The ability of a fluid to flow adequately into the formation during gravel-pack treatments is critical to achieving a good pack. Recent studies have indicated "fish-eyes" and/or "microgels" present in many polymer gelled carrier fluids will plug pore throats, leading to impaired leakoff and causing formation damage. Intensive manipulation of the polymer gelled fluid using shear and filter devices will help remove the particles, but it adds to the cost of the treatment in terms of equipment and manpower. Excessive shear will degrade the polymer leading to poor gravel suspension, while too little shear will cause filtration problems.

A gelled carrier fluid using a viscoelastic surfactant system has been found to leak off very efficiently to the formation, and cause no formation damage, without the use of shear/filter devices. Viscoelastic surfactant-base gelled fluids develop viscosity because of the association of surfactant molecules into large rod-shaped aggregates. There is no hydration of polymer involved, so fish-eyes and microgels will not be formed in the viscoelastic fluid. A surfactant-base system having a yield point allows the gravel carrying properties to be much better than fluids gelled with conventional polymer systems (hydroxyethylcellulose [HEC]). For example, a gravel carrier fluid gelled with 80 lb HEC/1,000 gal has a viscosity of about 400 cp at 170 sec-1; a viscoelastic surfactant-base system having only one-half the viscosity still flows into cores about four times more efficiently than the HEC-base fluid. The rheology, leakoff, formation damage and mixing properties of a viscoelastic, surfactant-base, gravel-pack carrier fluid are discussed.

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