In this paper, we describe measured and simulated downhole pressure variations (“surge and swab”) during drillpipe connections when drilling an ultradeepwater well offshore Brazil on Bacalhau (former Carcará) Field. Floating rig motion caused by waves and swell (“rig heave”) induces surge and swab when the drillstring is suspended in slips to make up or break a drillpipe connection and topside heave compensation is temporarily deactivated. This is a known issue in regions with harsh weather, such as the North Sea, where pressure oscillations of up to 20 bar have been reported during connections. Recorded downhole drilling data from Bacalhau Field reveals significant pressure oscillations downhole (in the same order of magnitude as in the North Sea) each time the drillstring was suspended in slips to make a connection in the subsalt 8½-in. section of the well. Mud losses were experienced around the same well depth, and they might have been caused by surge and swab.
Measured surge and swab pressure variations have been reproduced in an advanced proprietary surge and swab simulator that considers rig heave, drillpipe elasticity, well friction, non-Newtonian drilling mud, well trajectory, and geometry. Moreover, findings in this paper suggest that surge and swab was in fact significantly higher than recorded by the measurement while drilling (MWD) tool. The true magnitude of surge and swab is not captured in the recorded MWD data due to low sampling frequency of the downhole pressure recording (one measurement every 6 seconds, a standard downhole pressure sampling rate used on many operations today).
This work shows that surge and swab during drillpipe connections on floaters may challenge the available pressure window for some wells, even in regions with calm weather such as Brazil. Managed pressure drilling (MPD) is a technique that improves control of the downhole pressure. It is, however, not possible to compensate fast downhole pressure transients, such as heave-induced surge and swab, using MPD choke topside. This is due to the long distance between the choke and the bit, which translates into a time delay in the same order of magnitude as typical wave and heave periods. A downhole choke combined with continuous circulation is one of the potential solutions.
Surge and swab during drillpipe connections can result in a loss or an influx and should be considered in the well planning phase when mud weight, section lengths, etc. are selected.