The need to increase productivity reducing drilling formation damage favours the use of underbalanced drilling technology. The main idea is to drill with equivalent circulating densities (ECD) below the formation pore pressure and to avoid the contact between the drilling fluid and the formation. In highly depleted reservoirs, pore pressures can be very low. Therefore, extremely low density fluids such as foams are used to achieve circulating densities below pore pressure. In such cases, the induced modification of the in situ stresses has to be supported mainly by the rock, with low contribution of the drilling fluid pressure. In that sense, the application of underbalanced drilling depends, among other factors, on the mechanical stability of the drilled formation. In general, poorly consolidated depleted formations are not suited for that technology. This paper presents the wellbore stability simulation performed in order to establish the feasibility of using underbalanced drilling in highly depleted reservoirs in western Venezuela. The in situ stress field and the mechanical properties of the formation were obtained. Pore pressure as low as 800 psi at 5500 ft (2.7 lb/gal equivalent fluid density) was measured. The finite difference method and an elastoplastic constitutive model was used to obtain the new stress, deformation and pore pressure distribution. The undrained condition (immediately after the wellbore is drilled) as well as the drained condition were analysed. The analysis showed that horizontal wells could be drilled in an underbalanced condition with low instability risk. Following the recommendations, four horizontal wells were drilled in underbalanced conditions. Values as low as 2.0 lb/gal ECD were used to drill the wells and no wellbore instability problems were reported. Production tests showed an enormous increment in well productivity index in comparison with conventional overbalanced drilling.

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