Frequent drilling challenges for high-inclination well paths in the overburden Laffan and Nahr-Umr shales involve stuck pipe incidents and caving, leading to sidetracking in extreme cases. Advanced geomechanics studies including both an anisotropic wellbore stability model and shale stability analysis were conducted on acquired cores to better understand these problematic intervals for improving drilling efficiency and reducing costs by mitigating wellbore instability.

The study analyzed the preferential directions of deformation and failure (i.e., anisotropic) in the shales and their time-dependent behavior in reacting with drilling fluid. Shale samples were preserved to avoid changes in mechanical properties due to the high clay content and low permeability. Two overburden shale intervals were analyzed to determine strength and elastic anisotropy. Dynamic anisotropic elastic properties were obtained via ultrasonic wave propagation. Strength anisotropy was evaluated using the plane of weakness model that assumes a heterogeneous media composed of a matrix rock and plane of weakness (e.g., bedding/laminations, interface between lithotypes or laminations).

The test results showed a drop of compressive strength from 50% to 70% for samples with inclination from 38 to 62 degrees, which increases the chance of formation collapse of the laminated shales at such wellbore deviation. The anisotropic analysis proved that the stress field is higher when anisotropic properties are considered, which leads to higher propensity for failure. Shale stability tests demonstrated that most of the instabilities identified in the Laffan and Nahr-Umr formations were mechanical in nature. The optimal mud weight is strongly dependent on the well trajectory to account for the plane of weakness and strength anisotropy.

Combing data from laboratory tests with advanced sonic logs enabled a more robust evaluation of the formation anisotropy at the well scale, which improved both stress predictions and mud-weight window predictions along the well trajectory. This anisotropic well-centric model helped for determining more appropriate mud weights and salinities for upcoming directional wells.

By obtaining core samples in the shale formations, the operator was able to test and characterize the anisotropic behavior and also analyzed the time-dependent behavior. These results were combined with advanced sonic logs to better understand and mitigate wellbore instability induced from the plane of weakness.

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