IV @ 2,876 m

9 5/8 Csg

3,004.26 m

3,000 M

Perforated with TCP 4 5/8, at 3025 3045 m

7 5/8 Liner

3,228 m

5 1/2 Liner

Water Interval (3,316 3,330 m

3,358 m

Total Depth 3,362 m

4,000 M

Figure 3 Coiled Tubing Configuration and Schematic of Required


SPE/IADC 140228



depressurization. This situation was verified at a later time during the operation.
Finally, the well was opened with a 1/8-in. choke.
The pressure dropped to zero after 7 minutes of flow (see Graph 3).
Simultaneously, the injection of glycol with a flow rate of 16 liters/hour was initiated through the injection nipple located
below the sub surface test tree (SSTT) at 1717 meters.
Graph 3: Flow until select valve was closed

Pressure Test

Pressure to activate firing Head

Well head pressure after firing = 1800 Psi

Well head pressure before firing = 1500

The coiled tubing was tripped into the hole to perform jet lifting with nitrogen and natural gas flow through the choke
manifold at 360 psi. The nitrogen jet lifting was applied without any well response until the coiled tubing was at 2220 meters.
Diesel was pumped through the coiled tubing up to 2837 meters, at which point, some resistance was observed. The annulus
was repressurized, and the pressure increased from 1500 psi (coiled-tubing pressure) to 2020 psi, confirming that the select
valve was closed. During this period, the coiled tubing was positioned at 2500 meters.
The well was opened with a 1/8-in. choke and 2127 psi. The pressure dropped to 1970 psi after 7 minutes. The choke was
changed to 3/16-in., and the pressure dropped to 1178 psi with a return of diesel, gas, and also, formation water (50,000 ppm
The pressure dropped to 60 psi, and the decision was made to restart the jet lift with diesel using 0.5 bbl/min. When the
coiled tubing was being pulled out of hole, it was confirmed that the tubing was stuck by a massive hydrate plug at the mud
line (2144 meters). The wellhead pressure at this time was 64 psi and dropped to zero. Tension was applied to the coiled
tubing in an attempt to release it. The tubing was worked several times by applying up to 32,000 lbf and 7360 psi
The main reasons for the hydrate formation were:
Use of a liquid cushion (diesel + brine), which increased the hydrostatic pressure, creating hydrate conditions
Restricted flow rate during the clean-up period that allowed liquid segregation / accumulation, creating conditions to
form hydrate
Unexpected high water content that made the Glycol injection inadequate for hydrate inhibition
The use of coiled tubing restricted the flow area (annulus of coiled tubing x DST) and increased the height of the
fluid (hydrostatic column), allowing entry into the hydrate envelope.
Actions Taken to Remove the Hydrate Plug that was Restricting the Coiled Tubing
After the first unsuccessful attempt to release the coiled tubing by increasing the top tension with up to 32,000 lbf and 7360
psi, it was decided to kill the well. The annulus was pressurized with 4100 psi, and the rupture disk valve (rupture disk was


SPE/IADC 140228

set to 4000 psi) was open. After this operation is performed, the RD valve can no longer be closed. Later, it was confirmed
that the valve (tester valve) was locked in the open position, allowing the formation below (perforated) to remain exposed
during the hydrate dissasociation process.
77 bbl of brine, 1.27 gr/cc with 10% of glycol at 110F, was injected through the coiled tubing in an attempt to
disassociate the hydrate thermo-dynamically. This operation was helpful, as it partially desolved the hydrate close to the
coiled tubing wall, noted later in the operation. There was also an attempt to inject hot brine with 10% glycol at 2000 to 6500
psi that proved to be ineffective. The measures performed in Mexico are very similar to the operations attempted in deep
water Brazil (Vitullo et al., 2005), where coiled tubing had became stuck in similar conditions. From this and other
experiences, it has become clear that thermal methods are unlikely to be effective, because of the heat transfer that occurs in a
deepwater environment.
The coiled tubing was cut above the injector, and a connector was installed. At this point, 1200 psi was applied in the
annulus, which confirmed that the select valve was open and that the formation below (perforated) was exposed. As the
coiled tubing bottomhole assembly (BHA) had a check valve in its configuration, the well could not flow through the coiled
tubing nor could it flow through the hydrate plug that was formed.
The free point indicator, normally used to define the approximate location of the top of a hydrate (above this depth, the
coiled tubing is free) could have been used had one been available in the country at the time. Instead, tt was decided to
perforate the coiled tubing with explosives to define the top of hydrate plug by using reverse circulation.
A 7/8-in. rabbit was passed through the coiled tubing up to 1300 meters, and the first perforation was performed at 1301
meters in order to allow nitrogen circulation and hydrostatic removal. As reverse circulation was not obtained, another
perforation was performed at 1000 meters (upon removal of the coiled tubing, it was confirmed that the depth of this puncher
was not 1000 m, it had erroneously punched at 1125 m), which was also unsuccessful in obtaining circulation. This indicated
that the top of hydrate plug was above this depth.
First, it was decided to cut the coiled tubing with a thermal cutter at 999 meters. However this idea was abandoned, and a
third hole at 750 meters was punched. Since reverse circulation was confirmed, it was determined that the top of the hydrate
plug was below 750 meters. Fifteen barrels of glycol were displaced, which resulted in another unsuccessful attempt to
dissociate the hydrate plug.
Nitrogen was circulated through the hole at 750 meters to eliminate the hydrostatic above the hydrate plug (annulus
between DST and coiled tubing) in order to disassociate the hydrate. A line to the flaire was assembled, and lines were kept
open with zero pressure. After 4 hours, the gas escaping
from the hydrate dissociation started to burn at the flaire.
There was a steady application of 35,000 lbf of tension on
coiled tubing in an attempt to free it from the hydrate. The
process of injecting nitrogen by reverse circulation to clean
up and eliminate hydrostatic and burn gas from hydrate
was repeated several times. After 11 days, the coiled tubing
experienced partial movement as the tension force
decreased from 26,000- to 16,000 lbf.
Eight attempts were made to lift the well with nitrogen
in order to release the coiled tubing, but there was no gas
flow behind the coiled tubing, and the hydrate remained.
The decision was made to once again circulate nitrogen to
remove the hydrostatic and wait for disassociation, while
continuing to burn the gas released from the hydrate plug
during these operations. (Figure 4)
The coiled tubing was again perforated at 1150 meters
in order to allow nitrogen circulation and hydrostatic
removal. No circulation was obtained.
When the coiled tubing was perforated at 875 meters,
circulation was observed.
The hydrate was disassociating, and burning released
gas. At 1780 meters (below hydrate plug) another hole was
perforated, which confirmed that there was gas trapped
below the hydrate plug, as the pressure increased from 600
Figure 4 Hydrate Gas burning at the flair
to 1900 psi. This gas was injected into the formation by
bull head. The gas was bull headed above the flapper
valve. During this operation, it was observed that the select valve was closed (injection pressure increased to 3000 psi).
Pressure was applied to the annulus (around 1400 psi) in attempt to circulate through the rupture-disk valve. As the select
valve was closed, an upwards force was generated on the coiled tubing, which assisted in its release from the hydrate with
6,000 lbf of drag (through 24 meters).

SPE/IADC 140228



All the coiled tubing (cut in 9-meter pieces with a mechanical cutter) was retrieved. The retrievable packer was released,
and the coiled tubing lift frame injector was laid down. The well fluid was changed out, and the surface flow head was laid
The string was pulled out to 2645 meters, with the presence of gas from the hydrate disassociation. As the level of gas
increased up to 4400 ppm with 70 psi in the well head, it was decided to reinstall coiled tubing to remove the remaining
hydrate. The lift frame was re-installed, and the coiled tubing run in hole with a 2.3-in. bit and a 1-11/16-in. mud motor. The
remaining hydrate was drilled out by circulating 1.37 synthetic drilling fluid. No resistance was observed up to the sub
surface test tree (SSTT) depth at 1319 meters. Finally, the DST was pulled without setting of any gas alarm.
Conclusions and Lessons Learned
Performing well testing operations in ultra deepwater scenarios requires intensive pre-planning and understanding of possible
hydrate formation. Flowing gas wells with a high content of water is a very critical operation. Even if the best well-testing
practices in prevention of hydrates are applied, hydrates can still form.
Availability of coiled tubing is very important, as it is a recommended practice that it be used as a remedial tool to remove
hydrates. In this case history, the coiled tubing was run below the mud line, where it became stuck and could not be used to
control and solve the hydrate plug situation.
Below is a list of valuable lessons learned from this operation:
It is highly recommended that coiled tubing be used carefully. The coiled tubing should be kept inside the injector to
be used in the event of hydrate formation. The coiled tubing should be used to drill out the hydrate with a bit and
turbine or even for jet lifting with nitrogen to remove the fluids above the hydrate plug and disassociate the hydrate.
If coiled tubing is used to clean up / lift the produced fluids, it should be positioned above the hydrate envelope
(about 600 to 700 meters below the rotary table).
A complete understanding of the hydrate formation process is mandatory. As the presence of water, gas, and
temperature are variables that are very difficult to change and control, most actions must be planned to minimize the
fourth required hydrate component hydrostatic pressure.
Eliminating the hydrostatic pressure by circulating nitrogen has proven to be the most effective process to dissolve
the hydrate plug when coiled tubing is stuck as was the case in the situation discussed in this paper.
As small volumes were involved in this operation, the circulation of hot brine through the coiled tubing proved to be
helpful during depressurization.

As effective glycol injection requires a high flow rate, and injection nipples with larger injection lines are required.
In the situation in this study, the maximum flow rate achieved (about 30 liter/hour) was insufficient for an effective
prevention of hydrate.
The use of other inhibitors such as methanol or kinetic inhibitors should be considered as an alternative during the
planning phase of well testing.
Pulling out the string completely for even partially plugged hydrate situations must be avoided, as the trapped gas in
the hydrate will energetically flow out after it is dissociated. One cubic meter of methane hydrate, when
dissociated, can contain 165 to 180 m3 of methane gas.
Unless stimulation jobs, such acidization or gravel packing, are required, it is recommended that synthetic drilling
fluid be used during well testing to not only prevent hydrate formation, but also, to prevent losses after the welltesting operation is completed.
The use of tubing punch perforation through the coiled tubing was very important to circulate nitrogen, eliminate
hydrostatic pressure above the plug, and dissolve/disassociate the hydrate.
After the coiled tubing has been released, it is highly recommended that the string be drifted to confirm that all
hydrate has been removed.
The use of a drill bit and turbine to remove the remaining hydrate proved to be effective.
During the clean up period, it is recommended that the well be flowed at the maximum flow rate to maximize water
or brine removal. Consideration of sand production and burn capabilities must be taken into account.
The use of a circulation valve such as the OMNI valve is recommended to allow nitrogen displacement. Experiences
in Brazil and other areas have proven that solids content in lower mud weights are not normally critical for DST
valve actuation.
When minimization of hydrostatic pressure during the initial flow is required, the use of a nitrogen cushion is
It is very important to monitor all well testing parameters and well responses such as:
1. annulus pressure
2. chemical injection pressure,
3. coiled tubing pressure,
4. well head pressure, etc.


SPE/IADC 140228

Changes in parameters can give an indication about flow conditions.

The authors would like to thank the management of PEMEX and Halliburton for allowing the publication of this paper and
providing all their support during the testing and development of this paper.
Chen, S.W., Gong, W.X., Antle, G.: DST Design for Deepwater Wells with Potential Gas Hydrate Problems, SPE 19162 presented at the
Offshore Technology Conference, 5-8 May 2008, Houston, Texas, USA.
Peavy, M.A., Cayias, J.L., Hydrate Formation/Inhibition During Deepwater Subsea Completion Operations, Paper No. 28477 presented
at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, 25-28 September 1994, New Orleans, Louisiana
Shaughnessy, J., Daugherty, W., Graff, R., and Durkee, T., More Ultradeepwater Drilling Problems, SPE/IADC 105792, SPE/IADC
Drilling Conference, 20-22 February 2007, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Thieu, V., Frostman, L.M.: Use of Low-Dosage Hydrate Inhibitors in Sour Systems, paper SPE 93450 presented at the SPE International
Symposium on Oilfield Chemistry, 2-4 February 2005, The Woodlands, Texas.
Vitullo, L.H.S., Freitas, A.M., Gaspari, E., and Carvalho, P.R.R., Formation and Removal of a Hydrate Plug Formed in the Annulus
Between Coiled Tubing and Drill String, Paper No. OTC17229, presented at the 2005 OTC, Houston, Texas.

SI Metric Conversion Factors


x 3.785 412
x 3.048*
x 2.54*
x 6.894 757
x 1.0*
x 9.869 233
x 1.589 873

E - 03
E - 01
E + 00
E + 00
E 03
E - 04
E - 01

= m3
= cm
= kPa
= Pa
= m3
= m3