Drilling through 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.

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. This new preventative approach with water-based mud has been applied in several fields, while drilling through a series of highly depleted sands and has proven to be very effective in preventing differential sticking and mud losses. Although operationally successful, the geomechanics and the fluid design resulting in these successes are not well understood. A geomechanical analysis indicates that two mechanisms might contribute to the success:

  1. The near wellbore region is turned into a non-porous rock because the particles in the new mud tend to block the pore spaces. The theory of poroelasticity indicates that fracturing pressure is increased by reducing the difference between mud pressure and the pore pressure immediately behind the borehole, which for non-porous rock is zero.

  2. Because of this blockage, it is possible that the near wellbore rock strength is increased. This strengthening effect decreases tangential stress and increases fracturing pressure.

The geomechanics model can be used to define the operational limits of various mud weights with proper drilling fluids design. This model would enable a consistent and focused approach on drilling fluid design to effectively mitigate massive fluid losses associated with drilling through severely depleted sands or in narrow pore pressure/fracture gradient environments.


Lost circulation has plagued drilling operations throughout history. Generally the types of formations that are prone to lost returns are cavernous and vugular, naturally occurring or induced fractures, unconsolidated sands, highly permeable and highly depleted tight sands. Well known lost circulation control techniques such as bridging, gelling and cementing are typically used, with varying degrees of success. These remedies can sometimes complicate the problems associated with lost returns. Attempts to cure lost circulation can be difficult and costly, especially when considering the associated non-productive time.

The lost circulation 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 compressivefailure in the adjacent shales. For depleted sands, the best way to manage lost circulation is to prevent rather than cure the problem. This can be achieved using a combination of a geomechanics and a fluids approach. A literature survey indicates that significant work had been done in this area [1–13]. Lost prevention materials (LPM) were developed to increase fracture initiation or 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 applied[4].

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