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12 Completion Fluids

Mike Stephens Hon Chung Lau

M-I L.L.C. Shell E&P Technology Co.

12-1 INTRODUCTION a completion fluid is a bridge between the traditional

classifications of drilling fluids and stimulation fluids.
The completion process prepares the well for production,
Both narrow and broad definitions of a completion
and the fluids used at this stage of well construction are
fluid are worth considering.
called completion fluids. In the early days of drilling, the
Sometimes it is helpful to use a narrow definition of
drilling fluid also served as the completion fluid, but after
completion fluid as the clear brine that service companies
perforating became a common practice, it was deter-
sell into the completion market. For the traditionally
mined that using clean, solids-free fluids for perforating
would increase well productivity (Klotz et al., 1973). designed well that will be cased and perforated, this
These clear fluids, frequently composed of brine, became brine frequently serves as the completion fluid. In other
known as ‘‘completion’’ brines. During the 1950s, 1960s, applications, the clear brine may serve as a base fluid to
and 1970s, a set of well completion practices that con- which other components are added to produce a comple-
sisted of cementing casing in place, displacing the drilling tion fluid with the required properties (although specially
fluid with a completion brine, and then perforating formulated fluids are also used). The narrow definition of
became widespread. This completion design was sup- completion fluid as clear brine permits discussion of
planted in the 1980s and 1990s as directional drilling issues pertaining to the composition and economics of
technologies led to horizontal and multilateral well clear brine completion fluids. The narrow focus is tradi-
designs, and sand control considerations became more tional in the sense that completion brines are frequently
critical for offshore wells in poorly consolidated forma- used as perforating or gravel-pack fluids, and guidelines
tions. As a result, completion technology became more for their selection are given in the section pertaining to
complex with a number of new methods for completing basic selection criteria.
wells. As completion technology has evolved, specialized A broader definition of completion fluid is needed to
completion fluid systems have been developed to opti- understand the role that completion fluids play in the
mize these completion practices. In the future, well com- success or failure of a well. The completion fluid contacts
pletion designs will become even more diverse as will the the reservoir rock and interacts with reservoir compo-
fluid systems used in completions. nents. If the result of this interaction is a decrease in
permeability or blockage of flow from the reservoir,
then production from the well can be impaired.
12-1.1 Definition and Functions of Completion The phases in well construction can be subdivided into
Fluid a drilling phase, a completion phase, and an optional
The concept of a completion fluid is a recent develop- stimulation phase as shown in Table 12-1. In the broad-
ment in the history of the petroleum industry. In the est sense, the completion phase includes every step in the
1940s, little or no distinction was drawn between drilling operation from the time the bit cuts the reservoir rock
and completion fluids (Radford, 1947). The definition of until the well is producing. Even after the well has been

Table 12-1 Phases in well construction

Operations Using Fluids
Drilling Completion Stimulation
Overburden drilliing 6
Reservoir drilling 6
Perforation 6
Gravel-pack 6
Cleanup 6
Emplacing Equipment 6
Acid wash 6
Matrix acid 6
Fracpack 6
Hydraulic frac 6

producing for a period of time, any workover operations A similar analogy can be made between hydraulic frac-
that occur may be considered part of the well completion turing fluids and fracpack fluids. The fluid used to do the
process. The fluids used in any of these operations could massive hydraulic fracture is a stimulation fluid in that
be considered completion fluids. the purpose of the fracture is to increase the production
Typical operations that occur during the completion of from a low-permeability reservoir. The fracpack is a
a well include perforation, gravel-packing, well cleanup, method used to increase effective wellbore diameter
and emplacing tubulars, packers and pumps. The fluids and control sand production, and the fluid used to
used during these operations are all completion fluids, carry out a fracpack could be considered to be a comple-
and these operations do not ordinarily overlap with drill- tion fluid.
ing or stimulation operations. A broad definition of completion fluid is any fluid that
There are a number of cases where completion fluids contacts the reservoir. This broad definition is useful
might also be considered to be either drilling fluids or because it allows all the fluids that will contact the reser-
stimulation fluids. For example, drilling the well involves voir to be evaluated as part of the well completion pro-
both drilling the non-productive rock above the reservoir cess. In the case of complex completion procedures that
and drilling the reservoir horizons. The completion of the involve exposing the reservoir to a series of fluids (as may
well properly begins as soon as the reservoir is pene- occur, for example, in some horizontal wells with sand
trated. The fluid that is used to drill the reservoir section control problems), this evaluation prevents incompatibil-
can be classified both as a drilling fluid and as a comple- ities from arising that could ruin the completion and
tion fluid. The term ‘‘drill-in’’ fluid has been coined to prevent formation damage during drilling and stimula-
describe fluids that are specifically formulated for drilling tion.
the reservoir section of the hole. Ideally, these drill-in
fluids function as efficient drilling fluids, while still pro-
tecting the reservoir as though they were completion
Some of the operations conducted on a well after it has
been drilled have traditionally been considered stimula- Clear brine fluids are widely used in completion opera-
tion operations. A good example of this is matrix acid- tions. While there are a number of fluids that may serve
ization, in which acid is injected into the reservoir to as completion fluids, clear brine is certainly the most
stimulate the well. When applied in matrix acidization, important. A number of types of clear brine are commer-
the acid is a stimulation fluid. However, in many cases, cially available, including ammonium chloride, sodium
the well is simply washed with acid to clean up calcium chloride, sodium bromide, potassium chloride, calcium
carbonate-based drill-in fluids that have deposited a filter chloride, calcium bromide, zinc bromide-calcium bro-
cake. The acid solution in this case could be considered a mide, sodium formate, and potassium formate. Of
completion fluid rather than a stimulation fluid. these, the halide brines are most commonly used because

they usually represent the lowest cost for a given density. 12-2.1.2 Temperature Correction Only
There are three basic selection criteria for a completion
Of course, brine density decreases with increasing tem-
brine: density requirement for well control, crystalliza-
perature because of thermal expansion, and increases
tion temperature requirement for storage, and chemical
with increasing pressure because of compressibility.
compatibility between the completion brines and the for-
However, in most cases, the temperature effects domi-
mation. Each of these will be discussed in the following
nate the pressure effects as the depth of the well
increases. If compressibility effects are neglected, the
brine density at 708F, 70 , is related to the density at
bottomhole temperature T by the following equation
(Schmidt et al., 1983):
12-2.1 Density Requirements
The primary performance requirement for a completion 70 ¼ T þ ðTavg  70Þ  Ef (12-4)
brine is pressure control. The density must be sufficient
to produce a hydrostatic pressure in the wellbore high where Tavg ¼ average well temperature = (surface
enough to control formation pressures. Typically, an temperature + bottomhole temperature)/2 and Ef
overbalance of 200 to 300 psi above bottomhole reservoir (lb/gal/8F) is the brine expansibility factor (Figure 12-1
pressure is used for well control. The procedure to calcu- and Table 12-2).
late the required brine density at surface temperature For example, if in the previous example, the bottom-
depends on whether the effects of temperature and pres- hole temperature is 2308F, the required density of the
sure on brine density are important for the operation. brine at 708F can be calculated from Equation 12-4:
Brine densities are commonly reported at a reference
temperature of 708F (21.18C). 70 ¼ 9:62 þ ð150  70Þ  0:0024 ¼ 9:81 lb/gal

12-2.1.1 No Temperature or Pressure Correction on
Brine Density
In shallow, low-temperature formations, the effects of
temperature and pressure on brine density may be
neglected. In this case, the bottomhole hydrostatic pres-
Total Salt Concentration, wt%

sure ph (psi) exerted by a completion brine of average

density avg (lb/gal) is given by 50 *
ph ¼ 0:052avg H (12-1) *
40 *
where H (ft) is the true vertical depth. However
ph ¼ p þ pob (12-2)
where p (psi) is the bottomhole reservoir pressure and
pob (psi) is the overbalance pressure. Substituting
20 NaBr
Equation 12-2 into Equation 12-1 results in CaBr2
avg ¼ ðp þ pob Þ=0:052H (12-3) * CaCl2/CaBr2
10 CaBr2/ZnBr2
For example, consider a 200-psi overbalanced perforat-
ing operation. A well with a bottomhole reservoir pres-
sure of 4800 psi and a 10,000 ft TVD will require a brine 0.10 0.20 0.30 0.40 0.50 0.60
with bottomhole density of ð4800 þ 200Þ=ð0:052  Expansibility Factors,
10;000Þ ¼ 9:62 lb/gal. Since we assume no effect of pres- lb/gal/100°F
sure and temperature on brine density, avg is also equal Figure 12-1 Expansibility factors for various brines (after
to the density at the surface. Schmidt et al., 1983)

Table 12-2 Expansibility and compressibility factors for oilfield. As the brine density increases, so does the cost
weighted brine (Hudson and Andrews, 1986) (Figure 12-2).
Brine density, Expansibility Compressibility
lb/gal factor, Ef lb/gal/8F factor, Cf lb/gal/psi
12-2.2 Crystallization Temperature Requirements
9.0–11.0 0:24  102 0:19  104
11.1–14.5 0:33  102 0:17  104 After density, the crystallization temperature is the sec-
14.6–17.0 0:36  102 0:22  104 ond most important selection criterion for a completion
17.1–19.2 0:48  102 0:31  104 brine. The crystallization temperature is the tempera-
ture at which the brine is saturated with respect to
one of the salts that it contains. At the crystallization
because Tavg ¼ ð70 þ 230Þ=2 ¼ 1508F; Ef ¼ 0:0024 lb/ temperature, this least-soluble salt becomes insoluble
gal/8F for 9.62 lb/gal NaCl brine with a total salt con- and precipitates. The crystals can be either salt solids
centration of 20% (Figure 12-1). An alternate way to or freshwater ice. Cooling the brine below the crystal-
calculate the expansibility factor can be found in API lization temperature results in even more precipitation
Recommended Practice 13J (Mar. 1996). of salt solids.
Precipitation of salt solids in the brines at or below
the crystallization temperature can lead to a number of
12-2.1.3 Temperature and Pressure Correction rig problems. If the salt crystals settle in the tank, the
When both brine expansibility and compressibility are density of the brine pumped downhole may be too low
taken into account, the following equation can be used to control formation pressures. As more and more salt
to calculate the required brine density at 708F: crystals form, brine viscosity increases. Eventually, the
viscosity can become so high that the brine appears to
70 ¼ T þ ðTavg  70Þ  Ef  ð0:5  ph  cf Þ (12-5)
be frozen solid. It cannot be pumped, and the lines are
where cf (lb/gal/psi) is the liquid compressibility factor plugged. Therefore, crystallization of brines on location
(Table 12-2) and ph (psi) is the hydrostatic pressure. can result in considerable inconvenience, lost rig time,
If compressibility is taken into account in the previous and expense. In deep offshore waters, the low tempera-
example, then tures near the sea bottom must be taken into account to
prevent crystallization of brine when it is pumped
70 ¼ 9:81  ð0:5  5000  0:000019Þ ¼ 9:76 lb/gal
All experimental methods for measuring the crystal-
Temperature and pressure corrections are generally lization temperature of brine involve alternately cooling
needed for deep wells to control pressure and avoid and heating a sample of the brine. Figure 12-3 is a repre-
excessive overbalance pressures. sentative cooling curve for a high-density brine.
Table 12-3 gives the maximum densities of clear brines Measured temperature of the brine is plotted against
and densities of stock solutions commonly used in the time while the brine is alternately cooled and heated.

Table 12-3 Density of Clear Brines at 708F

Brine Maximum density, lb/gal Density of stock solution, lb/gal
Ammonium chloride 9.4 sacked ammonium chloride
Potassium chloride 9.7 sacked potassium chloride
Sodium chloride 10.0 sacked sodium chloride
Potassium bromide 10.9 sacked potassium bromide
Sodium formate 11.0 sacked sodium formate
Calcium chloride 11.8 11.6
Sodium bromide 12.8 12.5
Potassium formate 13.3 13.3
Calcium bromide/calcium chloride 15.1 none
Calcium bromide 15.5 14.2
Zinc bromide/calcium bromide 20.5 19.2
Note: The maximum density may vary slightly, depending on how the brine is prepared

16 CaBr2/ZnBr2

16 CaCl2/CaBr2/ZnBr2

14 CaBr2

14 CaCl2/CaBr2

12 CaBr2
Density, lb/gal

12 CaCl2/CaBr2

12 NaBr

12 NaCl/NaBr

10 CaBr2

10 NaBr

10 CaCl2

10 NaCl

9.7 KCI


Figure 12-2 Relative cost for standard production brines (Foxenberg and Smith, 1996)

Three experimental measures of crystallization tempera- . True crystallization temperature (TCT) TCT is the
ture are delineated in Figure 12-3. They are defined as maximum temperature reached following the super-
follows: cooling minimum or the inflection point if no super-
cooling occurs.
. First crystal to appear (FCTA) FCTA is the tempera-
ture at which visible crystals start to form. FCTA will . Last crystal to dissolve (LCTD) LCTD is the tem-
generally include some supercooling effect. It appears perature at which crystals disappear or the inflection
at the minimum in the cooling curve. point on the heating curve.


Temperature, ˚F

20 24°F


Cooling Heating

0 10 20 30 40 50
Time, min

Figure 12-3 Crystallization curve for 19.2-lb/gal ZnBr2/CaBr2 brine (Schmidt et al., 1983)

The TCT is the measured crystallization temperature 12-2.3.1 Compatibility with Formation Clays
nearest the temperature at which a brine will crystallize
The main concern with formation clay compatibility is
in tanks, pumps, or transfer lines in the field. In the field,
whether the completion brine, if in contact with the reser-
supercooling effects are minimized by the slow rate of voir rock, will cause swelling and/or deflocculating of
cooling that occurs in large-volume tanks from cool formation clays (Scheuerman and Bergersen, 1990).
weather. In addition, the large brine volumes and high Clay swelling can directly block pore openings by
surface area in contact with the brine will provide abun- increasing the size of clay aggregates. Both mechanisms
dant nucleation sites to prevent supercooling. Therefore, cause clay particles to detach from each other and from
TCT is the best measure of crystallization temperature of pore walls. Migration of—and pore-throat plugging
a brine. The TCT of a brine can and should be measured by—deflocculated clays is the most common impair-
on location and can be done using the method described ment mechanism related to clay. To prevent clay swel-
in the API Recommended Practice 13J (Mar. 1996). ling, the completion brine must meet a minimum
The crystallization temperature of a heavy brine at a salinity requirement. This requirement is typically 3%
given density can be varied by adjusting the concentra- NH4Cl or 2% KCl. Completion brines that do not meet
tion of the different salts in the brine. Table 12-4 gives an this requirement can cause clay swelling and permanent
example of the relationship between brine composition formation damage (Azari and Leimkuhler, 1990). In a
and crystallization temperature. Brines of a given density few cases, where extremely dirty sands are present,
may be formulated with various crystallization tempera- nearly any aqueous-based fluid can cause formation
tures. As a rule, the lower the TCT, the more costly the damage; oil-based fluids have been used as completion
brine. Therefore, choosing a brine with an excessively fluids in these zones.
low crystallization temperature can be very costly. A The compatibility of heavy completion brines with for-
cheaper, high-density brine with too high a crystalliza- mations has been studied recently. Morgenthaler (1986)
tion temperature, on the other hand, can increase the has conducted laboratory core flow tests to determine the
cost of operations because of the rig problems discussed formation damage potential of brines with densities
earlier. between 13.2 and 19.2 lb/gal in various core materials.
Typically, the crystallization temperature is specified a Unfavorable fluid/rock interactions are not evident
few degrees lower than the lowest anticipated cold- except in the case of calcium brines with densities higher
weather temperature to prevent crystallization of salt than 14 lb/gal, where precipitation of acid-soluble cal-
solids in the brine. cium salts was observed. He proposed that brines with
densities higher than 14 lb/gal should be formulated with
a minimum of 8% ZnBr2 to lower pH and to prevent
precipitation. Baijal et al. (1991) have shown that incor-
12-2.3 Formation Compatibility Requirement porating a small amount of surfactant in the brine can
mitigate this problem by inhibiting the growth of calcium
The third selection criterion is whether the completion salt crystals at temperatures up to 2808F. Houchin et al.
brine is chemically compatible with the formation. The (1991) reported that formation damage by high-density
term ‘‘formation’’ means formation rock, water, and brines increases at temperatures above 3508F in low
hydrocarbons. Incompatibilities can cause formation permeability cores (<100 md). At these high tempera-
damage that means lost productivity or the need for tures, the soluble silica formed by dissolution of silica
remedial treatment. grains may react with the calcium ions in the calcium-

Table 12-4 Brine composition vs. crystallization temperature (Foxenberg and Smith, Jan. 1996)
Density, lb/gal CaCl2, wt % CaCl2, lb/bbl CaBr2, wt % CaBr2, lb/bbl H2O, wt % H2O, lb/bbl TCT, 8F
13.2 28.1 155.8 22.1 122.5 49.8 276.1 48
13.2 0 0 46.1 255.6 53.9 298.8 36
14.2 22.9 136.6 33.4 199.2 43.7 260.6 58
14.2 11.6 69.2 45.3 270.2 43.1 257.0 49
14.2 0 0 51.9 309.5 48.1 286.9 0
15.1 18.8 119.2 42.3 268.3 38.9 246.7 63

containing brines to form calcium silicates. Formation saturated with NaCl would result in precipitation of
of calcium silicate crystals can block pore throats, lead- NaCl, while the 108F and 378F TCT brines would
ing to formation damage. remain free from precipitation of NaCl at downhole tem-
When high-density completion brines are used, it is peratures. Formation waters saturated with NaCl can be
recommended that actual core tests be conducted with found near salt domes.
formation sand to ensure that the heavy brine is compa- Because of either changes in temperature and pressure
tible with the formation sand. There are a number of or changes in chemical composition (loss of gas and mix-
ways these core tests are done. Unfortunately, there is ing of waters) oilfield waters will sparingly deposit solu-
currently no standardized way to conduct these experi- ble salts (such as CaCO3). To prevent scale formation,
ments. In one way of conducting core tests, actual for- compatibility of completion brines and formation water
mation sand is saturated with simulated formation water should be checked in the laboratory at various mixing
at reservoir temperature, and the base permeability of the ratios both at reservoir and surface conditions since
sand is determined. Then, the completion brine is flowed fluids may be compatible under higher temperatures
through the sand for up to 24 hours. The core is then downhole, but precipitation may occur up tubing or in
flooded with many pore volumes of simulated formation surface equipment (Ali et al., 1994b). In addition, when
water to determine the final steady-state permeability. more than one completion brine is used in a well opera-
The ratio of final-to-initial permeability, often called tion, it is important that their compatibility be checked in
the regained permeability or return permeability, is a the laboratory before use.
measure of compatibility between the brine and the rock. Carbonate scales can be removed by acid treatments.
Calcium sulfate may be removed with moderate difficulty
with chelating agents such as EDTA (Cikes et al., 1988;
12-2.3.2 Compatibility with Formation Water Lejon et al., 1995). There are commercial computer pro-
The main concern with formation water compatibility is grams available to predict scale formation (Morgenthaler
the formation of scales caused by incompatible comple- et al., 1991).
tion brines and formation water. Scales are deposits of
inorganic minerals. The scales most commonly found in
oilfield waters are calcium and iron carbonate, calcium,
12-2.3.3 Compatibility with Formation Crude and
Natural Gas
barium and strontium sulfates, sodium chloride, iron
sulfide, and silicates. Scales can be formed through the The main concern with formation crude and natural gas
mixing of incompatible waters, solubility change with compatibility is the formation of oil-water emulsion and/
temperature, solubility change with pressure, and water or sludge which may block pores and cause formation
evaporation. For example, unfavorable mixing ratios of damage. The emulsion, if allowed to be produced, may
calcium-based completion brine with formation water also cause upsets in service facilities. Brine-crude incom-
can cause scale formation and subsequent formation patibility is especially important when heavy brine is
damage (Ali et al., 1994a; Lejon et al., 1995; Azari and used, the brine is acidic, or during acid stimulation. To
Leimkuhler, 1990; Ezzat, 1990). prevent an emulsion from forming, the compatibility
Table 12-5 shows the compatibility data for 13.5-lb/gal between the crude and the brine and/or treatment fluid
CaBr2/CaCl2 completion brines mixed with saturated should be checked in the laboratory at reservoir tempera-
(10-lb/gal) NaCl at 708F and 1908F. The data indicate tures (Ali et al., 1994a; Foxenberg et al., 1996a;
that using the 608F TCT brine with formation waters Foxenberg et al., 1996b). Incompatibility may be

Table 12-5 Compatibility of calcium-based brine systems saturated with sodium chloride formation water (Ali et al., 1994b)
Calcium-based brine system,
13.5 lb/gal TCT, 8F Saturated 10 lb/gal NaCl at 708F Saturated 10 lb/gal NaCl at 1908F
CaCl2/CaBr2 60 PPT PPT
CaCl2/CaBr2 10 Tr N
CaCl2/CaBr2 37 N N
PPT = Significant precipitation of NaCl.
Tr = Trace precipitation of NaCl.
N = No precipitation of NaCl.

resolved by reformulation of the brine and/or treatment The organophosphate-type corrosion inhibitors are not
fluid or the incorporation of surfactants and mutual sol- ordinarily used in completion fluids because a lack of
vents in the brine and/or treatment fluid. Natural gas circulation may cause a discontinuous film to develop
may contain significant quantities of CO2, which cause and result in formation of corrosion cells and the devel-
calcium carbonate to precipitate if mixed with a high-pH, opment of pitting. Brine-soluble, filming, amine-type cor-
brine containing calcium. rosion inhibitors may be used in completion brines, but
some of these (particularly the quaternary ammonium-
type that are strongly adsorbed to silicate surfaces) may
12-3 ENGINEERING AND TESTING ISSUES also lead to alteration of surface wettability of mineral
grains in the reservoir and consequent formation
Completion-fluids engineering is the measurement and damage.
control of the properties of completion fluids. In most Very dense zinc-bromide mixed brine (consisting of
cases, fluid properties are controlled by adding small calcium chloride, calcium bromide, and zinc bromide)
quantities of chemical additives that impart corrosion is sometimes used when very high density is needed for
protection, rheology, fluid-loss control, surfactancy, or well control. These brines have a low pH, meaning that
other properties that may be needed. Engineering these they are somewhat acidic. Raising the pH can cause pre-
properties often means that these properties need to be cipitation of solid materials from these brines. The acid-
tested in the field. Some of the engineering and testing ity of zinc-based brine can cause severe corrosion if a
issues that arise in completion fluids are discussed in this corrosion inhibitor is not present. Most commercially
available zinc-based completion brine contains a thiocy-
nate (or other thio-family chemical) corrosion inhibitor
12-3.1 Corrosion that forms a protective film on the surface of steel or iron
in the zinc-based brine environment.
The electrically conductive nature of the brines that
Bacterial growth in completion fluids can generate
make up most completion fluids provides an environ-
acid conditions and hydrogen sulfide. The presence of
ment favorable for corrosion of metals to occur. From
sulfate ion in a completion fluid can allow sulfate-redu-
a practical standpoint, the rate of corrosion that occurs
cing bacteria to produce hydrogen sulfide, which can
will determine whether corrosion is a problem.
cause health and safety problems as well as corrosion
Completion fluids with corrosion rates in excess of 10
problems. Water-soluble polymer additives that are
kg/m2-y according to corrosion coupon tests are gener-
used to viscosify and control fluid losses from comple-
ally considered corrosive enough that corrosion issues
tion fluids are subject to bacterial degradation. When
should be addressed. For packer fluids, considerably
slower corrosion rates would be required. Corrosion these products are metabolized by bacteria, they lose
rates may be high if the fluid has low pH or contains their effectiveness, and acid is generated. Addition of
dissolved oxygen. High temperatures will also accelerate biocide is needed to prevent bacterial growth in many
corrosion rates. completion fluid formulations. When using surface
For sodium-, potassium-, calcium chloride-, or bro- waters from lakes, streams, bays, or seas as a makeup
mide brine-based completion fluids, dissolved oxygen is or dilution fluid for completion fluids, it is important to
the primary agent causing corrosion. The solubility of consider possible bacterial contamination and to use
oxygen in these brines decreases as saturation with the biocides.
salt is approached. Even though the brine may initially There are several situations that may arise in comple-
contain dissolved oxygen, if the brine is not circulated tion fluid technology that require special attention to
during the completion in a manner that will replenish the corrosion issues. Completion fluids that are foamed
dissolved oxygen, the oxygen present in the brine will with air can be highly corrosive and it may be impossible
quickly deplete and the corrosion rate will consequently to control the corrosion rates from such fluids with
decrease as well. For alkali and alkaline earth-halide ordinary steel tubulars at elevated temperature.
brine fluids that will not be circulated, oxygen scavengers Possible solutions include using nitrogen instead of air
are not normally needed. For brine that is circulated, to produce the foam or using special corrosion inhibitors
injection of an oxygen scavenger such as ammonium (Scott et al., 1995). High-temperature completion envir-
bisulfite into the flowstream with a proportional pump onments, especially those above 1508C, may require spe-
is suggested, along with increasing the pH to about 8.5. cial attention to corrosion issues.

12-3.2 Filtration Among the issues sometimes overlooked is the quality

control needed for clean pits, tanks, lines, and other
Completion with clear brine should ensure that the fluid
equipment used to transport or store completion fluids.
that actually contacts the formation is as particle-free as
A comprehensive program to ensure that pits, tanks, and
possible. Sources of particles in brines used for comple-
lines are clean is an essential part of any completion
tion include the following:
operation that uses clear brine.

. Suspended solids in makeup waters

12-3.3 Weighting Up and Weighting Down
. Insoluble impurities in salts
It is quite common for the density of a completion brine
. Rust, scale, or dirt in containers used in transporting to need adjustment during a well operation. Weighting
brines up can usually be done with spike fluids, which are
. Rust, scale, or dirt in tanks used for storage usually stock fluids consisting of 11.6 lb/gal CaCl2,
14.2 lb/gal CaBr2 , or 19.2 lb/gal ZnBr2 /CaBr2 solutions.
. Solids from mud and cement incorporated into the As a general rule, only brines containing the same cation
brine during displacement should be mixed, as mixing of brines containing different
cations may cause precipitation. If in doubt, the brines to
To obtain solids-free brine, it is often necessary to filter be mixed should be checked for compatibility before
the brine either at a brine storage plant or in the field as it mixing. Weighting up with solid salts can also be done.
is being used. However, some grades of sacked CaCl2 may contain a
Filtration can be performed either in a mixing plant or high degree of impurities, and adding them to a brine
in the field. Brines prepared by dissolving salt in a make- may turn the brine cloudy because of these impurities.
up water do not contain oil contamination. Mixing-plant It will take time for the solids to settle. If brine is
filtration of these brines can be accomplished using a weighted up with solid salts with impurities, it may be
two-stage filtration process: first, the fluid is passed necessary to filter the brine before use. This filtering is
through a 10-micron, string-wound filter cartridge, and not necessary for CaBr2 where the impurity is usually
water. Adding CaCl2 or CaBr2 to a solution will generate
then it is filtered with a 2-micron, pleated-paper cartridge
heat. Generally, weighting up with liquid is preferable
to achieve the final cut (Wedel et al., 1992). Brine that is
because it can be done rapidly with no need to filter.
reprocessed in the field during, or in the brine plant after,
However, logistics on location, such as the availability
field use typically contains oil as well as solids contam-
of tanks and the requirements for large quantities of dry
ination. This oil and solids contamination can reduce
solids, may dictate which method is used.
cartridge life of string-wound and pleated-paper car-
Weighting down can be done by diluting with fresh
tridges. Wedel et al. (1992) suggest preprocessing the
water or a lower-density brine. However, dilution with
field brine with a diatomaceous earth filter, then using
seawater is not encouraged because seawater introduces
an acrylic fiber cartridge for the coarser filtration, and
undesirable ions and bacteria. A strategy to weight up
finally a 2-micron polypropylene cartridge.
and down should be planned before the completion brine
Quality control of filtration is an important issue.
is brought to location.
Brine clarity cannot be determined simply by looking
at it. Even a sample that appears clear to the unaided
eye can contain significant amounts of fine particles that
could cause formation damage. Turbidity measurement
12-3.4 Fluid-Loss Control
of brine clarity and gravimetric measurement of total Large overbalance pressure, high formation permeability
suspended solids are used in the field (Solee et al., and long perforated or openhole intervals can cause sub-
1985). In addition, automated particle-size analyzers stantial loss of completion brine in the formation. Loss
are used in the laboratory to determine particle-size dis- of large quantities of completion brines, especially heavy
tributions. The degree of clarity needed may vary with brines, can be expensive and may increase formation
different reservoir zones or types of completion opera- damage potential. In addition, if fluid is lost to the for-
tions that will be conducted. As measured in the field, mation at a faster rate than can be replenished from the
typical standards range from 20 to 50 NTU units for wellhead, a well-control problem may occur. To prevent
turbidity (Foxenburg and Smith, 1996b). or minimize this, fluid-loss control materials are some-

times added to the completion brine. Fluid-loss control fore be about 10 microns. According to this rule of
materials can generally be classified into two types: solids thumb, particles capable of plugging a pore 10 microns
and viscous materials. Solid fluid-loss control materials in diameter would be needed to bridge and form a filter
control fluid loss by forming a low permeability filter cake on a 100-md sand. Pore sizes can be measured from
cake at the formation sandface. Some commonly used thin sections of reservoir core materials using micro-
solid fluid-loss control materials include sized NaCl scopic methods, or mercury-injection curves can be
(Mondshine, 1977, 1979), sized CaCO3 (Johnson, used to calculate pore-size distribution. In addition,
1994), oil-soluble resins, and crosslinked polymers tests such as the PPT test are used to evaluate fluids to
(Blauch et al., 1989; Himes et al., 1994). determine if the particle size distribution and other addi-
The latter are usually crosslinkable polymers to which a tives will control fluid losses.
crosslinking agent is added just before pumping down- Viscous fluid-loss control materials are typically water-
hole. Crosslinking occurs as the polymer is pumped down- soluble polymers, such as hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC)
hole. These fluids are designed so that the fluid is fully or biopolymers (e.g. xanthan gum or succinoglycan).
crosslinked by the time it reaches the perforated zone. A These polymer solutions are usually shear thinning;
fully crosslinked polymer solution behaves like a solid. If a their viscosity increases with decreasing shear rate.
differential pressure is applied between it and the forma- Typically, a viscous fluid-loss pill is made on location
tion, a leathery skin of very low permeability may form at by adding either a dry or liquid polymer to the comple-
the sandface. This leathery skin acts like a filter cake in tion brine. After the brine has fully viscosified, it is
solid fluid-loss control materials. Solid fluid-loss control pumped downhole and spotted across the perforated or
materials are usually very effective in reducing and even openhole interval. The viscosified brine will enter the
stopping fluid loss altogether. However, they may be dif- formation because of overbalance. As the viscosified
ficult to remove once formed. Depending on the fluid-loss brine invades the formation near the wellbore, its viscos-
control material used, removal may depend on contact by ity increases since the shear rate drops inversely to the
acid, a breaker solution, or crude oil. Inadequate contact, distance from the wellbore. As viscosity goes up, the
especially over long perforated intervals, can result in ability of the pill to control fluid-loss increases. If the
incomplete removal and impaired well productivity. fluid-loss control polymer is a power-law fluid, the
Furthermore, when oil-soluble resins are used, the resin volume of polymer required to reduce the fluid-loss
solubility may vary significantly among crude oils. rate to an acceptable level given the overbalance, forma-
Laboratory tests are recommended to determine that the tion permeability, interval length, and power-law indices
resin used is soluble in the produced oil. can be calculated using Darcy’s law for power-law fluid
Measurement of fluid loss is carried out using API (Lau, 1994).
fluid-loss cells, HPHT fluid-loss cells designed for drilling The most commonly used viscous fluid-loss control
fluids, or PPT cells that were originally designed to mea- material is HEC. Viscosifying of low-density brines by
sure pore plugging for prevention of seepage losses. The powder HEC requires proper pH adjustment. Powder
API fluid-loss cell and the HPHT fluid-loss cell employ HEC is often coated with a film of hydration retarder
filter paper as the medium on which the filter cake is which dissolves in alkaline pH. Before the addition of
deposited. The PPT cell uses a porous ceramic or aloxite powder HEC, the pH of the brine is usually lowered by
disk as the medium on which the filter cake is deposited. addition of an acid, such as citric acid. The acid prevents
Other types of measurements may use core samples of the HEC from immediate hydration before it is thor-
some standard rock such as Berea sandstone or core oughly dispersed in the brine. Premature hydration can
samples from the reservoir. lead to the formation of fisheyes or microgels, which are
Solid fluid-loss control materials need to be properly partially hydrated HEC particles that can cause forma-
sized if they are to bridge properly and form a filter cake tion damage. After the powder HEC is well-dispersed in
at the surface of the formation. One approximate rule of the brine, the pH of the brine is raised by addition of an
thumb for sands and sandstones (with many exceptions) alkali, a dilute sodium hydroxide solution. The alkaline
is that pH dissolves the coating of the HEC and allows hydra-
pffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi tion of the HEC powder. In low-density brines, hydra-
pore size  permeability (12-7) tion of powder HEC is very quick at alkali pH.
Continued mixing is usually needed to aid hydration.
where pore size is in micrometers and permeability is in After the pill has reached its final viscosity, it is often
millidarcies. The pore size in a 100-md sand would there- sheared and filtered to remove any solids and partially

hydrated HEC before pumping downhole. Viscosifying above 2208F. However, dissolution of xanthan gum in
NH4Cl brines with HEC requires special precautions. heavy CaCl2 (above 10.5 lb/gal) is difficult. Furthermore,
Since NH4Cl brines resist pH change because of their xanthan gum is incompatible with CaBr2 and ZnBr2
buffering capacity, the water is first viscosfied with brines. Xanthan gum is available in both clarified and
HEC before NH4Cl is added. Adjustment of pH in cal- unclarified forms. The unclarified xanthan gum contains
cium- and zinc-containing brines may result in formation insoluble cellulosic material that may cause formation
of precipitates and is generally not practiced. damage, while the clarified xanthan has been processed
Powder HEC is usually not effective in viscosifying to remove the insoluble materials.
heavy brines. Continued shearing and/or heating may Recently the use of another biopolymer, succinogly-
be required to viscosify heavy brines (Scheuerman, can, has been introduced for fluid-loss control (Lau,
1983). To aid the hydration of HEC in heavy brines, 1994). Succinoglycan has a sharp transition temperature
service companies have recently introduced the use of above which it loses viscosity rapidly. This transition
liquid HECs. They are typically powder HEC without temperature varies with the type and density of the
an anticaking coating suspended in an organic medium, brine. Properly designed succinoglycan solutions can be
such as mineral oil, to which an organic gellant is added more temperature stable and more effective than fluid-
to increase the viscosity needed for suspension. Since the loss pills prepared from HECs. However, the transition
HEC powder is well dispersed in the organic medium, no temperature of the pill should be above the reservoir
pH adjustment is needed for hydration. temperature for the pill to be effective. An internal
Occasionally, ‘‘activated’’ HECs have been used to breaker, such as hydrochloric acid, can be incorporated
viscosify heavy calcium and zinc bromide brines. in the succinoglycan pill to allow it to self-degrade after a
Typically, they consist of HEC which is at least partially predetermined amount of time (Bouts et al., 1996).
dissolved in a mutual solvent and suspended in an
organic medium. However, these activated HECs may
have a limited shelf life.
12-3.5 Rheology
Viscosifying heavy calcium and zinc brines is not sim-
ple. The final viscosity depends not only on the HEC The viscosity of the completion brine is needed to calcu-
concentration but also the brine composition, specifi- late the friction pressure drop in the workstring during
cally, whether the brine is a single- or two-salt brine. pumping. Figures 12-4 to 12-6 give the viscosity of var-
The ability of a liquid HEC to viscosify a particular ious completion brines as a function of temperature. The
heavy brine should be tested in the laboratory before figures show that the viscosity of a heavy brine can be
being recommended for field use. For example, heavy many times that of a low-viscosity brine. When brine
brines with densities between 15.3 and 16.7 lb/gal and viscosity data are not available, experiments should be
containing between 1 and 7% zinc are known to be either conducted to measure the friction pressure drop under
very difficult to viscosify with HEC, or if they do visco- simulated pumping operations. When the friction pres-
sify, they may not be thermally stable. Operators should sure drop exceeds horsepower or safety requirements of
ask the service company to reformulate the brine, and the the tubulars, the completion brine can be reformulated to
ability of HEC to viscosify the brine should be checked give a lower viscosity. Usually for a given brine density,
before field use. the formulation having more water gives a lower down-
One limitation of HEC as a fluid-loss control material hole viscosity. However, this formulation is usually more
is that its viscosity decreases with increasing temperature expensive. Another remedy is to use drag-reducing
and the polymer degrades at high temperatures, limiting agents with the brine. These are typically polymeric solu-
its usage at very high temperatures. The advantage of tions.
HEC is that it is compatible with many brines since it Rheological properties of the fluid may need to be
is nonionic and relatively inexpensive. adjusted to suspend solids if they are used to help control
Besides HEC, biopolymers such as xanthan gum have fluid losses or if the completion fluid is used to clean sand
also been used as viscous fluid-loss control materials. and debris from the wellbore.
Biopolymer solutions are usually much more shear thin- Rheology is tested with the Fann V-G meter that is
ning and stable at a higher temperature than HEC solu- commonly used in the drilling-fluid industry. This rotat-
tions and are therefore more effective fluid-loss control ing-cylinder viscometer measures shear rate vs. shear
agents. Like HEC, xanthan gum is available both in stress, and data can be fit to either a Bingham-plastic
powder and liquid forms. Xanthan gum is stable to or power-law rheological model. The Bingham-plastic

10.0 CaCl2
11.6 CaCl2
14.2 CaBr2
14.8 CaBr2, 40°F TCT
10.0 NaCl
Viscosity, cp


10 100 1000
Temperature, °F

Figure 12-4 Viscosity of NaCl, CaCl2, and CaBr2 brines as a function of temperature (Foxenberg and Smith, 1996a)

14.2 CaCl2/CaBr2, 30°F TCT
12.5 CaCl2/CaBr2, 40°F TCT
13.8 CaCl2/CaBr2, 30°F TCT
12 CaCl2/CaBr2, 40°F TCT
13.5 CaCl2/CaBr2, 30°F TCT
Viscosity, cp

10 100 1000
Temperature, °F

Figure 12-5 Viscosity of CaCl2/CaBr2 brines as a function of temperature (Foxenberg and Smith, 1996a)

model is commonly used in field operations because it plotted on the y-axis and shear rate is plotted on the x-
can be determined with a two-speed V-G meter that mea- axis, the slope of the line (corrected to centipoise) is the
sures rheology at 1022 and 511 sec1 shear rates. The plastic viscosity and the intercept at zero shear rate is the
Bingham model represents the rheology as two numbers: yield point. The Fann V-G meter is constructed so that
the plastic viscosity and the yield point. If shear stress is subtracting the dial reading at 300 rpm (511 sec1 ) from

15.0 CaCl2/CaBr2,/ZnBr2, 40°F TCT
16.5 CaCl2/CaBr2,/ZnBr2, 40°F TCT
14.5 CaCl2/CaBr2,/ZnBr2, 30°F TCT
Viscosity, cp 15.5 CaCl2/CaBr2,/ZnBr2, 40°F TCT

10 100 1000
Temperature, °F

Figure 12-6 Viscosity of CaCl2/CaBr2/ZnBr2 brines as a function of temperature (Foxenberg and Smith, 1996a)

the reading at 600 rpm (1022 sec1 ) gives the plastic visc- completion fluids to prevent the formation of stable
osity, and subtracting the plastic viscosity from the 300- emulsions.
rpm dial reading gives the yield point. In many cases, the
minimum yield point of a fluid is specified and sufficient
polymer is added to maintain at least this yield point. 12-4 APPLICATIONS
Yield point values in the range of 10 to 25 lb/100 ft2 In many situations, completion fluids can be used to help
are commonly specified. prepare the well for production. In the introduction to
Recent advances in design of horizontal drill-in fluids this chapter, the development of completion fluid tech-
use measurement of rheology at very low shear rates to nology as a bridge between traditional drilling fluid and
achieve enhanced suspension properties of the fluid stimulation fluid technologies was described. A few com-
(Beck et al., 1993). A Brookfield viscometer is used to mon applications and issues related to these applications
measure the low-shear-rate viscosity at shear rates as low are discussed in this section. As completion technology
as 0.06 sec1 . Xanthan gum is extremely effective in rais- further evolves to solve problems related to sand control,
ing the low-shear-rate viscosity. When this system of water production, and horizontal well performance, new
measuring rheology is used, typical specifications call applications for completion fluids will certainly arise.
for values around 40,000 to 100,000 cp at 0.06 sec1 .

12-4.1 Perforated Completions

12-3.6 Emulsion Prevention
Perforated completions are very common because they
Mixing crude oil with certain compositions of brine can offer excellent zonal isolation for stimulation treatment
result in the formation of a stable emulsion. These emul- and water production control. The typical procedures
sions can block production and, once formed, can be leading up to a perforated completion involve drilling
difficult to remove from the formation. Bottle tests in the well with conventional drilling fluid, running casing
which crude oil and completion fluid are mixed, shaken, past the production interval, and cementing the casing
and observed to determine separation are commonly into the well. At this point, drilling fluid (and cement) fill
used to evaluate emulsion problems. Mixtures that do the volume inside the casing. Conventional drilling fluid
not easily separate are likely to form stable emulsions contains clay, barite, and drill solids as well as other
in the formation. Demulsifiers are sometimes added to drilling-fluid additives. If the well is perforated with dril-

ling fluid, the solids from this drilling fluid can damage In some instances, fluids other than clear brine are
the perforation and lead to lower productivity. For this used as perforating fluids. Some production intervals
reason, clear brine completion fluids are frequently used are sensitive to water and brine. Field crude oil has
to displace the drilling fluid from the reservoir interval been used with the philosophy that the crude oil cannot
before the well is perforated. harm the formation. Crude oils can precipitate asphal-
Choosing the displacement method to ensure that clear tenes, paraffins, and other components as they are pro-
brine is opposite the interval to be perforated is an duced. They may not go back into solution and can make
important decision in the completion process. There are the use of crude as a completion fluid risky. Diesel oil or
two basic methods: partial and complete. mineral oil completion fluids are sometimes used and
In the partial-displacement method, a pill of comple- probably impose fewer risks of damage than crude oil.
tion fluid can be spotted across the interval to be perfo- For depleted zones where pressures are low, foam-based
rated. This method is less expensive and may be completion fluids are sometimes used.
appropriate in remote areas where transporting large Fluid-loss control from brine-based completion fluids
volumes to the rig is impractical. The disadvantage of used for perforating is another issue that sometimes
this method is that it is not possible to ensure that the needs attention. In many cases, fluid-loss control is not
brine is solids-free in the downhole environment because needed because the rate of fluid loss through the perfora-
there may be some mixing of drilling fluid and comple- tions is slow enough to be manageable. Perforations that
tion fluid in the partial displacement. To preform a par- intersect fractures or that are located in coarsely granular
tial displacement, a polymer viscosifier is typically added high-permeability zones may need fluid-loss control. A
to the brine to make a viscous spacer that will be used to section of this chapter deals with methods of achieving
push the drilling fluid up the hole several hundred feet fluid-loss control in brine-based completion fluids.
above the interval to be perforated. Several spacers,
including ones that contain surfactants, may be used in
this process. After the spacers are pumped, the pill of
clear brine is pumped so that it covers the interval to 12-4.2 Openhole and Slotted Liner Completions
be perforated, and the perforation is made.
The full-displacement method circulates completion Openhole (where the formation is left open to the well-
fluid through the entire well. This method is more costly bore) and slotted-liner completions do not offer the zonal
than the partial-displacement method, but it also allows isolation possible with perforated completions but may
the returns to be monitored for clarity and quality. This be cheaper and may offer higher productivity rates.
method can ensure that the perforation is carried out Openhole and slotted-liner completions are common in
with clear brine across the reservoir interval. As in the horizontal wells. Wells completed with slotted liners,
partial-displacement method, spacers containing viscosi- where the slotted-liner is not intended to be a sand con-
fiers and surfactants are commonly used to help clean up trol device, are similar to other types of preopened liners
any drilling fluid that may be gelled up or solids that may including preperforated, predrilled, and even some wire-
cling to tubulars. To obtain a good displacement, it is wrapped screens because the holes in these devices are
important to pump the entire hole volume continuously large enough for drilling-fluid particles to pass through
without shutting down the pump. Accomplishing this (Stephens, 1991).
often requires preplanned storage and having the entire Before completing the well, casing has typically been
hole volume of completion brine on hand so that the set somewhere above the reservoir interval, and the reser-
displacement will not be interrupted. One variation that voir has been drilled. The drilling fluid for drilling the
is commonly used to obtain a better displacement is to reservoir can be either a conventional drilling mud or a
reverse circulate so that the completion fluid is pumped special drill-in fluid. The conventional drilling mud may
down the annulus of the well and the returns are through contain clay, drill solids, and barite and may be the same
the tubing or drill-pipe. This reverse circulation process drilling fluid that was used for drilling the unproductive
prevents solids from settling in the annulus of the well rock above the reservoir. The special drill-in fluid, if it is
where flow velocities are slower than they are inside the used, will be a fluid that is used only to drill the reservoir
tubing or drillpipe. After the drilling fluid has been dis- interval and it will have many of the characteristics of a
placed, it is a common practice to circulate and filter the completion fluid. These special drill-in fluids typically
completion brine until it meets a specification for clarity. contain brine for density instead of barite, polymeric
After the completion fluid is clear, the well is perforated. additives for rheology instead of clay, and sized-salt or

calcium carbonate for filter-cake solids instead of clay pack slurry is pumped into the wellbore with the gravel-
and barite. pack tool in the squeeze position (no fluid return is
In some cases, the drilling fluid that is used to drill the taken). Since no return is taken on the back side of the
well also serves as the completion fluid; in other words, well, the completion brine in the workstring/casing annu-
no special completion fluid is used. The slotted liner, lus will not be diluted by the carrier fluid. Therefore, the
wire-wrapped screen, or preopened liner can be placed carrier fluid need not be weighted for well-control pur-
into the well with the drilling fluid in the hole. The pro- poses. In this case, a low-density brine can be chosen as
duction flow of the well is used to clean up the mud, the long as it meets the minimum salinity requirement to
filter cake, and any associated formation damage. prevent clay swelling. Typically, a squeeze gravel pack
In other cases where damage from the mud or the filter can be performed with 2% KCl or 3% NH4Cl as the
cake will damage production, there are numerous ways base fluid of the carrier fluid.
that completion fluids are used to limit damage. Some In the case of a circulating gravel pack, the gravel-pack
examples are listed bellow: slurry is circulated into the perforated interval with the
gravel-pack tool in the circulating position. Fluid return
. The drilling fluid is displaced from the hole before is allowed to flow up the well in the workstring/casing
running the liner or wire-wrapped screen. If fluid annulus. In this case, the density of the carrier fluid must
losses to the reservoir do not need to be controlled, be high enough to maintain well control and therefore
clear brine can be used, and spacers that will help should be chosen in the same way as outlined in the basic
remove the filter cake from a conventional drilling selection criteria section.
mud are sometimes used. If fluid-loss control is impor- The viscosity requirement of a gravel-pack fluid
tant, polymeric fluid-loss control additives are typi- depends on whether a viscous pack vs. a water or low-
cally added to the brine before running the liner or viscosity pack is being performed. In a typical viscous
screen. pack, the carrier fluid is viscosified with a polymer (60
to 80 lb HEC/Mgal) so that it can suspend 15-lb/gal sand
. The hole has been drilled with a special drill-in fluid.
of a given size. If a heavy brine is used as the carrier fluid,
The drill-in fluid is displaced with a clear brine con-
the HEC concentration can be reduced to 50 to 60 lb/
taining polymeric fluid-loss control additive. The
Mgal, since HEC solution in these brines is more viscous
screen or liner is run into the hole. Brine containing
than in light brines (Scheuerman, 1984). It should be
a polymer breaker is spotted across the reservoir to
noted that viscosifying heavy brine with powder HEC
degrade the polymer fluid-loss control additives and
could be tedious and may require heating and continuous
assist in clean up.
mixing. In these situations, the use of liquid HEC is more
. The well has been drilled with an oil-based drilling appropriate. Some operators incorporate an internal
fluid to prevent water-sensitive clays in the reservoir breaker to reduce the viscosity of the HEC solution to
formation from being exposed to water or brine. enhance well cleanup. A variety of acid, oxidative, and
Gelled oil is used as a completion fluid to displace enzyme polymer-degrading viscosity breakers is used for
the solids-bearing oil-based drilling fluid before run- this purpose. In these cases, the compatibility of these
ning the liner or screen. Production is used to clean up breakers with the formation should be checked.
the filter cake. Recently, biopolymer succinoglycan (Sanz et al., 1994)
and viscous surfactant solutions (Lehmer, 1988) have
Creative use of completion fluid systems is a driving been used as alternatives to HEC solutions for viscous
force in obtaining less costly and more productive open- packs. These solutions possess unique rheologies and are
hole and slotted-liner completions. commonly used without a chemical breaker. To minimize
formation-damage potential, viscous gravel-pack fluids
should be sheared and/or filtered before use.
12-4.3 Cased-Hole Gravel Pack
Viscous slurry packs have several disadvantages.
Gravel-packing as a sand control technique is described Inadequate leakoff of the viscous carrier fluid may lead
in Chapter 18. There are two key requirements for a to formation of voids in the gravel pack. Partially
completion brine used as a carrier fluid for cased-hole hydrated polymer solutions can also cause formation
gravel-packing: density and viscosity. The density damage. Viscosifying heavy brines may be difficult on
requirement depends on whether a squeeze or circulating location. To avoid these problems, a number of opera-
gravel pack is performed. In the former case, the gravel- tors have been using water or low-viscosity packs. In

these packs, either no or very low concentrations of vis- packed screen, slotted liner, wire-wrapped screen,
cosifier are added to viscosify the carrier fluid. Gravel at damage-tolerant screen, perforated pipe with or without
a loading of 1 to 3 lb/gal is added to the carrier fluid on- a screen, a screen with gravel-packing around it, and
the-fly using a gravel infuser or a specialized blender. The openhole.
low viscosity of the fluid allows quick sand settling and a For openhole, slotted-liner, perforated pipe, and wire-
compact gravel pack. Recently, these water or low-visc- wrapped screen completions, the particles that make up
osity packs have been pumped at a relatively high pump the filter cake from the drill-in fluid can be produced.
rate under squeeze mode, sometimes immediately follow- One consideration in selection of the drill-in fluid is
ing a high-rate acid job, to aid in keeping the perfora- whether the formation consists of rock with matrix per-
tions open and in placement of gravel into them (Bruner meability such as sandstone, or rock with fracture per-
et al., 1996). meability such as the Austin Chalk (Stephens, 1991).
For rock with fracture permeability, it is important to
use solids-free or very-low-solids, non-gelling drilling
fluid to prevent gelled mud or filter cake from entering
12-4.4 Horizontal Wells
the fractures and blocking production. Thermally stable
Horizontal wells have gained wide acceptance worldwide weighted muds with minimal clay content have been used
in recent years. Many operators have reported significant to drill fractured Austin Chalk wells. Underbalanced
gains in productivity by completing horizontal wells drilling techniques have also been used in Austin Chalk
instead of vertical wells. The unique challenge for a horizontal wells, and production is allowed to occur as
drill-in fluid for a horizontal well is that it must perform the well is drilled.
satisfactorily both as a drilling and a completion fluid For rock with matrix permeability and little risk of sand
simultaneously (Dobson et al., 1996). production, either water-based or oil-based drill-in fluids
The drill-in fluid is used to drill the lateral hole and that form a filter cake are typically used. The filter cake
must possess the typical requirements of a drilling fluid prevents fine particles present in the drilling fluid from
including low plastic viscosities, proper rheology for cut- entering the pore network and damaging production.
tings removal, tight fluid-loss control, thin filter cake, Properly sized salt or calcium carbonate particles bridge
lubricity, and ability to inhibit shale. Among the proper- pore openings at the formation surface and prevent mud
ties that horizontal well drill-in fluids need to modify and solids from entering the pore spaces. When oil-based
from conventional drill-in fluids are rheology and lubri- drill-in fluid is used, it is common to allow natural cleanup
city. In horizontal well drilling, cuttings beds will form if to occur when oil is produced. In some cases, the oil-based
the fluid is unable to completely suspend the cuttings. fluid is displaced from the well with specialized surfactant
These cuttings beds can be difficult to remove from the solutions during the completion. Water-based polymer
wellbore. Experiments by Zamora et al. (1993) have mud has been used more frequently than oil-based fluids
shown that elevated low-shear-rate rheology of 40,000 because cleanup is easier and can be assisted with polymer
cp at 0.06 sec1 (measured on a viscometer) is able to breakers or acid washes that help clean up the filter cake.
provide adequate hole cleaning for high-angle and hor- For highly competent rock in Canada, underbalanced
izontal wells. Lubricity is important because it is often a drilling techniques that use fluid aerated with nitrogen
limiting factor in how far the lateral hole can be drilled to achieve underbalance have minimized formation
before friction prevents further sliding of the drillstring. damage (Churcher et al., 1996).
Maintaining the coefficient of friction at about 0.2 or less For sandstones where sand production is expected to
is generally considered critical for drilling long horizontal occur, prepacked screens are typically used to complete
sections. Various water-based and oil-based horizontal the wells. It is crucial that the drill-in fluid and its filter
drill-in fluids have been used. Commonly used water- cake be non damaging to the formation and the screen.
based drill-in fluids include shear-thinning polymeric The problem is that drill-in fluid particles used to bridge
solutions using sized salt or sized carbonates as bridging the formation and prevent losses may not pass through
materials. Oil-based drill-in fluids are typically based on the screen. Biopolymer viscosified water-based fluids
a mineral oil or synthetic liquid with sized calcium car- with sized salt or sized calcium carbonate have been
bonate as weighting and bridging particles. used as drill-in fluids. Once the lateral hole is drilled,
After the lateral hole is drilled, various completion the drill-in fluid in the openhole section is typically dis-
methods can be employed, depending on particular reser- placed either with a clean drill-in fluid or with a clear
voir considerations. These methods include use of pre- brine viscosified with biopolymer. The drill-in fluid in

the vertical wellbore is usually displaced with a clear mation interface, which minimizes the leakoff of the fluid
brine. This is done before running the screen to prevent into the formation. However, return permeability experi-
drill-in fluid solids from plugging the screen. After the ments should be conducted to ascertain that the fluid, its
screen is placed in the horizontal well, the clean drill-in filter cake, filtrate and the breaker should be nondama-
fluid or viscosified brine is displaced out with clear brine ging to the proppant pack, and to a far lesser degree, the
and an acid-breaker solution is spotted in the openhole formation. The same idea applies to fluids used in high-
section to dissolve the filter cake at the formation sand- permeability hydraulic fracturing or fracpack. However,
face. The base brine used in the drill-in fluid, the visco- fracture face damage (leakoff damage) is far more critical
sified brine, and the clear brine must meet the density, in high-permeability fracturing. Because a filter cake may
TCT, and formation compatibility requirements men- not be formed at the fracture formation interface, inva-
tioned earlier in this chapter. In some instances, synthetic sion of fracturing fluid into the formation is likely, and
fluids and oil-based fluids have been used to drill uncon- usually a more aggressive breaker schedule is used to
solidated sands where prepacked screens will be used. ensure degradation of the fluid.
Special surfactant and acid solutions are used to dissolve
the filter cakes. The surfactant solutions help make the
filter cake water-wet and accessible to acid cleanup fluids. 12-4.7 Sweep Pills and Cleanup Fluids
To prevent formation damage, permeability experi-
ments are often performed to ascertain that the drill-in Sweep pills help displace drilling fluids or solids in com-
fluid, its filter cake, filtrate, and the acid breaker solu- pletions. To keep the drilling fluid from stringing out as it
tions are non-formation damaging. is displaced, sweep pills with high viscosity are used as
spacers in displacements. The elevated low-shear-rate
rheology available from biopolymer additives makes
12-4.5 Openhole Gravel Pack them excellent components of sweep pills. One widely
used formulation contains a minimum of 3 lbm/bbl of
In openhole or external-casing gravel packs, a drill-in xanthan gum in brine, giving an effective low shear
fluid is used to underream a larger hole underneath the rate (0.06 sec1 ) viscosity of more than 80,000 cp as mea-
casing. Sometimes a section of an existing casing needs to sured with a Brookfield viscometer.
be milled out. This step is followed by placing a screen in Cleanup fluids fall into four basic chemical categories:
the open hole and gravel-packing around it. Both the
drill-in fluid and the gravel-pack fluid must be tested . Surfactant-based fluids that are used to clean and sus-
for formation compatibility and compatibility with the pend dirt and solids. These fluids are often used as
completion brines used before or after the openhole spacers to aid in the displacement of drilling fluid by
gravel-packing operations. completion fluid.
. Oxidizing agent or enzyme-based cleanup fluids are
used to break polymer additives that have been used
12-4.6 Hydraulic Fracturing
in drill-in or completion fluids. Lithium hypochlorite
Hydraulic fracturing, perhaps the most common well- in 1% to 2% concentrations is often used as an oxi-
stimulation technique, is described in Chapter 17. dizing agent to break polymer viscosity and degrade
Fracturing fluids are essential to the success of the opera- polymers.
tion. These fluids are typically polymeric solutions used
. Cosolvent fluids are sometimes used to help clean up
primarily to carry the proppant down the wellbore and
oil-based drilling fluids. Mixtures of chemicals such as
into the fracture. Usually an internal breaker is incorpo-
xylene and isopropanol along with proprietary addi-
rated into the fluid to ensure substantial viscosity reduc-
tives help clean up oil-based fluids and break the
tion after proppant placement. Since fracturing is
water-in-oil emulsions of these fluids. These cosolvent
conducted in squeeze mode without taking returns, the
fluids can be used as spacers in brine displacements or
density of the brine used to build the fluid is not a key
spotted as pills to assist in oil-based mud cleanup.
concern. However, the fluid must still satisfy the mini-
mum salinity requirement. Quite often, 2% KCl is used . Acid solutions are commonly used during the comple-
as the base brine to build the polymeric fracturing fluid. tion. One technique to prevent rust and scale from
Typically, in hydraulic fracturing of a low-permeability inside the tubing from damaging the formation is
formation, the filter cake is formed at the fracture/for- called ‘‘pickling’’ the tubing. In this process, an acid

solution that contains a corrosion inhibitor is pumped Nitrogen is expensive, but air can cause excessive corro-
down the tubing and reverse-flowed out before leaving sion.
the tubing. Another common use of acid during com-
pletion is to dissolve calcium carbonate and break
polymer solutions that were used for fluid-loss con-
trol. In many cases, an acid somewhat more dilute Proper selection and use of completion fluids can make
than the standard 15% HCl is used for these applica- the difference between a well that is damaged and one
tions to provide a slower reaction rate and reduce the that is commercial. Proper engineering of the completion
need for acid-diverting agents. fluid is essential to obtain an optimum production rate,
the maximum ultimate production, and therefore the
The use of spacers and cleanup fluids varies widely economic success of the well.
from company to company, and standard practices in The completion engineer should visualize completion
their use have not been established. fluids as tools to assist in preparing the well for produc-
tion. Commercially available clear brines are the most
12-4.8 Non-Brine Completion Fluids commonly used completion fluids because they offer a
In addition to the commercially available brine solutions, range of densities, they do not typically cause excessive
a number of other fluids have been used in completions. formation damage, and they can be easily monitored for
These include seawater, bay water, produced brine, crude quality and compared to a set of specifications. Attention
oil, diesel oil, mineral oil, and foam. needs to be paid to issues of density, crystallization point,
Seawater and bay water may have undesirable charac- and compatibility with the reservoir and other fluids used
teristics when applied as completion fluids. Sea water and in well construction.
bay water may have salinity too low to prevent clay The completion process should be designed to minimize
hydration and migration. In addition, these fluids may damage to well productivity. This means that every step
contain significant amounts of suspended solids and need from the time the drill bit contacts the reservoir rock until
to be filtered. Most brine additives for fluid-loss control the well is producing needs to be analyzed to ensure that
and rheology will work in seawater and bay water. Bay the fluid contacting the reservoir will not cause a reduc-
water and seawater contain sulfate ions and provide a tion in well productivity. In the typical well that is com-
medium that allows bacterial growth to occur. Seawater pleted by perforating a liner, there are several fluids that
and bay water should be treated with a biocide. contact the reservoir: the drilling fluid, cement, clean up
Generally, produced brine from the zone of interest fluids, and the clear brine completion fluid. The interac-
has enough salinity to prevent clay migration, but the tions among these fluids and with the reservoir should be
brine that is produced and stored can change composi- assessed as part of the engineering process.
tion and precipitate solids. These solids need to be fil- A number of non-perforated completion options have
tered out of the produced brine. In many cases, additives become more widely used in recent years, especially for
to control fluid loss and rheology of commercial brine high-angle and horizontal wells. These completions often
systems will not function properly in produced brines. require the use of specialized drill-in fluids that must
Crude oil is sometimes used as a completion fluid when function both as drilling fluids and as non-damaging
water-based completion fluids will swell or disperse clay completion fluids. Creative solutions to problems such
from production zones with very high clay content. It is as sand control in these wells may require new applica-
important to test crude oil to determine if it makes a tions of completion-fluid systems. At the present time,
suitable completion fluid because many crude oils will completion fluid systems are evolving as new drilling
precipitate solid asphaltene or paraffinic compounds and completion techniques that aim to extract a greater
when they are produced and stored. These asphaltenes percentage of the oil or gas in place are developed.
and paraffins can cause formation damage that is extre-
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