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Drilling Rigs

Microhole coiled tubing drilling concept applied

to mature Niobrara gas play in Kansas, Colorado
By Kent Perry, Gas Technology Institute

Natural gas was first discov-

ered in the Niobrara formation in 1912
when a strong flow of gas was encoun-
tered while drilling the Goodland No. 1
well near Goodland, Kan. The well was
plugged and abandoned. Since that first
well, the Niobrara gas play has under-
gone several episodes of activity driven
by gas prices and improvements in
technology. Recently, the development of
coiled tubing drilling in combination with
a microhole approach to borehole size
has helped to re-energize activity in this
mature gas play.

Geology, Reservoir
The Niobrara formation chalks were
deposited during the last major
transgression of the western interior
Cretaceous sea, which extended from the
A US Department of Energy research program is using a trailer-mounted coiled tubing
Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. The
current play extends through Northwest
drilling rig with a small footprint.
Kansas and Eastern Colorado. Gas-
bearing chalk of the upper Cretaceous
DOE Program a result of minimizing formation expo-
sure to drilling fluid through fast drilling
Niobrara formation is encountered at The Department of Energy’s National
and drilling operations is another impor-
depths from 1,000 to 3,000 ft. Gas accu- Energy Technology Laboratory is imple-
tant aspect.
mulations in the Niobrara formation gen- menting a research program to develop
erally are related to low relief structural marginal oil and gas resources utiliz-
features found along the eastern mar- ing microhole wellbores. The approach Efficient Rig Mobilization
gins of the Denver geologic basin. is to develop a portfolio of tools and The rig moves with 4 trailer loads, miti-
techniques that will allow the drilling gating mobilization and transportation
Niobrara gas fields are characterized by of 3 5/8-in. holes and smaller to enable, cost while meeting US Department of
high porosity, low permeability and low through better economics, the develop- Transportation limitations for highway
reservoir pressure. These features are ment of marginal oil and gas resources. transport. These features allow for
typical of a chalk subjected to modest The field testing and demonstration of smaller access roads and well locations.
burial depths. At greater depth, poros- a fit-for-purpose coiled tubing drilling The rig contains all equipment needed
ity and permeability decrease, causing rig is a project within the program. The for drilling operations, including a zero
a reduced total pore volume and higher objective is to measure and document discharge mud system, has pipe-han-
water saturation at a given structural the rig performance under actual drilling dling capacity for casing up to 7 5/8 in.
position. Reported values for porosity conditions. and can support a rotary and top drive.
in the Niobrara formation range from
30% to 50%. Despite the high porosity of
Description of the Rig Small Footprint
the chalk, permeability is inherently low
because of the fine grain size. Values for The coiled tubing drilling rig, designed The small size of the rig provides several
permeability range from 0.01 to 0.3 mil- and built by Tom Gipson with Advanced environmental advantages over a con-
lidarcies in the fairway, with microdarcy Drilling Technologies Inc (ADT), is ventional rig. As a result of its efficient
permeability found on the fringes. The a trailer-mounted rig with the coil and design and size, the following environ-
Niobrara is an underpressured gas res- derrick combined to a single unit. The mental advantages are realized:
ervoir with geostatic pressure gradient rig has been operating for about a year,
drilling shallow gas wells operated by • A small drilling pad (1/10-acre), or no
ranges from 0.06 to 0.24 psi/ft.
Rosewood Resources Inc in Western pad under some conditions, can be uti-
Thin pay zones, low reservoir pressures Kansas and Eastern Colorado. Rig oper- lized. Smaller access roads are required.
and low in-situ formation permeability ations have improved to the point where
• No mud pit is needed; mud tanks con-
combine to create a challenging environ- it drills 3,100-ft wells in a single day. Well
tain the required drilling fluids and are
ment for successful field development. cost savings of approximately 30% over
moved with the rig from one location to
Certainly, an efficient, low-cost approach conventional rotary well drilling have
the next. Only a 3 ft-by-6 ft-by-6 ft pit
to drilling and completion is needed. been documented. Improved well perfor-
is required for drill cuttings. If needed,
mance due to less formation damage as

88 March/April 2007 D r i l l i n g contractor

Drilling Rigs

cuttings are easily hauled off location,

allowing no pit drilling as needed.

• Smaller equipment yields less air emis-

sions, and low-noise engines minimize
disturbances to the surrounding environ-

• The microhole approach (4 ¾-in. holes)

requires less drilling mud and fluids to
be treated and yields fewer drill cuttings.

• The utilization of coiled tubing miti-

gates the risk of spills due to no drill
pipe connections.

Rapid Drilling
Very high rates of penetration have
been achieved by experimenting with
bit-downhole motor combinations and by
fully utilizing the advantages of coiled
tubing drilling. Drilling rates as high as This map shows the Niobrara gas play area.
500 ft/hr have been realized, with the
average rate of penetration per well in Zero Discharge Operator concerns
the 400 ft/hr range. This rate of drilling The rig has the capability to drill a well Barriers exist to full utilization of this
and other rig efficiencies allowed the with zero discharge of any fluid or other type of approach to the drilling and com-
drilling of a 2,850-ft well in 19 hours, materials if required. The procedure is pletion of marginal resources. Operators
including all rig-moving time, logging, as follows: have identified the following as concerns
casing setting and cementing, as illus- that must be addressed for microhole to
trated in the figure on Page 90. • Move the rig in and rig up on a sealed/ reach its full potential:
booted tarp to contain any overflow or
accidental spill. • Production engineers have long-term
Hole Quality, Cement concerns about the ability to rework
All wells drilled with the ADT rig have • No earthen pits are prepared; all cut- wells.
resulted in a gauge hole with very little tings and drilling fluid are confined to
hole deviation (1° to 2° — well within tanks, with which the rig is equipped. • Handling of significant fluids is an
state requirements) despite the high issue in small boreholes.
• A hole is augured for conductor pipe,
penetration rates. Good cement job
and a boot is placed around the conduc- • There is limited space for downhole
quality and well-bonded cement also
tor pipe. mechanical equipment.
derive from the gauge hole quality. As
mentioned previously, the Niobrara is an Using this process, the ground is protect- • A general lack of experience and famil-
underpressured reservoir and, as such, ed from any inadvertent spills, and all iarity with microhole and coiled tubing
is susceptible to formation damage due fluids and cuttings are removed from the drilling of this type was identified as a
to fluid loss from drilling operations. location. While an added expense, this barrier to usage.
Both the rapid penetration rate through procedure may be required for drilling
the pay zone and the lack of any pres- in sensitive environmental areas. The • There is a depth limitation given cur-
sure surges caused by conventional small rig size and efficiency of drilling rent coil metallurgy and coiled tubing
drilling pipe connections help to mitigate coupled with the zero discharge capabil- procedures.
fluid loss and therefore formation dam- ity enables drilling in sensitive areas. • Coiled tubing is limited in its ability to
age. This is an important factor given
overcome problems in difficult drilling
the marginal nature of the resource. Improved Safety environments. One example is where
No auxiliary equipment is required to Safety is always of utmost importance, fluid loss and severe pipe sticking is
run casing, log wells or for handling and the conventional drilling rig envi- encountered. Coiled tubing has limited
drill collars and bottomhole drilling ronment is one where extra caution tensile strength for freeing stuck pipe.
assemblies. With its derrick, traveling and safety training is necessary due
block and rotary table components, all to the handling of drill pipe and other Technology Trends
required drilling processes can be per- equipment. The ADT coiled tubing rig Operators pursuing marginal resources
formed without additional equipment. significantly reduces drill pipe handling are doing so in a new era. Driven by a
While not currently equipped with a and has less equipment to mobilize from growing economy, US energy demand is
top drive, the rig can accommodate one well to well. All of this creates a much expected to reach record levels in the
if needed. Drilling with coiled tubing safer operating environment, which is near future. The higher-quality resourc-
eliminates drill pipe connection time, important during any time of drilling es have been exploited, increasing the
and fewer crew members are required to but especially so during today’s high rig challenge for future developments.
operate the rig. count when experienced roughnecks are
difficult to find. The rate of new technology improvement
is beginning to be offset by the increas-

D r i l l i n g contractor March/April 2007 89

Drilling Rigs

1960’s 1980’s 2000’s


Ideal World



Real World

From Pinnacle Technology FromPrecision

From PrecisionDrilling

Nuclear Stimulation Massive Hydraulic Microhole Wellbore

Fractures Placement

Above: Over the past 4 decades, marginal oil and gas technology development has evolved significantly. Above is an illustration of
the evolution of these technologies since the 1960s. Below: By experimenting with bit-downhole motor combinations and fully utiliz-
ing coiled tubing drilling, an average rate of penetration of 400 ft/hr was realized, allowing a 2,850-ft well to be drilled in 19 hours.
This graph shows the allocation of drilling time.

ing challenges created by lower-quality 2850’ Niobrara Well today are significantly smaller in size
reservoir rock and increasing costs from September, 2005 but more effective than those in the
environmental issues. 19 Hours to Drill 1970s. Microhole technology is being
Logging developed by the Department of Energy
A concerted technology effort to both 11%
that will enable efficient placement of
better understand marginal oil and gas 20%
wellbores while minimizing the surface
resources and develop solid engineering Lay Down BHA
16% and other environmental impact. The
approaches is necessary for significant
production increases from these widely MIRU - RDMO
evolution of “fishbone” well drilling pat-
dispersed resources.
16% terns and the ability to identify, drill and
produce very thin pay zones all add to
the “lighter and smaller” and more effi-
Historical Development
Pick Up BHA
16% cient approach.
Marginal oil and gas technology develop-
ment has evolved significantly over the fracturing progressed, it was determined
that extended-length fractures were dif-
last 40 years. The trend has moved from
1. Brown, C.A., Crafton, J.W., Golson, J.G.:
one of high horsepower approaches to ficult, if not impossible, to create. The
“The Niobrara Gas Play: Exploration
one of precision in all aspects of develop- lack of formations to serve as fracture and Development of a Low Pressure, Low
ment. During the 1960s, nuclear detona- barriers to contain the upward growth Permeability Gas Reservoir,” Journal
tions were being tested with the goal of and the complexity of multiple fractures Petroleum Technology (December, 1982) 2863-
fracturing or stimulating a large volume 70.
limited the desired fracture length.
of low permeability rock, allowing for 2. Brown, C.A., Crafton, J.W., Golson, J.G.:
the recovery of a significant volume of Today the evolution of lateral and hori- “The Niobrara Gas Play: Exploration
gas from a single wellbore. This techni- zontal drilling technology is beginning to and Development of a Low Pressure, Low
cal approach failed for many reasons, allow the development of unconventional Permeability Gas Reservoir,” Journal
Petroleum Technology (December, 1982) 2863-
including the fusing of rock as opposed resources through the placement of
to fracturing of rock. smaller wellbores into exactly the area
and location required for optimum pro- 3. Scholle, P.A.: “Chalk Diagenesis and its
During the 1970s and ’80s, the approach duction. Hydraulic fracturing remains Relation to Petroleum Exploration – Oil from
to marginal oil and gas formations an important and necessary well stimu-
Chalks, a Modern Miracle?”, Bull., AAPG (1977)
evolved to massive hydraulic fracture 61, 982-1009
lation procedure but is being done in a
treatments. Here the goal was to create highly optimized manner, integrated with 4. Perry, K.F., “Technology Key in
very long hydraulic fractures reaching unique well completion procedures.
Unconventional Gas,” American Oil and Gas
hundreds of feet into the pay zone, allow- Reporter, V48(5): 73-77 (May 2005)
ing for the production of large volumes. The trend overall has been from large to This article is based on a presentation made
As research on the topic of hydraulic small. Hydraulic fracture jobs pumped at the 2006 DEA Workshop, 20-21 June 2006,
Galveston, Texas.

90 March/April 2007 D r i l l i n g contractor