The primary goal of operators and drilling contractors is to safely, economically, and efficiently drill more holes in less time to enable completion and production operations to begin. However, unplanned events that introduce unexpected and costly delays often occur during the drilling phase. These unplanned events must be dealt with in a timely and effective manner to enable drilling operations to continue.

One event type common to drilling operations is the need to set openhole cement plugs for plug back, kickoff, or curing loss-circulation intervals. The time and cost associated with spotting cement plugs directly impacts well operations and is often classified as nonproductive time (NPT) by operators, especially if initial plugs fail to achieve the purpose for which they were set. Placing cement plugs in today’s complex wellbores and the increased costs associated with these operations necessitates the use of plug designs and procedures that have been designed to reduce risk and utilize new technologies and documented processes to achieve the desired results. Reviewing current practices for deploying new technology helps to optimize overall plug cementing operations in both vertical and extended-reach wellbores.

However, there are a number of challenges associated with setting cement plugs in an openhole well. Most importantly, drillpipe can become differentially stuck across a lost-circulation zone, and the plug can become contaminated with the intermixing of the mud, resulting in inadequate isolation or insufficient strength.

An innovative tool (Rogers et al. 2004) has been designed to meet the challenges associated with setting cement plugs. The tool connects sacrificial/drillable tubing to the drillpipe and allows an operator to trip into the well and spot the cement plug across the problematic zone. Once cement is placed, the tool is disengaged and the operator trips the drillpipe out of the hole, leaving the cement plug and tubing undisturbed. The sacrificial tubing can be drillable; therefore, the operator can drill through the plug or commence other operations, as required.

This paper discusses the challenges operators face when setting cement plugs and how risks and NPT are reduced with this innovative plug-setting process and tool. Well examples are documented from case histories to illustrate the success and lessons learned.

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