Underbalanced drilling

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Underbalanced drilling, or UBD, is a procedure used to drill oil and gas wells where the pressure in the wellbore is kept lower than the static pressure of the formation being drilled. As the well is being drilled, formation fluid flows into the wellbore and up to the surface. This is the opposite of the usual situation, where the wellbore is kept at a pressure above the formation to prevent formation fluid entering the well. In such a conventional "overbalanced" well, the invasion of fluid is considered a kick, and if the well is not shut-in it can lead to a blowout, a dangerous situation. In underbalanced drilling, however, there is a "rotating head" at the surface - essentially a seal that diverts produced fluids to a separator while allowing the drill string to continue rotating.

Contents

If the formation pressure is relatively high, using a lower density mud will reduce the well bore pressure below the pore pressure of the formation. Sometimes an inert gas is injected into the drilling mud to reduce its equivalent density and hence its hydrostatic pressure throughout the well depth. This gas is commonly nitrogen, as it is non-combustible and readily available, but air, reduced oxygen air, processed flue gas and natural gas have all been used in this fashion.

Coiled tubing drilling (CTD) allows for continuous drilling and pumping and therefore underbalanced drilling can be utilized which can increase the rate of penetration (ROP).

Fluid Systems used in Underbalanced Drilling

There are several kinds of underbalanced drilling. The most common are listed below.

Advantages

Under-balanced wells have several advantages over conventional drilling including:

Disadvantages

Underbalanced drilling is usually more expensive than conventional drilling (when drilling a deviated well which requires directional drilling tools), and has safety issues of its own. Technically the well is always in a blowout condition unless a heavier fluid is displaced into the well. Air drilling requires a faster up hole volume as the cuttings will fall faster down the annulus when the compressors are taken off the hole compared to having a higher viscosity fluid in the hole. Because air is compressible mud pulse telemetry measurement while drilling (MWD) tools which require an incompressible fluid can not work. Common technologies used to eliminate this problem are either electromagnetic MWD tools or wireline MWD tools. Downhole mechanics are usually more violent also because the volume of fluid going through a downhole motor or downhole hammer is greater than an equivalent fluid when drilling balanced or over balanced because of the need of higher up hole velocities. Corrosion is also a problem, but can be largely avoided using a coating oil or rust inhibitors.

References

Nas, Steve, Chapter 12 Underbalanced Drilling, from Petroleum Engineering Handbook, Volume II, Editor Robert Mitchell, 2007, pages II-519 to 569. Handbook available from Society of Petroleum Engineers.

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Directional drilling

Directional drilling is the practice of drilling non-vertical bores. It can be broken down into four main groups: oilfield directional drilling, utility installation directional drilling, directional boring, and surface in seam (SIS), which horizontally intersects a vertical bore target to extract coal bed methane.

Well logging, also known as borehole logging is the practice of making a detailed record of the geologic formations penetrated by a borehole. The log may be based either on visual inspection of samples brought to the surface or on physical measurements made by instruments lowered into the hole. Some types of geophysical well logs can be done during any phase of a well's history: drilling, completing, producing, or abandoning. Well logging is performed in boreholes drilled for the oil and gas, groundwater, mineral and geothermal exploration, as well as part of environmental and geotechnical studies.

Well control is the technique used in oil and gas operations such as drilling, well workover and well completion for maintaining the hydrostatic pressure and formation pressure to prevent the influx of formation fluids into the wellbore. This technique involves the estimation of formation fluid pressures, the strength of the subsurface formations and the use of casing and mud density to offset those pressures in a predictable fashion. Understanding pressure and pressure relationships is important in well control.

Casing (borehole)

Casing is a large diameter pipe that is assembled and inserted into a recently drilled section of a borehole. Similar to the bones of a spine protecting the spinal cord, casing is set inside the drilled borehole to protect and support the wellstream. The lower portion is typically held in place with cement. Deeper strings usually are not cemented all the way to the surface, so the weight of the pipe must be partially supported by a casing hanger in the wellhead.

Drilling fluid Aid for drilling boreholes into the ground

In geotechnical engineering, drilling fluid, also called drilling mud, is used to aid the drilling of boreholes into the earth. Often used while drilling oil and natural gas wells and on exploration drilling rigs, drilling fluids are also used for much simpler boreholes, such as water wells. One of the functions of drilling mud is to carry cuttings out of the hole.

Logging while drilling (LWD) is a technique of conveying well logging tools into the well borehole downhole as part of the bottom hole assembly (BHA).

A drilling rig is used to create a borehole or well in the earth's sub-surface, for example in order to extract natural resources such as gas or oil. During such drilling, data is acquired from the drilling rig sensors for a range of purposes such as: decision-support to monitor and manage the smooth operation of drilling; to make detailed records of the geologic formations penetrated by a borehole; to generate operations statistics and performance benchmarks such that improvements can be identified, and to provide well planners with accurate historical operations-performance data with which to perform statistical risk analysis for future well operations. The terms measurement while drilling (MWD), and logging while drilling (LWD) are not used consistently throughout the industry. Although these terms are related, within the context of this section, the term MWD refers to directional-drilling measurements, e.g., for decision support for the wellbore path, while LWD refers to measurements concerning the geological formations penetrated while drilling.

Blowout preventer

A blowout preventer (BOP) is a specialized valve or similar mechanical device, used to seal, control and monitor oil and gas wells to prevent blowouts, the uncontrolled release of crude oil or natural gas from a well. They are usually installed in stacks of other valves.

Spontaneous potential log, commonly called the self potential log or SP log, is a passive measurement taken by oil industry well loggers to characterise rock formation properties. The log works by measuring small electric potentials between depths with in the borehole and a grounded electrode at the surface. Conductive bore hole fluids are necessary to create a SP response, so the SP log cannot be used in nonconductive drilling muds or air filled holes.

Artificial lift refers to the use of artificial means to increase the flow of liquids, such as crude oil or water, from a production well. Generally this is achieved by the use of a mechanical device inside the well or by decreasing the weight of the hydrostatic column by injecting gas into the liquid some distance down the well. A newer method called Continuous Belt Transportation (CBT) uses an oil absorbing belt to extract from marginal and idle wells. Artificial lift is needed in wells when there is insufficient pressure in the reservoir to lift the produced fluids to the surface, but often used in naturally flowing wells to increase the flow rate above what would flow naturally. The produced fluid can be oil, water or a mix of oil and water, typically mixed with some amount of gas.

Coiled tubing

In the oil and gas industries, coiled tubing refers to a very long metal pipe, normally 1 to 3.25 in in diameter which is supplied spooled on a large reel. It is used for interventions in oil and gas wells and sometimes as production tubing in depleted gas wells. Coiled tubing is often used to carry out operations similar to wirelining. The main benefits over wireline are the ability to pump chemicals through the coil and the ability to push it into the hole rather than relying on gravity. Pumping can be fairly self-contained, almost a closed system, since the tube is continuous instead of jointed pipe. For offshore operations, the 'footprint' for a coiled tubing operation is generally larger than a wireline spread, which can limit the number of installations where coiled tubing can be performed and make the operation more costly. A coiled tubing operation is normally performed through the drilling derrick on the oil platform, which is used to support the surface equipment, although on platforms with no drilling facilities a self-supporting tower can be used instead. For coiled tubing operations on sub-sea wells a mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) e.g. semi-submersible, drillship etc. has to be utilized to support all the surface equipment and personnel, whereas wireline can be carried out from a smaller and cheaper intervention vessel. Onshore, they can be run using smaller service rigs, and for light operations a mobile self-contained coiled tubing rig can be used.

A perforation in the context of oil wells refers to a hole punched in the casing or liner of an oil well to connect it to the reservoir. Creating a channel between the pay zone and the wellbore to cause oil and gas to flow to the wellbore easily. In cased hole completions, the well will be drilled down past the section of the formation desired for production and will have casing or a liner run in separating the formation from the well bore. The final stage of the completion will involve running in perforating guns, a string of shaped charges, down to the desired depth and firing them to perforate the casing or liner. A typical perforating gun can carry many dozens of explosive charges.

A well kill is the operation of placing a column of heavy fluid into a well bore in order to prevent the flow of reservoir fluids without the need for pressure control equipment at the surface. It works on the principle that the hydrostatic head of the "kill fluid" or "kill mud" will be enough to suppress the pressure of the formation fluids. Well kills may be planned in the case of advanced interventions such as workovers, or be contingency operations. The situation calling for a well kill will dictate the method taken.

Completion (oil and gas wells) Last operation for oil and gas wells

Well completion is the process of making a well ready for production after drilling operations. This principally involves preparing the bottom of the hole to the required specifications, running in the production tubing and its associated down hole tools as well as perforating and stimulating as required. Sometimes, the process of running in and cementing the casing is also included. After a well has been drilled, should the drilling fluids be removed, the well would eventually close in upon itself. Casing ensures that this will not happen while also protecting the wellstream from outside incumbents, like water or sand.

Well stimulation

Well stimulation is a well intervention performed on an oil or gas well to increase production by improving the flow of hydrocarbons from the reservoir into the well bore. It may be done using a well stimulator structure or using off shore ships / drilling vessels, also known as "Well stimulation vessels".

In oil or gas well drilling, lost circulation occurs when drilling fluid, known commonly as "mud", flows into one or more geological formations instead of returning up the annulus. Lost circulation can be a serious problem during the drilling of an oil well or gas well.

Oil well control is the management of the dangerous effects caused by the unexpected release of formation fluid, such as natural gas and/or crude oil, upon surface equipment of oil or gas drilling rigs and escaping into the atmosphere. Technically, oil well control involves preventing the formation gas or fluid (hydrocarbons), usually referred to as kick, from entering into the wellbore during drilling or well interventions.

IntelliServ is a National Oilwell Varco brand that manufactures and sells a broadband networked drilling string system used to transmit downhole information to the surface in a drilling operation.