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ARMA 10-407

Abnormal Pore Pressure Mechanisms in Brazil

Freire, H. L.V. and Falco, J.L.
PETROBRAS, Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro,Brasil

Silva, C.F. and Barghigiani, L.M.

PUC-RJ, Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro,Brasil
Copyright 2010 ARMA, American Rock Mechanics Association


This paper was prepared for presentation at the 44 US Rock Mechanics Symposium and 5
Symposium, held in Salt Lake City, UT June 2730, 2010.

U.S.-Canada Rock Mechanics

This paper was selected for presentation at the symposium by an ARMA Technical Program Committee based on a technical and
critical review of the paper by a minimum of two technical reviewers. The material, as presented, does not necessarily reflect any
position of ARMA, its officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper for commercial
purposes without the written consent of ARMA 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 acknowledgement of where and by whom
the paper was presented.

During the planning phase of an exploratory well, the evaluation of geopressures is used to set the depth of casing shoes
and to avoid operational problems during the execution phase such as: wellbore stability, circulation losses, stuck pipe,
kicks and blowouts, among others.
The main mechanism of abnormal pore pressure generation in sedimentary basins is undercompaction, due to loss of
balance during the expulsion of the pore fluids during the compaction process. This may happen in situations where the
remaining fluids have no migration options due to the presence of impermeable rocks.
The secondary mechanisms of abnormal pore pressure generation may also be present and impossible to quatify.
Amongst these mechanisms, we can identify: tectonics, salt dome intrusions, high temperatures, etc. High Pressure High
Temperature (HPHT) wells are a class of wells that present a bottom hole temperature (BHT) equal or higher than 300F
(150C) and bottom hole pressures (BHP) above 10,000 psi or pressure gradient over 0.8 psi/ft (2.6 psi/m).
The lateral pressure transfer is another abnormal pore pressure generation mechanism, in which the migration of pore
fluids may occur due to geometric elevation difference within the same layer, or the presence of a connecting geological
This paper presents a study of an area where the overpressure can be generated by all four mechanisms. The post mortem
analysis of the drilling of four HP and HT wells in the southeast of Brazil will provide data to identify the contribution of
the primary and secondary mechanisms to the levels of pore pressure found.



The costs associated with non productive time during the

drilling phase could cause great losses to the drilling
industry. Unknown geopressure gradients can generate
additional operational complications such as: excessive
torques and drag, stuck pipe, fluid influx from the
formation to the well (kick), which if not duly controlled
can result in a blowout. These problems are responsible
for drilling downtimes and additional costs. Therefore
the geomechanical study is so important during the well
design phase.
The typical results of the geomechanical analysis are
gradient curves of pore pressure (PP), fracture (FG),
overburden (OG) and collapse (CG) that allow the
setting of the optimized mud weight (MW) considering
the available operational window and the shoe setting
This study will focus on the pore pressure gradient
evaluation considering the influence of some
mechanisms that generate pressures above the
hydrostatic (over-pressured zones) identified in that

2.1. Undercompaction
In a normal pressure zone, the balance of rock fluid
pressure (oil, water or gas) and the weight of the
overlying sediments can be established considering the
expulsion of fluids contained in the rock pores during
the burial phase and compaction process. When no fluid
escapes, the fluid gets confined in the porous rock
supporting part of the sediment weight adding to the
pore-fluid pressure. This process leads to an increase in
pore pressure and is considered the primary mechanism
of abnormal pore pressure generation, the so called
disequilibrium compaction or undercompaction.

of low permeability rock the fluid will be restrained in

the rock pores causing an increase in pore pressure and
resulting in an overpressured zone. This increase can be
higher if there is hydrocarbon generation due to the
thermal effect.

2.3. Effects of Pressure Transmission

The unequal elevations of the top and base of the
permeable formation can cause pressure transference.
The movement of the fluid is guided by pressure
differences through a connecting channel as, for
example, an imperfection or permeable inclined
Although it is not a primary mechanism of pore pressure
generation in sedimentary basins, the pore pressure
communication can be the main control in the
distribution of over-pressure. This can lead to fluid and
pressure redistribution in the reservoir. The pore
pressure at the base of the inclined structure is
transmitted to the structural crests, and so depending on
the depth reduction, the pressure gradient observed at the
top of the structure will be higher than that at the base.

2.4. Effects of the salt Diapirsm and Mobility

Salt domes can have different effects on abnormal
pressure generation: a passive role (as a seal) or an
active role (as a pressure generator or diagenetic
process). Salt formations are totally impermeable, which
makes them an almost perfect seal. Because of their
inherent plasticity they also have some mobility. This is
especially true for halite. Due to salt mobility, the effect
of sediment shearing near the salt can increase pore
pressures to a higher levels that can approach the local
mean stress level (Figure 1).
The sediments below the salt layer may have unique
characteristics that require a different approach to pore
pressure evaluation.

The disequilibrium of the compacting process occurs

when a fast deposition of thick layers of rocks with low
permeability, as for example clays, shales and silt takes
place. The identification of the undercompaction process
in an area could be made through the analysis of
electrical logs, mainly density, resistivity and sonic.

2.2. Thermal Effects

The fast burial in high temperature zones can generate an
expansion of the rock and of the fluids contained in the
rock pores. As the thermal coefficient of expansion of
the fluids is higher than that of the matrix rock, it creates
a relative increase in the fluid volumes in relation to the
rock volume, and if the overlying sediment is composed

Fig. 1. Overpressured zones affected by a salt diapir (adapted

from Ref. 1)

For this case study four wells were analyzed, well A, B,
C and D. Figure 2 shows wells relative position and
Table 1 shows their characteristics.

Fig. 3. Geological Cross-Section

3.1. Primary mechanism contribution

Evidences of undercompaction

Fig. 2. Distance between the wells

Table 1. Characteristics of the wells


Water depth (m)

TVD/MD (m)




These vertical wells are in an uncommon region where

apparently four generating mechanisms of abnormally
high pore pressure exist, and this has affected their
drilling process. Figure 3 shows a schematically
geologic section of the region under analysis.

Most pore pressure estimation methodologies use logs,

seismic data or parameters that indicate porosity and in
which it is possible to trace a line of normal compaction
tendency, as in the sonic log. Most methodologies are to
be applied to argillaceous formations (shales). Eatons
Method, which considers undercompaction as the
primary mechanism of abnormal pore pressure
generation, is the methodology used for pore pressure
estimation in this case study.
Figures 4 and 5 illustrate sonic logs, shale points and the
assumed normal compaction trend line in each well. In
this figure the undercompacted intervals are circled.

When observing the sonic log, in the final well intervals,

it is possible to see the undercompaction effect
generating high pore pressure.
Despite this pore
pressure level, this mechanism does not justify the level
of pore pressure measured and the observed kicks.
Analyzing the curves showed on Figures 6 and 7, the
circled intervals have pore pressures between 11.0 and
12.0 ppg due to undercompaction as the primary pore
pressure generating mechanism.

Fig. 4. Well sonic logs of wells A and B

Fig. 6. Calculated Gradients Primary Mechanism in wells A

and B

Fig. 5. Well sonic logs of wells C and D

Fig. 8. Mechanism of pressure transference

The pressure increase is due to the difference in

geometric elevation through the sandstone layer
(717meters), the reservoir permeability and the reservoir
fluid density. Since there is no other well in this area it
was not possible to verify the contribution of this
Evidences of high pressures and high temperatures

Fig. 7. Pore Pressure Gradients Primary Mechanism in wells

C and D

2.2. Contribution of the secondary mechanisms

Evidences of lateral pressure transfer
After the drilling stages, geological analysis shows that
different hydrocarbon concentrations were observed in
the reservoirs leading to a system of high complexity,
where each reservoir is a different compartment. Due to
this diagnosis it is possible to conclude that the faults
generated by vertical salt movement are sealing faults
that would not allow fluid migration. As the wells
considered on this study were drilled between these
faults, there is no physical connection that allows the
lateral communication between their reservoirs, but it
can occur for other wells in this area depending on their
The well C is near to the top of the structure between
two faults, due to its position there is a strong possibility
of occurrence of lateral pore pressure transference from
the bottom of the structure to the top (Fig. 8).

All wells crossed a region of high pressure, where

pressures levels measured in wells A, C and D showed
values above 10,000 psi indicating HP. Table 2 shows
the maximum magnitude of pressure measured in the
The measured pressure in well B did not achieve 10,000
psi, but almost this limit (9958 psi), and the drilling
process required the same treatment.

Table 2. Maximum pressure measured in the wells


Depth (m)

Pore Pressure

Pressure (psi)





In relation to the temperature (Table 3), wells A and B

registered temperatures under 300F, and wells C and D
registered temperatures over 300F. Wells C and D were
classified as HPHT.

Table 3. Measured temperature in the wells


Depth (m)






registered. The pore pressure increase (around 3.0 ppg)

may be caused by the salt dome and by the high
The same problem (kick and losses) occurred during the
drilling of well B. In this well the pore pressure increase
due to the presence of the salt dome and the temperature
was 4.0 ppg at 3965 meters.
The Figure 10 shows the pore pressure in wells C and D.

Contribution of Secondary Mechanism

The pore pressure increase due to the secondary
mechanism can be observed on the graphics of Figures 9
and 10.
The hatched curves were calibrated considering the
pressure measured and the kicks observed.
Figure 9 shows the pore pressure curves of wells A and

Fig. 10. Pore Pressure Gradients for wells C and D

During the drilling of well C a kick of 14.5 ppg at 4300

m was observed even after an increase on mud weight.
The total pressure increase of 5.0 ppg may possibly have
been caused not only by the salt dome and temperature,
but also by the lateral pressure transference, indicating
the action of three pore pressure mechanisms.
Fig. 9. Gradients for wells A and B

During the drilling of well A, a kick occurred. The

estimated pore pressure at the kick formation was 14.0
ppg at 4383 meters and after the kick control, during the
drilling of the interval below, fluid losses were

Considering the experience acquired from the other three

wells, during the drilling of well D no kicks were
registered. The increase of pore pressure due to the
secondary mechanism is 2.8 ppg, which is lower than in
the others. The reduction in the level of pore pressure
increase is due to fact that well D was not as near to the
salt dome as the other wells.

In all wells analyzed with the Eaton method,
undercompaction was identified in its final intervals,
having as a maximum pore pressure value of 11.8lb/gal
(well C). Predominance of shales was identified at these
In the analyzed region, under 4000 meters, the
generation of hydrocarbons has contributed to pore
pressure increase, due to high temperatures and the
organic substance in the shales between the sandstones
above the salt layer.
The salt dome could have modified the stress state of
rocks in the final interval of the wells and also could
have been responsible for the pore pressure increment in
this area. In this paper four mechanisms of abnormally
high pore pressure generation were identified.
These analyses proved the difficulty of abnormal pore
pressure prediction and demonstrated the contribution of
the primary and secondary mechanisms separately. The
complexity of the estimation is caused by simultaneous
contribution of the primary and secondary mechanisms
to the abnormal pore pressure generation.

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