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Drilling and Production Operations Ref: INDEX SPECIAL WELLS MANUAL, VOLUME II: UNDERBALANCED DRILLING Issue: Feb

Drilling and Production Operations

Ref: INDEX

SPECIAL WELLS MANUAL, VOLUME II:

UNDERBALANCED DRILLING

Issue: Feb 2000

INDEX

Page 1 of 1

Introduction

UBDL 01

Prospect Assessment

UBDL 02

Underbalanced Drilling Techniques

UBDL 03

Summary of Underbalanced Drilling Techniques

UBDL 04

References and Further Reading

UBDL 05

SECTION 1 Drilling and Production Operations Ref: UBDL 01 SPECIAL WELLS MANUAL, VOLUME II: UNDERBALANCED

SECTION 1

Drilling and Production Operations

Ref: UBDL 01

SPECIAL WELLS MANUAL, VOLUME II:

UNDERBALANCED DRILLING

Issue: Feb 2000

INTRODUCTION

Page 1 of 9

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1.

INTRODUCTION

3

 

1.1 DEFINITION OF UNDERBALANCED DRILLING

3

1.2 ADVANTAGES OF UNDERBALANCED DRILLING

3

1.2.1 Increased Penetration Rates

3

1.2.2 Increased Bit Life

4

1.2.3 Minimised Hole Problems

4

 

1.2.3.1 Lost Circulation

4

1.2.3.2 Differential Sticking

4

1.2.3.3 Reactive Shales

4

 

1.2.4 Continuous Formation Evaluation

4

1.2.5 Earlier Production

4

1.2.6 Formation Damage

5

1.2.7 Increased Productive Index

5

1.2.8 Risk

5

1.2.9 Reduced Environmental Impact

5

1.2.10 Reduced CAPEX and Improved NPV

6

1.3

DISADVANTAGES OF UNDERBALANCED DRILLING

6

1.3.1 Increased Drilling Equipment Cost

6

1.3.2 Wellbore Stability

6

1.3.3 Maintaining Continuous Underbalanced Conditions

6

1.3.4 Formation Damage

6

1.3.5 Spontaneous Imbibition

7

1.3.6 High Permeability Zones

7

1.3.7 Well Control

7

1.3.8 Drilling Medium Composition

7

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1.4

PROSPECT CONSIDERATIONS

7

1.4.1 Naturally Fractured Reservoir

8

1.4.2 Underpressured Reservoirs

8

1.4.3 Horizontal Wells

8

1.4.4 Storage and Disposal Wells

8

1.4.5 Micro-fractured or Vulgar Formation Invasion

8

1.4.6 Shallow Wells

8

1.4.7 Reservoir Pressure Variations

9

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1.

INTRODUCTION

When the hydrostatic head of a drilling fluid is intentionally designed to be lower than the pressure of the formation being drilled, the operation is considered as underbalanced drilling. The hydrostatic head of the drilling fluid may be naturally less than the formation pressure or it can be induced. The induced state may be created by adding natural gas, nitrogen or air to the liquid phase of the drilling fluid. Whether induced or natural, this may result in an influx of formation fluids which must be circulated from the well and controlled at surface.

1.1 DEFINITION OF UNDERBALANCED DRILLING

When the hydrostatic head of a drilling fluid is intentionally designed to be lower than the pressure of the formation being drilled, the operation is considered as underbalanced drilling. The hydrostatic head of the drilling fluid may be naturally less than the formation pressure or it can be induced. The induced state may be created by adding natural gas, nitrogen or air to the liquid phase of the drilling fluid. Whether induced or natural, this may result in an influx of formation fluids which must be circulated from the well and controlled at surface.

1.2 ADVANTAGES OF UNDERBALANCED DRILLING

The primary reason for underbalanced drilling is to improve the economic viability of a project. Not every well is a candidate for underbalanced drilling. In some cases, distinct disadvantages may exist in trying to execute an underbalanced drilling operation when compared to a simpler conventional overbalanced application. Each potential candidate must therefore be carefully screened to validate an underbalanced drilling project.

1.2.1 Increased Penetration Rates

Underbalanced drilling can decrease drilling costs in many cases because of an increase in drilling penetration rate. The increase in penetration rate occurs because the underbalanced condition causes the formation to implode into the wellbore and thus accelerates the performance of the bit. Since the rate of penetration is controlled by several parameters, the increase is difficult to quantify. Case studies of penetration rates whist drilling underbalanced have shown that there is an increase of up to 10 times in the rate of penetration than that in a balanced or overbalanced situation.

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1.2.2 Increased Bit Life

Underbalanced drilling is accomplished by using lighter drilling fluids which by design carry fewer solids or weighting materials. This has two positive effects. Firstly, the abrasive nature of the drilling fluid is reduced. Secondly, rock confinement is reduced by the underbalanced condition therefore reducing the work required to remove a set volume of rock. These two factors greatly increase the run life of the bit. A further benefit realised from the extended bit life is potentially the reduced quantity of trips and hence reduced drilling costs.

1.2.3 Minimised Hole Problems

1.2.3.1 Lost Circulation

In the case of underbalanced drilling there is no force driving the drilling fluid into the formation. Hence underbalanced drilling effectively reduces or eliminates lost circulation problems. However, lost circulation may still occur if the equivalent circulating density (ECD) pressure in the wellbore exceeds the formation pressure.

1.2.3.2 Differential Sticking

In the case of underbalanced drilling, the filter cake and the positive pressure exerted by the drilling fluid are eliminated. This reduces the hydrostatic force along the bottom hole assembly (BHA) which contributes to removing the forces that cause differential sticking.

1.2.3.3 Reactive Shales

Certain underbalanced drilling processes can be advantageous when drilling sensitive or swelling shales. However, drilling certain shales or unconsolidated formations underbalanced may create hole stability problems. Pre-planning and review of geological and historical drilling information are imperative to a successful UBD programme.

1.2.4 Continuous Formation Evaluation

Underbalanced drilling allows continuous testing of the potential productive horizon while drilling. In some cases, overbalanced drilling methods can mask reservoirs.

1.2.5 Earlier Production

When underbalanced drilling techniques are used, production equipment can be configured to allow production whilst drilling. The production from the well begins when the productive zone is drilled. There are cases where the value of the liquid hydrocarbons produced has provided the cash flow for the drilling operation, eg Austin Chalk, Texas.

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1.2.6 Formation Damage

Underbalanced drilling techniques can reduce or eliminate formation impairment by minimising the skin effect. The reduction or elimination of a positive skin in the drilling process can eliminate the need for stimulation of the reservoir during the completion phase. Reservoir impairment occurs not only during the drilling phase therefore the project should be designed so that the underbalanced programme is maintained through both the drilling phase and the completion phase.

1.2.7 Increased Productive Index

Underbalanced drilling reduces formation damage which yields higher initial producing rates, and therefore associated increased productive index (PI) values, than equivalent wells drilled overbalanced. Higher initial production rates in conjunction with higher PI values result in greater early recovery meaning faster pay-out, greater rate of return and possibly a higher total return on investment.

1.2.8 Risk

Uncontrolled losses into a fracture system in an underpressured zone can evacuate the annulus quickly, which could induce well kicks from another zone and create an uncontrollable situation in the form of a kick and/or an underground blowout. By contrast, an increased risk exists due to the lack of overpressure resulting in reduced barriers from a well control point of view. This has to be carefully managed using specialist technology and equipment.

1.2.9 Reduced Environmental Impact

Environmental and cleanup aspects of underbalanced drilling operations need to be considered in the design of the system. Utilising air, mist, nitrogen or foam reduces the liquid requirement thereby reducing the environmental cleanup requirements and potential liability. Chemicals used for foam generation are fairly benign but should still be evaluated in order to comply with any applicable environmental restriction.

Formation fluids produced during underbalanced drilling operations can, however,

cause environmental concerns. In addition to brines and hydrocarbons, the possibility

of having to deal with hydrogen sulphide and other dangerous gases is also an issue.

A review of local environmental regulations as well as existing geological and reservoir

data are important in the planning and design phase of any underbalanced

programme.

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1.2.10 Reduced CAPEX and Improved NPV

A good candidate well in conjunction with a properly planned and executed programme

will result in a higher rate of penetration (ROP), increased bit life, reduced number of trips, a reduction in drilling fluid costs and fewer drilling problems. These savings are translated directly to the economic viability of the project. Higher initial production rates

in conjunction with higher PI values result in greater early recovery which means faster

pay-out and greater rate of return on investment.

1.3 DISADVANTAGES OF UNDERBALANCED DRILLING

Not every prospect is a candidate for underbalanced drilling. There are factors that can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the aspects of the project. A potential candidate should be screened carefully and the advantages weighed against the disadvantages to properly assess the viability of the operation.

1.3.1 Increased Drilling Equipment Cost

Although an increase in the rate of penetration can be achieved, an underbalanced drilling operation will require specialised equipment not found on a conventional drilling project. The additional costs may be offset somewhat by the reduced drilling fluid and rig time costs in some proportion, depending on the project.

1.3.2 Wellbore Stability

In some cases, incompetent shale and/or unconsolidated sands are encountered when

drilling and hydrostatic pressure is sometimes required to support these sections. Underbalanced drilling techniques could be detrimental to both the drilling operation and the completion operation by causing a wellbore stability problem.

1.3.3 Maintaining Continuous Underbalanced Conditions

It may not always be possible to maintain underbalanced conditions. For example,

underbalanced conditions may be lost during drilling operations as a result of making drillstring connections. The underbalanced condition may also be lost when a well kill operation has to be conducted prior to a trip. In addition, periodic well kill operations may have to conducted in order to complete a conventional mud pulsed logging programme or a geosteering function. The underbalanced condition could also be potentially lost due to localised depletion effects.

1.3.4 Formation Damage

Since there is no filter cake buildup in an underbalanced drilling operation, if the formation is exposed to periodic pulses of overbalanced pressure, rapid and severe invasion of filtrates and associated solids may occur. If this happens, damage to the reservoir may be more severe than when drilled in an overbalanced condition.

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1.3.5 Spontaneous Imbibition

Due to adverse capillary pressure relations, it is possible to imbibe water-based fluids into the formation in the near wellbore area where it may cause a reduction in permeability.

1.3.6 High Permeability Zones

Although advantageous to select an underbalanced candidate with high permeability or extensive fracture systems, it may prove to be disadvantageous because of the problems related to the handling of large gas volumes or reservoir fluids at surface. Should the reservoir have high deliverability and/or high pressure, well control can become a major problem.

1.3.7 Well Control

Drilling and completing wells in a flowing condition adds an element of concern regarding safety. Recent developments in rotating blowout preventers (RBOP) and surface control equipment and the increased use of coiled tubing have increased the reliability and confidence with many underbalanced operations. Well control concerns should weigh heavily in the candidate well selection.

1.3.8 Drilling Medium Composition

Explosive envelope testing is recommended for each particular reservoir fluid system

or gas composition under consideration.

A major drawback with certain types of underbalanced drilling fluids is the inability to

use mud pulsed measurement while drilling (MWD) or geosteering tools whilst underbalanced. Electronic telemetry tools and wet connectors are available but there are still depth and temperature limitations to electromagnetic MWD systems and

reliability concerns with wet connect systems.

1.4 PROSPECT CONSIDERATIONS

In any underbalanced drilling project the expected gains, the increased production rates, the increased reserves, the decreased rig time and the associated drilling problems must outweigh the expected increase in certain drilling costs. There are two main criteria for deciding whether to implement underbalanced drilling technology in a given situation:

Does underbalanced drilling offer significant technical or economic advantages compared with traditional overbalanced methods?

Is there an expected increase in value that justifies any associated risk?

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1.4.1 Naturally Fractured Reservoir

Fracture systems can be plugged with drilling solids or weighting materials in an overbalanced situation. Underbalanced drilling eliminates the plugging problems and associated lost circulation.

1.4.2 Underpressured Reservoirs

One application for underbalanced drilling is to drill through underpressured reservoirs. Without underbalanced drilling many prospects could not be drilled due to lost circulation and associated hole problems. The situation becomes more problematic when drilling through a depleted zone into a higher pressure zone. In this case, underbalanced drilling may be the only practical way to drill the prospect.

1.4.3 Horizontal Wells

Many of the candidates to date have been in horizontal fractured carbonates. Multiple fracture networks can be intersected through horizontal drilling and underbalanced techniques can keep formation impairment to a minimum. Underbalanced drilling can also eliminate filtrate invasion.

1.4.4 Storage and Disposal Wells

These wells rely on high input/withdrawal rates to be effective. Underbalanced drilling can help minimise formation impairment under these stressful sandface completion circumstances where fluids are entering/leaving the reservoir periodically.

1.4.5 Micro-fractured or Vulgar Formation Invasion

In formations that exhibit macroporosity, gravity driven invasion of circulating fluids and solids can occur on the lower side of the well bore. In the case of low underbalanced pressure or large porosity features, irreparable damage may occur.

1.4.6 Shallow Wells

In shallow wells there may be no improvement in drilling speed or formation damage and no subsequent cost advantage to underbalanced drilling.

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1.4.7 Reservoir Pressure Variations

As pressure in a producing reservoir depletes, workover operations create damage potential by using workover fluids. In this situation the fluid recovery after the workover can be slow. Damage to the reservoir is a possibility and reserves could be lost. Underbalanced techniques for workover operations can help accelerate fluid recovery and prevent loss of reserves. Wells with alternating high and low pressure productive zones may have a high potential for underground blowouts if drilled underbalanced. These wells require overbalanced drilling to protect reserves and improve safety.

SECTION 2 Drilling and Production Operations Ref: UBDL 02 SPECIAL WELLS MANUAL, VOLUME II: UNDERBALANCED

SECTION 2

Drilling and Production Operations

Ref: UBDL 02

SPECIAL WELLS MANUAL, VOLUME II:

UNDERBALANCED DRILLING

Issue: Feb 2000

PROSPECT ASSESSMENT

Page 1 of 6

TABLE OF CONTENTS

2.

PROSPECT ASSESSMENT

2

2.1

SCREENING PROCESS

2

2.1.1 Drilling Options

2

2.1.2 Data Gathering

2

2.1.3 Data Review and Evaluation

2

2.1.4 Economic Analysis

3

2.1.5 Technical Analysis

3

2.2

ACQUISITION OF DATA

4

2.2.1

Data for Upper Hole Sections

4

2.2.1.1 Hole Section Properties

4

2.2.1.2 Formation Properties

4

2.2.1.3 Influx Fluid and Drilling Fluid Compatibility

4

2.2.1.4 Formation and Drilling Fluid Compatibility

5

2.2.2

Additional Data for Reservoir Interval

5

2.2.2.1 Reservoir Description

5

2.2.2.2 Formation Properties

5

2.2.2.3 Reservoir Fluid Properties

5

2.2.2.4 Reservoir Fluid and Drilling Fluid Compatibility

6

2.2.2.5 Reservoir Formation and Drilling Fluid Compatibility

6

2.3 SUITABILITY OF PROSPECT

6

2.4 ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF UNDERBALANCED DRILLING

6

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2. PROSPECT ASSESSMENT

Assessment of a prospect is the process used to determine if a well is suitable for underbalanced drilling. This section will facilitate an understanding or the requirements

of each of the underbalanced drilling techniques described in Section 3. The first step

in underbalanced drilling is the gathering of all existing data. This is followed by a review of the data to determine if the well is a viable candidate for underbalanced drilling operations. If so, a decision should be made as to which method is appropriate for that specific well case.

2.1 SCREENING PROCESS

Screening wells can be a time consuming process and should be approached from a negative view point. Every attempt should be made to discover a reason not to drill the well underbalanced. Eliminating poor candidates should be the drivers to avoid investing valuable time, effort and money into the wrong prospect.

2.1.1 Drilling Options

There are three underbalanced drilling options for a well and any of these may be the best choice:

Upper hole sections only

Production hole section only

Entire well

The screening process consists of the following steps described in Sections 2.1.2, 2.1.3, 2.1.4 and 2.1.5.

2.1.2 Data Gathering

Gather existing geological, drilling and reservoir data. This should include all information regarding lithology, reservoir and fluids as well as historical drilling records and production data. As much current data should be acquired as possible, including details such as present bottom hole pressure (BHP), reservoir and drilling fluid compatibility studies and formation and drilling fluid compatibility studies.

2.1.3 Data Review and Evaluation

A quick look technique should be applied to eliminate unsuitable candidates before too

much time, effort and finance is invested in the underbalanced drilling design and

engineering. The following questions should be used to facilitate the elimination process:

Will the well produce more if it is drilled underbalanced?

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Will it drill faster if it is drilled underbalanced?

Are there overriding concerns about safety and environmental issues that might eliminate economics as a deciding factor?

If the answers to the above questions are no, then the well can be designed for overbalanced drilling operations. If any of the answers are yes, then a quick pressure analysis should be performed to decide whether a gas-based or fluid-based drilling medium is appropriate.

2.1.4 Economic Analysis

After determining that the candidate fits the criteria from a macroscopic reservoir and mechanical standpoint, the economic viability of the operation should be reviewed to ascertain that there is an economic advantage to drilling underbalanced. This should include a review of overall operational costs, production/recovery economics, safety aspects and the environmental restrictions. This process should be followed by a comparison of the economic viability of drilling the well underbalanced as opposed to a more conventional drilling plan.

2.1.5 Technical Analysis

If the economics indicate that underbalanced drilling is feasible, a project team should review the data to determine if the candidate meets all of the technical criteria to drill the well underbalanced. This study should consist of an in-depth review to ensure that it is technically feasible and to make a final decision on which method(s) will be used. If this process does not eliminate the well as a candidate, the engineering and planning can commence.

It is important to consider all aspects, both positive and negative when planning the project. A multi-discipline group of professionals should be formed, consisting of the following:

Drilling Engineers Underbalanced Drilling Professionals

Geophysicists

Reservoir Engineers Production Engineers

Other professionals and other service providers involved should be also be considered and consulted throughout the design phase of the project eg Drilling Contractor, Platform Manager (OIM) etc.

Geologists

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2.2 ACQUISITION OF DATA

Compiling as much data as possible is important to the candidate screening process. The following is a combination of data required for drilling each hole section. This has been divided into two sections to separate the upper hole section from the productive interval, facilitating analysis by hole section. In cases where the objective is increased rate of penetration (ROP) to the productive zone and standard drilling through the production zone, the productive interval information will not be required. Data listed for the production hole section are additional to the first data set. All data listed is not required to design an underbalanced drilling programme. However, more data rather than less will allow better advance engineering and commencement of the programme further along the learning curve.

2.2.1 Data for Upper Hole Sections

2.2.1.1 Hole Section Properties

Pore pressure plot for the interval

Pressure variations (overpressured or depleted zones)

Presence of lost circulation zones

Location of water zones or aquifers

Productivity of water zones or aquifers

2.2.1.2 Formation Properties

Formation strengths (fracture gradient data and a plot of the minimum allowable hydrostatic pressure)

Water-sensitive shale sections

Sections with high erosion potential

2.2.1.3 Influx Fluid and Drilling Fluid Compatibility

Emulsion potential

Corrosion potential

Contamination of circulating fluid by influx

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2.2.1.4 Formation and Drilling Fluid Compatibility

Potential reaction with clays and shales

Formation dissolution

Reactivity and transport of cuttings

2.2.2 Additional Data for Reservoir Interval

2.2.2.1 Reservoir Description

Current target reservoir pressure

Presence and pressure of multiple zones

Pressure variation within reservoirs

Location of oil, gas and water contacts

Presence of sealing and non-sealing faults

2.2.2.2 Formation Properties

Reservoir lithology Vertical and horizontal permeability Porosity Pore size and pore throat size distribution Presence of faults and fractures Formation strengths and initial saturation Capillary pressure characteristics Wetability and glazing potential

2.2.2.3 Reservoir Fluid Properties

Compositions Asphaltene and paraffin content Cloud and pour points Viscosity and densities, both downhole and surface values Bubble point and properties of rich gases Presence of hydrogen sulphide or other hazardous components

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2.2.2.4 Reservoir Fluid and Drilling Fluid Compatibility

Emulsion, hydrate and scale potential Precipitation or asphalt deposition potential Gas entrainment characteristics Explosion potential Corrosion potential Degradation of base fluids by formation fluids

2.2.2.5 Reservoir Formation and Drilling Fluid Compatibility

Potential reaction with clays

Potential reaction with hydratable shales

Formation dissolution

Drilling fluid selection

Reactivity and transport of cuttings

2.3 SUITABILITY OF PROSPECT

Increased rate of penetration

Increased production

Overriding safety issues

Environmental issues

2.4 ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF UNDERBALANCED DRILLING

Enhanced production rates and recovery factor Time comparison Economic NPV analysis Risked cost analysis

Drilling and Production Operations Ref: UBDL 03

Drilling and Production Operations

Ref: UBDL 03

SPECIAL WELLS MANUAL, VOLUME II:

Issue: Feb 2000

 

UNDERBALANCED DRILLING

SECTION 3

UNDERBALANCED DRILLING TECHNIQUES

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

3.

UNDERBALANCED DRILLING TECHNIQUES

7

3.1

DRY AIR DRILLING

7

3.1.1

Equipment Requirements

8

3.1.1.1 Surface Equipment

8

3.1.1.2 Effect of Elevation on Equipment Performance

10

3.1.1.3 Bottom Hole Equipment

10

3.1.1.4 Instrumentation

10

3.1.2 Operational Procedures

10

3.1.2.1 Standpipe Pressure

11

3.1.2.2 Connections

11

3.1.2.3 Tripping

11

3.1.2.4 Post Cementing Operations

12

3.1.2.5 Water Influx

13

3.1.2.6 Drillstring Washouts

13

3.1.3 Limitations

13

3.1.3.1 Water Influxes

14

3.1.3.2 Downhole Fires

14

3.1.3.3 Wellbore Stability

15

3.1.3.4 MWD/FEWD Systems

16

3.1.3.5 Air Motors

16

3.1.3.6 Hydrogen Sulphide

16

3.1.3.7 Torque and Drag

16

3.1.4 Reverse Circulation Air Drilling

17

3.1.5 Summary

17

3.1.5.1 Advantages

17

3.1.5.2 Disadvantages

18

3.1.5.3 Design Criteria

18

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3.2

NITROGEN DRILLING

18

3.2.1

Equipment Selection

19

3.2.1.1 Cryogenic Nitrogen Supply

19

3.2.1.2 Onsite Nitrogen Generation

20

3.2.1.3 Other Equipment

21

3.2.2 Operational Procedures

21

3.2.3 Limitations

21

3.2.4 Summary

22

3.2.4.1 Advantages

22

3.2.4.2 Disadvantages

22

3.2.4.3 Design Criteria

22

3.3

NATURAL GAS DRILLING

23

3.3.1

Equipment Requirements

23

3.3.1.1 Surface Equipment

23

3.3.1.2 Gas Detectors

24

3.3.1.3 Flaring Arrangements

24

3.3.2 Operating Procedures

25

3.3.2.1 Hole Cleaning

25

3.3.2.2 Connections

25

3.3.2.3 Tripping

25

3.3.2.4 Water Influx

26

3.3.3 Limitations

26

3.3.4 Summary

26

3.3.4.1 Advantages

26

3.3.4.2 Disadvantages

27

3.3.4.3 Design Criteria

27

3.4

MIST DRILLING

27

3.4.1 Mist Drilling versus Foam Drilling

27

3.4.2 Equipment Requirements

28

3.4.2.1 Surface Equipment

28

3.4.2.2 Water Supply and Disposal Logistics

29

3.4.2.3 Contingency Defoaming Arrangements

30

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3.4.3 Operating Procedures

30

3.4.3.1 Hole Cleaning

30

3.4.3.2 Tripping

31

3.4.3.3 Corrosion Inhibitors

31

3.4.3.4 Liquid and Solid Additives

31

3.4.4 Limitations

31

3.4.4.1 Air Compression

32

3.4.4.2 Waste Water Disposal

32

3.4.4.3 Wellbore Instability

32

3.4.4.4 Corrosion

33

3.4.4.5 MWD/FEWD

33

3.4.5 Summary

33

3.4.5.1 Advantages

34

3.4.5.2 Disadvantages

34

3.4.5.3 Design Criteria

34

3.5

STABLE FOAM DRILLING

35

3.5.1

Foam Drilling versus Dry Air Drilling

35

3.5.1.1 Physical Properties of Foam

36

3.5.1.2 Foaming Agents

37

3.5.2 Equipment and Material Requirements

37

3.5.2.1 Surface Equipment

37

3.5.2.2 Injected Fluid

40

3.5.2.3 Environmental Considerations

40

3.5.2.4 Defoaming Arrangements

41

3.5.3 Operating Procedures

41

3.5.3.1 Hole Cleaning

41

3.5.3.2 Connections

41

3.5.3.3 Tripping

42

3.5.4 Limitations

42

3.5.4.1 Wellbore Instability

42

3.5.4.2 Waste Water Disposal

43

3.5.4.3 Downhole Fires

43

3.5.4.4 Corrosion

43

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3.5.5 Summary

43

3.5.5.1 Advantages

43

3.5.5.2 Disadvantages

44

3.5.5.3 Design Criteria

44

3.6

STIFF FOAM DRILLING

44

3.6.1 Stiff Foam Drilling versus Stable Foam Drilling

44

3.6.2 Equipment and Material Requirements

45

3.6.2.1 Surface Equipment

45

3.6.2.2 Injected Fluid

45

3.6.3 Operating Procedures

45

3.6.3.1 Injected Fluid Mixing Considerations

45

3.6.3.2 Recognition of Influxes

46

3.6.4 Limitations

46

3.6.4.1 Gas Influxes

46

3.6.4.2 Corrosion

46

3.6.4.3 Waste Water Disposal

46

3.6.4.4 Formation Damage

47

3.6.5 Summary

47

3.6.5.1 Advantages

47

3.6.5.2 Disadvantages

47

3.6.5.3 Design Criteria

47

3.7

GASIFIED LIQUIDS

48

3.7.1

Gasification Concepts

48

3.7.1.1 Gasification Techniques

48

3.7.1.2 Liquid Phase

49

3.7.1.3 Gaseous Phase

49

3.7.2 Equipment and Material Requirements

50

3.7.2.1 Surface Equipment

50

3.7.2.2 Downhole Equipment

51

3.7.2.3 Instrumentation

51

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3.7.3 Operating Procedures

51

3.7.3.1 Controlling Bottom Hole Pressure

51

3.7.3.2 Connections

52

3.7.3.3 Tripping

52

3.7.4 Limitations

52

3.7.4.1 Controlling Bottom Hole Pressure

52

3.7.4.2 Water Influx

52

3.7.4.3 Gravity Invasion

53

3.7.4.4 Penetration Rate

53

3.7.5 Summary

54

3.7.5.1 Advantages

54

3.7.5.2 Disadvantages

54

3.7.5.3 Design Criteria

54

3.8

FLOW DRILLING

55

3.8.1

Flow Drilling Concept

55

3.8.1.1 Underbalanced Condition

55

3.8.1.2 Drilling Fluid Medium

55

3.8.2 Equipment and Material Requirements

3.8.2.1 Surface Equipment

3.8.3 Operating Procedures

56

56

57

3.8.3.1 Controlling Bottom Hole Pressure

57

3.8.3.2 Connections

58

3.8.3.3 Tripping

58

3.8.3.4 Additional Operations

58

3.8.4 Limitations

58

3.8.4.1 High Annular Pressures

58

3.8.4.2 Uncertain Formation Pressures

59

3.8.4.3 Wellbore Instability

59

3.8.5 Summary

59

3.8.5.1 Advantages

59

3.8.5.2 Disadvantages

60

3.8.5.3 Design Criteria

60

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3.9

MUDCAP DRILLING

60

3.9.1 Overview

60

3.9.2 Summary

61

3.9.2.1 Advantages

61

3.9.2.2 Disadvantages

61

3.9.2.3 Design Criteria

61

3.10 CLOSED SYSTEMS

61

3.10.1 Closed System Concept

61

3.10.2 Equipment and Material Requirements

62

3.10.3 Operational Procedures

63

3.10.4 Limitations

64

3.10.4.1 High Surface Pressures and Flowrates

64

3.10.4.2 Drilling Fluid Medium

64

3.10.4.3 Equipment and Personnel Availability

64

3.10.4.4 Operating Cost

64

3.10.5 Summary

65

3.10.5.1 Advantages

65

3.10.5.2 Disadvantages

65

3.10.5.3 Design Criteria

65

3.11

SNUB DRILLING

66

3.11.1 Snub Drilling Concept

66

3.11.2 Summary

66

3.11.2.1 Advantages

67

3.11.2.2 Disadvantages

67

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3. UNDERBALANCED DRILLING TECHNIQUES

This section furnishes an overview for the drilling department of the various underbalanced drilling techniques. Each method of underbalanced drilling requires a unique surface system, different wellbore requirements and a unique circulating system. This section identifies and discusses equipment selection for the different underbalanced drilling methods, along with a review of the operational procedures associated with this type of drilling. Limitations are also reviewed and a comparison of the advantages and disadvantages is presented for each of the individual underbalanced drilling techniques.

3.1 DRY AIR DRILLING

The use of air as a circulating fluid technique in rotary drilling applications has been available to the industry for the past forty years. This method has more recently been adapted to coiled tubing drilling. Cost savings are realised through faster rates of penetration and reductions in rig time associated with longer bit life. Industry interest has promoted the growth of air drilling since this method of underbalanced drilling is both environmentally friendly and more economical.

Air circulation is maintained by use of compressors and boosters at surface which creates an upward drag force greater than the gravitational force downwards allowing the air to lift the cuttings from the wellbore. In some areas, noise is a serious problem with this technique and can prevent its use.

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3.1.1 Equipment Requirements

3.1.1.1 Surface Equipment

Figure 3.1 - A Typical Dry Air Drilling Compression System

To Kelly Hose Mist Booster Foamer Water Pump Unit Compressors Valve Manifold (Optional) Flow Meter
To Kelly Hose
Mist
Booster
Foamer
Water
Pump
Unit
Compressors
Valve
Manifold
(Optional)
Flow Meter
Bleed-Off
Blow-Down
Line
Line
Stand Pipe
To Secondary Jet
To Primary Jet
High Pressure Vent Line

A typical layout of surface equipment required for dry air drilling is shown in Figure 3.1.

Air Compression System: The air compression system is usually a combination of one or more compressors and a booster unit

Compressors: Powered by a diesel engine the air compressing unit is capable of taking ambient air and compressing it to a pressure that allows it to circulate the well

Booster: A booster is a positive displacement compressor providing high pressure air from 600psi to 1500psi. It receives the volumetric airflow from the compressor(s) and boosts the pressure

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Air Header and Valves: The discharge line between the compressed air section and standpipe manifold needs to be of sufficient diameter (normally 4in) to minimise frictional losses. A check valve should be installed in the line immediately downstream of the discharge point to prevent backflow of air or fluid to the compressor or booster. A valve manifold, sometimes termed the air header, is located upstream of the standpipe manifold along with an independent valve system on the rig floor. The valve manifold facilitates the control of the air flow at the Driller’s console

Bypass Blowdown: The main air header is connected to the high pressure vent line through a bypass and choke system. A blowdown silencer is connected to this line, its purpose is to silence the discharge air when necessary to blow down the system for connection or shutdown

Mist and Soap Pumps: Mist and soap pumps are not necessary for dry air drilling. However, it is recommended that they are included as a standard part of the surface equipment since water influx can occur during drilling operations. In the event that a water influx occurs, this additional equipment makes it possible to revert to mist or foam drilling to control the water influx

Scrubber Unit: To ensure that a minimum amount of moisture is circulated through the system and to protect the booster(s), a scrubber unit is used to remove excess water

Solids Injection: The most practical types of solids injectors are the endless chain type design and the belt type design. This equipment is used to introduce hole drying powders into the wellbore in order to reduce friction. This type of equipment is normally used in deep well applications or to dry up any weeping water zones

Bleed-off Line: The intention of this line is to bleed off the pressure within the standpipe manifold, the rotary hose, the kelly and the drill pipe down to the top float valve

Kelly: The hexagonal kelly design is preferred over the square kelly design in air drilling because the seal efficiency of the rotating head is improved

Rotating Kelly Packer: The purpose of the rotating kelly packer is to seal the annulus at the top of the bell nipple and divert the air and cutting returns into the return flow line. There are two types of rotating kelly packers: the rotating control head (RCH) and the rotating blowout preventer (RBOP). Although used successfully in air drilling for many years, the RCH tends to leak at low pressures. The operating life of the RCH element cannot be predicted and they are not rated for pressure containment by the manufacturer or considered as a blowout preventer by the API. The RBOP is certified by API as a blowout preventer and is rated for pressure containment. The RBOP is hydraulically actuated and the RBOP element can be easily replaced whilst the drillstring is in the wellbore. Typically, the working pressure is 1500psi and has a static working pressure of 3000psi. As the design of the RBOP continues to improve, units are now available with a working pressure of 2500psi and a static working pressure of 5000psi

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3.1.1.2 Effect of Elevation on Equipment Performance

Atmospheric pressure decreases by approximately 0.5psi for each 1000ft increase in elevation. This corresponds to a 3.4% decrease in compressor deliverability per 1000ft elevation increase (at 60°F). An increase in elevation also affects the power output of the compressor's diesel engine. A further 3.6% decrease in compressor deliverability is attributed to the power loss of the diesels for every 1000ft increase in elevation. Delivery rate is also influenced by temperature, but to a lesser degree, and is calculated to be a decrease of 2.1% per 10°F temperature increase.

3.1.1.3 Bottom Hole Equipment

Bits: Standard roller cone bits with either open or sealed bearings are applicable in air drilling. Heat generated from the drilling process is the primary driver when considering bit selection and estimating bit life. Percussive bits are often used and can improve penetration rates and reduce the cutting face temperature due to the reduced friction. Generally, bit wear is not detectable during air drilling thus rotating time is frequently used to determine the end of a bit run

Drill String Floats: Normally there are two non-return valves or float valves located in the drillstring. These are run at the top and bottom of the drillstring. The lower valve prevents the back flow of cuttings plugging the bit. The upper valve retains the high pressure air in the drillstring during connections. The upper valve is not considered necessary when standpipe pressures are low. A fire stop can be added to the lower float valve. This is an inverted float locked open by a fusible ring. In the event that a downhole fire occurs the fusible ring melts, closing the inverted float valve and therefore preventing additional air from the drillstring reaching the fire

3.1.1.4 Instrumentation

Under normal operating conditions the standard drilling rig instrumentation is adequate for most air drilling operations. However, the addition of standard orifice plate meters should be considered for measuring the injection rate and the return rate. This data will be used to derive the flowing rates to be established. In the event that aerated drilling is being considered, back pressure valves need to be included in the return flow line.

3.1.2 Operational Procedures

This section provides some general guidelines on operating procedures during dry air drilling. It should be noted that these are only generalities and will need modification to address individual well conditions.

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3.1.2.1 Standpipe Pressure

Monitoring standpipe pressure while circulating a well or drilling is extremely important. Large changes in downhole pressure caused by hole problems may only show as a small change in standpipe pressure. For this reason, any visible change in surface standpipe pressure should be viewed as an indication of possible hole problems. The flow recorder installed on the inlet line is often the first indication of the bit plugging, before the pressure increase is observed at the standpipe. The cause of pressure variations should always be determined and, if necessary, appropriate changes made.

3.1.2.2 Connections

Throughout dry air drilling operations, connections tend to be more complex than when drilling with conventional mud systems. Unlike conventional drilling fluids, air is considered to be a very compressible fluid thus a considerable volume of air is present in the drillstring. The pressure must be bled from the drillstring before breaking off the kelly, if not, the stored energy will be violently released when breaking the connection presenting a safety hazard to the entire complement of rig personnel.

Connection time during any UBD operation involving gases can be significant and needs to be addressed when analysing rig time for annular fluid expansion (AFE) purposes. A cost comparison between rotary-kelly drive systems and top drive systems should be made prior to finalising the well economics. In some cases, the additional expense of specifying a top drive can be easily justified by eliminating up to 60% of the slow connection time.

Once the addition of a new joint has been made to the drillstring, the kelly or the top drive system is then reconnected. It is common practice to leave the drillstring supported in the rotary slips until circulation has been re-established. This reduces the potential of packing off the annulus with cuttings.

3.1.2.3 Tripping

Tripping from an air drilled hole is very similar to tripping from a well drilled with conventional drilling fluids. The operation is, however, much cleaner using air as a circulating medium. Standard practice is to circulate bottoms up before tripping out. This takes minutes since air drilling annular velocities are considerably higher than with conventional drilling fluids.

Survey instruments such as single shot surveys cannot be used in air drilling operations. An instrument of this type would be destroyed using conventional running practices when it impacted on a Totco ring at the bottom of the drillstring. Surveys should therefore be run on wireline.

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The rotating head element remains in the bowl throughout tripping operations, which forces any gas flowing from the well to be diverted. This element is removed before pulling the bottom hole assembly (BHA), since the diameter of the BHA is greater than that of the drillstring. After running the BHA, the rotating head element should be placed back into the bowl if gas is present. On completing the trip back to the bottom of the well the air flow is started and returns are monitored. In the event that water is present in the wellbore after the trip, it must first be unloaded from the well and the wellbore dried before resuming air drilling.

3.1.2.4 Post Cementing Operations

Water is used to displace cement during a casing cementing operation. The water is left in situ until the cement has set. Before air drilling can be resumed it is necessary to unload the water from the well. There are two recognised methods of accomplishing this operation.

The first method is to trip into the wellbore until the float collar is tagged. The water is then circulated with the mud pumps at a low standpipe pressure. Air is delivered to the standpipe to aerate the water. With standpipe pressure lower than the air pressure a mist fluid, containing a foaming agent, is then pumped into the air flow using the mist pump. Upon air returns to surface being achieved, the mud pump volume is reduced and the air volume increased until such time as all the water is unloaded from the wellbore.

The second method unloads the well without using the mud pumps. This method is called staging into the hole. The drillstring is tripped part way into the hole with a non-return or float valve installed in the drillstring near the bit. This float valve prevents water from entering the drillstring during the trip and forces the displaced water up the annulus thus increasing the hydrostatic pressure and the bottom hole pressure. The kelly, or top drive system, is then connected and air circulation initiated. Air in the drillstring will be compressed until the air pressure at the float valve is greater than the water pressure below the float valve. This results in lifting the water up the annulus. Once water flow has ceased the kelly, or the top drive system, can be disconnected and a another part of the trip made. The process is repeated as required until the water in the well has been completely unloaded.

Once the water in the well is unloaded, the float equipment and the shoetrack are usually drilled out utilising the mist drilling technique.

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3.1.2.5 Water Influx

A water influx will occur when a water-bearing formation or fracture system is penetrated. The water is broken into droplets as it enters the wellbore and is subsequently lifted from the wellbore along with the cuttings. If the water inflow is small, the adsorption potential of the cuttings can effectively remove the water droplets and dry the well. When a modest inflow occurs, there is a flow regime where the moistened cuttings tend to build up into a mud ring. The danger of this buildup is the possibility of encountering stuck pipe and it also increases the risk of a downhole fire. If the water flow is great enough, the air flow will not be capable of breaking the water into droplets thus creating slugs of water. These slugs of water can cause wellbore instability and create handling problems at surface.

3.1.2.6 Drillstring Washouts

Drillstring washouts are not common in dry air drilling but they do occur. The washout can be the result of a fatigue crack in the drill pipe or tool joint or due to a poor seal at the threaded connection. This will result in the air escaping through the washout into the annulus and not through the bit.

Solid cuttings moving at high velocity can cause erosion on the lower side of the tool joints. Additional wear on tool joints can be caused by the rotating contact of the drillstring with a non-lubricated wellbore. Both of these processes will reduce wall thickness at the tool joint, where bending stresses are the highest and can potentially lead to a drillstring failure.

Downhole vibrations are greater in dry air drilling operations than in conventional drilling fluid operations. This can allow fatigue cracks to be more readily initiated and propagated.

The lack of buoyancy in dry air drilling operations can cause problems during fishing operations as a result of a drillstring failure. A parted drillstring will tend to fall very rapidly and create a corkscrew fish on reaching the bottom of a well. If a washout has been identified and it is believed that the drillstring could part during the tripping operation then the drillstring should be set on bottom. The location of the washout should be identified by reverse circulating and running a wireline spinner inside the drill pipe. The drillstring should be backed off below the washout to leave a readily retrievable fish.

3.1.3 Limitations

There are several limitations in utilising the dry air underbalanced drilling technique. The main limitations are water influxes, downhole fires and wellbore instability. Other limitations include higher friction between the drillstring and the wellbore, the operation of mud motors, operability of measurement while drilling (MWD) and formation evaluation while drilling (FEWD) systems, and encounters with hydrogen sulphide.

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3.1.3.1 Water Influxes

As previously discussed in Section 3.1.2, a water influx into a well drilled with dry air can cause serious problems. If the influx of water is large enough it could preclude the use of dry air drilling as a drilling fluid medium. There are several methods currently used to shut off water influx. These methods include:

Cement squeeze

Resin catalyst squeeze

Use of gases that mix and form a precipitate

Use of gas that reacts with the formation water and forms a precipitate

The success of all the above methods relies on knowing the exact source of the water influx to enable the setting of a single packer above the treatment zone if close to the bottom of the well or the setting of a straddle packer across the zone. Use of any of these methods to stop a water influx would only be worthy of consideration if there was still a substantial amount of hole to be drilled with dry air. The usual solution is to change the drilling fluid medium to mist or foam.

Figure 3.2 - Natural Gas/Air Combustion Limits

450 400 350 300 Infllammable Area 250 200 150 100 50 0 0 10 20
450
400
350
300
Infllammable Area
250
200
150
100
50
0
0
10
20
30
40
Pressure (psia)

Natural Gas in Mixture (% by Volume)

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3.1.3.2 Downhole Fires

The occurrence of a downhole fire during dry air drilling is a potential limitation. A downhole fire can occur when a mixture of oil, gas and air, with a high enough concentration of hydrocarbons, is exposed to an ignition source. At atmospheric pressure, a concentration of 5% to 15% of air in natural gas is combustible. The upper limit increases with increasing pressure. The influence of pressure on the combustible regime for a typical natural gas is shown in Figure 3.2.

Most downhole fires occur after the formation of a mud ring. Downhole fires do not occur when dry gas is encountered whilst drilling with dry air. Some form of liquid has to be present. The role of the liquid in causing the fire is to moisten the cuttings, thereby permitting the formation of the mud ring. Once the mud ring has formed, the air pressure will increase rapidly to the surface controlled maximum limit or the delivery pressure limit of the compressor system. The temperature of the gas below the mud ring will increase as the pressure increases. Since air flow has stopped, any amount of hydrocarbon inflow will rapidly lead to combustible mixtures. When the gas mixture has entered the regime, the heating of the trapped gas mixture due to compression can be the source of ignition.

Since downhole fires rarely reach the surface, detecting one is difficult. The most obvious ways to avoid downhole fires are to prevent formation of combustible mixes and to remove any ignition source. Using natural gas (above the explosibility window) or an inert gas would prevent a combustible mix but this may not be economically feasible.

3.1.3.3 Wellbore Stability

A wellbore tends to become less stable with decreasing hydrostatic pressure in the wellbore. Low hydrostatic pressures in the wellbore, especially in weak formations, can potentially lead to mechanically induced wellbore instability. A significant water influx, when there are water sensitive shales exposed, can also contribute to wellbore instability. Dry air drilling exerts the lowest hydrostatic wellbore pressures and thus has one of the highest incidents of wellbore instability.

Sometimes during dry air drilling, large rock fragments break away from the borehole wall. The downward terminal velocity of these large fragments can be higher than the upward velocity of the dry air drilling fluid medium. In this case the fragments will not be lifted from the well during circulation. Fragments that are not lifted will be broken down by the grinding action of the bit, until small enough to be lifted by circulation. If the sloughing rate exceeds the rate at which the bit can reduce the fragments to the required size for lifting, they will accumulate to the point where the drillstring will eventually become stuck. A drilling fluid medium with greater lifting capacity and a higher hydrostatic pressure in the wellbore should then be considered.

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3.1.3.4 MWD/FEWD Systems

Steerable motors and real time directional drilling equipment are necessary to stay on a projected path when drilling a highly deviated or horizontal section. Downhole motors and MWD systems were designed to operate in a non-compressible fluid environment. Since air is a compressible fluid, this type of equipment will not operate properly.

Two options are available, the first option is utilising an electro-magnetic (EM) MWD system for use with compressible fluids. This type of equipment operates by sending out an electrical signal to surface. The second option is the use of a wet connect wireline facility. This technology is improving and does not have the same disadvantages as the EM MWD system. Either of these two systems should be able to provide most aspects of a data acquisition programme.

3.1.3.5 Air Motors

The air volume necessary for proper hole cleaning is three times greater than the recommended flow rates for a conventional downhole positive displacement mud (PDM) type motor. If a downhole motor is necessary, an air motor is recommended. Even with the higher flow rates required for hole cleaning in a dry air drilling process, the bit speed is kept low. With air motors, low differential pressure is all that is required to provide ample torque for drilling. The motor does not stall easily stall and does not overspeed when lifted off bottom. The air motor is suitable for both compressible and non-compressible type drilling fluids.

3.1.3.6 Hydrogen Sulphide

The dry air drilling technique for underbalanced drilling operations is not considered to be the ideal choice when the potential for encountering hydrogen sulphide has been identified. A dry air drilling fluid medium in conjunction with hydrogen sulphide can produce an explosive gas mixture with produced hydrocarbons. In the event that hydrogen sulphide is anticipated, a closed system is the safest underbalanced drilling technique to use for containing the gas.

3.1.3.7 Torque and Drag

Torque and drag simulations for a dry air drilling fluid medium is higher than that for a conventional drilling fluid system. The friction coefficient for a typical drilling fluid is 0.75 and for a dry air drilling fluid medium is 0.20 to 0.35. This will result in an increase of between a factor of two to four times. This increase in both torque and drag can potentially limit the achievable horizontal section that can be drilled.

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3.1.4 Reverse Circulation Air Drilling

Some of the problems described in the previous section on conventional air drilling may be overcome or mitigated by reversing the direction of the air circulation. In this procedure, air is injected down the annulus and returned with cuttings up the drillstring. This procedure, which is still considered experimental, has several important advantages. Results from field testing indicate:

Reduced damage to permeable formations

The quality and size of drill cuttings is improved – larger and less contamination

Wellbore integrity is improved – less erosion of the borehole wall by cuttings or water influxes

Less air volume required – the velocity of air in the larger annular space no longer critical to drill cuttings removal

Reduced number of influxes due to the higher annulus back pressure

3.1.5 Summary

3.1.5.1

Advantages

The advantages of dry air drilling, in comparison with conventional drilling fluid, are reported in several areas. Substantial increases in the rate of penetration when drilling through hard formations reduce the amount of rig time required and result in fewer bits being used. Some wellbore problems, such as the sloughing of sensitive shales, can be eliminated. Also, this type of underbalanced drilling technique supports the use of percussion type bits which can further improve the rate of penetration and facilitates the earlier detection of hydrocarbons, when utilising conventional type rock bits, because of the larger sized cuttings produced.

As in any underbalanced drilling technique, the fluid and solids invasion into the producing formation can be prevented. This can eliminate costly stimulation necessary to remove formation damage induced by overbalanced drilling techniques. Likewise, if a fractured system is encountered, loss circulation can be minimised or eliminated. Another advantage to dry air drilling is uncontaminated drill cuttings, allowing the ready detection of hydrocarbons.

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3.1.5.2 Disadvantages

Disadvantages of dry air drilling are the problems associated with water influxes, downhole fires, wellbore instability, the limitations of downhole data acquisition equipment and encountering hydrogen sulphide. Water influxes can cause problems in the removal of drill cuttings removal, stuck pipe and hole stability. Downhole fires can occur when a hydrocarbon zone is encountered and the concentration of hydrocarbons in the air flow meets a combustible level. This is generally not a problem if the hydrocarbon is dry gas. Conventional MWD/FEWD systems cannot be used, instead specialised equipment like EM MWD must be used when necessary. In inhabited areas, noise and dust levels can be considered excessive.

Wellbore instability can be encountered where the mechanical stresses are not strong enough to prevent the borehole from collapsing. Another problem in this area is where a water influx is sufficient to cause sensitive shales to slough.

3.1.5.3 Design Criteria

Underbalanced drilling with dry air should be given consideration when any of the following criteria exist:

Drilling in areas with hard rock formations

Areas with known lost circulation problems

Formations that are considered to be easily damaged by conventional drilling fluids

Formations with adequate strength to withstand the mechanical stresses, generated by the dry air drilling technique, without collapsing

Areas with limited ground water flow

Drilling in areas where there are no high formation pressures

Areas where there are no incidents of hydrogen sulphide

Areas where the rate of penetration is sensitive to borehole pressure

The economics of the operation should be the deciding factor in most cases. A significant financial impact can also be attributed to the environmental considerations that make dry air drilling attractive.

3.2 NITROGEN DRILLING

In an underbalanced drilling operation, nitrogen is sometimes substituted for dry air or as a mixed component with air as the drilling fluid medium. The big advantage of nitrogen drilling with respect to dry air drilling is that the mixture of nitrogen and hydrocarbon gases are not flammable, thus removing the hazard of downhole fires. The circulating gas does not have to be pure nitrogen to prevent downhole fires. Mixtures of air, nitrogen and hydrocarbons are not capable of combustion, providing the oxygen content is kept below a critical level, as shown in Figure 3.3. Combustion tests must be performed at the conditions that will be encountered in each project.

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Figure 3.3 - Flammability Range for Mixtures of Oxygen, Nitrogen and Methane

12.0 11.5 11.0 10.5 10.0 9.5 9.0 8.5 8.0 0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500
12.0
11.5
11.0
10.5
10.0
9.5
9.0
8.5
8.0
0
500
1000
1500
2000
2500
3000
Oxygen Required for a Flammable Mixture (%)

Pressure (psia)

3.2.1 Equipment Selection

The major difference between a dry air and a nitrogen drilling package is that nitrogen

is substituted for air as the circulating fluid. There are currently two methods of

supplying nitrogen for an underbalanced drilling operation, cryogenic supply and

membrane filters. Cryogenic operations necessitate delivery of nitrogen to the rigsite as

a liquid which is stored cryogenically. A membrane filter is capable of producing nitrogen at the rigsite, by separating nitrogen from the ambient air through a membrane.

3.2.1.1 Cryogenic Nitrogen Supply

In most situations nitrogen is transported to the rigsite as a liquid. Cryogenic tanks are

required for transporting the liquid nitrogen because the boiling point of nitrogen (at atmospheric conditions) is -321°F. When utilising a cryogenic supply of nitrogen, the bank of compressors and boosters used in dry air applications is replaced with a nitrogen pump unit. The pumping unit consists of a diesel driven, positive displacement pump and heat exchanger. The liquid nitrogen is pumped from the cryogenic tank(s) through the heat exchanger which evaporates the liquid to be discharged as a gas between 80 and 120°F.

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Small cryogenic supply units are typically capable of delivering 1100scfm at pressures of up to 3000psi. As the delivery pressure of the nitrogen gas increases towards the pressure rating of the unit, the delivery rate will fall. Larger cryogenic supply systems are capable of delivering rates of 6000scfm at pressures of up to 8000psi. Each gallon of liquid nitrogen generates approximately 100scf of nitrogen gas. A typical drilling operation with a volumetric flow rate approaching 2000scfm equates to 30bbls or approximately 5MT of liquid nitrogen per hour.

Since the condition of pumping a liquid and converting it to a gas is well characterised at standard conditions, the measurement of gaseous nitrogen delivery is easily and accurately accomplished.

3.2.1.2 Onsite Nitrogen Generation

Generation of nitrogen at the rigsite can be a very viable alternative to utilising a cryogenic storage system. The surface system used to perform nitrogen drilling is based on the same equipment as described in Section 3.1.1, with the incorporation of an air cooler and an oxygen filter membrane, as shown in Figure 3.4.

Figure 3.4 - Nitrogen Drilling System with Membrane Filter

Ambient Air

Water Filter Compressor Oxygen Hydrocarbon Filter Filter Membrane Air Cooler Particulate Filter Membrane Skid
Water Filter
Compressor
Oxygen
Hydrocarbon Filter
Filter Membrane
Air Cooler
Particulate Filter
Membrane Skid
Booster (s)
Mist Pump

Nitrogen

into

Stand Pipe

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Conventional air compressors deliver air at 150psi, the air is then cooled to approximately 80°F and passed through a series of primary filters. These primary filters remove contaminates such as dust, compressor lubricant oil and atmospheric water. The air flow then passes through a membrane filter which consists of an array of very fine, hollow polymeric fibres. The lighter molecules of nitrogen pass down the fibres, while the heavier oxygen molecules penetrate the fibre walls thus separating the two gases. The nitrogen gas is delivered to the booster unit and then to the standpipe manifold. The associated oxygen is vented to the atmosphere.

One disadvantage of using onsite production of nitrogen is corrosion. The oxygen contained in the membrane produced nitrogen causes corrosion and must be addressed. Part of the expense of corrosion control will be offset against the cost of nitrogen production to some degree.

3.2.1.3 Other Equipment

Firestops or firefloats in the drillstring are not required with nitrogen underbalanced drilling techniques. Otherwise, the equipment used is essentially the same as that used for dry air drilling.

3.2.2 Operational Procedures

Operating procedures for nitrogen drilling are no different from those described for dry air drilling. Although the risk of downhole fires is removed, the possibility of stuck pipe occurring from the formation of a mud ring is still a very real concern. Timely detection of the symptoms of mud ring formation is still very essential to a successful drilling operation. The release of an abundance of nitrogen and enriched oxygen into the atmosphere poses few risks but these risks must be assessed. Dispersal of the discharged oxygen should not be obstructed so it does not accumulate in one area. A modest change in oxygen concentration can result in dramatic changes in the combustibility of materials which is obviously a major concern.

3.2.3 Limitations

One of the major limitations of dry air drilling can be removed by using an appropriate concentration of nitrogen as the circulating medium. Nevertheless, the other limitations of dry air drilling still apply when nitrogen is used. The formation of mud rings, as discussed above, is still a hazard. It is acceptable to use nitrogen as the gaseous phase in mist or foam drilling to overcome excessive water production problems.

The predominant limitation to using nitrogen for drilling is purely financial. The nitrogen supply is costly, regardless of how it is generated. The quantities of liquid nitrogen required can easily cost in excess of $35,000 per day during drilling operations. A daily incremental cost of over $17,000 can be associated with the use of a membrane filter, which includes the cost for rental of the compressors, boosters and mobilisation. As a result of its high cost, nitrogen is normally only used when drilling through a long reservoir interval, as would be the case in a horizontal well. The use of nitrogen drilling in a deep vertical well would be difficult to justify, unless encountering multiple zones of interest.

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Nitrogen could be recycled if a closed surface system used. This would make the use of nitrogen more economical, although the savings in the cost of nitrogen production would be partly offset by the additional cost of the surface equipment for a closed system.

3.2.4

Summary

3.2.4.1 Advantages

The advantages of a nitrogen based underbalanced drilling operation are very similar to those seen in dry air drilling. The major advantage is the elimination of downhole fires. Due to the costs, nitrogen is not generally used in deep vertical wells. More commonly, nitrogen is used in long horizontal sections where formation damage or lost circulation is a concern and downhole fires are considered to be a problem.

3.2.4.2 Disadvantages

The disadvantages of utilising nitrogen as a drilling fluid medium are cost, water influxes, wellbore instability, limitation of downhole data acquisition equipment, encountering hydrogen sulphide and corrosion from onsite generated nitrogen gas. The cost of either supplying or producing nitrogen gas is a significant consideration when evaluating the use of nitrogen as a drilling fluid medium. Water influxes can cause problems in drill cuttings removal, stuck pipe and wellbore instability. Typical downhole measuring equipment, like MWD, cannot be used. Instead, specialised equipment like EM MWD must be used when necessary. If onsite nitrogen generation is used, corrosion inhibition must be considered.

Wellbore instability can be encountered where the mechanical stresses are not strong enough to prevent the borehole from collapsing. Another problem in this area is where a water influx is sufficient to cause sensitive shales to slough.

3.2.4.3 Design Criteria

Underbalanced drilling with nitrogen should be considered when any of the following criteria exist:

Vertical wells with multiple zones of interest that are considered to be easily damaged by conventional drilling fluids

Horizontal or highly deviated sections of wells with known areas of loss circulation

Formations that are considered to be easily damaged by conventional drilling fluids

Formations with adequate strength to withstand the mechanical stresses, generated by the nitrogen drilling technique, without collapsing

Areas with limited ground water flow

Areas where downhole fires are a major concern

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3.3 NATURAL GAS DRILLING

In underbalanced drilling, natural gas can be substituted for dry air as the drilling fluid.

The advantage of natural gas over dry air, like nitrogen, is that when encountering other hydrocarbon gases the resultant gas mixture is not flammable since there is no oxygen at source. This removes the hazard of downhole fires but does present the potential for a surface fire. For this reason, it is recommended that the returns from the circulating system are flared.

3.3.1 Equipment Requirements

3.3.1.1 Surface Equipment

A typical surface layout includes a drill gas unit, three-phase separator, booster unit,

adjustable choke, line jet, Driller’s manifold, emergency vent line and standpipe relief

line. Figure 3.5 shows a typical layout of surface equipment required for drilling with natural gas. Check valves and valves are also installed as required.

Figure 3.5 - Typical Natural Gas Surface Supply System

Booster Drill Gas Unit with Meter Run 3 Phase Separator Water Dump Oil Dump Natural
Booster
Drill Gas Unit
with
Meter Run
3 Phase
Separator
Water
Dump
Oil
Dump
Natural Gas
Adjustable Choke
Supply Line
To Blooey
Driller's
Line Jet
Manifold
Emergency
Vent Line
Standpipe
Relief Line
Standpipe

Supply Line: On land a supply line is commonly used to transport the natural gas from the pipeline to the rig. Typically this line is 3in in diameter and the length of the supply line can be up to half a mile long. To ensure that adequate delivery is available at the rigsite, the pressure drops along the supply line should be considered. In an offshore environment process gas from the production train is used.

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Three-phase Separator: The removal of water or any liquid from the supply gas is extremely important. If a compressor or booster is used, the supply gas needs to be as dry as possible to prevent internal damage to the compressor. Also, liquids in the injection stream can cause the formation of mud rings or cause wellbore instability. Often a three-phase separator is installed upstream of any compressors and boosters configuration and downstream of the drill gas unit. Careful planning should be given to the working pressure and temperature ratings of the vessel chosen for the separation process. The vessel must be able to handle flow in excess of the highest required gas injection rate

Compressor and Booster: These pieces of surface equipment may or may not be required. This can be determined by examining the pipeline supply pressure and the anticipated gas injection standpipe pressure. Even if pressures are considered to be adequate, it may still be advisable to have a booster available in case downhole problems result in the use of a higher standpipe pressure. Obviously, any compressors or boosters used in the process must be rated for natural gas service

Adjustable Choke or Pressure Regulator: The supply gas should flow through an adjustable choke or pressure regulating valve so that the flow rate can be controlled during drilling and tripping operations. The choke or valve should be located downstream of any booster unit included in the surface equipment layout

Valve Manifold: Immediately downstream of the choke or regulating valve the gas flow is directed into a valve manifold, similar to the air header described in dry air drilling system. Ideally this manifold is located on the rig floor, next to the Driller’s console. The manifold should have the ability to independently vent the gas delivery line and the standpipe. The diameter of both of these vent lines must be carefully controlled. If it is considered desirable to measure the gas production rate, additional lines from the choke manifold to the flare should be installed to accommodate a flow tester

3.3.1.2 Gas Detectors

It is essential that hydrocarbon gas detectors are located on the rig floor and at strategic points on the rigsite during a land based operation. In an offshore environment, the placement of existing gas detectors must be included in a risk assessment for the underbalanced drilling operation. Consideration must be given to the zone rating applied to the areas where the surface equipment is located and the effect of any gas leakage.

3.3.1.3 Flaring Arrangements

Flaring arrangements are specific to the location either onshore or in an offshore environment. Therefore, the flaring arrangements must be fully addressed during the planning stage of the underbalanced drilling operation.

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3.3.2 Operating Procedures

The operating procedures for drilling with natural gas are similar to those used when drilling with dry air or nitrogen. The gas delivery rate can be controlled by adjusting the choke in the supply line or by adjusting the pressure regulating valve to achieve the rate which produces the desired standpipe pressure.

3.3.2.1 Hole Cleaning

Natural gas is usually less efficient than dry air at transporting cuttings at the same volumetric rate. The density of natural gas is different from the density of air at the same temperature and pressure. In general, the specific gravity of natural gas is less than that of air and the lower density fluids are naturally less proficient for drill cuttings transportation.

The specific gravity of natural gas varies from reservoir to reservoir, sometimes from well to well. The minimum gas injection rate required for the efficient transportation of drill cuttings will vary with the specific gravity. The required gas rate increase is inversely proportion to the square root of the gas specific gravity.

Natural gas is not considered to be an ideal gas and therefore behaves differently ideal gas. Natural gas is characterised by a phenomenon known as ‘super compressibility’ meaning that it compresses more readily at some pressures than does an ideal gas. If control of the bottom hole pressure is critical, for example to maintain the underbalanced pressure within a specific range, then the real compressibility of natural gas should be considered.

Natural gas is considerably more expensive than compressed air. The most cost effective injection rate of natural gas is most likely the recommended minimum rate for hole cleaning purposes. The size of the hole being drilled will have a substantial impact on the natural gas injection rates required, and therefore the cost.

3.3.2.2 Connections

It may be necessary to unload the compressors during connections to reduce the amount of natural gas being flared.

3.3.2.3 Tripping

The drillstring should be stripped through the rotating head when tripping out, as far as possible, before the rubber seal element is removed from the rotating head. After removing the seal, the gas flow should be directed such that any gas is dispersed away from the rig floor.

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3.3.2.4 Water Influx

If the well starts to produce water, it is recommended that mist or foam drilling techniques are adopted. The formation of a mud ring is still a major concern in natural gas drilling. With no air in the drilling medium, downhole fires are no longer a concern but a mud ring can still cause a stuck pipe incident. Since the returns are flared at all times, the presence of water in the returns cannot be easily checked at the sampling points. Normally, there will be a change in the character of the flame at the flare line with a significant water influx. Low cuttings return will also be difficult to determine thus the standpipe pressure is the only indicator for detecting the formation of a mud ring or a water influx during natural gas drilling operations. For this reason, it is recommended that the pressure gauge on the standpipe is monitored continuously.

3.3.3 Limitations

The greatest limitation to natural gas underbalanced drilling operations is the necessity to have a supply of natural gas within a range of less than half a mile of the rigsite when conducting onshore drilling operations. This obviously does not apply to an offshore environment if gas is processed at that location.

Comparisons have shown that the cost of using natural gas, instead of dry air, as the drilling fluid is approximately double. The cost of onsite generated nitrogen is generally comparable with the use of natural gas as a drilling fluid medium.

There may be an environmental concern, due to the flaring of the natural gas and the generation of carbon dioxide. Water influxes are considered to be a limitation when drilling with natural gas. The formation of mud rings, wellbore instability, and the costs associated with disposal of the produced water can also be potential limitations.

3.3.4 Summary

Natural gas should be considered as an option for drilling an underbalanced well when downhole fires are a concern and when a supply of natural gas is located close enough to make it economically viable. The cost of underbalanced drilling with natural gas can be as low as 10% to 20% of the cost of drilling with cryogenic nitrogen.

3.3.4.1 Advantages

The advantages of utilising natural gas as a drilling fluid medium are the same as those of dry air or nitrogen. The main advantage over dry air, like nitrogen drilling, is the elimination of downhole fires and corrosion. If the supply of natural gas is close enough, the incremental cost is comparable to that of onsite generated nitrogen and less than that of cryogenic nitrogen.

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3.3.4.2 Disadvantages

The main disadvantage of using natural gas is that there is not always a supply source close enough to make it a viable option. Also, in inhabited areas there may be an environmental concern with flaring, and the same case applies on an offshore platform. The other disadvantages are similar to those of air drilling, with the exception of the elimination of downhole fires. Like nitrogen, the cost of natural gas prohibits drilling deep vertical hole sections in most cases.

3.3.4.3 Design Criteria

Underbalanced drilling with natural gas should be considered when any of the following criteria exist:

Vertical wells with multiple zones of interest that are considered to be easily damaged by conventional drilling fluids

Horizontal or highly deviated sections of wells with known areas of loss circulation

Formations that are considered to be easily damaged by conventional drilling fluids

Formations with adequate strength to withstand the mechanical stresses, generated by the natural gas drilling technique, without collapsing

Areas with limited ground water flow

Areas where downhole fires are a major concern

In both vertical and horizontal wells, the economics of using natural gas as a drilling fluid medium will be based on the comparative location of the supply of the natural gas.

3.4 MIST DRILLING

Mist drilling is commonly applied during dry air, nitrogen or natural gas drilling whenever a modest water influx is encountered and is principally used to avoid the formation of mud rings. This is accomplished by injecting small amounts of water, along with a surfactant and frequently a corrosion inhibitor, into the compressed air flow just upstream of the drillstring. These liquids and any water produced from the influx are dispersed into a mist of independent droplets of liquid. The droplets move at approximately the same velocity as the air or gas medium.

3.4.1 Mist Drilling versus Foam Drilling

Mist drilling is only one of several different drilling techniques in which the drilling fluid is a two-phase mixture of gas and liquid. Other drilling fluids which contain gaseous and liquid phases include foams and aerated or gasified drilling fluid. These are sometimes collectively termed ‘lightened drilling fluids.’

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The droplets in a mist are not connected to one another ie the liquid phase is iscontinuous. In a foam, the liquid is continuous and forms the walls of closed cellular structures that entrap the discontinuous gaseous phase. A mist is formed when the liquid volume fraction is below one to two per cent, at the prevailing pressure and temperature. When mist drilling is the desired technique, the volume of liquid and gases injected into the well is controlled to insure that the drilling fluid is a mist as it flows down the drillstring. However, if there is a substantial water inflow, the liquid volume can increase to a point where a foam is created. As the drilling fluid proceeds up the annulus, the pressure will decrease and the foam may or may not revert to a mist prior to returning to the surface.

If the drilling fluid is a gas (air, nitrogen or natural gas) and a modest water inflow is encountered, mist drilling should be considered. The mist flow will chemically assist in unloading the liquids from the wellbore. This will prevent the formation of a mud ring, increase hole stability and reduce the potential for encountering stuck pipe. If circulation rates are a concern, foam drilling should be considered. Foam has a dramatically higher viscosity than either dry air or mist. This will allow effective hole cleaning at much lower circulation rates than necessary for mist drilling.

3.4.2 Equipment Requirements

3.4.2.1 Surface Equipment

Typically mist drilling is initiated during a dry air drilling operation that has encountered a moderate water inflow. Most of the equipment for mist drilling is similar to that discussed in the dry air drilling section. If mist drilling is the primary method used on a well, only small differences in equipment are required. The water tank supplying the liquid to the mist pump usually has a storage capacity of 50bbls. In an operation where mist drilling is the preferred method, a larger storage capacity will be required.

Mist Pump: A typical mist pump will come with two compartmentalised tanks on the same skid. The tanks usually have a volume of circa 20 barrels and are generally equipped with sensors or a simple mechanical volume indicator. Mist injection rates, reported in barrels per hour (BPH), can be sufficiently measured utilising these gauges. These pumps are not necessary for dry air drilling but it is recommended that they be a standard part of the surface equipment because during the drilling operations it is possible that water influx can occur. In the event that an influx occurs these pumps make it possible to switch to mist or foam drilling to control the water influx. These pumps usually have high pressure ratings and small displacements, and are not generally rated more than 10HP

Surfactant Pump: When a separate surfactant injection pump is used it must have the capacity to deliver from 0.25 to 5 gallons per hour. The surfactant unit requires a much smaller reservoir than is necessary for the water injection system

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Compressors: Due to higher flowing densities, the air injection rates for mist drilling are typically 30% to 40% higher than those for dry air drilling. For this reason it may be necessary to plan for an additional compressor(s). Note also that the standpipe pressures can be as much as 100psi higher than those observed during dry air drilling

3.4.2.2 Water Supply and Disposal Logistics

An adequate water supply should be available to allow the water reservoir of the mist pump unit to be refilled without interference to drilling operations. It is conceivable to recycle water from the reserve pit, reducing water storage requirements. However, this option does require careful consideration of the following factors:

Injection water would have to be solids-free. If water with a high solids content is used, serious damage to the injection pump could occur. Return water has to remain in the pits long enough for all cuttings to settle out. Depth of water above the pit bottom (and cuttings) would need to be such that water can be drawn off without including the solids

Formation water lifted from the well must be compatible with any additives such as surfactants, corrosion inhibitors, etc

It can be difficult to assess the concentration of the various additives present in the recycled water. In a closed system, total liquid returns can be used to calculate dilution

A suitable air-driven or centrifugal pump should be rigged up to transfer water from the pit to the injection pump reservoir. The suction hose should be fitted with an appropriate filter – typically a floating suction hose is used.

All the logistics for liquid collection and storage must be carefully planned, with suitable contingencies, prior to commencing drilling operations. Standard practice is to direct the return flow of mist and cuttings into a system of flare and reserve pits. Large volumes of liquid will have to be contained at the surface during mist drilling. These volumes could be greater than 2000BWPD. Surface equipment should be capable of containing this liquid until it can be disposed. Some disposal options are:

Recycling the water as previously discussed. If there is a considerable water inflow, some of these other options will need exploring

If the well is in close proximity to others, it may be possible to inject the water in an injection well

Reinject the water into a permeable zone, cased-off above the interval being drilled

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3.4.2.3 Contingency Defoaming Arrangements

During normal mist drilling activities, the volumetric fraction of liquid in the returns are too low to exit as foam. However, when an adequate water inflow is encountered, the returns could exit as foam or foam could be produced in the reserve pit with any kind of agitation. It is recommended to make provision for defoaming, especially if water inflow is expected. One way to counter foam returns is to install a separate defoamer unit.

3.4.3 Operating Procedures

Most of the operating procedures are like those used during dry air drilling operations therefore the procedures that are unique to mist drilling have been addressed.

3.4.3.1 Hole Cleaning

The liquid droplets in mist can be regarded the same as cuttings. They have a density of one-half that of typical cuttings and tend to be smaller than most cuttings. The droplets generally move with the same velocity as the gas, ie slip velocity is zero. The flow properties of the gas in which the droplets are dispersed tend to remain unchanged, meaning that mist is no more efficient than dry air for transporting cuttings from the wellbore.

The addition of the liquid droplets increases the drilling fluid density and they can also increase the frictional pressure losses around the well. Due to the increased drilling fluid density and the increased frictional losses the bottom hole pressure is increased, as compared to dry air circulation at the same volumetric rate, by both of these factors. The terminal velocity is reduced by this higher fluid density as well as the annular velocity due to the increased bottom hole pressure. The overall result is that higher injection rates are required when mist drilling to obtain the same annular velocity as with dry air.

Returns should be monitored carefully when mist drilling. The type and volume of the returns are very significant to a successful operation. Continuous returns must be maintained throughout the entire drilling regime. When the water injection rate is too low, a mud ring could form and restrict circulation. This brings about the inherent danger of stuck pipe or a downhole fire.

Hole drag and an increase in standpipe pressure indicate the beginning of a packed-off annulus. When this occurs, the drillstring should be pulled off bottom to stop producing cuttings. The drillstring should then be reciprocated when circulating whilst attempting to break up the obstruction. The standpipe pressure will continue to rise until the obstruction is cleared or circulation is shut off. Stuck pipe and a downhole fire may require fishing and or at worst case a sidetrack. Maximum allowable standpipe pressure prior to shutting off circulation is determined by hole conditions and the cost of the bottom hole assembly due to potential loss from a downhole fire.

When the gas injection rate is too low or the concentration of surfactant is too low, slugging can occur. When slugging transpires, the standpipe pressure will fluctuate noticeably. Increasing air and liquid rates should stop the slugging.

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3.4.3.2 Tripping

During mist drilling when the drillstring is tripped, water inflow is probably occurring downhole. If water is encountered while tripping back in the hole, the well will have to be unloaded before drilling can resume. Procedures for accomplishing this were discussed in the dry air drilling operating procedures in Section 3.1.

When the amount of water is significant, it is not advisable to trip to bottom and attempt to circulate the water out. Circulation may not be achievable and stuck pipe is a possibility. In this case the hole will have to be unloaded in stages. The length of each unloading stage needs to be shorter than when emptying casing, since formation water continues to enter the wellbore while tripping each stage. After staging to bottom, do not resume drilling activities immediately. First circulate the well until the water in the annulus has been reduced.

3.4.3.3 Corrosion Inhibitors

Whenever air is used as the gaseous phase in mist drilling, corrosion inhibitor is used to protect the drillstring and any exposed casing strings. Ensure that when selecting the corrosion inhibitor it is compatible with the surfactant. This will prevent creating unwanted emulsions in the drilling fluid medium. If it is known that a water influx will occur and the composition of the influx is known, the compatibility with the corrosion inhibitor should be reviewed. Bottom hole circulating temperatures are higher than static bottom hole during mist drilling. An allowance should be made for these higher temperatures when specifying the temperature range for the corrosion inhibitor.

3.4.3.4 Liquid and Solid Additives

Any additives to be used in the drilling fluid are usually added to the mist unit tank. The tank can be physically stirred or rolled by using a small amount of air from the compressors. Adding the surfactant last will prevent excess foaming. When using

powdered additives, it is better if they are mixed with water in the mud hopper and then transferred to the foam unit tank. Since the hopper is capable of shearing action,

a better mixing job will be achieved.

3.4.4 Limitations

The primary reason to perform mist drilling is to avoid the formation of mud rings when

a water producing zone is encountered during dry air drilling. As previously discussed,

a mud ring can often be a predecessor to stuck pipe or a downhole fire. The water in

the circulating mist saturates the cuttings and the surfactant prevents the cuttings from adhering together downhole. The liquid in the drilling fluid significantly increases its thermal capacity and diminishes any temperature increase that transpires when the circulating fluid is compressed by a flow obstruction. Thus further decreasing the chance of ignition.

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When the annular velocity is inadequate to clear the wellbore of cuttings, it is possible for the annulus to pack off, even without the formation of a mud ring. This is more likely to occur in a highly deviated or horizontal hole. The required circulation rates in these instances are much higher than those for vertical or near-vertical wells. The annulus may also pack off if large fragments slough off from an unstable formation. Any time the annulus has packed off, the possibility of stuck pipe or downhole fires is extremely high. Other limitations to mist drilling include increased air compression, waste water disposal, increased wellbore instability and corrosion of downhole equipment.

3.4.4.1 Air Compression

Mist drilling generally requires higher air injection rates, typically 30% to 40% higher than required for dry air drilling at the same depth and penetration rate. Standpipe pressure will also be higher, typically 100psi greater than dry air drilling. This will require higher compressor capacity and probably a booster will be necessary, therefore increasing the operating cost.

3.4.4.2 Waste Water Disposal

Waste water disposal costs can be an economic limitation to mist drilling. Daily injection volumes range from 1000 to 2000 barrels and normally this water is not recirculated. Disposal costs are often high. Produced water can quickly exceed the surface storage capacity when encountering a large water influx. Sometimes, on land operations large reserve pits are built to manage the expected water production if environmental considerations allow. If the reserve pits are filled, the options are to abandon mist drilling, mud up and reinject the water unless there is some other method to dispose of the produced water.

3.4.4.3 Wellbore Instability

As discussed in dry air drilling, wellbore instability can result due to large variances between the effective stresses in the formation(s) adjacent to the wellbore and the pressure of the drilling fluid. The wellbore pressure is generally higher when mist drilling but the difference is small in comparison with the rock stresses. If mechanically induced instability is encountered when dry air drilling, there is little chance that mist drilling will improve wellbore stability.

If weak or poorly consolidated formations are penetrated, mist drilling probably should not be considered as an option to increase wellbore stability. Since the volumetric gas flow rate is usually higher and the density of the circulating fluid is higher than that for dry air drilling, wellbore erosion usually accelerates. If wellbore erosion is suspected, stable foam drilling would probably be a more appropriate option, due to much lower annular velocities.

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When water-sensitive shales are encountered during dry air drilling, the shales normally dehydrate and slough into the wellbore. During mist drilling, the water in the drilling fluid can chemically hydrate the shales causing them to swell, creating an undergauged hole and potentially wellbore instability. The addition of salts or polymers can inhibit shale hydration but these additives can add considerable costs to the well. If shale hydration is causing significant problems, it may become cost-effective to switch to a conventional drilling fluid system. In some areas, operators have run an intermediate casing string to isolate water producing zones and then continue with dry air drilling.

3.4.4.4 Corrosion

When mist drilling, the potential for rapid corrosion of downhole equipment increases due to the high oxygen concentration in the aqueous phase, which encourages corrosion of exposed steel. Anodic regions, which are more prone to corrosion, are created when the rotating drillstring impacts against the hole wall and the casing. Any oxide film that forms on exposed steel tends to be removed by impact and by the erosive action of the cuttings in the return flow, allowing corrosion to proceed without hindrance.

Protection against downhole corrosion can be obtained with the addition of a corrosion inhibitor to the injected water or the foaming agent. The corrosion inhibitor must be compatible with the foaming agent and with any other chemicals added to the injected water. Many of the foaming agents used in mist drilling are anionic therefore anionic corrosion inhibitors are required. Of those readily available, complex organo-phosphate esters are the most widely used and successful in mist and foam drilling applications. Film forming inhibitors, the most commonly used in liquid systems, are not usually successful in mist or foam drilling.

The bottom hole circulating temperature monitored during mist drilling is higher than when drilling with a conventional drilling fluid and is higher than the calculated geothermal temperature. This must be considered when specifying the temperature range for the corrosion inhibitor. If the bottom hole static temperature is close to the upper limit of the corrosion inhibitor, it is likely that there will be corrosion while drilling.

3.4.4.5 MWD/FEWD

The same limitations utilising conventional MWD tools experienced in air drilling are evident in mist drilling. If it is necessary to have real time downhole measurements while drilling, EM MWD tools or comparable will be required.

3.4.5 Summary

Mist drilling is generally a technique used when, during dry air drilling, a water influx is encountered. The liquid injection allows for the introduction of surfactants and corrosion inhibitors. The surfactant in the mist helps to unload any liquids in the wellbore caused by a moderate influx of water. This method inhibits the formation of mud rings and minimises the danger of downhole fires, while also preventing stuck pipe incidents.

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3.4.5.1 Advantages

The advantage of using mist drilling, instead of dry air drilling, is prevention of mud rings. The aqueous phase in the circulating fluid saturates the cuttings and the surfactant in the foaming agent prevents the cuttings from adhering together downhole. The thermal capacity is increased which decreases the chances of igniting any hydrocarbons present.

The following advantages are in comparison to conventional drilling fluid systems. Some of the other underbalanced drilling techniques, like dry air and gas, may be more advantageous than mist drilling:

High penetration rates, low bit cost and reduction in rig time

Low water requirements

No mud removal

Modest additives cost

3.4.5.2 Disadvantages

The disadvantages of mist drilling, in comparison with dry air or gas drilling, are:

Increased air compression required

Wellbore instability, both mechanically and chemically induced

Corrosion of downhole equipment and waste water disposal

Cost of extra additives to control some of the above disadvantages

All of these disadvantages add cost to the overall operations. These are some of the reasons why mist drilling is usually not planned from the start but instead used only when necessary.

3.4.5.3 Design Criteria

Underbalanced drilling with mist, a two-phase flow consisting of a discontinuous liquid in the gas, should be considered only when water influx becomes a problem. Mist drilling should only be used in slight to moderate water influxes. In the event that a heavy water inflow is encountered then consideration should be given to using a foam underbalanced drilling technique.

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3.5 STABLE FOAM DRILLING

Stable foam was originally used as a circulation medium to clean out production sand in depleted wells. It was discovered that stable foam had a carrying capacity up to ten times greater than common drilling mud. Thus the industry began to utilise foam as a drilling medium for drill-in applications, drilling in lost circulation zones, coil tubing drilling and underbalanced drilling in depleted zones.

The principal reason for stable foam drilling is the ability to lift large amounts of water from the well without requiring excessive air rates and pressures. Foam allows underbalanced drilling without the high erosion velocities of air drilling while providing similar ecological advantages. It improves borehole stability with some hydrostatic support for the formation without creating a balanced or overbalanced situation.

3.5.1 Foam Drilling versus Dry Air Drilling

Foams incorporate a continuous liquid phase which forms a cellular structure that entraps a discontinuous gas. Foams normally have a remarkably high viscosity. The viscosity of foam is greater than either the liquid or the gas they contain. At the same time, their effective density range is from 1.6ppg to 6.5ppg. This combination of high viscosity and low density can provide several benefits to drilling operations in comparison to dry gas or mist drilling:

The high viscosity yields efficient cuttings transporting. Therefore, annular velocities and required gas injection rates are much lower than in air drilling

Low density of foam allows underbalanced conditions in most situations. Bottom hole pressure with foam tends to be higher than air drilling and may potentially reduce the rate of penetration. However, the rate of penetration is normally greater than those attained with a conventional drilling fluid

Higher annular pressures can essentially reduce the mechanical instability of the wellbore

Low annular velocities reduce the possibility of erosion of the wellbore or the drillstring

While it is possible to make foam with a number of gases, air is the most commonly used. The liquid phase is invariably aqueous. Because this liquid phase is continuous, a foam formed with air will not normally permit combustion of produced hydrocarbons. In many instances air foams are used to put out hydrocarbon fires. One of the greatest benefits of foam as an underbalanced drilling fluid is its capability to lift large quantities of produced liquids. When the volume of a water influx is greater than the capacity of mist drilling to efficiently remove the liquids, foam provides the ability to continue drilling underbalanced.

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3.5.1.1 Physical Properties of Foam

A foam is made up of an assemblage of gas bubbles in a continuous liquid matrix. Pure water cannot form a foam, since any bubbles blend as soon as they contact one another. A surfactant in the liquid phase stabilises the films that form the bubble walls and allows the foam structure to persist. There are several terms utilised to describe foams. These terms are bubble shape, quality and texture.

Foams are classified according to the shape of the bubbles contained in the foam. Sphere foams are ones which contain very small bubbles that are spherical in shape and are usually freshly generated. This type of foam generally has the highest liquid volume fraction. Polyhedron foams consist of bubbles in the shape of a polyhedron. Polyhedron foams contain a lower liquid fraction than sphere foams due to packing geometry.

The quality of a foam is its gas volume fraction expressed in per cent. A low quality foam or wet foam contains more liquid than does a high quality foam called a dry foam. If foam quality exceeds an upper threshold level, the liquid phase becomes discontinuous and breaks down into a mist of dispersed droplets. A stable foam upper limit is not clearly defined, and depends on shear rate. The upper limit is also dependent upon the composition of the liquid phase, such as surfactants, viscosifiers and liquid. The lower limit of stability is simply a question of definition based on the designation of a ‘lightened fluid’ or a stable foam.’ It has been defined between 55% and 75%. The range used in drilling is 60% to 99% depending on the characteristics of the foam and the location, whether at surface or downhole.

The texture of a foam is described by the size and distribution of its bubbles. A fine foam has small bubbles and a coarse foam has large bubbles. A sphere foam is generally a low quality, fine foam. A polyhedron foam is usually a high quality, coarse foam.

Foams are categorically unstable, yet low quality sphere foams tend to decay slower than do coarse polyhedron foams. There are two processes that cause the foams to decay. These are thinning of the bubble walls and growth of large bubbles at the expense of smaller ones.

Thinning of the bubble walls is due to gravity. Bubbles tend to rise to the top of the foam and the liquid drains through the bubble walls to the base of the foam. Eventually the walls will become so thin that they rupture. Stirring a low quality sphere foam to redistribute the bubbles can prevent thinning. However, agitation of a high quality polyhedron foam will accelerate rupture of the thinned bubble walls.

Liquid surface tension inside a bubble tends to cause the bubble wall to collapse. This effect has a tendency to be balanced by the gas pressure inside the bubble. This pressure is inversely proportional to the bubble size. When a large bubble contacts a smaller bubble, the higher gas pressure inside the smaller cell causes the gas inside it to diffuse through the liquid separating the two bubbles, until the smaller bubble is fully absorbed by the larger.

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The stabilisation of foams can be accomplished by augmenting the strength of the bubble walls and by retarding the drainage of liquid via the bubble walls. Surfactants are not only used to create the bubbles, but also to strengthen the bubble walls against disproportionate thinning. Proteins used in the liquid phase of an air foam will react with oxygen at the air-liquid interface to form a skin. Drainage can be diminished by increasing the bulk viscosity of the liquid phase. Additionally, drainage is reduced using surfactant mixtures to increase the surface viscosity of the base fluid.

3.5.1.2 Foaming Agents

Surfactants are the principal agents used to generate foams. Not all surfactants will perform as foaming agents. Some tend to destabilise the foam structure and are therefore used as defoamers. Currently the most widely used foaming agents are ammonium salts or alcohol ether sulphates. These are anionic surfactants that are highly soluble in most liquids. They create a foam that has a very good thermal stability and is extremely well adapted to low surface temperatures but they tend to be costly. Other and less expensive anionic foaming agents operate well in fresh water and are resistant to hydrocarbon contamination. On the other hand, they lose their foaming capabilities in brine and cannot endure low surface temperatures.

Cationic surfactants are not common foaming agents used in drilling operations due to poor stability and the high level of concentrations required. Nevertheless, cationic surfactants may be worth considering to drill water-sensitive shales because of their ability to stabilise clays.

In general there are three main influences on foam stability. The concentration of the foam, contamination and temperature all effect the stability of the foam. Increasing the concentration of the foaming agent will increase the stability of a foam. Measuring the half-life of the foam helps determine the foam stability. The half-life of the foam will increase in direct proportion to the concentration of the foaming agent in normal drilling concentrations. If the foam is contaminated with brine or hydrocarbons, stability can be significantly reduced. The third important influence on stability is temperature. As temperature increases, the rate of foam decay increases and as temperature downhole increases, it is necessary to increase foaming agent concentration.

3.5.2 Equipment and Material Requirements

3.5.2.1 Surface Equipment

Equipment used to drill with pre-formed foam is the same as that utilised for dry air or mist drilling. The following summarises the additional equipment essential for stable foam drilling.

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Compressors: The gas phase of the foam is most often provided by air compressors. Air rates used in foam drilling are usually lower than those for dry air or mist drilling. This allows the use of fewer or smaller compressors. Exceptions may occur if an annular back pressure is applied, if jets are run in the bit or a downhole motor is used. If a large water influx is encountered or if liquid has to be unloaded from the wellbore, higher surface pressures will be required. It is recommended that when using low delivery pressure compressors a booster be included in the system

Gas: The most commonly used gas in foam drilling is air. Other gases could be used such as nitrogen, natural gas, carbon dioxide or exhaust gas. Generally, compressed air is the least expensive. However, the relatively low gas rates required for foam drilling can reduce the additional cost of these alternatives. Whichever gas is used, adequate volume and pressure is obviously essential

Base Fluid: The liquid mixing tanks and injection pumps are similar to those used in mist drilling. Normally two 10bbl mixing tanks are required. The liquid injection pump is fed from one tank, while mixing fresh liquid in the other. A higher capacity pump than that used for mist drilling may be required for foam drilling. Typically the liquid rates for foam drilling are in the magnitude of 10gpm to 20gpm, although rates of up to 100gpm have been recommended for efficient hole cleaning in deep, large diameter wells. Due to the serious impact of foam quality on hole cleaning, it is essential that adequate metering of the gas and liquid is provided. A flow meter in the mist pump suction line is recommended

Foam Generator: A foam generator is the one fundamental addition to a conventional dry air or mist drilling compressor system recommended for foam drilling. This generator ensures that the two phases are thoroughly mixed. The most common type is positioned where the gas and liquid flows meet. The liquid is introduced into the gas flow through a small bore tube midpoint in the flow path. The mixture is then directed through a venturi-type flow constriction. Another type of foam generator is located downstream from where the two phases meet. This promotes mixing through baffle plates or even sand beds. It is not unequivocally apparent that a foam generator is required. However, there is evidence that surface generated foam is more tolerant of contaminants, like formation water or hydrocarbons, than a foam formed in their presence. Thus, it is more advantageous to use a foam generator, unless there are specific reasons not to use this type of equipment

Portable Units: An alternative to traditional dry air drilling equipment is portable air foam units. There are a number of custom-built portable units available from various manufacturers. These units are primarily designed for completion and workover operations but some have adequate output for foam drilling operations. They generally contain air compressors, booster, divided mixing tank, liquid pumps, foam generators and metering system

Mud Pumps: It is recommended that mud pumps are incorporated into the system allowing liquids to be pumped into the well immediately if downhole conditions require it. An ample amount of kill weight mud should be held on location

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Drillstring: Non-return valves, either flapper or float valves, are required in the drillstring. One should be located just above the bit and one near the surface. When drilling long intervals, it may be necessary to reposition the upper non-return valve or install another, to minimise the bleed-down time, prior to making each connection. The requirement for fire stops should be assessed on an individual well basis

Return System: It may become necessary to pressurise the annulus to control foam quality. For this reason, a choke should be located in the return system in close proximity to the RCH or RBOP. If the well programme indicates that annular back pressure may be required, then the additional pressure should be included when specifying the pressure capacity of the RCH or RBOP. In cold regions it is possible for the foam returns to freeze and plug the lines. If possible, an additional foam discharge line should be added. The discharge line and foam discharge line should lead to the flare facility. It is normal to discharge the returns into a combined flare and reserve pit. Since the discharge volumes are likely to be larger than those during air or mist drilling, the pit must be of adequate size, and arrangements made to handle excess amounts of return waters

Air Separator: When fluid recycling is desired, a bowl shaped vessel with a chimney stack, referred to as the air separator, is placed at the end of the line above the shakers. The separator permits the majority of the air to escape and preserves water. Care should be taken that the air separator does not overflow

Defoaming Equipment: When a foam is correctly formulated, it can have a half-life of many minutes or even hours. As a result, large volumes of foam can quickly amass at the surface when circulated at typical rates. This can often necessitate the need to accelerate the decay of the foam once it has returned to the surface. Methods to break the foam at surface are chemical, mechanical, and combined chemical and mechanical

There is a variety of chemical defoamers available. Selection is based on the foaming agent used and laboratory testing to determine the best defoamer for a particular system and the necessary concentrations to break the foam.

Defoaming is also possible by mechanical means. If a high quality foam is used, it is sometimes sufficient to agitate the foam, thereby rupturing the bubble walls. If a low quality sphere foam is used, any agitation can actually increase the half-life of the foam by reversing any gravity induced phase segregation. Centrifugal forces can accelerate the drainage of the liquid phase, destabilising the foam. There are several available defoamer systems, all of which work by some form of accelerated centrifugal motion to assist in gravity induced separation. A hydrocyclone works well and there are two specially designed types of defoamers. The first is a corkscrew shaped flow path that causes centrifugal acceleration. The second is a spinning perforated chamber that dumps air from the top and fluid from the bottom.

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3.5.2.2 Injected Fluid

At a minimum, the injected fluid should include water, a foaming agent, and a corrosion inhibitor. The foaming agent should be chosen to accommodate the predicted downhole conditions. A method for evaluating foaming agents for foam drilling applications is provided in API RP46.

Standard test liquids are fresh water, fresh water with 15% kerosene, 10% brine, and 10% brine with 15% kerosene

Ten grams (10gms) of silica flour are added to one litre (1 ltr) of test liquid to simulate the presence of cuttings

Foam, generated with the specific agent, is used to lift each of the four test liquids up a 10ft long, 2.5in diameter model wellbore

Quantity of test liquid collected in 10 minutes, taken at the top of the wellbore, indicates the foaming agent’s suitability for use in saline or hydrocarbon environments

If possible, samples of actual formation fluids and cuttings should be substituted for the regular test liquids and solids

The foaming agent concentration used in the injected fluid should be formulated by downhole conditions and the interaction between the foaming agent and any formation fluids that are expected to be encountered. Generally, the concentrations of foaming agents used are in the range of 0.5% to 2%. It is important that the concentration be modified to attain a level of foam stability that balances good hole cleaning with easy defoaming. Careful evaluation and selection of the corrosion inhibitor is vital to prevent severe corrosion of downhole equipment as depth and temperature increase. All corrosion inhibitors should be tested in the worst projected conditions to ensure that their effective limit is not exceeded.

Potassium chloride or other shale hydration inhibitors may also be added. To create a ‘stiff foam,’ viscosifiers may be added to the liquid phase. This underbalanced drilling technique is called ‘Stiff Foam Drilling’.

3.5.2.3 Environmental Considerations

Almost all surfactants in foaming agents are biodegradable but all the various chemicals used in the stable foam drilling process must conform to the appropriate environmental conditions that apply for the drilling location. If the waste liquids are contaminated by formation fluids, the disposal of the combined fluids must also comply with the appropriate environmental regulations.

Normally the injected fluids are not recycled. However, if the foam can be successfully collapsed and the fluid reconditioned to the original specifications, recycling is an option. If this is possible, the consumable costs can be reduced by as much as 50%.

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3.5.2.4 Defoaming Arrangements

During foam drilling operations, a very large volume of foam can rapidly accumulate at the surface. It is standard practice to take measures to destabilise the foam. This process can be done by chemical or mechanical means or a combination of both. Due to the very large volume produced it is therefore essential that the defoaming arrangements are suitable for the planned well conditions to be encountered. A contingency plan should also be developed to address any failures of the defoaming equipment or changes in the volume of foam produced.

3.5.3 Operating Procedures

Stable foam drilling is similar to dry air drilling in many cases.

3.5.3.1 Hole Cleaning

It is essential that the standpipe pressure and the foam quality at the flare pit is closely monitored. Mud rings seldom form during foam drilling so the changes in standpipe pressure and foam quality usually indicate influx. If the foam is wet and there is an increase in standpipe pressure this indicates a potential water influx, the downhole quality may be too low to lift any produced drill cuttings. Additional concentration of foaming agent will be required. With high volume water influxes, additional air volume may also be required. If surface foam quality is too high, the foam may slug or revert to mist, which indicates a potential gas influx. In this case the rate of addition of the foaming agent must be increased but the concentration of the foaming agent must not be adjusted. A change in surface foam quality without a pressure increase can be a function of temperature or contamination. This will require an adjustment in foaming agent concentration or rate of addition.

Either a water influx or a gas influx will drive the foam out of its effective quality range and reduces the foam's ability to lift cuttings. Also, excessive drag or fill may indicate a problem with foam quality or annular velocities. These problem must be addressed to avoid a stuck pipe incident.

3.5.3.2 Connections

Connections during foam drilling are handled similarly to connections during dry air drilling. Depending on foam quality and half-life, it may be necessary to circulate bottoms up before making a connection. The process of making a connection involves stopping the liquid injection, diverting the air flow to the primary jet line and jetting the return line while making the connection. A portion of the foam in the well will collapse while making the connection. As in air drilling, circulation should be re-established before picking up out of the slips. The drilling process can then continue when the standpipe pressure starts to decrease or when stable foam returns are resumed.

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3.5.3.3 Tripping

Before tripping, it is important to circulate the well clean. During the trip, the foam will collapse and leave all cuttings and liquids at the bottom of the well. The requirements before making a trip are dependent on several factors. The amount and type of influx, and the quality and efficiency of the foam should be established prior to formulating a trip plan. A low quality foam will leave drill cuttings in the well, and the level of fill encountered will provide an understanding of the cleaning efficiency of the system. The circulating system should be adjusted, foaming agent concentration, etc to clean the well before a trip.

A small influx may make it desirable to blow the well dry with air before tripping as this

will reduce the amount of water that must be dealt with tripping back to bottom. A high volume water influx can fill a substantial portion of the wellbore and will require staging back into the hole to clear the water. In contrast to dry air drilling, the option exists to use a low quality foam to clear the wellbore in one stage. A gradual increase in foam quality as the well unloads allows for the well to be unloaded in a single stage and converted back to high quality foam without excessive standpipe pressures.

The presence of a gas influx can present a real danger to the rig. If there is any possibility that the well has been producing gas, the RCH or RBOP should be used to isolate the well, while the system is flushed to remove the gas. Any gas should be flared. The blind rams should be closed whenever the pipe is out of the hole.

3.5.4 Limitations

There are a number of factors that limit the applicability of stable foam drilling. These include corrosion of downhole equipment, wellbore instability, downhole fires, waste water disposal and consumable costs. Most of these limitations are common to air drilling and to mist drilling.

3.5.4.1 Wellbore Instability

Stable foam drilling improves wellbore stability by removing cuttings at a much lower shear rate than air or mist drilling. The high viscosities and low velocities create little erosion in the wellbore. Mechanically induced wellbore instability, such as hole collapse

or sloughing, is reduced by foam over air by reducing the pressure differential between

the rock and the wellbore. The magnitude of the decrease in differential would be approximately 30% at 5000ft based on typical hydrostatic pressures. In some cases

this may be enough to reduce or eliminate the sloughing.

Chemical instabilities, like shale swelling, caused by any water bearing fluid can

usually be controlled by the addition of inhibiting salts. Stable foam carries a proportionally higher cost for the salts than mist drilling due to its higher water content.

A water influx can make the cost prohibitive due to treatment of large amounts of water

that must be disposed of once it reaches surface.

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3.5.4.2 Waste Water Disposal

The primary reason for using a stable foam system is to lift formation water from the well. Due to the large quantities of water that can be expected, specific arrangements will have to be implemented for disposal of the water. Poor planning for disposal and anticipated water volumes can create a situation where it is necessary to change the underbalanced drilling technique or in the worst case revert to a conventional drilling fluid.

3.5.4.3 Downhole Fires

The air in a stable foam is isolated and unavailable for combustion. In fact, air based foams are used in firefighting. The only reported cases of downhole fires with a stable foam system have been reported in horizontal wells. It is suspected that the foam in the horizontal section separated and created a continuous air phase that could support combustion.

3.5.4.4 Corrosion

Factors that affect the corrosion caused by foam drilling are the same as mist drilling. The combination of oxygen and water at elevated temperature and the removal of corrosion products create a situation that is ideal for rapid corrosion. The addition of salts from the formation water or added as shale inhibitors accelerate the corrosion. In the presence of hydrogen sulphide the reduced thickness of the corroded steel is more susceptible to stress cracking than undamaged steel. This problem can be addressed by the use of carefully chosen corrosion inhibitors, hydrogen sulphide scavengers and the use of sour service materials.

3.5.5 Summary

When a significant water influx is expected or when wellbore erosion or wellbore stability is identified as a potential problem, the stable foam underbalanced drilling technique should be investigated as a possible solution. As with all underbalanced drilling techniques, the basic criteria still apply to candidate selection but some complex problems associated with other underbalanced drilling techniques are workable with a foam system.

3.5.5.1 Advantages

The stable foam system can handle large influxes of water or gas with proper monitoring and treating facilities. The system creates significantly less wellbore erosion than either dry air or mist systems. The wellbore stability is also improved using the stable foam technique.

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