The precise placement of well pairs is one of the most-crucial factors in the successful execution of a steam-assisted-gravity-drainage (SAGD) drilling program. A SAGD drilling program includes placing the producer well relative to the reservoir boundaries and twinning the producer with the injector well accurately. Delivering on these high expectations in unconsolidated formations (e.g., the McMurray oil sands in Canada) requires a strong focus on technological innovation.

A common practice in drilling SAGD wells in northeast Alberta is to drill lateral SAGD pairs with conventional, steerable mud motors and logging-while-drilling (LWD) resistivity measurements. Although this combination has delivered success, certain limitations exist in terms of wellbore quality and placement. At a demonstration project by a major oil company, several industry firsts were implemented successfully, including a combination of the newest and most-cutting-edge directional, measurement, and LWD technology.

The keystone of these industry firsts was the application of a soft-formation-modified, point-the-bit rotary-steerable system (RSS) used on 20 horizontal wells. Combined with an ultradeep azimuthal resistivity sensor, the RSS provided precise geosteering along the bottombed boundary in the producer wells, resulting in improved reservoir capture and characterization. More on-bottom time enabled more-efficient drilling and reduced well costs significantly. Highly smooth liner runs reflected the lack of tortuosity in the wellbore, made possible by the rotary bottomhole assembly (BHA). Improved directional control made uniform well separation possible between lateral pairs, thereby reducing the risk of hot spots and short circuiting during SAGD operations. The use of an even-walled power section above the RSS increased the bit rev/min for improved BHA responsiveness while minimizing casing and pipe wear. Overall, the results and lessons learned from the demonstration of these new techniques provide a clear indication of the progressive future of directional drilling in SAGD.

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