Borehole stability issues are always a spotlight in drilling activities because of their costly consequences, including borehole collapse, lost circulation, stuck pipe etc.

Wellbore instability is primarily a function of how rocks respond to the induced stress concentration around the wellbore during various drilling activities. By considering different failure mechanisms between the formation and drilling fluid interaction, several major wellbore models have been presented over the last seventy years. Those models take into account the mechanical, chemical, hydraulic, or thermal effects between the drilling fluid and the formation, or couple two or more effects in a model. The time effect is also taken into account in some of the models. In most of the models, 1) the rock is treated as a continuous material 2) borehole failure is normally based on single initial failure point. However, rocks are discontinuous materials formed under an environment of complex stresses. Also, it is likely an overstatement to say that instability occurs when only one point fails. Even if a small group of grains disconnects from wellbore, the well can still be stable. While somewhat irregular (noncircular) the wellbore can still accommodate casing and installation of down-hole equipment. Therefore, this paper also introduces a new approach based on grain-scale discrete element modeling (DEM) to mimic the realistic rock condition. The rock is modeled as an assembly of numerous grains bonded by cement-like materials, and pore spaces are formed between the small grains. The dynamics of rock grains is simulated and tracked on a computer. Micro cracks (because of tensile or shear failure) occurring at stress-concentrated zones and their coalescence to form macro fractures are tracked. The borehole shape and size are tracked with time.

This paper is useful to those who wish to understand the main limitations of the conventional models and the potential usefulness of a new approach based on a discrete element method (DEM). The approach presented in this paper can also help engineers understand how wellbore instability (post-initial failure) develops with time.

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