Open-hole horizontal wells are increasingly used to improve reservoir exploitation and production rates by targeting specific zones and maximizing reservoir exposure. The drilling fluid of choice in many of these wells is "oil based" due to enhanced drilling rates with minimized friction as well as improved wellbore stability. However, in horizontal wells requiring gravel packs, the industry in general has been reluctant to use OB reservoir drilling fluids (RDF) for various reasons. Because the gravel pack (GP) carrier fluids that have been successfully used to date are all water-based and the use of OB-RDF would necessitate displacement of open hole to WB fluids prior to GP, the practice has been to switch to WB-RDF once in the reservoir section. This was due to concerns as to adverse fluid-fluid interactions resulting in sludging and difficulty in maintaining filtercake integrity while displacing OB-RDF in the open hole, leading to complex fluid management issues. An additional factor has been the perception that WB-RDF filtercakes are easier to remove should it be necessary, since most commonly used cleanup chemicals are water-based and the weighting/bridging agents used in the RDF are also water-wet if the RDF is water-based.
In this paper, we present results from experiments conducted with OB-RDFs in the presence of gravel packs. We investigate two scenarios: (1) the gravel pack carrier fluid is water-based, and (2) the gravel-pack carrier fluid is oil-based. In the first case, provided that no sludges are formed during displacement to water-based fluids, the retained permeabilities are comparable to or better than those obtained with WB-RDFs, although values lower than 0.04% can be expected in the presence of sludging. Another issue relevant to gravel packing wells drilled with OB-RDFs is the yield strength of their filtercakes in comparison to WB-RDFs. It is found through yield stress measurements of various RDF cakes that OB-RDFs have several orders of magnitude lower yield strength than their WB counterparts. This finding is consistent with the reported lower flow initiation pressures for OB-RDFs, and indicates that cake erosion during gravel packing is more likely with OB-RDFs. In order to optimize the sequence of fluids to obtain a good displacement of the RDF at field scale, we use a purpose-built numerical simulator. This simulator is a fluids mechanics code that can accurately calculate displacement fronts in field conditions: eccentric deviated annulus with as many fluids as necessary. Its main use is to detect unstable displacements such as channeling of the displacing fluid on the wide side of the annulus or slumping in horizontal portions. Furthermore, we provide data on a new oil-based gravel pack carrier fluid that can be used to eliminate fluid incompatibility and fluid management issues associated with the switch from OB to WB fluids. The laboratory and large-scale yard test results are presented, addressing critical considerations for oil-based GP carrier fluids. It is found that such emulsion systems can thicken or break (depending on the emulsifier concentration) at high shear rates unless the emulsion is made at the highest shear that it will be exposed to. The implications of these results on field practices are discussed along with recommendations on avoiding damage in gravel packed wells drilled with oil-based RDFs.