Moving beyond the babble to ensure wellbore integrity in deepwater drilling and cementing operations

For all the technological advances that have been made in drilling and completing wells offshore, wellbore integrity remains the single, most important aspect of well construction. Without it, there is no guarantee of safety, productivity, or return on investment.

Wellbore integrity is too critical for any miscommunication or poorly coordinated efforts. Yet, the fact that it relies on technologies and methods from two disciplines—drilling (fluids) and completions (cementing)—poses a challenge. Too many wellsite disciplines fail to work together effectively and efficiently to address operator issues, even those as critical as wellbore integrity and across disciplines as interrelated as drilling fluids and cementing. In fact, it has been said that a translator is needed to help senior lab people from the two groups talk to one another.

Specific jargon and general differences in terminology among product line and disciplinary silos can hinder understanding and collaboration that could lead to breakthrough solutions. This is unfortunate, given the fact that compatibility between cement and drilling fluid systems is crucial to getting casing to depth and ensuring a good cement job that is key to wellbore integrity throughout the life of the well. The cold temperatures, weaker formations, and extreme risk and cost associated with loss of mud and compromised cement jobs in deep- and ultra-deepwater environments exacerbate the threat of heavy fluid loss, a poor cement job, and jeopardized wellbore integrity.

Yet, the tide may be turning. Three new technologies are representative of breakthroughs in wellbore integrity that can be achieved if communication and understanding among disparate groups is improved.

As is so often the case, the impetus for these technologies came from an operator with a specific challenge. The operator, who was losing significant volumes of mud during cementing and running casing in deepwater, came to Baker Hughes while investigating rheology ratios at various temperatures to ensure the drilling fluid didn’t become too viscous as it became cold. Those ratios became the guidelines for developing the NSURE drilling fluid offering and also gave structure to the company’s constant rheology systems. However, the real value of the fluid system was in helping to address cement placement and lost circulation, and the larger issue of wellbore integrity during cementing.

Baker Hughes has implemented fluid/cement compatibility testing during the design phase of drilling fluid and cementing spacer systems, resulting in a smoother, more efficient development process and systems with improved performance. A similar story of collaboration is behind the recently launched UltraBond cement spacer, which was designed to be compatible with non-aqueous muds, particularly those used in offshore basins. Another example is a new lost-circulation material on which the company’s drilling and cementing groups are collaborating and leveraging off of one another’s expertise to determine which procedures, materials, and equipment will provide the best system performance evaluation in a wide variety of applications.

Dr. Jonas Salk, developer of a vaccine against polio, may have said it best: “What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.” Once the right question has been discovered and asked, conversations ensue, lines of communication are opened, and projects—some of them breakthroughs—are spawned.

The global offshore oil and gas industry can take credit for enhancing communication, understanding, and collaboration among tens of thousands of people who work across national, regional, and cultural borders every day. Effective communication and collaboration to ensure success in critical areas such as wellbore integrity requires crossing one more boundary—the silos in our own companies.

Umberto Micheli
is the vice president of the cementing product line at Baker Hughes. His 34-year career in the oil and gas industry includes operations, technical support, and management roles in a variety of international locations. Micheli is an active member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

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