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S P Turaga, Former Chief Chemist, ONGC, INDIA

Lecture 11

Paper IV

Problems associated with Drilling Fluids… Lecture 11



In the previous lecture one of the serious problems — hole enlargement was
discussed and the present lecture covers stuck pipe, loss circulation, and high
temperature effects. Problems like stuck pipe and loss circulation can interrupt
drilling progress for weeks or even months involving tedious fishing jobs and
some times leading to deviation or ultimately abandonment of the well.


Since stuck pipe is a phenomena associated with torque and drag of drill pipe it
is very much essential to understand the nature of string torque and drag.


No hole can be drilled perfectly vertical. Moreover the drill string is flexible and
can rest on the sidewalls of the hole at numerous points all along the depth of
the hole. This is because in long holes the length of the string also is too long
and when a certain weight is applied on the bit for drilling the weight is
transmitted through the string. As such the drill string buckles under the weight
applied and thus rests on the sides of wall. The frictional resistance thus
developed demands additional torque than otherwise required to rotate the bit.
Similarly considerable frictional resistance can occur while either pulling the
string out or while lowering the string and such problem is designated as " Drag".

Under special circumstances like highly deviated holes, with frequent changes in
both angle and azimuth or through under gauged holes, or with poorly designed
drill string dynamics  torque and drag can be large enough to cause
unacceptable power losses. Addition of lubricants to the mud can reduce this
problem to major extent.

In general in engineering practices, friction generated between two moving

bodies is being reduced by the addition of lubricants. The quality of lubricants is
evaluated by their effect on coefficient of friction, which is the ratio of frictional
forces acting parallel to the contact surface to the force acting perpendicular to
the contact surface and is expressed by the equation:

u = F/W1 …………………………………………………………….1.

Where, u is coefficient of friction,
F is the force parallel to the contact surface,
W1 is the force acting perpendicular to the contact surface.

The relation is expressed diagrammatically as under:

Fig 1 Measurement of coefficient of friction


u = F/W1

To evaluate lubricants for torque reduction an apparatus called "extreme

pressure Lubricator testing apparatus" is shown in fig 1. In this instrument the
steel block represents the borehole wall, which is pressed against a steel ring
(drill collar) by a torque arm. F is measured by the amperes required to turn the
ring at a given rpm when immersed in the mud under testing. To get repeatable
results, a steel test block was used. However the results obtained with steel
blocks differed from those obtained with blocks of limestone or sandstone as
observed by Mondshine. Mondshine obtained values of different lubricants and
they are given in table no. 1.

The triglyceride mixture is one of the commercial water-soluble lubricity agents

now being used worldwide in water-based muds to reduce torque. Oil muds are
excellent torque reducers on account of their oil wetting properties; but they are
costly and can not comply with the requirements of environment protection laws.

Fig 2 E.P. lubricity tester

Table 1 Comparison of various mud lubricants.

Lubricant Concentration Water Lubricity Lubricity

(lb/bbl) coeft. Mud A Coeft. Mud B
++ ++
No lubricant 0.36 0.44 0.23
Diesel oil 0.1 0.23 0.38 0.23
Asphalt 8.0 0.36 0.38 0.23
Asphalt and 8.0
Diesel 0.1 0.23 0.38 0.23
Graphite 8.0 0.36 0.40 0.23
Graphite and 8.0
Dies oil 0.1 0.23 0.40 0.23
Sulfurized fatty acid 4.0 0.17 0.12 0.17
Fatty acid 4.0 0.07 0.14 0.17
Long chained Alcohol 2.0 0.16 0.40 0.23
Heavy metal soap 2.0 0.28 0.40 0.23
Heavy alkylate 4.0 0.17 0.36 0.23
Petroleum sulfonate 4.0 0.17 0.32 0.23
Mud detergent X 4.0 0.11 0.32 0.23
Mud detergent Y 4.0 0.23 0.32 0.23
Mud detergent Z 4.0 0.15 0.38 0.23
Silicate 4.0 0.23 0.30 0.26
Commercial 4.0 0.25 0.38 0.25
Chlorinated paraffin 4.0 0.16 0.40 0.25
Blend of modified tri-
glycerides and 4.0 0.07 0.06 0.17
Sulfonated asphalt 8.0 0.25 0.30 0.25
Sulfonated asphalt &
diesel 0.1 0.07 0.06 0.25
Walnut hulls (fine) 10.0 0.36 0.44 0.26

* Adopted from Mondshine. § Concentration in lb /bbl except for diesel oil,

for diesel oil in bbl/bbl
++ Mud A 15 g bentonite in 350 ml water; Mud B 15 g bentonite, 60 g Glen
Rose shale, 3 g Chrome lignosulfonate, 0.5 g caustic soda in 350 ml water.

From the above table it is clear that fatty acid compounds can work as extreme
pressure (EP) lubricants. The actions of EP lubricants differ from that of ordinary
lubricants. Under extreme pressure, ordinary lubricants are squeezed out from
between the contact surfaces, and the result is metal-to-metal contact causing
galling and tearing.

Bol has conducted various tests to evaluate the effects of mud composition on
wear and friction between tool joints and casing and found that wear was very
high with bentonite suspensions, but which decreased considerably with the
addition of barites. He felt that the small API instrument cannot account for tool
joints etc and as such he developed instrument involving actual field casings and
pipe tool joints.



It is a condition whereby the drill string cannot be moved (rotated or

reciprocated) along the axis of the well bore. Differential sticking typically occurs
when high-contact forces caused by low reservoir pressures, high well bore
pressures, or both, are exerted over a sufficiently large area of the drill string.
Differential sticking is, for most drilling organizations, the greatest drilling
problem worldwide in terms of time and financial cost.

It is important to note that the sticking force is a product of the differential

pressure between the well bore and the reservoir and the area that the
differential pressure is acting upon. This means that a relatively low differential
pressure ( p) applied over a large working area can be equally effective in
causing stuck pipe as in the case of a small area with high differential pressure.


This is a phenomena where limiting or prevention of motion of the drill string by

anything other than differential pressure sticking. Mechanical sticking can be
caused by junk in the hole, well bore geometry anomalies, cement, key seats or
a buildup of cuttings in the annulus (false bottom).


Stuck pipe is one of the commonest phenomena that taking place while drilling.
This can happen while pulling the pipe into an under gauged section of the
drilled hole, or into a key seating or false bottom formed by the settled cuttings.
Usually such sticking is not serious and can be worked out. However if the
sticking of pipe occurs during pipe connection, which means in the absence of
circulation is called "differential sticking".

A section of drill pipe rests against the lower side of a deviated hole in the
absence of circulation. However during circulation and rotation the mud
lubricates this section of the pipe. When the circulation is stopped, the pipe
section which in contact with mud cake is isolated from the mud column and the

resulting pressure differential between the two sides of the pipe attracts it, and
forces it towards the cake strongly.

Fig 3 Mechanism of differential sticking

This causes a severe drag when an attempt is made to pull the pipe out. If this
drag exceeds the pulling power of the rig, the pipe is said to be stuck pipe. Thus
increasing drag when pipe is being pulled warns that the pipe is liable to
differential sticking. This is well illustrated in fig. 3.

In any drill string the weight distribution is such that the drill collars always lean
against the lower side of the deviated hole, and as such differential sticking
always takes place against drill collars. During pipe rotation, the leaning of the
drill collars against the lower side of the borehole with a pressure equal to the
component of the weight of the collar normal to the sides of the hole. Thus the
depth of the collar penetration into mud cake depends on: 1. The deviation of

the hole, 2. Rate of mechanical erosion between the collars relative to the rate of
hydrodynamic erosion of cake by the turbulent mud stream over the rest of the

Generally drill collars do not penetrate into mud cake lest the hole is badly
deviated or rate of pipe rotation is high. They only penetrate very little as shown
in fig 3a. When rotation is stopped the weight of the pipe compresses the
isolated zone of filer cake forcing its water out and thus increasing the stress in
the mud cake. Thus the friction created between pipe and cake causes
differential sticking of the pipe. After long set time the pore pressure in the cake
becomes equal to the pore pressure of formation and the effective stress is then
equal to the difference between the pressure of the mud in the hole and that of
the formation. (pm -pf). The force required for pulling the string F is given by:

F = A (pm - pf) u…………………………………………………………2.

Where, F is the force,

A is the area, and
u is the coefficient of friction between pipe and cake.

Outmans computed the value of F1, since the ultimate value of F is not reached
under normal field conditions. Also he defined it as half of the ultimate value of
F. The value of F1 varies and increases with u, (pm-pf), and A. It will also
increases with compressibility, thickness of cake, increasing deviation of hole and
with increasing diameter of drill collar. But it decreases with increasing hole

In the drilling well, the hauling force also increases with set time since filtration
continues even in static condition. Thus static cake builds up around the drill
collar, thereby increasing the angle of contact as shown in fig 3b.

Courteille and Zurdo investigated pipe-sticking phenomena in the fig 4. Among

the other things, they measured fluid pressures at the cake / mud interface and
at various points in the cake and filter media. They found that:

The major pressure drop occurred across the internal mud cake (fig 5).

 With a thin filter cake (2mmAPI) there was no change in pore pressure
at the cake / pipe interface during or after embedment (fig 5).

 With thicker filter cake (4 to 6 mm) the pressure at the cake / pipe
interface fell with time after maximum embedment, but never reached the
value in the pores of the uncontaminated porous medium (fig 6).

These results indicate that the pressure differential across a stuck pipe will never
reach the full value of (pm-pf).

Fig 4 Pipe sticking tester. The pipe simulator is gradually pushed into the cake
by turning the eccentric. Adopted from Courteille, 1985, SPE-AMIE.

Fig 5 Pore pressure distribution before and after embedment. 40  105Pa (580
psi) mud pressure in the uncontaminated filter medium. Cake thickness was
2mm. Adopted from SPE -AMIE.

Essentially it is not always a differential stuck-up shall take place in the drill collar
region only, but it can take place anywhere in the drill string region including drill
pipe region. Adams etc have observed in their studies of about 56 wells under
differential stuck-ups, nearly 31 cases were in the region of drill pipe only. This
clearly illustrates that it is not necessarily in the region of drill collar only.
Another phenomenon is that during drilling, in the narrow region of annulus of
drill collar, the fluid flow always remains in the turbulent flow pattern and thus
erodes the mud cake enough making the thickness of the cake so small that
even if the drill collar leans against it may not dig into it. This makes the original
postulate of differential stuck-up a different one. The new theory indicates that
the differential stuck -up shall take place against porous bed of sand formations
or sand stone formations, where the cake thickness is quite big enough.

Fig 6 Change in pore pressure with time after embedment. Initial cake thickness
was 4-mm. minimum thickness after embedment was 1 mm. Adopted from
Courteille, 1985, SPE -AMIE.

The compaction of filter cake and its effect on the coefficient of friction as
postulated by Outmans was confirmed by the experimental data generated
by Annis and Monaghan. They found that it increased with time up to a
maximum, and there after became constant. Moreover, no more filtration took
place once the coefficient of friction reached its maximum. Lubricants certainly
reduce adhesion and thus stuck pipe can be freed.

Differential sticking is particularly liable to occur when drilling high angle
deviated holes especially from offshore platforms. In such circumstances, the
weight component of the drill collars normal to the wall of the hole, and erosion
under the drill collars, may be so high that no external filter cake can form (fig
3c). The weight of the drill collard is then borne by the formation itself and the
cake in the fillet between the collar and the formation will not be compacted
when rotation ceases. The frictional forces acting on the collar will then derive in
part from the friction between the collars and the formation, and in part from the
effective stress between the cake in the fillet and the collars.


Having the knowledge of the major reasons that causing differential sticking, it is
felt that the following measures if not surely, but to avoid the event to the
largest extent possible.

 Maintain minimum pressure differential by reducing the mud weight to a

bare minimum allowing around 10% over the pore pressure or formation
 Drill string assembly also influences the sticking and as such, to the extent
possible drill straight wells using stiff assembly comprising of long spiral
drill collars, reamers, stabilizers etc.
 Keep the mud hydraulics optimum to see that always-turbulent flow
regime is maintained around drill collars.
 Mud properties shall be optimized to see that sleek and tough filter cake
of low permeability is formed. Also see that mud is maintained with
minimum amount of drilled solids using de-sanders, desilters and mud
hydrocyclones etc.
 Oil base muds have much lower coefficients of friction than water base
muds. Since they also lay down very thin filter cakes, they are much
better muds for avoidance of differential sticking. This conclusion was
strikingly confirmed in the field study by various workers.
 Sufficient evidence is not available for establishing which class of water
base muds yields filter cakes with lowest coefficient of friction. The best
data were obtained by Simpson, who measured the torque required to
free a disc embedded in a cake of standard thickness at elevated
temperatures, under conditions of both static and dynamic filtrations.
 Barite content increases the friction coefficient of all muds. As such it may
be substituted with higher density materials like Hematite or galena. This
is because they give minimum solids to the muds at the same time
maintaining high densities to control pressured zones.
 Emulsification with oil or addition of lubricants to the required level may
be adopted.


The most popular method followed by almost all-drilling companies in releasing

stuck pipe — is oil spotting. This is nothing but placing an oil pill against the
stuck-up point. Location of stuck-up point or free point is obtained by employing
the principle of Yong's modulus, where the elongation of the drill string shall be
measured when applied a definite pull. This measure will lead to the
determination of free point either by calculation or by referring to standard
charts available for the same purpose, or by employing logging tools. The best
tool is drill pipe recovery log. Once the location of stuck point is identified
spotting oil pill is not at all difficult job.

It is advised in technical literature that the oil pill may be weighted to the density
of circulating mud. The oil used for spotting is usually diesel oil, which is blended
with spotting fluids / EP Lubricants specially developed for this purpose. They
can be surfactants, detergents etc. Table 1 gives some of these compounds with
their lubricity coefficient. Manufacturing companies recommend their spotting
procedures including dosage. Excess of spotting fluids is to be avoided. In
general the duration of spotting period is about 12 hours. After 12 hours the
driller may attempt to pull the pipe. In case if the pipe is not free another pill
may be spotted. The principle involved is that the oil in the spot will penetrate
the pores of the filter cake and compresses it so as to reduce the angle of
contact and thus releasing the stuck pipe. This is illustrated in fig10.

Fig 10 Contact angle before and after. Adopted from Oil and Gas Journal


It is a phenomenon where drilling fluid engineer observes the return mud is not
equal to the volume being pumped in or total absence of return mud is called
loss of circulation. Drilling mud can be lost into fractures induced by excessive
mud pressures, into pre-existing open fractures, or into large openings with
structural strength. The conditions under which each of these types of openings
can occur are discussed in the ensuing paragraphs.


The loss of drilling fluid to a formation usually caused when the hydrostatic head
pressure of the column of drilling fluid exceeds the formation pressure. This loss
of fluid may be loosely classified as seepage losses, partial losses or catastrophic
losses, each of which is handled differently depending on the risk to the rig and
personnel and the economics of the drilling fluid and each possible solution.


A fracture can be induced in any formation by applying excess pressure over that
of formation pressure (pm-pf), which exceeds the tensile strength of formation
plus compressive stress surrounding the borehole. Hydraulic fracturing is
generally done to increase the production of a tight zone of interest, where as
while drilling fracture is undesirable as it leads to mud loss. The direction of the
fracture must be normal to the least principal stress. Except in regions of active
mountain building, the least principal stress is horizontal, and therefore an
induced fracture is vertical. The least principal stress (as explained in lecture10,
page no.8), 3, is related to the overburden effective stress, S-pf, by a factor k1,
the value of which depends on the tectonic history of the geologic region.
Therefore, a fracture will be induced when,

Pw - pf > k1 (S-pf)……………………………………………………………….4.

pw includes the hydrostatic pressure of the mud column, pm, plus the pressure
loss in the rising column if the well is being circulated, plus any transient
pressure such as surge pressures when pipe is being run into the hole.

In a drilling well, mud density must be kept high enough to control formation
influx, but it should not be so high enough to initiate formation fracturing. In a
normally pressured formation, an ample margin of safety ensures that no
problem arises. In geopressured zones, however, the difference between the
fracture gradient and the formation fluid pressure becomes very small as the
geopressuring increases. Ability to predict formation and fracture pressures then

becomes mandatory so that mud and casing policies can be chalked out to
minimize the risks.

There are several methods for determining formation pore pressure including
formation density log. However, the fracture gradient is measured directly by
FIT. The pressure then calculated in terms of mud density so as to keep mud
density always below this limit to avoid mud loss.


Natural open fractures can exist at depth only when one of the principal stresses
is tensile. Earlier it was believed that conditions of absolute tension could not
exist in the comprehensive field prevailing subsurface. From the works of Sector,
it was shown that from the geometry of combined Griffith and Mohr failure
envelopes that tension fractures can develop down to a depth where 1 = 3K,
where K is tensile strength, and held open to a depth where  = 8K.

Effective stresses decreases with pore pressures. Consequently, the maximum

permissible depth for open fractures is greater in geopressured than in normal
pressured zones. Fig 11 shows the effect of an incremental increase in pf, and
from fig 12, the maximum depths at which open fractures may be encountered
plotted against pf /S for several values of K.

Fig 11 A failure envelope diagram showing the effect of an incremental increase

remains constant of fluid pressure on the position of Mohr stress cycle, assuming
the total principle stress Adopted from Am. J. Science.

In a drilling well the mud hydrostatic head pm, exceeds pf and therefore if an
open fracture is encountered, mud will enter and lost till pm is reduced below pf.

Fig 12 A graph for the case 1 vertical showing the maximum depth in the earth
where open fractures can occur for a variety of tensile strengths The bulk Spgr.
of the rock is 2.3 k and the tensile strength is 10 5 lb /ft2. 1x 105 lb /Sq.ft = 694
kg m2 Adopted from Am. J. Science


In the absence of tensile strengths, the subsurface voids can only exists provided
they are strengthened by structure, which can withstand earth's compressive
forces. For example such voids are:

 Solution channels caused by water percolating through carbonate

formations for millions of years. These channels may range in size from as
small as pinhole to big caverns like SONORA in Texas, USA. Limestones
often have vugs (small cavities) interconnected by solution channels. The
structural strength of cavities decreases with their size; as such large
caverns like Sonora can exist only at shallow depths.
 Coarse granular beds such as gravel.
 Natural fractures which have been closed by subsequent compressive
forces but which retain some permeability because they are propped by
irregularities or crystal growths on their sides, or by loose rock fragments.
Such fractures may be anywhere from a few microns to several
millimeters in width. Some otherwise impermeable formations have

appreciable fracture permeability because of the presence of multiple

Circulation certainly will be lost if such fractures are encountered while drilling till
pm equalizes to pf or even falls below that.


A wide variety of loss control materials is available in the market and is being
used at one time or other to attempt curing loss circulation. These materials can
be categorized into four groups and each one is described below:


Mostly comprises of materials like shredded sugar cane stalks (bagasse), waste
cotton fibers, hog hair, wood fibers like coconut fibers, shredded automobile
tires, paper pulp etc. These materials are of little rigidity and can be forced into
large openings. If pumped in large proportions in mud, these materials can offer
sufficient frictional resistance effecting sealing off the opening. If they are used
against smaller openings where these materials cannot enter, there is a
possibility of formation of bulky superficial sealing cake, which gets scrapped off
while cleaning the well before lowering casing and can reopen the loss zone.


Shredded cellophane, mica flakes, plastic laminate and wood chips come under
this category. These are believed to lie flat across the face of the formation and
thus cover the openings. In case if the material is strong enough to withstand
mud pressure they may form an external cake otherwise they are forced into the
openings and there at certain point they may become strong plug and seal off
the openings.


Walnut shells, groundnut shells, finely divided coconut shells, extended perlite;
vitrified shale particles etc can be grouped under this category. Vitrified shale can
be made by firing shale pieces at temperatures as high as 980C. These
materials have both strength and rigidity and when the correct size range is
used; they seal off the openings by jamming them. Howard and Scott conducted
various experiments on the efficacy of such materials and can be seen in fig 13,
where it can be seen that greater the concentration of material in mud larger the
opening sealed. From the table 2, one can see that strong granular materials like
nutshells bridging large openings better than did by fibrous materials.

Fig 13 Effect of concentration of loss circulation control materials while sealing
fractures. Adopted from Howard and Scott, 1951. SPE -AMIE.


Hydraulic cement, diesel oil bentonite slurries, specially manufactured gelling

materials like thermo gel etc come under this category. Neat cement slurries are
often used to seal off large openings, but they may suffer from:
1. Contamination with mud thus resulting reduction in strength and
2. Deviation of well when resumed drilling after successful sealing off the loss
zone. Each of these materials is described in brief below:

Diesel oil Bentonite Slurries:

The principle underlying is that large amounts of bentonite say 300 lb/gal or 850
kg/m3 can be readily mixed with diesel oil. When this DOB slurry is mixed with
water or mud, the bentonite hydrates forming a thick plastic plug whose shear
strength depends on the ratio of mud to DOB. This can be converted to tough
setting slurry by simply mixing it with cement (DOBC).

Microfine cement slurries:

Normally these cements comprise of their average particle size varying around 5
µ and range between 2 to 10 µ. These cements are required to design with
relatively higher cement / water ratios say 1.2 or even more. This depends on

the requirement. These cements virtually form colloidal suspensions and on
squeezing into the cracks developed in cement sheath or even in formation
penetrate deep into the cracks and deposits cement particles and sets there.
Thus sealing the micro gaps formed in cement sheath at that temperature. As
such they required to be treated with only retarders to fix thickening time at the
given temperature.

Table 2 Summary of material evaluation tests. Adopted from Howard and Scott,

Thermo gel slurries:

This is a special blend developed by the Institute of Drilling Technology, ONGC.

It is a derivative of Guar gum blended with natural material starch, a
preservative, a cross-linking agent caustic soda to maintain pH since the setting
temperature is dependant of pH. 4% slurry can be set at bottom hole
temperature varying from 75C to 90C, where loss is taking place. The added
advantage is that it remains as thin solution till it attains the setting temperature
and fully sets with in 15 minutes after attaining the setting temperature. For
better results it can be loaded to the weight of drilling fluid with calcium

carbonate or lime stone powder. This can be used to seal off pay zones while
drilling and the zones can be reopened subsequently at the time of testing the
well for presence of hydrocarbons by simply dissolving the lime stone in dilute

High filtration loss slurries:

These are suitable to seal off fractures or channels in permeable formations. The
rapid loss of filtrate deposits a filter cake, which eventually fills the fracture or
small void. One such slurry is composed of attapulgite, nutshells, cotton fiber and
barites if necessary. The API filter loss of this mixture is around 36 ml, but can
be increased by the addition of lime. Another mixture consists of attapulgite,
diatomaceous earth and granular and fibrous lost circulation materials (LCM)
pill. When flocculated with 10ppb of sodium chloride, the mixture has a filter loss
of several hundred cubic centimeters.


When encountered with loss of circulation, the first step is always diagnosis. Why
and where loss is occurring, and what are the characters of the formation there?
Much information can be gained from circumstantial evidence. For example,

 If loss occurs while drilling ahead in normally pressured zone without any
change in mud weight, then the drilling fluid is lost to pre-existing void,
which the bit has just encountered.
 If the loss occurs while running in pipes after changing bit or any other
operation requiring the string to be pulled out, obviously due to transient
surge pressures developed so as to frck-open the formation.

Here comes another important step in planning control of loss of circulation i.e.
locating the zone where loss taking place. There are many methods of survey;
some of them are described below:

Pumping cooled mud: In this method sufficiently cooled mud is pumped into the
hole and then run temperature survey. The infliction in the temperature curve
indicates the point of loss, as shown in fig 14.

Lowering transducer: An instrument, which detects movement of the mud down

hole, is lowered slowly. Downward flow of mud creates a pressure difference
across a diaphragm, which causes a transducer to transmit a signal to the
surface through the cable, which suspends the instrument.

Radioactive tracer: A certain amount of mud shall be treated with radioactive

tracer and then pumped down the hole followed by gamma ray log.

Fig 14 Lost circulation zone located by temperature survey. Adopted from
Goins and Dawson, courtesy API.

Diagnosis though costs time and money, pays off in long run. It helps in
identifying the best possible method of control and avoids costly and probably
damaging trial and error method approach. Here under some of the symptoms
and treatment methods are listed.

Observation of fluid levels after pumps are stopped may also provide useful
information, provided the area pore pressure and fracture gradients are known.
Filling the hole from top with rotary hose and counting pump strokes can
ascertain fluid levels. This gives the volume filled and from volume the depth can
be calculated.


When mud is lost into cavities, highly porous formations, propped fractures or
other spaces, the mud level in the annulus falls till the hydrostatic head equals to

formation pore pressure. An idea of the size of openings may be obtained from
the rate of loss or the rate of fall of mud level in the hole. The rate can be very
high in the case of cavernous limestones, or can be slow into smaller openings,
since partial returns are observed when circulation established. In general it is
observed that the greater the depth smaller the opening and slower the rate of

Large caverns can be at shallow depths and their encounter can be felt when the
bit drops several feet without any virtual drilling taking place. Such loss zones
are normally difficult to deal with. Huge amounts of LCM slurries may be
needed. Sometimes even dropping of cement sacks, as such; were successful
only few times.

Many times it was found necessary to reduce the hydrostatic head, pm, below the
formation pore pressure, pf, by drilling with aerated mud or foam mud till a
protective casing is set in. This method is risky as the possibilities of entering
formation fluids into the borehole and subsequently lost into the loss zone or
even blow out can happen.

Another method is to continuing drilling blindly with water till the cuttings fill and
block the loss zone and subsequently rise in the annulus takes place.

Losses into small cavities, but big enough to be unable to bridge with granular
materials, may be plugged by pumping highly viscous LCM slurries or time set
slurries that develop high shear strength. High squeeze pressures are to be
avoided as they may induce further fractures.

Losses into vugular limestones, gravel beds, and propped up fractures can be
best solved by circulation of granular materials mixed in mud during drilling, till
formation is completely covered. It is in general a practice to start with low
concentration of materials as it is difficult to predict the size of opening, say 5
ppb of fine grade and blended with large amounts of coarser grade if necessary.

Ground nut shells are preferable in controlling losses in non productive zones,
where as in zones of interest it is preferable to use ground limestone since it can
be removed by simple acidization job at the time of production testing of well.


Loss taking place while drilling but does not occur when circulation is stopped.
Such loss is said to be caused by marginal increase in bottom-hole pressure due
to hydraulic pressure drop in the annulus. In other words, pw exceeding pfrac, but
pm is not. When the pumps are shut down, the fracture closes and mud solids
bridge the opening. Similarly, when pm is close to pfrac, circulation may be

temporarily lost because of pressure surges when running in pipe, or because of
peak bottom hole pressure when breaking circulation after a trip.

Temporary circulation losses of this kind can best be remedied by adjusting mud
properties and operating conditions, rather than by the application of LCM pills.
Some of the recommended methods are listed below:

 Maintain the lowest mud density consistent with well safety.

 Use the lowest circulation rate that will clean the hole adequately.
 Adjust the rheological properties to give maximum hole cleaning
with minimum pressure drop in annulus.
 Do not drill with a balled bit and collars. Use bit lubricants in mud.
 Run pipe slowly to avoid pressure surges, do not ream down
rapidly with the pumps on.
 Break circulation several times during running in to bottom. On
reaching bottom, break circulation slowly with raising pipe at the
same time.
 Minimize gel strengths to the extent possible.

If mud losses occur even under these optimum-operating conditions, then it is

inevitable to control losses with LCM pills. However, it is also viewed that
continuous circulation with ground shells while drilling till the losses stops.
Howard and Scott showed that these materials sealed fractures as they occurred,
and prevented their extension. An alternative shall be squeezing of soft DOB



This is situation where pm exceeds pfrac and the fluid level falls even when the
pumps are stopped till the hydrostatic head equalizes to pfrac. This type of loss
typically occurs when mud density is raised to control kick in the lower part of
the hole, where as mud pressure gradient exceeding fracture gradient
somewhere in the upper section of the hole. Sometimes the ECD of the mud
itself exceeding fracture gradient in zones very close to the high-pressured zone
as seen in Rajole wells in A.P. India.

Usually a fracture is induced just below the casing shoe where the difference of
pm and pfrac is greatest as shown in fig 15. Under the circumstances where
another casing can not be set, the only alternative is to place an LCM pill into the
fractures till the squeeze pressure exceeds the maximum transient pressure
expected when drilling resumes. Final pressures up to 1,000 psi were reported.
Higher squeeze pressures increases hoop stresses around the borehole through
increase in width of fracture and thus strengthens the formation (fig16). The

squeeze pressure induces and seals new fractures below the initial fracture. The
occurrence of such fractures is indicated by fluctuations in injection pressures
during squeezing operations.

Fibrous materials, mixtures of fibrous materials and granular materials, DOBC,

and high fluid loss cement slurries may be used for high pressure squeezes, the
principle requirement being that they develop sufficient shear strength and do
not flow back into the borehole when squeeze pressure is released.

Fig 15 Schematic diagram illustrating induced fracture when mud density is

raised to control the kick


As mentioned in this chapter earlier on page no21, open fractures occur when
one of the principal stresses is tensile. As there is at present no means of
measuring subsurface rock stresses in drilling wells, there is no means of
differentiating these from induced fractures. As such the treatment also is same.

Fig 16 Schematic diagram illustrating the mechanism of squeezing loss circulation
materials into a vertical fracture



The geothermal gradient is the rate of increase in temperature per unit depth in
the Earth. Although the geothermal gradient varies from place to place, it
averages 25 to 30 oC/km [15F/1000 ft].


The term signifies natural increase in temperature of formation with depth.

Temperature gradients vary widely over the earth, sometimes increasing
dramatically around volcanic areas. It is particularly important for drilling fluids
engineers to know the geothermal gradient in an area when they are designing a
deep well. The downhole temperature in any drilled hole can be calculated by
the addition of surface atmospheric temperature to the derived temperature
computed from the depth and gradient put together.

The heat flow in the upper crust is derived from two sources and they are:
o Heat conducted from the lower crust and mantle, and
o Radiogenic heat in the upper crust.

Conducted heat is low in the region and ancient tectonism, e.g., the eastern half
of the US, and high in the regions of recent tectonism, e.g., the mountainous
regions of the west. Temperature gradients vary widely within each region
depending on:

o The amount of radiogenic heat in the upper crust.

o Structural features: Gradients are high at structural highs.
o Thermal conductivity of the region: Gradients are low in conductive
formations such as sandstone and high in low conductivity formations like
o Convective flow: In the permeable beds, water circulates by convection,
causing high temperatures at relatively shallow depths.
o Pore pressure: Temperature gradients are higher in geopressured

Detailed surveys have shown that geothermal gradients are not linear with
depth, but vary according to the factors mentioned above. For example the
gradient is 1.3F / 100ft (23.6C/km) in the normally pressured zone above
10,500 ft (3.200m) and 2.1F / 100ft (38C/km) in the geopressured zone below
were observed in Louisiana where as in gulf region, gradients as high as 6F /
100ft (109C/km) were found in the geopressured regions.

The bottom hole temperatures are always found to be lesser than virgin
formation temperatures. To illustrate this take the case of a well drilled to a
depth of 4,600 ft in the Imperial Valley of California. When logged it recorded
maximum temperature at 430F (221C), however after a period of 8 hours shut
down actually produced steam at 680F (360C).

Only reason for such difference can be offered, since while drilling mud as one of
its parameters, cools the formation around the lower part of the hole, transforms
the heat to formations of upper zones and looses the temperature at the surface.
This is best illustrated in fig 17, where changes in mud and formation
temperatures with time of circulation were recorded. During a round trip, the
temperature of the mud at the bottom of the hole rises, but under normal
circumstances does not have time to reach virgin formation temperature as
shown in fig 18.

It is interesting to note that only the mud in the bottom occupying half-length of
the hole gains the temperature where as the rest of the hole and at surface, it
decreases. Thus, the average temperature of the mud is always substantially
lower than the bottom hole logged temperature.

The hydrostatic pressure of the mud column in a well depends on the density of
the mud in the hole, which differs from the density at the surface because of

increase in temperature and pressure with depth. Therefore, calculating
hydrostatic pressure from surface densities results in error.

Fig 17 Effect of time on temperature in a simulated well Adopted from Raymond,

1969 copyright by SPE-AMIE

Fig 18 Temperature trace of Various depths in a simulated well. Adopted from

Raymond, 1969 copyright by SPE-AMIE

Mc Morde measured changes in density with temperature and pressure in a
variable pressure autoclave and the results are shown in fig.19. The results were
of a freshwater bentonite mud and a low viscosity oil mud (85/15 oil/water).
Both muds were loaded to three different densities, 11, 14 and 18 ppg or 1.32,
1.68 and 2.16 sp. gr respectively, but changes in density appeared to be
unaffected by the initial density.

Hoberock calculated the bottom hole pressures from the sum of incremental
changes in density with depth using material balance equations to account for
differences in compressibility between oil and water, assuming solids are not
compressible. Calculations were aimed at effect of total depth, temperature
gradient, circulation rate and type of mud on the density of mud. Table No.3
illustrates the results of these calculations. The pressure difference shown in the
last column is the approximate difference between the bottom hole pressure as
computed from mud density at surface and the actual measured bottom hole
pressure. Even though the calculations were made on two types of muds, the
results of water (77%) base mud were given since there is virtually no much
difference from the values obtained with oil (70% oil + 7% water) base mud.

Fig 19 Effect of temperature and pressure on density of oil and water base muds.
Adopted from Mc Mordie, copyright 1982, SPE - AMIE.

Table 3 Approximate difference in BHP due to change in mud density. Adopted
from Hoberock.

Total Depth Temperature Circulation rate Pressure difference

(Ft) Meters (F /100 (C/Km) (gpm) M3/min (psi) (kg/cm2)
10,000 3,030 2.0 37 300 114 0 0
15,000 4,545 ------- 37 300 114 -100 -7
20,000 6,060 ---------- 37 300 114 -300 -21
25,000 7,575 --------- 37 300 114 -650 -45
-------- 7,575 1.2 22 300 114 -125 -9
-------- 7,575 1.6 29 300 114 -350 -24
------- 7,575 2.0 37 0 0 -825 -58
-------- 7,575 2.0 37 150 57 -725 -51

The pressure differences observed in table 3, indicates that calculating bottom

hole pressures in deep hot holes basing on surface density of the mud are quite
enough to cause any well to blow out. A computer program is available to
predict down hole mud temperatures from mud properties, surface operation
data and pipe, casing and hole dimensions. It is always advisable to measure
temperature while drilling using MWD.


Drilling of deep hot wells to tap geothermal energy has paved the way for
research of very high temperatures like beyond 250C, where almost all known
additives breakdown and do not offer any stability to water based bentonite

Among clays sepiolites were observed to withstand temperatures beyond 250C

coupled with small amounts of bentonite as they are like attapulgite are needle
shaped in their structure cannot offer good control of fluid loss. Their rheological
properties are better controlled up to temperatures 300C with moderately
sulfonated styrene maleic anhydride copolymer, with molecular weight between
1.000 and 5,000 (SSMA), which may be used in both fresh and salt waters.

The SSMA chain has a high charge density because it contains three ionizing
carboxyls per molecule, which means the degree of substitution, is 3. It is
believed that this high charge density enables it to remain adsorbed on the clay
particles at high temperatures, where as lignosulfonates become severely
desorbed at temperatures above 177C. However, laboratory tests showed that
low viscosities in consistometer runs at both 204C and 260C were obtained
with a combination of SSMA and lignosulfonates. In some field tests it was found

that the addition of SSMA to lignosulfonate muds eliminated difficulties otherwise
experienced in getting logging tools to bottom, even in geothermal wells with
bottom hole temperatures up to 370C.

Low molecular weight polymers provide good rheological properties at high

temperatures, but do not provide adequate filtration control, which must be
obtained with long chain polymer. Vinyl amide / vinylsulfonates with a molecular
weight between one and two million, which maintained good rheological and
filtration properties at temperatures beyond 200C. Tests also showed that the
copolymer prevented flocculation in muds containing 10% each of NaCl and
CaCl2 and increased tolerance of KCl muds to drilled solids. In field tests good
rheological and filtration properties were maintained in two 20,000ft plus
(6095.75 meters) wells with bottom hole temperature in excess of 200C. Field
test results with one of these copolymers having molecular weight between 0.75
and 1.5 million have been remarkable. Low HTHP filter losses have been
maintained in over thirty geothermal wells, many with BHT in excess of 260C. In
one such well the HTHP filter loss increased only by 2 ml after logging for 72
hours. The copolymer was added to a bentonite-lignite deflocculated system,
with SSMA as the deflocculant.