Lost circulation is a time-consuming and expensive challenge, costing the oil and gas industry billions of dollars each year in materials, nonproductive time, and minimized production (Catalin et al. 2003; Fidan et al. 2004; API 65-22010). To mitigate lost circulation during cementing operations, a better understanding of how wellbore-strengthening mechanisms apply to cement slurries is necessary. The ability to control cementing-fluid properties to strengthen the wellbore and minimize losses during cementing operations is imperative for achieving adequate zonal isolation.

A field analysis was performed to understand the start of lost circulation during different phases of drilling and primary cementing. Offshore wells from four different locations were studied: Gulf of Mexico (GOM), the UK, Angola, and Azerbaijan. In parallel, laboratory research was performed to understand the behavior of cement slurries in controlled lost-circulation scenarios using a block tester. Measurements of formation-breakdown pressure and fracture-propagation pressure were made with different cement-slurry compositions and compared with pressures obtained with drilling muds.

In an analysis of 40 well sections that reported losses before or during primary cementing operations, the rate and severity of lost circulation varied for the wells studied, but it was concluded that losses were commonly induced while running casing or during precement-job mud circulation, but rarely during cement placement.

The laboratory research confirmed the field observation: It would take much more pressure to open or reopen an existing fracture with cement slurry than with a synthetic-oil-based mud.

This paper will present findings from the field analysis and laboratory research. It will also discuss strategies to prepare the wellbore for preventing losses before the cementing operation and to optimize cement formulations if losses have been induced during drilling, casing running, or prejob mud circulation.

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