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Hole geometry

Bit- and casing-size selection can mean the difference between a well that must be abandoned before
completion and a well that is an economic and engineering success. Improper size selection can result in
holes so small that the well must be abandoned because of drilling or completion problems. The drilling
engineer (and well planner) is responsible for designing the hole geometry to avoid these problems.

However, a successful well is not necessarily an economic success. For example, a well design that allows
for satisfactory, trouble-free drilling and completion may be an economic failure, because the drilling costs
are greater than the expected return on investment. Hole-geometry selection is a part of the engineering
plan that can make the difference between economic and engineering failure or success.


General design procedures

The drilling industry’s experience has developed several commonly used hole-geometry programs. These
programs are based on bit- and casing-size availability as well as the expected drilling conditions.

Deep, high-pressure wells often require deviations from common geometries. Reasons include:

 Prolific production rates requiring large tubing strings.

 Drilling problems requiring the use of an intermediate string and one or more liners.
 Tension design problems because thick-walled pipe must be used to control burst or collapse.
 Rig limitations in running heavy strings of pipe.

Because deep, high-pressure wells are being drilled with increasing frequency, careful attention must be
given to hole sizing.

Bottom-to-top approach
The highest priority in well planning should be developing a design that provides for economic production
from the pay zone. Even in exploratory drilling for geological investigations, a large hole may be necessary
for thorough formation evaluation. The pay zone should be analyzed with respect to its flow potential and
the drilling problems that will be encountered in reaching it.

Flow-string sizing
The flow, or tubing, string must be given consideration relative to its ability to conduct oil/gas to surface at
economical rates. Small-diameter tubing restricts, or chokes, flow rates because of high friction pressures.

Completion problems can be more complicated with small tubing and casing. The reduced radial
clearances make tool placement and operations more difficult, and workover activities are more

Typical well designs are shown in Fig. 1. The geometries in parts (a) and (c) use large-diameter tubing.
The small tubing string (b) will probably restrict the fluid flow from the producing zone. In addition, the
design in (b) will probably require special clearance couplings, whereas parts (a) and (c) could use
standard-diameter couplings.

Fig. 1—Three hole-size combinations for a well.

Planning for problems

Geological uncertainties may make it difficult to predict the expected drilling environment. For example,
crossing a fault into a high-pressure region may necessitate a drilling liner, whereas an intermediate string
may be satisfactory if the fault is not encountered. Hole geometries are often selected to allow the option
for an additional casing string if required (Fig. 2).

Size-selection problems
Many interrelated size-selection problems must be considered before the final hole geometry is
established. These problems primarily relate to casing size and openhole considerations, and they are
interrelated with casing design. A working knowledge of casing-design problems influences pipe-size

Fig. 2—Planning for a hole geometry that allows for liner usage if needed.

Casing design
The large flow string in Fig. 1 resulted in a 13⅜-in. intermediate string and a 20-in. surface casing.
However, these strings may be difficult to design if high formation pressures are encountered. Table
1 shows the pipe required for various conditions on the intermediate string, assuming that a single weight
and grade will be used.

Table 1-Casing Design Requirement For 13⅜-In. Casing In Fig 1

Tension designs become critical in cases similar to Table 1. The in-air hook load of the string is 887,700 lbf
for the worst case shown in the table. If a design factor of 1.5 is used to assess rig requirements, the
design weight will be 1,331,550 lbf for derrick and substructure selection. Casing and size selection is
affected by:

 Pipe yield
 Connector strength
 Rig ratings

Casing-to-hole annulus
Cementing problems may occur if the casing-to-hole annulus is small. Small clearances around the pipe
and couplings may cause premature dehydration of the cement and result in a cement bridge. Cement
companies report that this bridging occurs more frequently in deeper, hot wells. These companies suggest
a minimum annular clearance of 0.375 to 0.50 in. on each side of the pipe, with 0.750 in. preferable.

Drillstring/hole annulus
The area between the drillstring and the hole creates problems if too large or small. Inadequate hole
cleaning may occur if the hole is large. High friction pressures and turbulent erosion may occur in small
holes. Large holes normally occur in the shallow depths, and small holes are found in the bottom sections.

Hole cleaning describes the ability of the drilling fluid to remove cuttings from the annulus. The important
factors are:

 Mud viscosity.
 Cuttings settling velocity.
 Annular mud flow rate.

The annular mud velocity, Eq. 1 , is usually considered the most important aspect.



 v = annular velocity, ft/min

 Qm = mud flow rate, gal/min
 dH = hole diameter, in.
 dDS = drillstring diameter, in.

Mud engineers often use other forms of an annular velocity equation.


 v = annular velocity, ft/min

 Qp = pump output, bbl/min
 Va = annular volume, bbl/1,000 ft.

The annular volume, in bbl/1,000 ft, can be estimated from the rule-of-thumb guide in Eq. 3.



dH and dDS = hole and drillstring diameter, in.

As an example, an 8½ × 4½-in. annulus has approximately 52 bbl/1,000 ft of annulus. Many drilling rigs do
not have adequate pump horsepower to clean the surface regions of the hole and, as such, rely on high-
viscosity-gel plugs to clean the annulus. Example 1 illustrates the hole-cleaning problem.

Example 1
Use the hole geometries in Fig. 1 to determine the required flow rate to achieve an annular velocity of 75
ft/min. In addition, determine the surface horsepower required if the pump pressure is limited to 2,500 psi.
Use 5-in. drillpipe for A and C and 4½-in. pipe for B.


1. From Fig. 1 , the annular geometries in the largest hole sections are

2. Use Eq. 1 to determine the required pump rate for A.

3. Determine the surface horsepower (HP) requirements if the pressure is limited to 2,500 psi. For A,
Based on results from Example 1, hole geometry C will be difficult to clean because many rigs are unable
to deliver 2,905 hp under continuous service. Poor hole cleaning is a common cause of annular solids
buildup, plugging, and lost circulation.

Most rigs are HP limited when drilling surface hole. Even though a pump may be rated to 3,000 psi, the
maximum flow rate usually will be reached before achieving 3,000-psi surface pressure. Typical pressures
for surface hole may be 600 to 1,500 psi even when using two pumps. If the pumps are unable to
adequately clean the annulus, well-planning provisions must be made for periodic high-viscosity slurries to
sweep the annulus.

Small-diameter holes create problems from turbulent erosion and hydraulics. The resultant problems can
be cementing difficulties and poor hole cleaning in the enlarged area.

Hydraulics are complicated in the downhole, small-diameter sections. High friction pressures reduce the
available hydraulic cleaning action at the bit and increase the chip-holddown effect on the cuttings. Swab
and surge pressures can be large and range from 0.3 to 1.0-lbm/gal equivalent mud weight in small holes
when heavy muds are used.

This technique enlarges the hole size in excess of the amount attainable with a drill bit. The underreamer
tool has expandable arms with bit cones that can be activated with pump pressure. The important negative
aspect of underreaming is that the tool arms are frequently damaged or lost in the hole. It is difficult to
retrieve a lost underreamer arm.

This technique does have applications in some areas. One important application involves running a liner in
an open hole that might be considered too small without underreaming. For example, a 7⅝-in. flush-joint
liner run in an 8½-in. hole may be considered unacceptable (by some companies) without underreaming. A
7.0-in. liner may be an alternative, which would result in pipe-size restrictions in deeper sections.

Casing- and bit-size selection

A casing- and bit-size program must consider the problems described in the previous section in addition to
the actual casing- and bit-size characteristics. These include casing inner and outer diameter, drift and
coupling diameter, and bit size. A working knowledge of these variables is important for selection of a
viable geometry program.

Pipe selection
Casing availability is a priority consideration in hole geometry selection. High-strength casing, often
required for deep wells, may have a small (drift) diameter that will influence subsequent casing- and bit-size
selection. Unfortunately, supply-and-demand cycles in the pipe industry may control the pipe design rather
than engineering considerations.

The casing outer diameter (OD) is available in numerous sizes. The drift diameter, which is smaller than
the inner diameter (ID), controls the bit selection for the open hole below the casing. As heavier-weight pipe
is required to meet design specifications, the available drift diameter is reduced. A rule-of-thumb that has
proved satisfactory in most field cases is to allow 1 in. of wall thickness to achieve a suitable design without
resorting to the use of ultrahigh-strength pipe. As an example, 9⅞-in. casing can usually be designed
properly if 8⅝-in. drift diameters are allowed.

Hole-geometry-selection approach may dictate the casing drift diameter as the controlling criterion. The
options are as follows:

 Try to design the pipe under the specific drift and OD conditions.
 Use high-strength materials.
 Use special drift pipe available from some manufacturers.
 As a last resort, pipe manufacturers can prepare a special pipe design based on minimum drift
requirements by enlarging the wall thickness and OD.

The fourth option is occasionally required in hydrogen sulfide environments where low-strength metals
must be used.

Coupling selection
Pipe couplings are generally designed to satisfy requirements such as burst, collapse, tension, and sealing
effectiveness. However, coupling diameters may be a design guideline in some wells. Table 2 shows the
OD of various types of couplings and pipe sizes. American Petroleum Inst. (API) couplings are normally 1
in. larger than the pipe in sizes greater than 7⅝ in.

Table 2-Clearances for API and various premium proprietary couplings

Advantages are provided by using premium couplings. These couplings usually have clearances less than
comparable API connections and occasionally allow the use of smaller pipe in a well. In many cases, more-
expensive premium couplings can reduce the total well cost by allowing smaller pipe and hole geometries.
In Fig. 1.b , the hole geometry would not be difficult to achieve if premium couplings were used, whereas
clearances might be unacceptable if API couplings were used.

Bit-size selection
Sizing the bit program is dependent on the required casing sizes. Bits are available in almost any desired
size range. However, nonstandard bits or unusual sizes may not possess all of the desirable features, such
as center-jet or gauge-protection characteristics. In addition, bit selection and availability become more
difficult in odd or small bit sizes (less than 6.5 in.).

Table 3 illustrates size availability for Hughes insert-tooth bits. Bit sizes less than 6½ in. restrict bit-type
selection. In addition, bit selection is restricted for sizes greater than 12¼ in.

Table 3-Size availability for various insert-tooth, journal-bearing bits

Standard bit/casing combinations

Fig. 3 can be used to select casing and bit sizes required to fulfill many drilling programs. To use the chart,
determine the casing or liner size for the last size of pipe to be run. The flow of the chart indicates hole
sizes that may be required to set that size of pipe (i.e., 5-in. liner inside 6⅛- or 6¼-in. hole).

Solid lines indicate commonly used bits for that size pipe that can be considered to have adequate
clearance to run and cement the casing or liner (i.e., 5½-in. casing in a 7⅞-in. hole). The broken lines
indicate less-commonly-used hole sizes. The selection of one of these broken paths requires that special
attention be given to the connection, mud weight, cementing, and doglegs. Bicentered bits provide more
flexibility in bit and hole size.

Fig. 3—Casing- and bit-size selection chart (courtesy of Oil & Gas Journal).