Drilling and Completion Fluids

Drilling Fluid Strengthens Wellbore
The full-length paper describes the approach taken to produce a “designer mud” that effectively increases fracture resistance while drilling and can be used in both shale and sandstone. The designer mud works by forming a “stress cage” using particle bridging and an ultralowfluid-loss mud system. The theory is described, and field data are presented that quantify the increase in fracture resistance and demonstrate the value of the system. Introduction Mud losses are a frequent problem encountered during drilling. Losses occur when the mud weight required for well control and to maintain a stable wellbore exceeds the fracture resistance of the formation. Depleted reservoirs present a particular problem. There is a reduction in pore pressure as reserves decline, which weakens hydrocarbon-bearing rocks. Neighboring or interbedded low-permeability rocks (shales) may maintain their pore pressure. This can make the drilling of certain depleted zones virtually impossible when the mud weight required to support the shale exceeds the fracture resistance of the sands and silts. The ability to strengthen the wellbore has the following applications/benefits. • Access to additional reserves in depleted zones. • Reduced mud losses in deepwater drilling. • Loss avoidance when running casing or cementing. • Improved well control. • Elimination of casing strings. • An alternative option to expandable casing. Theoretical Approach The approach taken was to allow small fractures to form in the wellbore wall and hold them open with bridging particles near the fracture opening. The bridge must have a low permeability to provide pressure isolation. Provided the induced fracture is bridged at or near the wellbore wall, this method creates an increased hoop stress around the wellbore referred to as a stresscage effect. The goal is to be able to achieve this continuously during drilling by adding appropriate materials to the mud system to produce a designer mud. Permeable Rocks. In permeable rocks, the particle bridge need not be perfect because fluid that passes through the bridge will leak away from the fracture into the rock matrix. Thus, there will be no pressure buildup in the fracture and the fracture cannot propagate. Even if a mudcake forms initially on the walls of the fracture, the fracture could grow by a small amount to expose new surface to relieve the pressure. An additional effect is the initial pressure decline behind the bridge when the fracture first forms. This will raise the effective stress across the fracture and cause closure behind the bridge, which should provide a stable foundation for the bridge. From these arguments, achieving a stress-cage effect in permeable rocks should be straightforward. If the mud contains particles that are too small to bridge near the fracture mouth, the fracture could still become sealed by the build up of a mudcake inside. The sealing/bridging will be slower, and the fracture length might extend too far to form a useful stress-cage effect. This is borne out by the mud losses observed in the field with ordinary muds. Interestingly, fracture gradients observed in sands are usually higher than those predicted by theoretical models. This seems to be related to the presence of mud solids and the deposition of mudcake. Low-Permeability Rocks. In low-permeability rocks such as shale, the bridge will need to have an extremely low permeability to prevent pressure transfer into the fracture and fracture propagation. For this reason, ways to produce mudcakes with an extremely low fluid loss (ultralow-fluid-loss muds) were studied. High-pressure/high-temperature (HP/HT) fluid-loss values as low as 0.1 mL are achievable. The idea of using ultralow-fluid-loss mud to achieve wellbore strengthening is the subject of a patent application. It should have a particular benefit in strengthening shale. The approach also would work in higher-permeability rocks,

This article, written by Assistant Technology Editor Karen Bybee, contains highlights of paper SPE 87130, “Drilling Fluids for Wellbore Strengthening,” by M.S. Aston, SPE, M.W. Alberty, SPE, M.R. McLean, H.J. de Jong, and K. Armagost, SPE, BP plc, prepared for the 2004 IADC/SPE Drilling Conference, Dallas, 2–4 March.

and to date there has been no downside in running ultralow-fluid-loss mud in permeable formations. Indeed, an advantage is the reduced risk of differential sticking. The driving force for bridge formation across a shale fracture needs to be considered carefully. The initial rush of fluid into the fracture when it forms will deposit the bridging solids at the fracture mouth, but a pressure difference across the bridge is required to hold it in place. Pressure decay into the shale matrix behind the bridge will be minimal, especially with oil-based muds (OBMs), which have an added sealing action caused by interfacial-tension (capillary pressure) effects. In water-based muds (WBMs), there may be a slow pressure leakoff into the shale, but the challenge then would be to produce WBM with an ultralow fluid loss so that the bridge at the fracture mouth has a sufficiently low permeability. Despite these concerns and challenges, initial field tests in shale have been very encouraging. In the modeling work, a symmetrical elliptical fracture with a wing on each side of the wellbore was assumed. This seems a reasonable starting point. If many narrow localized fractures formed around the wellbore to produce the stress cage, they would require only very-small bridging particles to seal them. Field evidence suggests that larger bridging solids are not needed. Laboratory Testing Fracture-sealing experiments were performed by use of specially designed test equipment. In a previous joint-industry project, fracture sealing using hollow cylinderblock samples fractured by drilling-fluid



pressure were investigated. The study produced useful results and pointed toward blends of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) and graphite as one of the best ways to reduce mud losses into the fracture. In the fixed-fracture-width device, the cell is assembled with spacers defining the fracture width, which typically is 1 mm wide at the mouth and tapers to zero at the tip for a closed fracture or to 0.5 mm for an open fracture. Sandstone is used to form the fracture faces. The height of the fracture is 38 mm, and the fracture depth (distance from the mouth to the tip) is 178 mm. The cell is bolted together and placed in a reaction frame; there are take-off points on each side of the cell to collect mud filtrate that passes through the rock faces. Pressures within the fracture are monitored by pressure transducers at the inlet, middle point, and exit of the fracture. A valve at the exit can be closed so that the pressure buildup can be measured. The cell can be heated. The system is vacuum saturated, and brine is flowed through the fracture, through all tubes, and through the leak lines to backpressure regulators and to a mass balance. The mud sample is poured into a stirred injection pot and heated as required. The injection pot is pressurized using a gas supply, and the mud is injected into the cell when required by opening a valve. After the initial injection of mud, the injection pressure can be increased stepwise or continuously while monitoring leakoff into the rock and pressure changes within the fracture. In tests for a 160-md-permeability rock, the fracture tapered from 1 mm to zero and the exit valve was closed at the start so the driving force for bridge formation was leakoff into the rock. A 1.16-specific-gravity (SG) water-based-polymer mud was used with ordinary fluid-loss control. The mud had an American Petroleum Inst. fluid loss of 4.2 mL at ambient temperature and contained CaCO3 bridging solids with no graphitic particles. The laboratory test was successful, and a bridge was formed near the fracture mouth with no pressure buildup in the fracture The bridge remained intact to the 1,900-psi maximum injection pressure. There was an initial spurt and then small surges each time the injection pressure was increased. The continuous leakoff rate was very low but was sufficient to match the flow rate of any fluid leaking through the bridge. Tests with OBMs showed similar success on 160-md-permeability (or greater) rock. Strengthening would seem to be achievable with CaCO3 and standard muds. In tests on lower-permeability rock, the combination of standard OBM or WBM

and carbonate bridging particles failed to isolate pressure. This was the case even if the fracture tip was open initially to increase flow into the fracture and initiate bridge formation. To achieve success with OBM, it was necessary to use an ultralowfluid-loss mud and a combination of CaCO3 and graphite material. To simulate the case of a shale, sandstone that had been sealed with resin to give virtually zero permeability was used. In this case, it was essential for the fracture tip to be open at the beginning to allow fluid to flow into the fracture. Pressure isolation was achieved at 300-psi injection pressure with the ultralow-fluid-loss mud and carbonate/graphite blend. The bridge was disturbed and there was some pressure transfer at 900-psi injection pressure, with full pressure transfer at 1,900-psi injection pressure. This may have been slight leakage rather than bridge total failure. Additional observations from the experimental studies include the following. • The fluid should contain a smooth/continuous range of particle sizes, from clay size (approximately 1 µm) to the required bridging width. • Ideal packing theory is useful for selecting the optimum size distribution in lowweight muds. • High particle concentrations are best for an efficient seal. • Fracture sealing has been successful to 300°F and 4,000-psi overbalance pressure in some tests. • Mud weight is not a critical factor in forming a successful bridge. Field Experience Example 1—Extended Leakoff Test. The object of this test was to see if the designer mud could increase fracture resistance in a shale formation. The well was a vertical well in the Arkoma basin in the U.S. After setting the 95/8-in. casing at 3,012 ft and performing a casing-integrity test, 10 ft of 81/2-in. hole was drilled with a regular OBM to expose the shale formation. After circulating clean, an extended leakoff test was performed using the regular mud. The mud had a relatively high HP/HT fluid loss, a 9lbm/gal mud weight, and was free of bridging solids. The formation fractured at approximately 1,200 psi, at which point the pump was stopped to minimize fracture growth. Pressure stabilized at 800 psi, which is the propagation pressure of the fracture determined by the far-field stress state. After bleeding back the pressure to hydrostatic, the test was repeated and the pressure plateaued at 800 psi with no indi-

cation of a breakdown pressure; the fracture was reopening. After pressure bleedoff, the open hole was displaced to a pill of the designer mud with a graphite/CaCO3 blend. During this leakoff test, the earlier fracture stayed sealed and pressure was increased to more than 2,000 psi before the seal broke. Example 2—Schiehallion North Sea Well 204/20-C21z. In this application, a 360-ft section of sand/shale formation was drilled with designer mud while exceeding the sand fracture gradient. The casing was an 81/2-in. sidetrack between the 95/8-in. casing and the 7-in. liner. In the original well, two well-control incidents occurred while drilling thin hydrocarbon-sand stringers above the targeted reservoir sands. The second well-control incident resulted in a downhole loss/gain situation, and the well was temporarily suspended to evaluate the findings and plan a sidetrack. To prevent an influx, a 1.54-SG minimum mud weight was required to drill the highpressure sand stringers. An OBM containing equal parts CaCO3 and graphitic material was used. The carbonate size ranged from 50 to 400 µm, and graphite-particle size ranged from 160 to 600 µm. The section was started with 1.51-SG mud weight using the designer mud. The planned leakoff test just below the 95/8-in. shoe was stopped at a 2.15-SG equivalent mud weight, with no leakoff observed. The formation type at this point was shale. Test pressure was greater than the sand/silt and shale fracture gradients and was even greater than the overburden. On drilling ahead, the mud weight was increased to 1.54 SG before entering the high-pressure sand stringers. There were no mud losses in adjacent formations despite this mud weight being greater than the sand/silt fracture gradient. Major contributors to this success were drilling the section with controlled drilling parameters to allow stress-cage building and using HP/HT drilling parameters because of the small trip margin and no riser margin. The large particles were kept in the mud system by maintenance additions. Mud density and rheology were carefully monitored. There was no mud damage to rig equipment or mud pumps from the bridging particles. A 7-in. liner was run and cemented with no losses or gains. JPT

For a limited time, the full-length paper is available free to SPE members at www.spe.org/jpt. The paper has not been peer reviewed.



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