Drilling through highly depleted sands can result in a multitude of problems such as lost returns, differential sticking, difficult logging and/or not being able to reach the target depth. Often curing lost circulation can be difficult and costly as a result of associated nonproductive time and escalating mud costs. Remedies such as cement plugs, squeezes, expandable liner and casing while drilling can be costly solutions and are not always successful.

The use of fluid management techniques, team efforts and proper engineering have lead to the development of an innovative approach to prevent problems and avoid the complex processes of curing mud losses and freeing stuck pipe.

A newly developed deformable sealing agent can be added to a water-based fluid at 2 to 4% volume. It is a modified liquid insoluble polymer that is designed to reduce pore pressure transmission by internally bridging the pore throats of the low permeability sands and shale micro-fractures. These bridging and sealing characteristics will help protect the formation where lost circulation may be encountered. This effective bridging enhances the effective rock strength, hence increasing the formation fracturing resistance.

A geomechanical analysis indicates that two mechanisms contribute to the success:

  1. The near wellbore region is turned into an altered rock because the particles in the new mud tend to block the pore spaces. Stress analyses using rock mechanics theory indicate that fracturing pressure is increased by increasing the tangential stress around the borehole resulting from the ‘enhanced’ mechanical properties of the altered zone.

  2. Because of this blockage, it is envisaged that the near wellbore rock strength is increased. This strengthening effect increases the bulk and tensile strengths of the altered rock and increases the fracturing pressure.

This paper will highlight field case histories supported by preliminary laboratory work and geomechanical studies indicate that mud losses associated with severely depleted tight sands can be reduced with the use of the newly developed deformable sealing technology. Some of the field accomplishments of this "internal mud cake" as a bridging/sealing approach are: improved drilling curve, lower well cost, stable and gauge hole, reduction in mud losses and differential sticking and reduction in NPT


Drilling through shallow, highly depleted sands is prone to severe lost returns and differential sticking. Lost circulation and differential sticking problems related to drilling through depleted sands are compounded by the low fracture gradient in the sands and the high mud weight required to minimize compressive failure in adjacent shales. Therefore, drilling deeper to reach new targets in mature fields is becoming more attractive and often presents technical and economical challenges. Designing a well in such complex geological settings often results in additional casing intervals and/or the use of expensive expendable liners or casing while drilling. Typical lost circulation control techniques are costly and may not be applicable. It is better to manage lost circulation by preventing the problem, rather than attempting to cure it.

A literature survey indicates that significant work has been conducted on wellbore strengthening[1–13]. Prevention methods have been developed to increase fracture initiation and fracture propagation pressure. Recently, a theory of using stress cages to increase fracturing resistance has been developed and demonstrated successfully in the field[2]. Sand bridging or "smearing effect" that is generated by casing while drilling techniques has also been documented[4].

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