Fluid-shale compatibility testing is as old as the drilling fluid industry itself, and remains a highly relevant topic as drilling applications explore new, more complex territory. Incompatibilities of fluids with clay-rich shale formations can lead to a plethora of operational problems, ranging from minor dispersion and accretion issues to major stuck pipe and production impairment events. The nature of fluid-shale interactions has confounded scientists since the birth of the drilling fluid industry, and has led to a variety of different test methods and protocols, many now decades old. The question remains: what are the best, most representative fluid-shale compatibility tests to characterize fluid-shale interactions and avoid making costly mistakes based on misleading test results?
Historical fluid-shale compatibility tests are often severely limited by over-emphasizing the role of clay swelling behavior, by not paying attention to shale sample condition, and by not being specific with regard to the intended purpose. Test selection is often based on a superficial assessment of the "reactivity" of the shale, and results are indiscriminately applied whether the intended purpose is maintaining cuttings integrity, promoting borehole stability or avoiding reservoir incompatibility to name a few. This paper points out the various pitfalls and problems associated with conventional tests such as atmospheric swelling tests and capillary suction time tests, which still find wide-scale application in the oil and gas industry. A case is made to abandon such tests in future. New sets of tests are proposed that may overcome the drawbacks of the conventional tests. These tests are also conducted with a clear purpose in mind. For instance, to evaluate borehole stability, it is argued to forego traditional swelling tests and instead focus on triaxial failure testing, mud pressure transmission testing and borehole collapse testing. The latter can be accomplished with a novel, low-cost alternative to the downhole simulation cell test in the form of a modified thick walled cylinder test. This new test exposes cylindrical shale samples, confined under downhole temperature and pressure, to mud formulations at overbalance for a specified period of time and assesses the failure strength of the sample thereafter.
Recommendations for shale characterization and to investigate fluid shale interactions relevant to shale cuttings integrity, borehole stability and reservoir compatibility for conventional and unconventional reservoirs are given here. The tests are illustrated with representative results obtained for novel mud systems such as high-salinity fluids and muds containing nano-particles. Recommendations with respect to applying laboratory results to field operations are provided.