One method of sustaining and optimizing a well through its lifetime is underbalance perforating. When hydrostatic pressure inside the wellbore at the zone of interest is kept at less than the expected reservoir pressure, the damaged and crushed zones across the critical matrix at the reservoir that cause low permeability in the perforation tunnels will be immediately cleaned up as soon as communication to the reservoir is established upon perforating. In an operation offshore Malaysia, underbalance perforating was performed in injection wells, rather than producing wells, to optimize injection rates. The operation employed a fiber-optic firing head deployed on a fiber-optic coiled tubing (CT) real-time telemetry system.

The most common and effective method to achieve underbalance is displacing the well to a lighter fluid, less than the water gradient, prior to perforating. Subhydrostatic wells with low bottomhole reservoir pressure pose challenges to achieving the underbalance state. For these wells, well fluids must be removed via nitrogen displacement and the completion perforated with a nitrogen cushion. After underbalance is reached, the well is ideally ready to be perforated as it is, without introduction of additional fluids.

In the offshore Malaysia field, water injector wells had been perforated overbalance because the objective of the wells was injection and not production. However, the injection rate of these water injectors started to decline below the optimum design rate only after a short period, thus affecting the production rate of the neighboring oil and gas producers. Two pilot wells were designed to be perforated underbalance, achieving immediate cleanup after firing. The challenge was to perform an underbalance perforation in a low-pressure, depleted reservoir, using nitrogen as a displacement fluid. After this condition was fulfilled with a 500-psi differential, the well was to be perforated without any liquid introduction to activate the guns, which restricted the use of pressure- and ball-activated firing heads.

The fiber-optic-enabled firing head deployed on CT with real-time telemetry system is considered the most efficient intervention approach to overcome the challenges set. The new firing head will allow the perforating command to be given through an optical signal instantaneously at depth with no disturbance to the well fluid dynamics. This technique will also optimize an online rig operation where displacement, perforation, and nitrogen lift contingency can be performed in one CT run, hence reducing operating costs. Since the initial startup of the two pilot wells, the injection rates of the wells are at optimum, and the performance gained from the two wells has increased overall production in the field. Real-time underbalance perforating is thus seen as the way forward not only to enhance producing wells, but also to boost injectors as well, prolonging the life of an offshore oilfield.

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