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SPE 121783

Environmentally Friendly Water-Based Fluid for HPHT Drilling


A. Tehrani, D. Gerrard, S. Young, and J. Fernandez; SPE, M-I SWACO

Copyright 2009, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the 2009 SPE International Symposium on Oilfield Chemistry held in The Woodlands, Texas, USA, 20–22 April 2009.

This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper have not been reviewed
by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its officers, or
members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is prohibited. Permission to reproduce in print is
restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of SPE copyright.

Abstract
In Europe where environmental regulations prohibit the use of oil-based mud, high-temperature wells are drilled with HPHT
water-based fluids. Chrome-lignosulfonates are a common component in high-temperature water-based fluids, acting as effective
dispersants and conferring excellent fluid-loss control and rheological properties. However, tightening of regulations signals the
emergence of restrictions on the use of chrome-based products in water-based fluids. Elsewhere in land operations where currently
oil-based fluids are used for high-temperature applications, a move towards HPHT water-based fluids, and ultimately to chrome-
free fluid systems is thought to be inevitable. Thus, alternative chrome-free products are desired that will perform at least as well
as the current products in high-temperature, high-density water-based fluid systems.
Fluid-loss control in high-temperature environments can become problematic due to the degradation of many polymers at high
temperature. A main challenge is to use a high-temperature synthetic polymer that can control fluid loss without a significant
impact on rheology. High-temperature gelling is another problem that may confront high-density fluid systems and lead to
significant problems during the drilling operation. This must be prevented by using effective, temperature-stable dispersants.
This paper describes the development of a new chrome-free, high-density HPHT water-based fluid system. The new fluid uses
a combination of clay and synthetic polymers to provide excellent fluid-loss control and to generate thermally stable rheology. The
paper presents the results of extensive testing to show that the use of highly efficient dispersants prevents high-temperature gelling
and improves fluid resistance to drill solids contamination. The authors will also present results from an initial field testing of the
fluid system.

Introduction
Environmental considerations have led to increasing interest in the use of water-based drilling fluids (WBM) in applications where
oil-based fluids have previously been preferred. In Europe, for example, where environmental regulations prohibit the use of oil-
based mud, high-temperature wells are drilled with HPHT water-based fluids. The least expensive and most widely used water-
based fluids for such applications are dispersed muds made up with bentonite clay. The low-colloid version of such fluids uses
small amounts of clay for filtercake quality. To improve the rheological stability and fluid-loss properties of these fluids at
elevated temperatures, chromium-containing thinners and fluid-loss additives have been used. These additives, however, are
increasingly subject to environmental regulation.
The environmental constraints have created the need for a chrome-free drilling fluid additive with cost and performance
characteristics similar to those of chromium-based additives. One option has been to prepare lignosulfonate additives complexed
with other metal ions, e.g., Fe, Ti and Zr. Park (1988) reported that the mixed titanium/zirconium lignosulfonate salt is most
effective for controlling rheology and preventing progressive gel structure at elevated temperatures. Others (Burrafato et al. 1995;
Miano et al. 1996; Nicora and Burrafato 1998) investigated the use of zirconium citrate as a substitute for chromium
lignosulfonate and reported its effectiveness in controlling high-temperature gelation of dispersed muds at temperatures exceeding
400°F. These are, in many cases, not as effective as chromium lignosulfonate when tested in a wide range of applications.
An alternative approach is to use synthetic polymers that can function at high temperatures and are resistant to various
contaminants. For over 30 years, synthetic polymers such as sulfonated polymer chemistries have been available for use as
dispersants and fluid-loss control additives. Compared to natural polymers, these synthetic polymers exhibit better thermal stability
and resistance to solids and other contaminants. Perricone et al. (1986) described the properties of high-molecular-weight vinyl
sulfonate copolymers as high-temperature, fluid-loss control additives in water-based drilling fluids. They reported good tolerance
2 SPE 121783

to electrolytes and high-temperature stability to 350°F. Thaemlitz,et al. (1999) described a high-temperature filtration-control
additive for water-based fluids which was a crosslinked copolymer of acrylamide and a sulphonated monomer. The new additive
reportedly simplified mud formulation and gave stable performance up to 450°F.
Despite the advances made in high-temperature, chrome-free additives for water-based fluids, the challenge remains in
developing synthetic polymers that control fluid loss without a significant impact on rheology, prevent high-temperature gelation
and are resistant to various contaminants. This paper describes the development of a new low-colloid, chrome-free, high-density
HPHT water-based fluid that uses a combination of clay and synthetic polymers to provide excellent fluid-loss control and with a
thermally stable rheology. The paper presents the results of extensive testing to show that the use of highly efficient dispersants
prevents high-temperature gelling and improves tolerance to drill-solids contamination. The authors will also present results from
an initial field testing of the fluid system.

High-Temperature Polymers
The most successful synthetic polymers for high-temperature water-based drilling fluids have been those based on copolymers of
acrylamide and a sulphonated monomer. The synthetic polymers investigated in this work were based on similar type of
monomers. Some of the products had been crosslinked to control the rigidity of the copolymer in order to achieve a balance
between fluid-loss and rheology control in the drilling fluid. As observed by Thaemlitz et al. (1999), the degree of crosslinking
plays an important role in copolymer solubility, which is related to the ability to control fluid loss. Too much crosslinking will
result in a polymer that has a very rigid structure and is difficult to hydrate in water-based fluids. A low degree of crosslinking
produces polymers that may cause too much rheology and which are known to have limited tolerances to contamination and shear.
Another group of products, which were not crosslinked, used molecular weight and the degree of substitution and functionality of
the polymer to control its structural rigidity and temperature tolerance. A list of the synthetic polymers investigated in this work is
shown in Table 1.

Table 1 - Synthetic Polymers Used in HPHT Water-Based Fluids


Product Function Chemistry
Polymer A Rheology control
Crosslinked acrylic polymer
Polymer B Fluid-loss control
Polymer C Fluid-loss control
Terpolymer of acrylamide, sulfonated monomer,
Polymer D Fluid-loss control
vinylpyrrolidone
Polymer E Fluid-loss control
Polymer F Rheology control
Vinyl-based copolymer
Polymer G Rheology control
Polymer H Fluid-loss control Crosslinked acrylamide and a sufonated monomer
Polymer I Filtercake sealing Nano-latex copolymer

Product B had a higher degree of crosslinking than Product A, offering better fluid-loss control, while Product A gave effective
high-temperature rheology control. Products C to E were made with the same monomers but to different monomer ratio and
molecular weight, offering varying degrees of fluid-loss control and thermal stability.

Drilling Fluids
The above synthetic polymers were used to formulate six water-based drilling fluids of 18.0 lb/gal (2157 kg/m3) density. In
addition to the synthetic polymers of Table 1, the test fluids contained tap water, clay, barite and a number of additives. The
additives included commonly used secondary fluid-loss and rheology modifiers, as well as lime to prevent CO2 poisoning and an
oxygen scavenger. A polyacrylate dispersant was added to some formulations to prevent gelation on exposure to high
temperatures, while in others an amine-based temperature stabiliser was used to aid rheology stability. The fluid also contained 15
lb/bbl of inert clay to simulate a moderate level of drill solids. The pH of the fluids was adjusted to around 11.0 by the addition of
NaOH in the formulation and, where necessary, 50% NaOH solution was used to adjust the pH after thermal aging.
The thermal stability and filtration control of water-based drilling fluids prepared with the above materials were examined by
subjecting them to high temperatures over a period of time. The fluids were mixed in 1-lab bbl quantities (350 mL) using a
Hamilton Beach mixer, and aged in a roller oven for 16 hours at 450°F. Rheology was determined at 120°F on a Fann-35
viscometer, both before and after thermal aging. The HPHT fluid loss of the aged fluids was measured at 350°F, 500 psi. The
formulations shown in Table 2 were arrived at after extensive optimization to meet the required specifications described below.
SPE 121783 3

Table 2 – WBM Formulations for Evaluating Synthetic Polymers (Polymers Shown in Brackets)
Fluid #1 Fluid #2 Fluid #3 Fluid #4 Fluid #5 Fluid #6
Products (lb/bbl)
(A + B) (C) (D) (D + F) (E + G) (H)
Water 207 207 207 207 207 207
Clay 2 2 2 2 2 1
Caustic soda 0.5 0.25 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.25
Secondary modifier 8 5 8 10 8 6
HMP 15 15 15 15 15 15
Synthetic polymer(s) 4+6 3 2.25 1+1 0.5 + 1 3
Barite 509 509 508 512 510 509
Lime 1.25 1.25 1.5 1.25 1.25 1.25
Stabilizer 2 2 - - - 2
Dispersant - 10 10 6 8 10
Oxygen scavenger 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5

The rheology and fluid-loss properties of the aged fluids are shown in Table 3. The criteria for acceptance of fluid properties
were set in terms of plastic viscosity (PV), yield point (YP), the 10-min gel and fluid loss. PV is generally desired to be as low as
possible, but in view of the high fluid density, values up to 70 cP would be acceptable. The upper limits for the YP and the 10-min
gel were set at 20 and 40, respectively. The 30-min HTHP fluid loss measured at 350°F was not to exceed 20 mL. On these bases,
the fluids showed distinct differences in their rheological and fluid-loss control performances, shown in Table 3.

Table 3 – Drilling Fluid Properties After Thermal Aging at 450°F


(required specifications in brackets)
Fluid Properties Units T (°F) Fluid #1 Fluid #2 Fluid #3 Fluid #4 Fluid #5 Fluid #6
2
600 rpm lb/100 ft 120 155 225 150 181 171 177
2
300 rpm lb/100 ft 120 91 130 84 100 101 99
2
200 rpm lb/100 ft 120 67 97 60 72 77 70
2
100 rpm lb/100 ft 120 39 56 36 41 47 39
2
6 rpm lb/100 ft 120 5 6 6 6 11 5
2
3 rpm lb/100 ft 120 3 4 4 3 9 3
PV (<70) cP 120 64 95 66 81 70 78
2
YP (<20) lb/100 ft 120 27 35 18 19 31 21
2
10-sec Gel lb/100 ft 120 3 4 6 3 9 4
2
10-min Gel (<40) lb/100 ft 120 21 8 22 29 64 14
2
30-min Gel lb/100 ft 120 35 15 33 52 94 19
HTHP (<20) mL/30 min 350 30 18 16 21 33 18.5

Fluid #1 containing polymers A and B had acceptable PV, but with poor low-end rheology and high fluid loss. Higher polymer
concentrations did not improve fluid loss without impacting the rheology. Polymer C in Fluid #2 gave acceptable fluid loss but had
the greatest impact on rheology and generated the highest PV and YP. Lower polymer concentrations destabilized the fluid and
increased fluid loss.
Polymer D in Fluid #3 gave PV, YP, 10-min gel and HTHP fluid-loss values well within the required specifications. The
polymer combination D + F in Fluid #4 gave acceptable YP and a fluid-loss value just above the maximum specification, but
generated high PV and a progressive gel.
In Fluid #5, the combination of polymers E + G generated the maximum acceptable PV, but had high YP, highly progressive
gel and poor fluid-loss control. In both Fluid #4 and Fluid #5, lower concentrations of the polymers destabilized the fluid and
increased fluid loss.
Polymer H in Fluid #6 gave PV and YP values slightly above the accepted maximum, but produced a low non-progressive gel
and good fluid-loss control.
It was found, during the optimization process, that without a temperature stabilizer, Fluids #1, #2 and #6 suffered significant
drops in rheology on thermal aging. This was moderated by using an amine-based stabilizer. As discussed below, it was also found
that in most of the formulations, high-temperature gelation could be prevented by using an efficient dispersant.
The properties of the fluids are compared in graphical form in Figure 1. The red lines indicate the acceptance threshold for the
fluid properties as described above. It can be seen that of the five synthetic polymers, polymer D in Fluid #3 gives the best
performance in terms PV, YP, the 10-min gel and the HPHT fluid loss. Polymer H in Fluid #5 is also of note as its 10-min gel and
fluid-loss properties are well within specification and its PV and YP are only just above the limit.
4 SPE 121783

100 40

80
30

YP (lb/100 ft2)
PV (cP)

60
20
40
10
20

0 0
A+ B C D D+F E+G H A+ B C D D+F E+G H

Fluid # 1 Fluid # 2 Fluid # 3 Fluid # 4 Fluid # 5 Fluid # 6 Fluid # 1 Fluid # 2 Fluid # 3 Fluid # 4 Fluid # 5 Fluid # 6

HPHT Fluid Loss (mL/30 min)


70 40
10-min Gel (lb/100 ft2)

60
50 30

40
20
30
20
10
10
0 0
A+ B C D D+F E+G H A+ B C D D+F E+G H

Fluid # 1 Fluid # 2 Fluid # 3 Fluid # 4 Fluid # 5 Fluid # 6 Fluid # 1 Fluid # 2 Fluid # 3 Fluid # 4 Fluid # 5 Fluid # 6

Fig. 1 – Comparison of rheological properties of fluids after thermal aging for 16 hours at 450°F.

High-Temperature Gelation. High-temperature gelation is a major concern in HPHT water-based fluids. Excessive shear
strength developed at high temperatures and under static conditions results in high pump pressures, when restarting circulation
after a trip, and may result in loss of circulation. Without an effective dispersant, all fluids except Fluid #1(with polymers A + B)
gave high gel values on thermal aging. Some of the fluids formed solid-like gels and could not be recovered by remixing. Inclusion
of a dispersant in the formulations generally improved the properties of Fluids #2 to #6, but caused significant improvements in the
properties of Fluid #3 and Fluid #6. Figure 2 illustrates the severity of high-temperature gelation by comparing the appearances of
two aged fluids, with and without an efficient dispersant.

Fig. 2 – Water-based drilling fluids aged for 16 hours at 450°F; fluid without dispersant (left), fluid with an efficient dispersant (right).

The potential of the fluids for high-temperature gelation was evaluated by measuring their shear strength after static aging for
16 hours at 450°F. Shear strength was measured using a shearometer tube and following the API Recommended Practice 13B-1,
Appendix B. The results of such measurements on the test fluids of Table 3 are given in Table 4.

Table 4 – Shear Strength of Test Fluids after Static Aging for 16 hours at 450°F
Fluid #1 Fluid #2 Fluid #3 Fluid #4 Fluid #5 Fluid #6
Unit
(A + B) (C) (D) (D + F) (E + G) (H)
2
Shear Strength lb/100 ft 175 224 145 356 3006 178
SPE 121783 5

Field experience suggests that a shear strength of 200 lb/100 ft2 is a reasonable upper limit for the 18.0 lb/gal fluids of this
study. The results in Table 4 show that Fluids #1, #3 and #6 meet this requirement. This is in agreement with the gel values of the
same fluids in Table 3. In line with its progressive gel values in Table 3, Fluid #5 gave a very high shear strength.
The shear strength measurements confirm the earlier observation that polymer D in Fluid #3 gives the best overall
performance. Therefore, it is the preferred chrome-free fluid-loss additive for HPHT water-based fluids. The shear strength of
polymer H in Fluid #6, together with its other properties, ranks it a second best for this type of application.

Case Histories
The environmental constraints that have been implemented by many countries often preclude the use of water-based drilling fluids
containing heavy metals such as chrome – traditionally used to maintain product stability at elevated temperatures. The following
example case histories represent some of the locations that are drilling in HPHT conditions where local environmental regulations
mandate the use of environmentally-friendly HPHT WBM.
The first case involves an environmentally sensitive location in South America where local resources and location dictated a
limited component, 15.0-lb/gal density, chrome-free HPHT WBM. The operator was having difficulty achieving stable viscosity
and effective fluid-loss control. The required specifications for the fluid included a yield point between 15 and 20 lb/100 ft2 and
HTHP fluid loss of less than 20 mL but preferably less than 10 mL at 300°F. The fluid was aged in a roller oven for 16 hours at
400°F. The preferred formulation and results are shown below in Table 5 and Table 6.

Table 5 – Preferred WBM Formulation for South America


Products (lb/bbl) Based on Fluid #2 Framework
Water 252
Clay 5
Caustic soda 2
Synthetic Polymer D 4
PF Resin 6
Dispersant 10
Barite 352
Oxygen Scavenger 2.0

Table 6 – Drilling Fluid Properties After Thermal Aging at 400°F


(required specifications in brackets)
Fluid Properties Units T (°F)
2
600 rpm lb/100 ft 120 112
2
300 rpm lb/100 ft 120 64
2
200 rpm lb/100 ft 120 47
2
100 rpm lb/100 ft 120 30
2
6 rpm lb/100 ft 120 9
2
3 rpm lb/100 ft 120 8
PV cP 120 48
2
YP (15-20) lb/100 ft 120 16
2
10-sec Gel lb/100 ft 120 10
2
10-min Gel lb/100 ft 120 19
HTHP (<20) mL/30 min 300 16

The second case involves a well in East Africa where a 10.0-lb/gal HPHT WBM with stable rheology and fluid loss at 450°F for
48 hours was required. In this case, the well was to be drilled in very shallow inshore waters and the local environmental concerns
prohibited the use of chrome, black powders and barite. The largest challenge with this formulation, apart from the long term
stability at high temperature, was formulating a low density fluid without barite. The preferred formulation and results are shown
below in Tables 7 and 8.
6 SPE 121783

Table 7 – Preferred WBM Formulation for East Africa


Products (lb/bbl) Based on Fluid #2 Framework
Water 290
Soda Ash 0.25
Caustic soda 0.5
Hectorite clay 10
Polymer D 3
Polymer A 2
Polymer B 10
Polymer G 10
Rheological modifier 2
Calcium carbonate 90
Oxygen Scavenger 0.5
Hydrogen Sulfide Scavenger 1.0

Table 8 – Drilling Fluid Properties After Thermal Aging


at 450°F for 48 hours (required specifications in brackets)
Fluid Properties Units T (°F)
2
600 rpm lb/100 ft 120 78
2
300 rpm lb/100 ft 120 50
2
200 rpm lb/100 ft 120 40
2
100 rpm lb/100 ft 120 26
2
6 rpm lb/100 ft 120 7
2
3 rpm lb/100 ft 120 6
PV (<40) cP 120 28
2
YP (10-20) lb/100 ft 120 22
2
10-sec Gel lb/100 ft 120 8
2
10-min Gel lb/100 ft 120 26
HTHP (<30) mL/30 min 400 33.0

The third case involves work currently underway in Eastern Europe where the primary environmental concerns were in
minimizing the use of chromium. In this case, the HPHT water-based fluid would require to be stable at 16.7-lb/gal density at a
temperature of 400°F, and also have the capability of having the density increased to 19.2 lb/gal (preferable with barite addition
only as the treatment) without detriment to rheology. The preferred formulations and results are shown below in Tables 9 and 10.

Table 9 – Preferred WBM Formulation for Eastern Europe


Products (lb/bbl) 16.7 lb/gal 19.2 lb/gal
Water 222 189
Soda Ash 0.25 0.25
Caustic Soda 2 2
Gel Supreme 3 3
Polymer C 2 2
Polymer I 10 10
Rheology Modifier 2 2
Dispersant 15 15
PF Resin 3 3
Oxygen Scavenger 2 2
Barite 443 581
SPE 121783 7

Table 10 – Drilling Fluid Properties After Thermal Aging


at 400°F for 16 hours (required specifications in brackets)
Fluid Properties Units T (°F) 16.7 lb/gal 19.2 lb/gal
2
600 rpm lb/100 ft 120 60 94
2
300 rpm lb/100 ft 120 33 58
2
200 rpm lb/100 ft 120 24 46
2
100 rpm lb/100 ft 120 15 33
2
6 rpm lb/100 ft 120 4 18
2
3 rpm lb/100 ft 120 3 18
PV (<60) cP 120 27 36
2
YP (10-20) lb/100 ft 120 6 22
2
10-sec Gel lb/100 ft 120 4 18
2
10-min Gel lb/100 ft 120 14 32
HTHP (<20) mL/30 min 300 17.8 12.0

The final case history involves design for a well in the southern United States. In this case, the operator had been using invert
emulsion fluids and preferred to move to a more environmentally friendly water-based mud option. This was partially due to
disposal costs for the invert emulsion fluid cuttings, but also due to high incidence of lost circulation seen in previous wells with
the invert fluid. The HPHT water-based fluid was required to be stable at 18-lb/gal density at a temperature of 400°F, with the
rheological and fluid-loss characteristics being attainable with drill solids in the fluid. The preferred formulations and results are
shown below in Table 11 and Table 12.

Table 11 – Preferred WBM Formulation for Southern USA


Products (lb/bbl)
Water 207
Soda Ash 0.25
Caustic soda 2
Gel Supreme 3
Polymer D 2
Polymer I 10
Rheological modifier 2
Dispersant 15
PF Resin 3
Oxygen Scavenger 2
Barite 501
Drill solids 15

Table 12 – Drilling Fluid Properties After Thermal Aging


at 400°F for 16 hours
(required specifications in brackets)
Fluid Properties Units T (°F)
2
600 rpm lb/100 ft 120 102
2
300 rpm lb/100 ft 120 56
2
200 rpm lb/100 ft 120 40
2
100 rpm lb/100 ft 120 23
2
6 rpm lb/100 ft 120 4
2
3 rpm lb/100 ft 120 3
PV (<50) cP 120 46
2
YP (10-20) lb/100 ft 120 10
2
10-sec Gel lb/100 ft 120 4
2
10-min Gel lb/100 ft 120 19
HTHP (<25) mL/30 min 350 22.0

From all of these case histories, it can be seen that a good degree of flexibility exists in this type of chrome-free HPHT water-
based fluid, allowing for desired rheological and fluid loss properties to be correctly engineered across a wide range of fluid
densities. From an engineering standpoint, the use of five classes of product assists in making decisions that allow optimum
control of rheology and fluid loss:
x Synthetic polymer – Increases rheology and controls fluid loss
x Dispersant – Decreases rheology and assists with fluid loss
8 SPE 121783

x PF resin – Decreases fluid loss


x Rheology modifier – Stabilizes rheology in presence of solids
x Polymer sealant – Decreases fluid loss and thins filter cake
It should be noted that the use of an oxygen scavenger in the above formulations is primarily required for heat aging purposes
in the laboratory.

Conclusions
A number of synthetic polymers were evaluated for fluid-loss and rheology control in high-temperature water-based applications.
The polymers were exposed to a temperature of 450°F in 18.0-lb/gal drilling fluids. The polymer performances were compared on
the basis of the Fann-35 rheology data, HPHT fluid loss and shear strength after static aging.
A terpolymer of acrylamide, sulfonated monomer and vinylpyrrolidone (polymer D) gave the best performance as a chrome-
free additive in laboratory tests by meeting all design criteria. A second product (polymer H), a crosslinked copolymer of
acrylamide and a sulfonated monomer, came a second best. Both additive systems produced low shear strength on static aging at
high temperature. The use of an efficient dispersant was found to be necessary to prevent progressive gels and excessive shear
strength.
The data generated from this extensive investigation has been utilized in developing HPHT water-based fluid formulations
from a number of applications across the globe. In each case, with a little fine tuning, desired specifications have been able to be
met and a stable fluid formulated.

Acknowledgements
The authors thank the management of M-I SWACO for supporting this work and for permission to publish this paper.

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