This paper examines the challenges, solutions and milestones of the hydraulic fracturing based cuttings reinjection (CRI) process implemented on two artificial islands offshore Abu Dhabi.

During the development of an offshore field from two artificial islands, disposing of vast amounts of drilling waste and cuttings, generated from almost 100 wells, presented a major challenge. The conventional skip-and-ship for onshore treatment and disposal was technically, logistically, and economically unviable and posed possible future environmental liability. After careful assessment, total containment of drilling waste on the islands through multiple hydraulic fractures in suitable formations, for permanent in-situ waste confinement, was concluded by the operator as environmentally and economically the only sustainable process.

Two CRI wells were planned on each island to accommodate an estimated 8 million barrels of drilling waste slurry expected to be generated at the islands. While CRI is a proven technology wherein cuttings are slurrified and injected into sub-surface formations, fracture injections have high risks too. Many failures are known in the industry, including well and formation plugging and waste breaches to sea-bed and near-by wells, with far-reaching consequences and liability to operators.

Considering the complexity of the multiple-hydraulic fracturing process that requires careful planning, execution, monitoring, and analysis, a comprehensive geomechanical study was performed to identify and characterize all potential injection formations to achieve successful long-term injection. This was followed by front-end engineering design (FEED), fracture simulations, CRI well design, surface facilities design, slurry simulations, and followed by careful execution.

Two CRI wells were drilled on each island. Specifically designed injectivity tests were performed on each well before commencing injection, followed by regular injectivity tests to continuously analyze fracture behavior. A carefully designed slurrification and injection process, incorporating detailed QA-QC at all process stages, was implemented that helped to avoid solids settling, fracture or perforation plugging, uncontrolled fracture propagation, or well integrity issues. About 500,000 barrels has been successfully injected to-date in two CRI wells with injection pressures as per FEED estimates.

The paper details also the proactive sub-surface injection monitoring-assurance program built into the CRI injection procedure to continually modify the process as per sub-surface pressure responses, thus proactively mitigating injection risks.

Periodical injectivity tests, model alignment studies, temperature logs, and fracture pressure analysis facilitated regular recalibration of the geomechanical model to define fracture-domain sizes, monitor fracture height growth, and estimate residual formation domain capacity as injection progressed.

The multiple-hydraulic fracture-based CRI process implemented first time in Abu Dhabi incorporates many unique features which can be applied in similar projects elsewhere. This paper also describes the downhole gauges for accurate pressure-temperature monitoring at perforations, a detailed slurry design, the particle-size distribution for slurry quality analysis and quality control, the sub-surface monitoring-assurance program and regular tests and recalibration studies.

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