A new three-dimensional wellbore stability model is presented that takes into account thermal stresses and the flux of both water and solutes from drilling fluids (muds) into and out of shale formations. Mechanical stresses around a wellbore placed at any arbitrary orientation in a 3-dimensional stress field are coupled with changes in temperature and pore pressure due to water and solute fluxes. The radial and azimuthal variation in the stress distribution and the "failure index" are computed to check for wellbore failure. This model accounts for the hindered diffusion of solutes as well as the osmotically driven flow of water into the shale. The model for the first time allows a user to study the role of solute properties on wellbore stability.

Results from the model show that a maxima or minima in pore pressure can be obtained within a shale. This leads to wellbore failure not always at the wellbore wall as is most commonly assumed but to failure at some distance inside the shale. Since the fluxes of water and solute, and temperature, are time dependent, a clearly time dependent wellbore failure is observed. The time to wellbore failure is shown to be related to the rate of solute and water invasion. Comparisons with experiments conducted with a variety of solutes on different shales show excellent agreement with model results.

It is shown in this study that the solutes present in the mud play an important role in determining not only the water activity but also in controlling the alteration of pore pressures in shales. To account for this phenomenon a model is presented to compute the flux of both water and solutes into or out of shales. The relative magnitudes of these fluxes control the changes in pore pressure in the shale when it is exposed to the mud. The effect of the molecular size of the solute, the permeability of the shale and its membrane efficiency are some of the key parameters that are shown to determine the magnitude of the osmotic contribution to pore pressure. A range of behavior is observed if the solute is changed while the water activity is maintained constant. This clearly indicates the importance of the solute flux in controlling the pore pressure in shales.

Critical mud weights are obtained by inspecting the stability of the wellbore wall and the entire near wellbore region. Pore pressures at different time and position are investigated and presented to explain the model results. It is shown in this study that the critical mud weights are strongly time dependent. The effects of permeability, membrane efficiency of shale, solute diffusion coefficient, mud activity and temperature changes are presented in this work. The collapse and fracture effects of cooling and heating the formations are also presented.

A powerful tool has been developed which can be used to perform thorough investigations of the wellbore stability problem. A user-friendly interface has been developed to ease usage.


Shale instability is a costly problem for the oil and gas industry. Over-gauged boreholes induced by borehole collapse failure, the loss of drilling fluid into the formation due to borehole breakdown failure, and consequent hole cleaning and well control problems are typical occurrences when shales experience failure. These problems are primarily caused by the rock stress exceeding the rock strength as the borehole is drilled.

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