Drill cuttings are a valuable source of information about lithology and wellbore condition. Although an abnormally high number of cuttings would indicate some sort of failure at the wellbore wall, a detailed analysis of cuttings can help to identify the type of rock failure. Cavings, fragments that are relatively larger and of different shape compared to normal cuttings, can be used to decode critical information about the wellbore geometry and formation pressure.

Cuttings analysis is most useful in absence of direct indicators of wellbore condition such as caliper, image logs, or logging-while-drilling (LWD) data, but even in presence of such data, cuttings analysis can be used to corroborate the interpretations with direct measurements. Several mechanisms, such as underbalanced drilling, pre-existing weak planes, stress relief, or even the drilling process itself, can lead to production of cavings. Examining the cavings to interpret wellbore instability and mechanisms responsible for it is an expert's job and requires a good overall understanding of the prevailing geology, geomechanical principles, drilling procedure, and drilling tools.

Identification of wellbore failure during drilling provides a better chance of immediate remedial action, even before a wireline logging program is executed. Differentiating cuttings generated by the drill bit from cavings created by the wellbore failure is not an easy and straightforward task due to a variety of bits and phenomena involved in the generation of cuttings. The first step in this analysis is to broadly define the different types of cavings based on their shape and size. Then, we move to the basic key features of these cuttings, and, finally, provide the remedial action plan for each type.

Drill cuttings analysis was successfully applied to improve hole condition in real time for two wells drilled in the Western Offshore basin, India. One case study illustrates the importance of mud chemistry over the mud weight being used to drill. The second case study underscores the interpretation of shear failure as the reason for cavings from cuttings morphology analysis. In both the cases, timely intervention integrated with the identification of prevailing drilling issues in real time helped in understanding the mud system and its effects on the wellbore.

The novelty of this approach lies in the deep understanding and geomechanical application of cavings in providing timely and cost-effective recommendations to optimize drillability in both the presence and the absence of LWD data. The results can be used during the well-planning stage of future wells and during drilling to improvise mud chemistry or to identify required increase in mud weight to avoid breakouts related to chemical instability or shear failure even though the pore pressure profile may not necessarily require any further increase in the mud weight.

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