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DC172496 DOI: 10.

2118/172496-PA Date: 7-November-14

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High-Strength, High-Stability Pill System To


Prevent Lost Circulation
Cheng-yuan Xu, SPE, Yi-li Kang, SPE, Li-jun You, SPE, Song Li, SPE, and Fei Chen, State Key Laboratory of Oil and
Gas Reservoir Geology and Exploitation, Southwest Petroleum University, China

Summary
A high-strength, high-stability (HSHS) pill system for controlling
lost circulation has been developed and optimized on the basis of a
physical model of a stable plugged zone. This HSHS pill system provides a stronger and more-effective seal than traditional treatments.
Controlling lost circulation with a plugged zone formed with
lost-circulation material (LCM) in the fracture has achieved tremendous success in past years. However, investigation into the
strength and stability of the plugged zone has not been reported.
Lack of such knowledge often leads to excess costs from repeated
fluid loss and rig time; it increases the difficulty and complexity
of loss-zone diagnosis.
The new HSHS pill system addresses these shortcomings. Surface-friction coefficient, LCM volume fraction, and amount of contact deformation are the main influencing factors of the strength
and stability of the plugged zone. The strength of the plugged zone
is enhanced with the increase of the above factors. A physical
model for stable plugged zone is established considering the three
factors. The pill system that is based on the model provides an
engineered combination of rigid granules, fibers, and resilient particles. The sealing efficiency and the pressure-bearing capacity are
greatly enhanced. It was validated in several field trials in west
China. Operational practices that facilitate the safe use of the
HSHS system with overbalance exceeding 2,174 psi are discussed.
In addition to the field-trial results, this paper also describes the laboratory experiments, that were used for developing the new system.
With the development of the physical model and the HSHS
pill system, it is now possible to optimize and select the types,
properties, and matching relations of the LCM. One can also use
this technology to guide the design of the wellbore-strengthening
scheme and to make sure of the long-term effectiveness of wellbore-strengthening measures.
Introduction
The formation pressure-bearing capacity is the comprehensive reflection of structural integrity and the strength of formation, drilling-fluid
properties, and the interaction between formation and drilling fluid.
Low strength of rock, high development of fracture, and poor plugging ability of drilling fluid often lead to wellbore breakdown or, natural- and induced-fracture propagation. One can see this by formation
low-pressure-bearing capacity and massive losses of drilling fluid
associated with other downhole troubles, which can seriously hinder
the exploration and development of oil and gas resources.
An American Petroleum Institute study published in 1991
includes data indicating that up to 45% of all wells require an intermediate casing string to prevent severe lost circulation while
drilling to total depth (API 1991). Even with the use of these extra
strings, lost-circulation events, still occurred in 18 to 26% of all
hole sections. Some areas reported many more occurrences of
lost-circulation events ranging from 40 to 80% of wells. In recent
years, these percentages have increased because the number of
shallow, easy-to-find reservoirs has steadily declined and industry
operators have intensified their search for deeper reservoirs and
C 2014 Society of Petroleum Engineers
Copyright V

This paper (SPE 172496) was revised for publication from paper IPTC 17127, first presented
at the International Petroleum Technology Conference, Beijing, 2628 March 2013. Original
manuscript received for review 17 January 2013. Revised manuscript received for review 8
October 2013. Paper peer approved 16 June 2014.

334

drilled through depleted or partially depleted formations. Conventional lost-circulation-management methods including pills,
squeezes, pretreatments, and drilling procedures using equivalentcirculating-density (ECD) management have reached their limit
in effectiveness and have become unsuccessful in the deeper-formation conditions, where some formations are depleted, structurally weak, or naturally fractured and faulted.
In the case of occurrences of natural and induced fractures in
which ECD and drilling-fluid weight are already minimized or
cannot be altered, wellbore-strengthening measures are often used
for enhancing the formation pressure-bearing capacity and arresting potential lost circulation. Wellbore-strengthening basics and
successful field applications have been documented many times
(Alberty and McLean 2004; Goud and Joseph 2006; Xu et al.
2011). The most-common wellbore-strengthening theories are
hoop-stress enhancement (stress cage) (Alberty and McLean
2001; Aston et al. 2007), fracture-propagation resistance (FPR)
(Wang et al. 2008; van Oort et al. 2009), and fracture-closure
stress (FCS) (Dupriest 2005; Dupriest et al. 2008). It is a process
of plugging the natural or induced fractures and keeping the fractures propped open with LCM through forming the fracture
plugged zone so that the near-wellbore region is in a state of
compression and the formation pressure-resisting capability is
enhanced. After the fractures are plugged, the pressure-bearing
capacity and the stability of the plugged zone are of prime importance, which is related to the quality of formation strengthening,
formation-damage control, and the smooth proceeding of following measures (Kang et al. 2012; You and Kang 2009). However,
the structure and mechanical property of the plugged zone were
less studied in the previous work. In a word, it is of great importance to describe the structure, analyze the influencing factors,
and finally establish a physical model of the stable plugged zone
so that high plugging strength and stability can be achieved and
relevant field operation can be guided.
Several models were reported to optimize the size distribution
for these granules to maximize their plugging and sealing efficiency: The Abrams model (Abrams 1977), ideal-packing theory
(Dick et al. 2000), and the Vickers model (Vickers et al. 2010).
Even though these algorithms vary in optimizing the particle-size
distribution, they all agree that the optimized granule size is a
function of the loss-zone geometry (i.e., the median granule size
should be equal to one-third of the fracture width). However, not
only does LCM-size distribution affects the plugging effectiveness, but also the LCM types and their combination play important roles in the plugging strength and stability. Moreover, the
plugged zone formed in the fracture must develop enough strength
to sustain crushing and shearing stress exerted by the formation
and fluid. In this paper, the HSHS pill system is developed with a
combination of rigid particles, fiber, and resilient particles to
effectively increase the plugging ability of the drilling fluid and
the plugging stability of the plugged zone.
Plugging Capacity and Stability Analysis of HSHS
System
The plugged zone composed of LCM is a granular-matter system
with internal structure and mechanical properties that, to a large
extent, determine the plugging capacity and stability of the plugging system. On the basis of the relevant knowledge of granularmatter mechanics (Sun and Wang 2009), the granular-matter
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plugged zone
mesoscale

microscale

macroscale

Fig. 2Multiscale framework of fracture plugged zone.

The amount of contact deformation a between each pair of particles is expressed as the ratio of the total deformation D of a force
chain to the number of particles in the chain:
a D=N Dd=L ; . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
where
Fig. 1Force-chain network (Sun and Wang 2009).

N L=d ; . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
system composed of LCM is intrinsically multiscale. Besides microscopic single particle and macroscopic plugged zone formed
in the fracture channel, it also consists of mesoscopic force
chains developed by several particles constantly contacting each
other under external load. Fig. 1 shows the force-chain network
throughout the granule system. The force chain is the main way
for the mascroscopic plugged zone to transfer the external load.
Fig. 2 briefly describes the relations among the three scales. The
performance of microscale depends mainly on the intrinsic property parameter of the LCM. The mesoscale forms the force chain
on the basis of the contact force of the microscale and develops
under the control of the macroscale. Under the action of external
load, the dynamic evolution rules of the mesoscale determine the
mechanical response of the macroscale. The size of force chain is
bigger than the single particle but smaller than the granule system.
It is the mesoscale force chain that supports most crushing and
shearing stress with a direction that is mainly perpendicular to the
compressive stress. The strength of mesoscopic force chains has a
great effect on the strength of the macrosopic plugged zone.
After the composite solution is pumped downhole, the plugs
forming within the open fractures must remain stable and sustain
the FCS, elevated differential pressure, and pressure fluctuation
while surging and swabbing. The FCS mainly holds the fracture
faces closed, and the differential pressures are formed by the different fluid pressures between wellbore and fracture (Fig. 3). Therefore, the mechanical strength and stability of the plugged zone are
greatly important to maintaining the long-term plugging effectiveness. According to granular-matter mechanics, the contact-deformation, LCM-volume-fraction, and surface-friction-coefficient
values are the major factors that influence the strength of mesoscale
force chains and influence further the stability of the plugged zone.
Amount of Contact Deformation. In the case of Fig. 3, the force
chains with the direction mainly perpendicular to the fracture face
are compressed by FCS and sheared by the differential pressure.

L is the length of the force chain, and d is diameter of the LCM.


According to Hookes law, considering the average coefficient
of the elasticity of LCM as E, one can describe the contact stress
by
r F=pd2 ED=pLd
and
.
.
rd=E D pL a pd ; . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
where sd=E is dimensionless contact stress that is determined by
the ratio of contact deformation to the mean diameter of LCM.
Eq. 3 shows that a high value of contact deformation will
increase the dimensionless contact stress that strongly affects the
strength of force chains. The amount of contact deformation refers
only to elastic deformation because the inelastic deformation and
strength-failure deformation will lead to LCM size degradation
that has a negative effect on the strength and stability of the
plugged zone. The addition of deformable material will increase
the amount of contact deformation and magnify further the
dimensionless contact stress because of its resilient property.
The amount of contact deformation of the plugged zone will
be influenced by the plugged-zone size. Thus, the elastic deformation rate that is expressed as the ratio of elastic-deformation
amount to LCM original volume is used to reflect the amount of
contact deformation to eliminate the size effect. One can measure
the elastic-deformation rate with the Tinius Olsen Hydraulic Press
Tester.
LCM Volume Fraction. The LCM volume fraction reflects the
compactness of the plugged zone, and it will directly affect the
structure and stability of the force chain. One can express the LCM
volume fraction (ub ) as the ratio of the LCM volume to the fracture-loss channel volume plugged by LCM:
ub

Fig. 3Forces applied on the plugged zone after it is formed in


the fracture.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

Vm
; . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Vf

where Vm is the volume of LCM and Vf is the fracture-loss channel volume plugged by LCM.
A strong force chain cannot be formed in a less-compacted
granule system with low LCM volume fraction. This will lead to
an unstable force chain and high fluid pressure in the fracture.
Furthermore, it will reduce the strength and stability of the
plugged zone. Fiber material has smaller diameter compared with
particles and can fill in the pore between sized particles. Thus, the
LCM volume fraction and compactness of the plugged zone can
be effectively increased by the addition of fiber. One can determine the LCM volume fraction with the SCMS300-CI porosityand-permeability measurement system. First, the porosity of the

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Fig. 4Influence of surface-friction coefficient on shear strength of force chain.

259.60

249.18

245.14

243.18

243.13

239.95

1197.54

1195.31

1195.27

1158.62

1116.52

1114.43

Fig. 5Image of calcium carbonate and graphite carbon particles with median particle size 500 microns (Kumar et al. 2010).

metal core sample with plugged zone in the fracture is measured


by the SCMS300-CI system after the fracture of the metal core
sample with zero matrix porosity is plugged by LCM. Then, the
LCM volume fraction is given by
ub 1 

V c up
Vp
1
; . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Vf
Vf

where
up

Vp
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Vc

and up is the porosity of the plugged metal core sample, Vp is the


pore volume (PV) of the metal core sample after it is plugged, and
Vc is the apparent volume of the core sample.
Surface-Friction Coefficient. The surface-friction coefficient includes the LCM surface-friction coefficient that can be selected and
the controlled fracture surface-friction coefficient that cannot be
changed. The force chain formed by LCM with low surface-friction

coefficient will break off easily even if small shear is applied. The
internal friction angle rises with the increase of the surface-friction
coefficient so that the force chain can rotate under a certain angle
without becoming unstable (Fig. 4). It is indicated that the higher
the surface-friction coefficient the LCM has, the higher the shearing
resistance the force chain possesses. Moreover, the antishear ability
of the force chain is also affected by contact area that can be
enlarged by increasing the amount of contact deformation with the
addition of resilient particles. The surface-friction coefficient is
related to the particle diameter, sphericity, and convexity of LCM
that represent surface roughness (Fig. 5). The value of different
LCM combinations can be measured by the granular-matter surface-friction-coefficient measuring system. A schematic of the
measuring system is shown in Fig. 6. The experimental results in
Fig. 7 and Table 1 show that smaller particle diameter, lower sphericity, and lower convexity will lead to higher surface-friction
coefficient.
According to the preceding analysis, the combination of rigid
granules, fiber, and resilient particles has a positive effect on the
values for contact deformation, LCM volume fraction, and

0.35

plate

spring

tension meter

Friction (N)

F(t) data collection

0.33
0.31
0.29
0.27
0.25
0.23
0.21
0.19
0.17
0.15

lostcirculation
material

0
quasi-static electronic control translation platform

Fig. 6Schematic of granular-matter surface-friction-coefficient measuring system (Peng et al. 2010).


336

0.5

1.5

2.5

Particle diameter (mm)


Fig. 7Surface friction with different particle diameter under
constant pressure.
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TABLE 1LCM PHYSICAL PROPERTIES RELATED TO SURFACE-FRICTION COEFFICIENT

LCM Type

Diameter
(mm)

Sphericity

Convexity

Surface-Friction
Coefficient

Accuracy

Calcium carbonate
Calcium carbonate
Calcium carbonate
Graphite carbon
Graphite carbon
Graphite carbon

1000
1000
1000
1000
1000
1000

0.54
0.50
0.54
0.53
0.46
0.53

0.96
0.96
0.90
0.90
0.90
0.88

0.145
0.150
0.149
0.167
0.187
0.179

60.006
60.006
60.006
60.006
60.006
60.006

surface-friction coefficient. Each type of LCM plays a different


and unique role in the plugged zone:
Rigid Granule. LCM that forms an immobile plug inside the
fracture will be subjected to various formation stresses. One important stress is the FCS with magnitude that is generally equal to
minimal horizontal stress. The advantage of the rigid particles
over fiber and deformable material is their good crush strength or
crush resistance for them to be durable under the great FCS. In
most plugging operations, sized calcium carbonate is used as the
rigid granule because of its cost efficiency and acid solubility.
The determination of the rigid particle size adopts the D90
method that refers to the principle that the D90 of the particle-size
distribution is set equal to the maximal fracture width. The size
degradation rate of D90 should be less than 10% under 15-MPa
pressure to make sure of the plugging effectiveness.
Fiber. Fiber material has a bigger aspect ratio compared
with granules and is more pliable compared with rigid particles.
Thus, the fiber component in the composite formulation is capable
of filling in the pores between particles, which will greatly
increase the LCM volume fraction and the compactness of the
plugged zone. These unique properties lead it to play an irreplaceable role in the plugging capacity and stability of the plugging
system. The major role of fiber is to increase the LCM volume
fraction and compactness of the plugged zone and to form an
impermeable barrier in the loss zone.
To achieve this purpose, the selection criteria of fiber are as
follows. First, the fiber must have good dispersion in the drilling
fluid. Second, the fiber should have enough length to fill in the
pores between particles. On the basis of granular-matter mechanics, the minimal length with twice the circumference of the largest
particle can effectively increase the LCM volume fraction. Third,
the fiber must have enough strength to resist the shear failure in
the process of the plugged-zone shearing deformation. The shear
strength of the fiber decreases with the increase of the ratio of
length to diameter. According to granular-matter mechanics, the
maximal ratio of length to diameter is described by
lf
rfu

; . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
df
2s
where lf is fiber length, df is fiber diameter, rfu is the yield
strength of the fiber, and s is average shear stress.
Resilient Particles. On the one hand, the addition of resilient
material will increase the amount of contact deformation and
magnify further the dimensionless contact stress; on the other
hand, the addition of resilient particles can increase the self-adaption capacity of the plugged zone to the size change of the fractured loss channel under the effect of FCS and wellbore pressure.
Resilient graphitic carbon is often used as the deformable material
because of its good resilient property. The resilient particle should
have high temperature resistance (to a minimum 100 C) considering the high temperature in the formation. To achieve a high
amount of contact deformation and not affect the strength of the
plugged zone, the elastic-deformation rate of the resilient particle
should be 10 to 20% on the basis of granular-matter mechanics.
The preceding analysis that is based on granular-matter
mechanics and LCM properties indicates the necessity of the
combination of rigid granular, fiber, and resilient particles to

achieve high values of contact deformation, LCM volume fraction, and surface-friction coefficient, which are key factors for
plugging strength and stability. The measurement methods of the
three parameters are introduced and LCM selection criteria to
achieve high value of the three parameters are also described in
the preceding analysis.
Experimental Design
The objective of the laboratory study reported here is to evaluate
and validate the plugging effectiveness of the LCM combination
that is analyzed to be beneficial for the plugging strength and stability. The optimal concentration for the LCM is also investigated
in the experiments. Considering the property of the loss channels
and the repeatability of the plugging test, the experimental design
focuses on the use of a metal core sample with known fracture
size to replicate the fractured loss channel. A series of experiments was designed to investigate the following factors that
reflect the plugging effectiveness and guide the LCM selection.
Maximal plugging pressure and total loss volume before
sealing
Optimal concentration for rigid granules, fiber, and resilient
particles
The effect of the addition of fiber and resilient particles on
plugging effectiveness
The effect of fracture-surface morphology on plugging
effectiveness
The influence of different LCM combinations on the value
of the values of contact deformation, LCM volume fraction, and
surface-friction coefficient (the corresponding values being measured by the Tinius Olsen Hydraulic Press Tester, the SCMS300CI porosity and permeability measurement system, and the granular-matter surface-friction-coefficient measuring system)
Experimental Equipment for Plugging Test. A series of laboratory experiments were conducted in the State Key Laboratory of
Oil and Gas Reservoir Geology and Exploitation at Southwest Petroleum University. The system applied for plugging-strengthand-stability analysis in this paper is the high-temperature and
high-pressure multifunction horizontal-well damage-evaluation
apparatus (Fig. 8). The experiments follow a simple procedure,
and each test could be repeated for reliability.
The apparatus consists of a cylindrical steel vessel in which
the drilling fluid can be heated to a maximal 150 C, an agitator in
the vessel to simulate the fluid-flow state of the drilling process,
and a core-sample holder with an inner diameter of 2.5 cm that is
connected with the confining-pressure-control system. The vessel
is connected to atmospheric pressure through the core-sample
holder. As the experiment starts, water in an intermediate container is pumped under a known pressure to the top of the vessel
to push the drilling fluid out of the vessel through the core sample
fixed in the holder with known fracture size. Fluid pressure up to
20 MPa (2,900 psi) is achievable with this apparatus. The fluid
pressure, confining pressure, and rotational speed of the agitator
can all be controlled and measured independently. In the plugging
tests, the initial applied fluid pressure is 3.5 MPa, and it increases
1.0-MPa increments. Every pressure point is held constant during
the test, if the pressure balance can be built up within 5 minutes

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volume of mud loss


confining pressure
lost-circulation pressure
mud container

intermediate
container

rotor
core

Fig. 9Metal core samples with different fracture-surface


morphology.

motor

confining pressure pump

Fig. 8Schematic of plugging-test apparatus.

and the pressure drop is less than 5% within 15 minutes, and then
increases the fluid pressure to the next pressure point. If the pressure drop is more than 5% within 15 minutes, then the final pressure is recorded within 30 minutes and is taken it as the maximal
plugging pressure. Sometimes, when the applied fluid pressure
exceeds the critical pressure point, the pressure balance cannot be
built up, and the plugged zone will break down with the applied
fluid pressure dropping to zero quickly. In this case, the maximal
plugging pressure is taken as the prior pressure point.
Metal core samples with a fixed length of 50 mm and width of 1
mm are used to simulate the fracture loss channel (Fig. 9). The
flow of the drilling fluid is restricted by the size of the fracture of
the core sample and LCM in the fluid. Evidently, if LCMs can
manage to plug the fracture and form the plugged zone in the fracture, the fluid loss from the vessel to the fracture can be prevented.
Experimental Boundary Conditions. On the basis of the rockmechanics parameter and in-situ stress data of several thief zones,
the dynamic fracture width is simulated and the slot width for the
metal core samples is selected on the basis of the simulation
results. According to the finite-element simulation, the in-situ
fracture width can increase to a maximum of 1.0 mm considering
the positive pressure applied by the drilling fluid (Fig. 10). Thus,
a fracture with a width of 1.0 mm is used in the laboratory study.
Fracture core sample with smooth fracture surface is the most difficult condition to plug. Thus, the smooth fracture is used to evaluate the plugging ability of the LCM. If the core sample with a
smooth fracture surface can be plugged and sealed effectively, the
recommended HSHS solution can also be applied to the core sample with more rough fracture surface. The boundary conditions
used in the plugging experiment are as follows:
Initial wellbore pressure or drilling-fluid application pressure
3.5 MPa (507.5 psi).
Maximal plugging pressure 20 MPa (2,900 psi).
z

fracture

Fluid Specifications. In the experiment, water-based drilling


fluid with specific gravity (SG) of 2.1 was used as the carrier fluid
for the LCM. The drilling-fluid properties are described in Table 2.
The same carrier fluid is used in all the experiments reported in this
paper.
Experimental Results
A series of tests were performed with different types and concentrations of the LCM mixed in the carrier fluid. The parameters
including maximal plugging pressure and total loss volume before
sealing are measured to evaluate the plugging strength and stability of the plugging pill. On the basis of the LCM selection criteria,
sized calcium carbonate named ZD-C is used as the rigid granule,
cellulosic fiber DTR is used as fiber, and graphite carbon is used
as the resilient particle in the experiment.
Fig. 11 shows the results for a different concentration of ZD-C
(sized calcium carbonate) added into the carrier fluid to plug and
seal the fracture. The plugging capacity of the system is improved
with the concentration increase of ZD-C, and the optimal concentration is 3 to 5%, exceeding which the maximal plugging capacity
will not continue to increase but will keep constant. In the fracture
plugged zone, rigid granules play the major role to sustain the pressure from drilling fluid and confining pressure because of their high
compressive strength. However, the rigid granule itself has no resilience and cannot ensure the compactness of the plugged zone.
These factors have a negative effect on the plugging effectiveness;
thus, the plugged zone formed with rigid granules can achieve only
the maximal plugging pressure of 5.5 MPa.

v
D

E
F

P2

Confining pressure 20 MPa (2,900 psi).


Maximal fracture-closure pressure (pressure applied perpendicular to the fracture surface) 15 MPa (2,175 psi).
Fracture geometry parallel-walled fracture, smooth fracture surface, and fixed fracture width.
Fracture width (constant throughout the experiment) 1000
lm.
Concentration of the LCM in the carrier fluid the ratio of
mass to volume.
Applied rotational speed of the agitator in the vessel 150
s1.

P1

Half-width of the fracture (mm)

monitor

3 MPa
5 MPa
7 MPa
10 MPa
15 MPa
20 MPa

0.5

0.4

0.3

0.2

0.1

0.0
0

200

400

600

800

1000

Fracture length (mm)

Fig. 10Dynamic fracture width under different overbalance pressure.


338

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After 16 Hours
of Aging at 100 C

600 rev/min
300 rev/min
200 rev/min
100 rev/min
6 rev/min
3 rev/per/min
Plastic viscosity (mPas)
Yield point (Pa)
Funnel viscosity (seconds)
Fluid leaking (cm3/30 min)

74
44
35
27
16
13
30
7.1
85
4.9

69
41
33
25
14
12
28
6.6
81
4.5

16.0
14.0

rigid granule

12.0
10.0
8.0
6.0
4.0
2.0
0.0

fiber based

14.0
12.0
10.0
8.0
6.0
4.0

0.0
3.0

4.0

5.0

6.0

Fig. 12Maximal plugging pressure with different concentration of fiber on the basis of 3% rigid granules that has been
added into the carrier fluid.

Maximal plugging pressure (MPa)

In Fig. 12, fiber (DTR) is added into the carrier fluid with 3%
ZD-C to plug and seal the fracture. Fiber can fill in the pores
between particles and increase the LCM volume fraction, which
improve the compactness and plugging effectiveness. The combination of rigid particle and fiber greatly improves the maximal
plugging capacity from 5.5 to 11.5 MPa (Fig. 13). With fiber-concentration increase, the content of fiber in the plugged zone will
increase accordingly. Excessive fiber will reduce the rigid-granule
content in the plugged zone and further have a negative impact on
the plugging effectiveness. Therefore, the maximal plugging pressure reduces slightly with the continuous increase of the fiber concentration. The optimal concentration for fiber is 2 to 3%.
20.0
18.0
16.0
14.0
12.0
resilient particlebased on 3% rigidgranule
and 2% fiber

8.0
6.0

resilient particlebased on 3% rigidgranule

4.0
2.0
0.0
0.0

1.0

2.0

3.0

4.0

5.0

6.0

7.0

10
rigid particle
8
6
4
2
0
-C

-C

-C

-C

ZD

2%

ZD

3%

ZD

4%

-C

6.0

Concentration of resilient particle (%)


Fig. 14Maximal plugging pressure with different concentration of resilient particle on the basis of other LCM that has been
added into the carrier fluid.

TR

TR

ZD

-C

3%

ZD

5
2.

+3

-C

-C

ZD

TR

+2

3%

TR

5%

Concentration of fiber (%)

10.0

5.0

rigid particle + fiber

12

1%

2.0

4.0

3.0

14

ZD

2.0
1.0

2.0

Fig. 11Maximal plugging pressure with different concentration of rigid granules.

18.0

0.0

1.0

Concentration of rigid granule (%)

20.0
16.0

18.0

0.0

Maximal plugging pressure (MPa)

Maximal plugging pressure (MPa)

Fluid Property

Before
Aging

Maximal plugging pressure (MPa)

20.0

TABLE 2THE PHYSICAL PROPERTIES OF EXPERIMENTAL


CARRIER FLUID

-C

ZD

3%

5
3.

ZD

3%

Fig. 13Plugging tests with different concentration of ZD-C


(rigid particles) and a combination of ZD-C and DTR (fiber).

Then, resilient particle (graphite carbon) is added into the drilling fluid with 3% ZD-C and 2% DTR to evaluate the plugging
effectiveness. Resilient particle can improve the resilience and
amount of contact deformation of the plugged zone, which prevents the rigid granule from crushing under pressure and increases
the plugging stability. Therefore, the maximal plugging pressure
is improved to 15.5 MPa with the optimal concentration of 1 to
2.5% of the resilient particle (Fig. 14). Similarly, excessive resilient-particle concentration will reduce the rigid-granule content in
the plugged zone and lead to the slight decrease of the plugging
effectiveness. Compared with Fig. 14 in which the resilient particle
is added on the basis of 3% ZD-C only, the optimal concentration
for the resilient particles is only 1%. This is because the plugged
zone has low compactness without fiber filled into the pore
between particles. In this case, the deformation of the plugged zone
is mainly inelastic and structural deformation so the optimal concentration range is less than that of the resilient particles added in
the carrier fluid with rigid granules and fiber. Fig. 15 presents the
entire experimental results for the maximum plugging pressure
with different concentration of LCM.
Fig. 16 and Fig. 17 show the test results for maximal plugging
pressure and total loss volume before sealing in four kinds of circumstances: rigid granules only, fiber only, resilient particles
only, and a combination of all the three types. The concentrations
of LCM are the same 5% when it is used separately. In the LCM
combination, the concentration is 3, 2, and 1% for rigid, fibrous,
and resilient separately, respectively. When the LCM in the plugging slurry is rigid granule only, fiber only, and resilient particle
only, the maximal plugging pressure is 5.5, 4.1, and 4.9 MPa,
respectively. The total loss volume before sealing is 865, 470, and
846 cm3, respectively. From the experiment results, we can see
that the combination of the three types of LCMs can greatly
improve the plugging effectiveness and efficiency. As a result of
synergy, the maximal plugging pressure is increased to 15.5 MPa,

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339

rigidgranule

22.5

fiberbased on 3% rigidgranule

20.0

Stage:

resilient particlebased on 3% rigidgranule and 2% fiber

17.5
15.0
12.5

10.0
7.5

15.5

10
5.5

4.1

2.0

3.0

4.0

5.0

6.0

7.0

Concentration (%)

846

470

50
rigid granule only fiber only resilient particle combination of
only
all the three types
Types of LCM

Fig. 17Total loss volume before sealing with different plugging system (average results of 30 sets of experiments).

and the total loss volume before sealing is reduced to only 50


cm3. The cumulative filtration volume of drilling fluid is only 1.2
cm3 within 60 minutes after the plugged zone is formed with
the combination of rigid granules, fiber, and resilient particles
(Fig. 18). The permeability of the plugged zone is determined on
the basis of Darcys law:
QlL
1:2=3600  1:1  5
0:066  103 lm2 ;
K ADP
1:8  0:1  155  1

Maximal plugging pressure (MPa)

where Q is volume flow rate, cm3/s; l is the viscosity of drillingfluid filtrate, mPas; L is the length of fracture plugged zone, cm;
25
20
15

18.2

19.5

15.0

4
3
2
1
0

10

20

30
40
Time (min)

50

60

70

Fig. 18Cumulative filtration volume of drilling fluid after the


plugged zone is formed with the combination of rigid granule,
fiber, and resilient particle.

A is the area perpendicular to the flow direction, cm2; and DP is


pressure differential, atm.
Fig. 19 shows that the maximum plugging pressure with different fracture surface morphology. It indicates that the fracture
core sample with smooth fracture surface is the most difficult condition to plug. The measurements for surface-friction coefficient,
LCM volume fraction, and amount of contact deformation of the
plugged zone formed with different LCM combinations are conducted by the corresponding methods previously mentioned. The
experiment results in Fig. 20, Fig. 21, and Table 3 show that the
three parameters are greatly increased by the combination of rigid
granules, fiber, and resilient particles. The size distribution of the
LCM combination is shown in Fig. 22.
According to the preceding experimental results, the importance of the combination of rigid granules, fiber, and resilient particles is validated. The plugging-test results make a strong
confirmation of the plugging capacity and stability analysis of the
preceding HSHS system.

10
5
0
type I

type II

type III

Types of fracture-surface morphology


Fig. 19Maximal plugging pressure with different fracture-surface morphology. Type I represents smooth fracture surface,
Type II represents fracture with the combination of smooth and
rough surface, and Type III represents rough fracture surface
(average results of 17 sets of experiments).
340

resilient particle combination of all


only
the three types
Types of LCM

5
Cumulative filtration volume cm3

Total-loss volume before sealing cm3

865

fiber only

Fig. 16Maximal plugging pressure with different plugging


system (average results of 30 sets of experiments).

Fig. 15Maximal plugging pressure with different concentration of LCM.


1000
900
800
700
600
500
400
300
200
100
0

4.9

2.5
1.0

Total Pages: 10

15

rigid granule only

5.0

0.0
0.0

Page: 340

20

25.0

Maximal plugging pressure (MPa)

Maximal plugging pressure (MPa)

DC172496 DOI: 10.2118/172496-PA Date: 7-November-14

Physical Model of Stable Plugged Zone Formed


With HSHS Plugging System
According to the preceding theoretical analysis and laboratory
experiments, a physical model of the stable plugged zone is developed (Fig. 23). On the basis of granule-matter mechanics, amount
of contact deformation, LCM volume fraction, and surface-friction coefficient are the key factors affecting the plugging capacity
and stability. Also, the combination of rigid particle, fiber, and
resilient particle is necessary to achieve this purpose.
In the physical model, rigid particles are essential to sustain the
great stresses exerted by the confining pressure and fluid pressure
because of their advantage of high compressive strength over fiber
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25%
15 MPa
30 MPa

Elastic deformation rate

20%

15.7%
15%

12.2%

10%
5%

2.2%
0.0%

2.7%

0.3%

0%
rigid granular

rigid particle + fiber

rigid particle + fiber +


resilient particle

Types of plugged zone


Fig. 20Elastic-deformation rate of different LCM combinations (average results of 10 sets of experiments).

LCM volume fraction

100%
89.1%

90%

TABLE 3SURFACE-FRICTION COEFFICIENT OF DIFFERENT


LCM COMBINATIONS (AVERAGE RESULTS OF 10 SETS OF
EXPERIMENTS)

92.3%

79.5%

80%
70%

Number

LCM Type

60%

1
2
3

Rigid granules
Rigid granules and fiber
Rigid granules, fiber,
and resilient particles

50%
rigid granular

rigid particle + fiber rigid particle + fiber +


resilient particle
Types of plugged zone

Fig. 21LCM volume fraction of different LCM combinations


(average results of 30 sets of experiments).

and resilient particles. Fiber can fill in the pores between particles
and increase the LCM volume fraction, which improves the compactness and plugging effectiveness of the plugged zone. Compared
with rigid granules, resilient particles have higher sphericity and
convexity that are related to their surface-friction coefficient. Also,
the resilience of resilient particles can greatly improve the amount
of contact deformation of the plugged zone. On the basis of the
LCM selection criteria, the values for amount of contact deformation, LCM volume fraction, and surface-friction coefficient are
greatly increased by the combination of rigid granules, fiber, and
resilient particles (Fig. 20, Fig. 21, and Table 3). Fig. 24 shows the
HSHS plugged zone formed in the laboratory.

5.5
5
4.5
4
3.5
3
2.5
2
1.5
1
0.5
0
0.01

Accuracy

0.150
0.185
0.256

60.006
60.006
60.006

its performance in terms of the ability to plug the loss zone and
remain effective until the trouble zone is cased off. In addition to
this objective, much analysis was performed and laboratory
experiments were conducted.
Western Sichuan deep carbonate gas reservoirs are characterized by developed natural fractures. For Well 4 in the Puguang
structure of Sichuan basin drilled with water-based drilling fluid,
serious lost circulations of 1.74-g/cm3 drilling fluid were observed
on the top of the Feixianguan target zone in which natural fractures were developed. On the basis of the analysis of pump pressure, formation pressure, and the loss rate, the HSHS pill system
was selected as the composite solution. The HSHS pill system
included 3% rigid granules (calcium carbonate), 2% fiber (LF-1),
and 1% resilient particles (EP-2), which were added to the original drilling fluid. After the pill was in contact with the loss zones,
squeeze pressure was applied to strengthen the properties of the
composite plug. Operationally, a pill of a 7.9-m3 volume was
placed through the drill bit to plug and seal the loss zone. After 30
minutes, the lost circulation was stopped. A test was then conducted, and the test pressure could reach 15 MPa (2,175 psi) with

100
80
60
40
20
0.1

10

100

1000

Cumulative volume (%)

Volume (%)

Field Trials
Case History 1. For a land well drilled in western China, the
HSHS system was tested during the drilling operation to validate

Surface-Friction
Coefficient l

0
3000

Particle size (m)

Fig. 22Size distribution of the rigid and resilient particles.


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Physical model of stable


plugged zone

Fig. 23In the physical model of the stable plugged zone, the
color red represents rigid granules, the color yellow represents
fiber, and the color black represents resilient particles.

no pressure drop. The HSHS composite plugs remained effective


until the zone was successfully cemented off 1 week later.
Case History 2. In the drilling process of Well 1 in the Karamay
oil field of Junggar basin, serious lost circulations were observed
at a depth of 6406 to 6455 m during which serious lost circulations of 2.1-g/cm3 water-based drilling fluid were observed. In the
tufa formation, slanted, horizontal, and vertical natural fractures
with a width of a maximum of 1.0 mm were found. A solution
that included 5% walnut shell was pumped into the thief zone, but
the lost circulation was not controlled. On the basis of the properties of the fractured formation and the loss rate, the formulation of
the HSHS composite solution was determined in the laboratory.
Considering the size degradation of LCM because of the depth of
the thief zone, the pill system that included 5% rigid particles
(calcium carbonate), 2% fiber (DTR), and 2% resilient particles
(graphite carbon) was added into the original drilling fluid. After
the 30-m3 pill system was pumped to the thief zone three times,
circulation was regained and not lost even with overbalance pressure of 15.5 MPa (2,247 psi). The HSHS composite plugs
remained effective until the well was completed.
Conclusions
According to granular-matter mechanics, the plugged zone
composed of LCM is a granular-matter system, and values of
contact deformation, LCM volume fraction, and surface-friction
coefficient of the plugged zone are the key factors affecting the
plugging capacity and stability.
The theoretical analysis on the basis of granular-matter
mechanics and LCM properties indicates the necessity of the
combination of rigid granules, fiber, and resilient particles to
achieve high values for contact deformation, LCM volume fraction, and surface-friction coefficient, which are key factors for
plugging strength and stability.
The laboratory experiments are designed to evaluate and validate the plugging effectiveness of the LCM combination. Experiment results show that the maximal plugging pressure is
increased to 15.5 MPa, and the total loss volume before sealing
is reduced to only 50 cm3. On the basis of the preceding theoretical analysis and laboratory experiments, a physical model of
the stable plugged zone was developed.
Nomenclature
a the amount of contact deformation between each pair of
particles, in.
d diameter of LCM, in.
df fiber diameter, in.
E coefficient of elasticity of LCM, psi
F force the force-chain transferred, psi
lf fiber length, in.
L length of the force chain, in.
N number of particles in the force chain
Vc the apparent volume of the core sample
342

Fig. 24HSHS plugged zone formed in the laboratory (inlet is


at the left side and outlet is at the right side).

Vf
Vm
Vp
D
ub

up
r
rfu
s

fracture-loss channel volume plugged by LCM, m3


volume of LCM, m3
the PV of the metal core sample after it is plugged
total deformation of a force chain, in.
volume ratio of LCMs to the plugged zone in the fracture,
%
the porosity of the plugged metal core sample
contact stress, psi
the yield strength of the fiber, psi
average shear stress, psi

Acknowledgments
The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support from
Chinese State Municipal Science and Technology Project (No.
2011ZX05005-006-008HZ) and The National Basic Research
Program (973) of China (No. 2010CB226705). The authors express
their sincere appreciation to the reviewers for their constructive
comments.
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lands, 2729 May. SPE-122034-MS. http://dx.doi.org/10.2118/122034MS.


Cheng-yuan Xu is a doctoral student in the Department of Petroleum Engineering at Southwest Petroleum University. His
research interests include formation-damage control and wellbore strengthening. Xu has authored and/or coauthored more
than 10 technical papers and holds two patents. He holds a BS
degree and an MS degree in oil-and-gas field development
from Southwest Petroleum University. Xu is a member of SPE.
Yi-li Kang is a professor in the Department of Petroleum Engineering at Southwest Petroleum University and a director at the
formation-damage control group in State Key Laboratory of Oil
and Gas Reservoir Geology and Exploitation in China. His
research interests include formation-damage control and
unconventional gas. Kang has more than 20 years of experience in these fields. He holds a BS degree in petroleum geology
from Daqing Petroleum Institute, an MS degree in petroleum
geology, and a PhD degree in oil and gas engineering from
Southwest Petroleum Institute. Kang is a member of SPE.
Li-jun You is an associate professor at Southwest Petroleum University. He has 10 years of experience in formation-damage control and the petrophysics of unconventional gas reservoirs. You
holds a BS degree in applied geophysics, an MS degree in petroleum geology, and a PhD degree in oil-and-gas well engineering from Southwest Petroleum University. He is a member of SPE.
Song Li is a doctoral student in the Department of Petroleum
Engineering at Southwest Petroleum University. His research
interests include formation-damage control and lost-circulation diagnosis. Li holds a BS degree and an MS degree in oiland gas-well engineering from Southwest Petroleum University.
He is a member of SPE.
Fei Chen is a doctoral student in the Department of Petroleum
Engineering at Southwest Petroleum University. His research
interests include formation-damage control and unconventional-reservoir development. Chen holds a BS degree and an
MS degree in oil- and gasfield development from Southwest
Petroleum University.

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