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Petroleum Engineering Summer School

Workshop 18: Contemporary Oil and Gas Well Completions and Workover Jobs
Dubrovnik, 13.-17. lipnja 2005.

Application of Tip Screen-Out Fracturing Technique


Marin ike, University of Zagreb; Dubravka Planti, INA-Naftaplin, Zagreb

Abstract
Tip Screen-Out (TSO) fracturing technique is used to deliberately create a
proppant screen-out or bridging condition around the perimeter of the fracture to
prevent further propagation and height growth. Continued pumping results in
ballooning or an increase in the fracture aperture with continued increasing fracture
pressure. The increased aperture results in a greater propped width and increased
fracture conductivity.
The TSO designs are generally performed in moderate to high-permeability
reservoirs that require greater conductivity than achieved with conventional hydraulic
fracturing. The implementation of TSO over the past decade has resulted in
substantially greater fracture conductivities and improved proppant placement.
Consequently, these applications have gained popularity in the industry, especially in
high permeability reservoirs, where inadequate conductivity and formation damage
have been problems. The increases for width and conductivity also mitigate nondarcy
(or turbulent) flow effects in the fracture for high-rate wells, particularly gas wells.

Introduction
The review of the evolution of hydraulic fracturing design and evaluation
methods considers three generations of fracturing: damage bypass, massive
treatments and tip screen-out (TSO) treatments.1 Complementary reviews are the
application of fracturing by Smith and Hannah and fracturing fluids by Jennings.2,3
The first two generations of fracturing and their links to practices are
emphasized because these contributions are not likely well known by the current
generation of engineers. The cycles of fracturing activity in Fig. 1a clearly reflect the
timing of the first two fracturing generations. Fig. 1b identifies economic drivers for
corresponding cycles in the U.S. rig count.

Figure 1. (a) Trends in fracturing activity treatments per month. (b) U.S. drilling
rig activity shows five major trends.1
Applications of first-generation fracturing were primarily small treatments to
bypass near-wellbore drilling fluid damage to formations with permeability in the
millidarcy range. An inherent advantage of propped fracturing, relative to matrix
treatment for damage removal, is that a fracture opens the complete section and
retains a conductive path into the zone. The complete opening overcomes the

diversion consideration for matrix treatments, but adds the consideration of producing
from bottomwater or an upper gas cap. For lower permeability formations, large
amounts of produced water are generally not a problem. For higher permeability
formations, water production can be significant, which provided the historical
preference for matrix treatment in higher permeability applications. However, the
precision of fracturing improved significantly and TSO treatments have been routinely
performed in Prudhoe Bay oil columns only 15 m thick and above very mobile water.4
The technology for this fracturing generation is summarized in the Howard and Fast
Monograph.5 The breadth of this volume is shown by its comprehensive
consideration of candidate selection and optimal design based on economic return.
Other noteworthy design and evaluation methods from this generation are fracture
orientation (horizontal or vertical), in-situ stress and fracture width models, FOI (folds
of increase) prediction and fracture conductivity in production enhancement.
The bumpy road to successful massive fracturing also included massive
penalties because the cost of a fracture treatment could become equivalent to the
well cost. The combined effect of many companies experiencing $500,000 treatments
that did not provide commercial wells resulted in a significant investment for
fracturing research. One result of this effort is the SPE Monograph Recent Advances
in Hydraulic Fracturing.6 The manuscripts for this comprehensive volume, with more
than 30 contributors, were completed in 1984, only five years after the 1979 SPE
annual meeting provided the first meaningful number of papers from this research
effort. The papers presented at this meeting were significant also because they
presented a key that enabled the reliable application of massive fracturing and rapid
progression of the treatment size record from one thousand tones in 1979 to more
than 3 thousand tones by 1986. The key was that, for the first time in its 30-year
history, fracturing was considered in a framework similar to that used for reservoir
characterization. The reservoir framework consists of pressure transient analysis for
the flow characteristics, wireline logs for the formation parameters and geophysics for
the macroview.
A proper historical perspective of the third generation requires perspective
from the next generations; however, several of its developments are reviewed here.
A more comprehensive presentation and reference are by Smith and Hannah.2
Demonstration of the ability to routinely place a successful TSO treatment opened

the door for effective fracture stimulation of higher permeability formations. Another
component for the successful fracturing of high permeability was the continued
development of synthetic proppants that can produce a cost-effective 10-fold
increase in permeability relative to sand for higher closure stresses. Coupling this
increase in permeability with the similar increase for propped width achieved by a
TSO treatment in a moderate- to low-modulus formation provides about a 100-fold
increase in conductivity over a conventional sand fracture. The conductivity increase
also translates into a 100-fold increase of the target permeability for fracturing, as
implied by Figs. 2 and 3.

Figure 2. McGuire and Sikora (1960) curves for folds of increase (J/Jo) in a
bounded reservoir of area A (acres).

Figure 3. Effective wellbore radius versus dimensionless fracture conductivity.

The increases for width and conductivity also mitigate nondarcy (or turbulent)
flow effects in the fracture for high-rate wells, particularly gas wells. However, the
anticipated growth rate shown on Fig. 1a was slowed not only by the unanticipated,
extensive contraction of activity in general, but also by two prevailing mindsets: highpermeability formations cannot be successfully fracture stimulated and why fracture a
commercial well? Additional field proof for the benefits of a TSO treatment came from
two successful programs: a significant improvement over conventional fracture
treatments for the Ravenspurn gas field in the southern North Sea7 and highpermeability applications in the Prudhoe Bay field.8,9,10

Tip Screen-Out Fracturing


TSO fracturing technique is used to deliberately create a proppant screen-out
or bridging condition around the perimeter of the fracture to prevent further
propagation and height growth. Continued pumping results in ballooning or an
increase in the fracture aperture with continued increasing fracture pressure. The
increased aperture results in a greater propped width and increased fracture
conductivity.
The TSO designs are generally performed in moderate to high-permeability
reservoirs that require greater conductivity than achieved with conventional hydraulic
fracturing.

Deep damage
TSO fracturing in Prudhoe Bay was particularly successful because deep
formation damage induced by prior production (i.e., beyond the reach of matrix
treatments) facilitated sidestepping the mind set of not applying fracturing to high
permeability. The incremental production from only one year of the fracturing
program would have ranked as the 10th largest producing field in the United States
without including similar results achieved by another operator in the other half of the
field. Another significant aspect of the Prudhoe Bay application is that the fractures
were routinely placed in a relatively small oil zone above a rising water zone without
entering the water zone, which demonstrated that fracturing is a viable, potentially
superior alternative to matrix treatments in high-permeability formations. This precise
fracturing was achieved by coupling an initial detailed fracture modeling study with a
calibration treatment before each proppant treatment.

Frac and pack


The frac and pack completion consists of a TSO treatment before a
conventional gravel pack. During the early 1990s, frac and pack treatments were
applied on a limited basis around the world, notably offshore Indonesia. Prior to the
TSO treatment era, this technique was tried at various times but without sustained
success. The large propped width from a TSO treatment was a necessary ingredient
for successful frac and pack applications. The frac and pack boom was in the Gulf of
Mexico. The first successful application began because of economic considerations
and therefore overcame the mindset of not fracturing a commercial well. A significant
field development was not meeting production expectations because standard
gravel-packed completions could not consistently achieve a low skin effect; the skin
effect ranged between 7 and 30. The skin effect was 10 after the first frac and pack
treatment and progressively decreased to near zero from improvements in the
treatment design and the use of larger size proppant.11
The threefold-plus increase in production rate, by eliminating the skin effect,
resulted from more than just adding a TSO treatment to the procedure. An important
feature of a frac and pack is reduction of the inherent flow restriction around and
through the perforations. The ring of proppant around the casing (Fig. 4) acts as an
excellent external gravel pack for reducing the pressure drop through the perforated
region.

Figure 4. Successfully packed-back TSO treatment.


The ring results from the large TSO fracture width that mechanically must
continue around the wellbore; i.e., if the formation is pushed apart 5 cm over the
large surface area of the fracture, the rock around the wellbore must be displaced
accordingly. For a well-designed and executed frac and pack, the initiating screenout

at the tip is progressively packed back to the well to completely pack the resulting
ring.
The continuing success of the initial frac and packs started a rapid conversion
to this completion, with the frac and pack becoming the preferred Gulf of Mexico sand
control completion. In addition to continued use offshore Indonesia, technology
transfer resulted in a wider geographical distribution for this sand control technique
(e.g., West Africa).12
As for other applications of TSO treatments, on-site redesign after a calibration
treatment became a standard frac and pack practice. An important observation is that
the same analysis procedures and design models introduced for the massive
treatments of tight gas formations in the late 1970s were transferred directly to frac
and pack treatments in soft formations.

Reservoir and water management by indirect fracturing


Another application of TSO treatments is reservoir management. The
prototype example for this application was in the Norwegian Gullfaks field.13 The
reservoir section had a multidarcy-permeability upper zone that graded downward to
a permeability of about 100 md. The standard completion was to perforate and gravel
pack the upper zone. However, an edge-water drive would encroach through the
high-permeability zone and turn a prolific oil well into an even higher water producer.
A solution was found from the pioneering work of the Valhall TSO treatment
discussed for Fig. 5.

Figure 5. Indirect vertical fracture for reservoir management.


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This application in the early 1980s was for more than mitigating proppant
embedment. The primary objective was for controlling chalk production from the
primary producing zone above where the TSO treatment was placed. The upper
chalk zone was very soft with high porosity and composed of almost as much oil as
chalk. When this zone was put on production, chalk filled the tubing and led to casing
collapse. The zone was produced by placing the TSO treatment in the more
competent zone below and extending the fracture height into the bottom of the very
high porosity formation. This completion enabled chalk-free production from both the
upper and lower zones.14
This indirect access to the primary producing zone has come to be known as
an indirect vertical fracture completion (IVFC). The technique of perforating and
fracturing only from competent sections and producing from incompetent sections is
a robust method for controlling the production of formation material and increasing
recovery from the lower permeability zones by fracture stimulation. From this
perspective, a TSO-IVFC becomes a solids control and reservoir management
application. The Gullfaks adaptation also placed a TSO-IVFC in a lower competent
part of the formation. In addition to providing sand control and managing reservoir
depletion, it was a water management treatment because it delayed water
breakthrough and greatly increased reserves recovery from the lower sections by
fracture stimulation and a significant increase in drawdown. This application
completes the link between the "sand-disposal" tight gas treatment to reservoir and
water management with the intermediate development of the TSO-IVFC for solids
control in the Valhall field.

Screenless sand control


Another apparent role of the IVFC is to eliminate the need for a screen in
many sand-control environments by selecting and perforating only competent
sections within or near the unconsolidated sections of the formation. The zone
selection method can potentially be enhanced by a sonic log application. This
application takes advantage of the generally considered negative effect of nearwellbore refracted and relatively slower waves caused by the wellbore mechanical
damage that routinely occurs in weak or highly stressed formations. However, for
screenless completions, the negative effect becomes a positive effect because the
change in the wave speed for the refracted wave is a direct indication of the state of

rock failure around the well, which is caused by the wellbore stress concentration
within the in-situ stress field. Therefore, the layers with a minimal near-well change in
wave speed relative to the far-field speed are the more competent candidate zones
for perforating and applying a TSO-IVFC to achieve screenless formation-materialcontrolled production.
A second method of achieving a screenless sandcontrol completion is applied
without strategically placed perforations.15 This method couples the proppant ring
around the casing from a TSO treatment and proppant with effective flowback control
(e.g., fibers, curable-resin-coated proppant or both). The combination with a
successful packed-back TSO achieves an external gravel pack of stable proppant
(i.e., an external formation-material screen). The screenless completion obviously
eliminates the cost of the screen and related tools, but more importantly, it enables
economic development of significant behind-pipe reserves that do not warrant the
mobilization and operational costs for a rig on an offshore production platform, as
generally required for a standard gravel-pack completion.
Tip screen-out technique has recently been applied in a few wells at Kozarice
oilfield in Croatia. The formation is laminated by unconsolidated sandstone and
medium compact shale, causing the problem of appearing silt in production. On those
wells, gravel pack was being in use through which became to breaktrought of
formation sand. That was a reason for decreasing productivity. Considering relatively
good permeability (k=10-20 mD) and significant remaining oil reserves, it was
decided to apply TSO technique, which is essential to create a short but wide
fracture. That fracture ensures of removing wellbore damage (skin) and decreasing of
inlet velocities on contact formation-fracture, which will decrease appearing of
formation sand in production.

Conclusion
The implementation of TSO over the past decade has resulted in substantially
greater fracture conductivities and improved proppant placement. Consequently,
these applications have gained popularity in the industry, especially in high
permeability reservoirs, where inadequate conductivity and formation damage have
been problems. The increases for width and conductivity also mitigate nondarcy (or
turbulent) flow effects in the fracture for high-rate wells, particularly gas wells.

References
1. Economides, M.J. and Nolte, K.G.: Reservoir Stimulation, Chichester,
England, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. (2000).
2. Smith, M.B. and Hannah, R.R.: High Permeability Fracturing: The
Evolution of a Technology, paper SPE 27984-P, Journal of Petroleum
Technology (July 1996), 628.
3. Jennings, A.R.: Fracturing FluidsThen and Now, paper SPE 36166P, Journal of Petroleum Technology (July 1996) 48, No. 7, 604611.
4. Martins, J.P., Collins, P.J., Rylance, M., Ibe, O.E., Kelly, R.T. and
Bartel, P.A.: Small, Highly Conductive Fractures Near Reservoir Fluid
Contacts: Application to Prudhoe Bay, paper SPE 24856, presented at
the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Washington,
D.C., USA (October 47, 1992).
5. Howard, G.C. and Fast, C.R.: Hydraulic Fracturing, Monograph Series,
Richardson, Texas, USA, Society of Petroleum Engineers (1970).
6. Gidley, J.L., Holditch, S.A., Nierode, D.E. and Veatch, R.W. Jr.: Recent
Advances in Hydraulic Fracturing, Monograph Series, Richardson,
Texas, USA, Society of Petroleum Engineers (1989).
7. Martins, J.P., Leung, K.H., Jackson, M.R., Stewart, D.R. and Carr, A.H.:
Tip Screen-Out Fracturing Applied to the Ravenspurn South Gas Field
Development, paper SPE 19766, presented at the SPE Annual
Technical Conference and Exhibition, San Antonio, Texas, USA
(October 811, 1989); also in SPE Production Engineering (August
1992) 7, No. 3, 252258.
8. Hannah, R.R. and Walker, E.J.: Fracturing a High-Permeability Oil Well
at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, paper SPE 14372, presented at the SPE
Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
(September 2225, 1985).
9. Martins, J.P., Abel, J.C., Dyke, C.G., Michel, C.M. and Stewart, G.:
Deviated Well Fracturing and Proppant Production Control in the
Prudhoe Bay Field, paper SPE 24858, presented at the SPE Annual
Technical Conference and Exhibition, Washington, D.C., USA (October
47, 1992).
10. Reimers, D.R. and Clausen, R.A.: High-Permeability Fracturing at
Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, paper SPE 22835, presented at the SPE Annual
Technical Conference and Exhibition, Dallas, Texas, USA (October 22
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11. Hannah, R.R., Park, E.I., Porter, D.A. and Black, J.W.: Combination
Fracturing/Gravel Packing Completion Technique on the Amberjack,
Mississippi Canyon 109 Field, paper SPE 26562, SPE Production &
Facilities (November 1994) 9, No. 4, 262267.
12. Gulrajani, S.N., Tibbles, R.J. and Nolte, K.G.: Evaluation of Calibration
Treatments, for Frac-Pack Completions, in Offshore West Africa, paper
SPE Reservoir Stimulation R-17 38192, presented at the SPE

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European Formation Damage Symposium, The Hague, Netherlands


(June 23, 1997).
13. Bale, A., Owren, K. and Smith, M.B.: Propped Fracturing as a Tool for
Sand Control and Reservoir Management, paper SPE 24992,
presented at the SPE European Petroleum Conference, Cannes,
France (November 1618, 1992); also in SPE Production & Facilities
(February 1994) 9, No. 1, 1928.
14. Smith, M.B., Miller, W.K. and Haga, J.: Tip Screen-Out Fracturing: A
Technique for Soft, Unstable Formations, paper SPE 13273, presented
at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Houston,
Texas, USA (September 1619, 1984); also in SPE Production
Engineering (May 1987), No. 2, 95103.
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F.K.: Start-Up of a TSO Fracturing Campaign in Shallow, Heavy Oil
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