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Cuttings evaluation

In many wells, drill cuttings collected may represent the only subsurface data available for geological
interpretation. After a detailed lithology description, cuttings are analyzed for hydrocarbon indications
(see Mudlogging: drill cuttings analysis). Traces of gas and oil in the cuttings represent formation hydrocarbons
that have not been flushed by the drilling fluid. Gas in cuttings is analyzed by grinding a measured amount
(approximately 100 mg) of unwashed cuttings in a blender, with any liberated gases analyzed by the standard
gas detection system. This analysis is often divided into two components: total gas, comprising all combustible
gasses; and petroleum vapors, comprising C2 through C5. This type of analysis can indicate the amount and
composition of gases in the formation, even if the larger rock pores are flushed.
Evaluation of oil in cuttings is performed on unwashed and washed bulk cuttings and on individual grains.
Evaluation includes visual inspection and analysis using a microscope and ultraviolet (UV) box. Oil shows are
described by their physical properties of visual stain, fluorescence, cut, and odor. Care must be taken always to
evaluate hydrocarbon shows in cuttings with respect to their petrophysical properties (see review by [3].

Visual stain
Staining of the drill cuttings by oil is an indication that hydrocarbons have been in the formation at some point in
time. The lack of sample staining, however, does not prove that a reservoir lacks producible hydrocarbons. The
amount and distribution of staining is a function of the reservoir porosity and permeability. Stain color can be
related to oil gravity, with darker staining indicating heavier hydrocarbons. If a stained sample does not
fluoresce or cut, then this indicator is classified as thermally dead oil and is not considered a show. Staining is
described in terms of its color, distribution, percentage of sample stained, and fluorescence (if any).

Fluorescence
Fluorescence refers to the color of the drill cuttings under UV light of various wavelengths. A lack of
fluorescence, however, does not prove the absence of hydrocarbons in the zone of interest. Care must be
taken to distinguish hydrocarbon fluorescence from natural minerals or artificial materials (Table 2).
Fluorescence is described in terms of its color, intensity, distribution, and percentage of sample fluorescing.

a Samples of oil-based mud and other petroleum products used around the wellsite should be routinely sampled and examined under UV light to avoid potential confusion with
hydrocarbon shows from the rocks.

Cut fluorescence
A cut is the oil liberated from drill cuttings when a solvent is added. A common solvent used for inducing
cuts is chlorothene; others include acetone, petroleum ether, alcohol, hot water, and acid. Note that
because of its toxicity, carbon tetrachloride should not be used. Most solvents are flammable, and great
care must be taken to handle these materials safely. A cut is performed while viewing the rock samples
under both normal and UV light. Solvent cuts allow deductions to be made regarding oil mobility and
reservoir permeability. A cut is described in terms of its natural color, fluorescence color, liberation rate
and intensity, and residue. All suspected hydrocarbon-bearing intervals should be tested for cut
fluorescence. This is because there may be a positive cut fluorescence test when other hydrocarbon
detection methods fail.

Odor
The odor of hydrocarbons may be present even in the absence of any other hydrocarbon indicators. This
condition is most noticeable during the sample drying process, when lighter hydrocarbons are driven off.
Odor is described as faint, fair, or strong (indicative of heavier hydrocarbons). Keep in mind that methane
through butane have no odor.

Factors affecting cuttings evaluation


Attention to differential pressure (over- or underbalanced), ROP, hole size and condition, contaminants,
recycling, etc. is necessary for proper cuttings evaluation. Also, as there is no substitute for representative
cuttings samples that are correctly correlated to depth, the importance of an accurate lag time cannot be
overemphasized.