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IPTC 15406

Deploying Multi-Stage Completion Technology in HPHT Applications

Rob Oberhofer, SPE, Packers Plus Energy Services

Copyright 2011, International Petroleum Technology Conference

This paper was prepared for presentation at the International Petroleum Technology Conference held in Bangkok, Thailand, 7–9 February 2012.

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Over the last several years open hole, multi-stage fracturing systems (OHMS) have proven to be an effective and
efficient completion technology in many unconventional reservoirs. To date, OHMS completion technology has
been limited to a maximum differential pressure of 68.9 MPa (10,000 psi) while performing the fracture stimulation
treatment. As the industry targets deeper formations while drilling longer horizontal laterals, some wells now
require treatment pressures higher than 68.9 MPa (10,000 psi) to perform the desired stimulation and realize the
added production potential OHMS technology offers. As a result, there is a need for OHMS completion tools
capable of handling very high pressure/high temperature (HPHT) conditions.

The challenge in creating HPHT completion tools is in the material requirements. Considerations must be made
regarding how to ensure integrity of the seal between the liner and the annulus, the gripping capability of the
packer elements, and the ability of the materials to withstand the downhole conditions. HPHT OHMS tools were
designed and manufactured with improved metal alloy and premium seal technology. The basic design and
function of this HPHT system is the same as the standard OHMS; therefore, the HPHT tools build on the field-
proven technology.

Case study wells are presented in a recently developed, deep shale gas formation just east of the Rocky
Mountains with highly overpressured downhole conditions. This, combined with a high fracture gradient, resulted
in sub-optimal fracture initiation with the standard OHMS. By employing the HPHT OHMS, higher treating
pressures were achieved with successful treatment results. Using this technology, several additional wells have
been completed in the same geographical field and implemented in other HPHT applications.


Over the last five years (2007 – 2011), more than 5,000 horizontal wellbores have been completed using OHMS
in unconventional shales, tight sandstones and tight carbonate reservoirs in Western Canada. In addition to
providing time and cost reductions, OHMS completions have realized production benefits compared to
conventional completion methods because they allow contribution from natural fractures and the open hole lateral
(Snyder and Seale, 2011; Edwards et al., 2010; Houston et al., 2010; Lohoefer et al., 2010; Lohoefer et al.,
2010b; Samuelson et al., 2008).

OHMS fracturing method. With the advancement of horizontal drilling and completion practices in recent years,
many wells are now drilled horizontally with the intention to fracture stimulate multiple intervals. A very common
technique has been to complete the well with a multi-stage fracturing system that is installed on a liner in the open
hole without cementing the horizontal (Seale et al., 2006; Seale, 2007) (Fig. 1).
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Fig. 1—Typical OHMS completion design.

OHMS employ hydraulically set, mechanical packers to isolate sections of the wellbore. Fracture ports are placed
between the packers, and are opened either by hydraulic tubing pressure alone or by dropping size-specific
actuation balls that seat and seal inside the fracture port allowing for tubing pressure to open the port. The
treatment is performed in one operation, starting from the toe of the well moving toward the heel. This method
enables multiple fracture treatments to be selectively placed across the production interval and the well efficiently
stimulated in one continuous pumping operation. Once stimulation is complete, all intervals can be immediately
flowed back and the well brought on production.

Requirement for HPHT OHMS. To date, OHMS completion technologies have been limited to a maximum
differential pressure rating of 68.9 MPa (10,000 psi). Although many OHMS stimulation treatments are completed
well within the limitations of the downhole equipment, there is an increasing requirement for higher pressure and
temperature rated systems. As more challenging wells are drilled and completed in unconventional reservoirs, the
combination of several parameters can lead to increased pressure requirements. Some of these factors are as

Vertical depth. As new areas of exploration are leading towards deeper formations and with the acceptance
of OHMS technology at depths from 1,500 – 3,000 m (4,920 – 9,840 ft) true vertical depth (TVD), many
operators are exploring the possibility of drilling horizontal wells in deeper formations with the intention of
running OHMS completions. With greater depth comes higher bottom hole temperature (BHT) and greater
challenges associated with metallurgy and elastomer integrity. Forces acting on downhole equipment also
must be considered during fracturing operations with regards to differential pressure and changes in

Over or underpressured formations. With greater depths, higher bottom hole pressures (BHP) are naturally
observed. However, an overpressured zone could also lead to increased treating pressure requirements
during fracturing operations. Thus, the OHMS must be designed to withstand the increased differential
pressures in these zones. Most OHMS completions have been installed using a conventional liner hanger
packer with a casing string specifically used for fracturing operations back to surface. Therefore, differential
pressures on this casing string must be accounted for. On the other hand, an underpressured formation could
lead to challenges where the differential pressure across an isolated interval is greater than expected. A burst
scenario can be encountered if a high treating pressure is required for a lower interval while an upper interval
(in the horizontal or in the vertical) is exposed to a lower BHP.

High fracture gradients or high breakdown pressures. Unconventional reservoirs commonly have very
high fracture gradients resulting in high breakdown pressures and thus require high treating pressures to
initiate a fracture. OHMS have shown to reduce breakdown pressures compared to conventional completion
methods because the fracture can initiate anywhere along the open hole interval, which significantly
decreases fracture tortuosity (Snyder et al., 2011). Also, with the trend toward tighter interval spacing
between fractures, breakdown pressures can be elevated as a direct result of the fractures being placed
closer together. Often an interval is abandoned during fracturing because the maximum treating pressure is
reached prior to achieving breakdown. However, if higher pressures could be applied, breakdown of the
formation could be achieved and a fracture initiated.

Longer horizontal laterals and increased pumping rates. Many reservoirs require effective stimulation of
long laterals to be considered economically feasible to develop. Also, many of the unconventional reservoirs
are currently being fractured at very high rates in order to create a complex fracture network. This lateral
length and pumping rate increase can greatly affect the amount of tubular friction in the wellbore when
IPTC 15406 3

stimulating the reservoir, particularly for intervals closer to the toe of the horizontal. Again, the combination of
these factors requires greater pumping pressure and potentially calls for higher pressure rated completion

Design criteria for HPHT OHMS

In response to the identified need for a HPHT system, a final design was created with the goal of manufacturing
open hole completion tools capable of withstanding differential pressures up to 103.4 MPa (15,000 psi) and
withstand a BHT up to 204°C (400 °F).

Some of the design requirements for the HPHT OHMS tools were as follows: burst and collapse rating greater
than 103.4 MPa (15,000 psi) for all components; maintain thermal stability despite extreme temperature
fluctuations that occur as a result of fracture operations while using industry standard water-based or
hydrocarbon-based fluids; keep the inside diameter (ID) of the tools as large as possible; be used in applications
with open hole diameters of 5⅞ in., 6 in. and 6⅛ in.; have the ability to re-close the fracture ports; have the
actuation ball and sealing mechanism in the fracture port maintain a pressure rating of 103.4 MPa (15,000 psi);
and have both the actuation balls and the seat inside the fracture ports be millable.

The results. The resulting completion tools include the HPHT fracture port and the HPHT open hole packer (Fig.
2). The initial tools completed were designed to be run on 114.3 mm (4.5 in.) casing and to be installed in 5⅞ in.,
6 in. and 6⅛ in. open hole sizes. The composition of the HPHT OHMS tools (in terms of the metal alloy and
premium seal technology used) differs from the standard OHMS tools, however the basic design and function is
the same. Therefore, the HPHT OHMS tools build on the current field-proven technology.

Fig. 2—HPHT fracture port (above) and HPHT open hole packer (below) specifically designed for 103.4
MPa (15,000 psi) applications.

Case Studies

Two horizontal wells were recently completed in a deep shale gas formation just east of the Rocky Mountains
(Fig. 3) with highly overpressured downhole conditions using the newly designed 103.4 MPa (15,000 psi) rated
HPHT OHMS completion tools. Prior to using the HPHT tools, the operator completed two horizontal wells with
the 68.9 MPa (10,000 psi) rated OHMS tools. Both wells reached the pressure limitations of the downhole tools
during stimulation; therefore, the operator saw the need to have the ability to increase the applied treating
pressure in order to perform the desired stimulation. When the two subsequent wells were fractured using the
HPHT OHMS tools, the operator was able to complete the fracture program at the anticipated pumping rates and
place the planned proppant per stage as expected. While performing these jobs, surface treating pressures
exceeded 80 MPa (11,603 psi) on several stages and the maximum surface treating pressure observed was 87
MPa (12,618 psi) (Fig. 4).
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Fig. 3—Map of Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) showing the Deep Basin area.

The second of the two wells was fractured with five stages over an 865 m (2,837 ft) lateral at a TVD of 2,850 m
(9,348 ft). Figure 4 shows the stage that was treated at the highest pressure throughout the job. After the port was
opened and a feed rate was established, the pumps were shut down with a gelled hydrocarbon fluid in the well.
Upon shut-in, the instantaneous shut-in pressure (ISIP) was recorded at 50 MPa. From this, a fracture gradient
can be calculated as 25.5 kPa/m (1.13 psi/ft) [(50,000 kPa + 8 kPa/m x 2,850 m) / 2,850 m = 25.5 kPa/m] for this
stage. After pumping was resumed, the stage was stimulated at a rate of 6 m3/min (37.7 bpm) and 120 tonnes
(264,554 lbs) of proppant was placed at a maximum concentration of 600 kg/m3 (5.0 ppg). The surface treating
pressure for the entire stage was over 70 MPa (10,153 psi); however, as the flush, or clean fluid, was started in
order to land the next actuation ball, pressure began to increase due to the loss in hydrostatic head. Even though
rate was reduced to land the ball, the surface treating pressure increased to approximately 80 MPa (11,603 psi).
Once the ball landed, pressure increased to 87 MPa (12,618 psi) to open the next fracture port. After the fracture
stimulation was complete all stages of the well were immediately flowed back and ready for production.

Fig. 4—Fracture stimulation chart of one stage of OHMS with a maximum surface treating pressure of 87
MPa (12,618 psi).
IPTC 15406 5

After successful completion of the first two HPHT wells, several other operators have elected to use this system in
a similar, highly overpressured zone in the Deep Basin area that has started to be developed. Again, the main
reason for use in this area is due to high breakdown pressures. However, some operators are pumping at much
higher rates, over longer laterals, and completing over 20 stages, further adding to the treatment pressure
requirements. Although development in this zone is still in its infancy, many of the completion systems that have
been installed are the HPHT OHMS, and many operators who are looking to begin development in this area are
currently designing their completions using the HPHT OHMS.


HPHT OHMS completion tools were developed to allow operators to use a proven technology in reservoirs that
could require up to a 103.4 MPa (15,000 psi) differential pressure rating. Often, fracture treatments that have not
been executed as designed are due to treating pressures reaching the limitations of the tools. This could be due
to the combination of pressures required to initiate a fracture as a result of high breakdown pressures in
overpressured reservoirs and the large amount of friction pressure when pumping at high rates. With the HPHT
OHMS, operators can now perform fracture stimulations up to a differential pressure of 103.4 MPa (15,000 psi).

The HPHT OHMS tools have been used successfully to stimulate wells in deep shale formations allowing
operators to complete wells in unconventional reservoirs that could previously not be completed. HPHT OHMS
have further potential for use in areas where fracturing a well as planned is difficult. The higher pressure
capabilities also provide operators with the ability to increase pumping rates, lateral lengths and number of
intervals to be fractured.

As further design and testing is completed, the goal is to increase the pressure and temperature ratings of the
tools. Additional tools have also been developed to allow the use of an open hole limited entry technique to work
with the HPHT OHMS tools. This will allow an operator to fracture multiple isolated open hole intervals at
differential pressures up to 103.4 MPa (15,000 psi).


The author would like to thank Maria Meijer, Mathew Paredes and Kyla Low for their support in compiling this
paper, and the management at Packers Plus and the operator involved with the case study for permission to
publish this paper.


BHT = bottom hole temperature

BHP = bottom hole pressure
bpm = barrels per minute
DHC = downhole proppant concentration
HPHT = high pressure/high temperature
ID = inside diameter
in. = inches
ISIP = instantaneous shut-in pressure
MPa = mega pascals
OD = outside diameter
OHMS = open hole multi-stage fracturing systems
ppg = pound per gallon
Prop C = proppant concentration
psi = pound per square inch
Slr R = slurry rate
STP = surface treating pressure
TVD = true vertical depth


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