This paper (SPE 52889) was revised for publication from paper SPE 35242, first presented at the 1996 SPE Permian Basin Oil and Gas Recovery Conference held in Midland, Texas, 27-29 March. Original manuscript received for review 11 April 1996. Revised manuscript received 29 April 1997. Paper peer approved 17 April 1998.


Underbalanced drilling (UBD) has been used with increasing frequency to minimize problems associated with invasive formation damage, which often greatly reduce the productivity of oil and gas reservoirs, particularly in openhole horizontal well applications. UBD, when properly designed and executed, minimizes or eliminates problems associated with the invasion of particulate matter into the formation as well as a multitude of other problems such as adverse clay reactions, phase trapping, precipitation, and emulsification, which can be caused by the invasion of incompatible mud filtrates in an overbalanced condition. In many UBD operations, additional benefits are seen because of a reduction in drilling time, greater rates of penetration, increased bit life, a rapid indication of productive reservoir zones, and the potential for dynamic flow testing while drilling.

UBD is not a solution for all formation damage problems. Damage caused by poorly designed and/or executed UBD programs can rival or even greatly exceed that which may occur with a well-designed conventional overbalanced drilling program. Potential downsides and damage mechanisms associated with UBD will be discussed. These include the following.

  1. Increased cost and safety concerns.

  2. Difficulty in maintaining a continuously underbalanced condition

  3. Spontaneous imbibition and countercurrent imbibition effects.

  4. Glazing, mashing, and mechanically induced wellbore damage.

  5. Macroporosity gravity-induced invasion.

  6. Difficulty of application in zones of extreme pressure and permeability.

  7. Political/career risk associated with championing a new and potentially risky technology. We discuss reservoir parameters required to design an effective underbalanced or overbalanced drilling program, laboratory screening procedures to ascertain the effectiveness of UBD in a specific application and review the types of reservoirs that often present good applications for UBD technology.

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