Traditionally, Oil Base Mud (OBM) has been used by a major operator to drill horizontal wells in the Magellan Strait, Argentina. The operator was faced with additional challenges when drilling an exploratory well due to environmental concerns in a highly sensitive area and evaluation problems related to the use of OBM. Significant advances in water based drilling fluid design in the recent years have allowed water-based drilling fluid performance to approach that of OBM. This presented the operator and drilling fluids supplier with the opportunity of evaluating the application of water base drilling fluid on this well. The planning stage included laboratory testing, review of historical data and an evaluation of experience with similar shales in the area. A high performance water base drilling fluid containing both clay and shale stabilizers, an ROP enhancer and sealing agents was selected to drill the well.

This paper presents the laboratory and field data generated during this project. The well was drilled through notoriously troublesome shales to total depth without the wellbore stability problems associated with more conventional water based muds. Gas kicks were controlled with no fluid solubility problems and the fluid exhibited excellent properties even when pressure parameters escalated higher than planned, requiring a higher mud density and high degree of temperature stability. The operator's expectations were met in this very difficult well including minimization of bit balling, near gauge hole and improved ROP in conjunction with optimum hydraulics.

The evidence gathered on this project shows that a properly designed water base mud is a viable alternative to OBM in areas where environmental restrictions and formation evaluation problems are a concern.

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