The Khafji and Ahmadi shales in Saudi Arabia are highly dispersive, tectonically stressed formations and tend to result in wellbore instability after prolonged exposure to conventional water-based drilling fluid systems. These time-sensitive formations can cause sloughing shale, packing off, extreme over pull, back reaming, stuck pipe, and in some instances bit and stabilizer accretion, resulting in non-productive time (NPT) to operators. Some off-set wells experienced lost time of up to 30 days, and after failing to continue with conventional water-based drilling fluid, the operator had to plug back and use oil-based drilling fluid to finish the wells.

Historically, a standard KCl/polymer/asphalt system was used to drill these shale sections, but due to related NPT and an extensive evaluation program planned for a candidate well, the need for a more robust fluid was identified. Oil- or synthetic-based drilling fluids were not desired due to logistical and environmental concerns. In this challenging well, the operator planned to cut five cores across a series of formations to complete the geological studies previously hindered due to shale-related wellbore problems. These demanding objectives and the notorious history of the field, required a novel solution that could control the formations while maintaining an excellent environmental and logistical footprint.

This paper presents details of the successful application of a new high-performance water-based drilling fluid (HPWDF) system using a unique triple inhibition approach to stabilize troublesome zones. In this new system, a proprietary polyamine-based shale hydration suppressant, a unique low-molecular-weight encapsulator, and a co-polymeric nano-sized pore-sealant additive worked in synergy to achieve oil-based fluid performance. In the field application, the system exceeded the operator's expectations, with no fluid-related downtime and successful execution of five coring runs. After coring and logging, casing was run and cemented smoothly, even after 42 days of wellbore exposure. With similar formations drilled across the Middle East, this solution has the potential to be used as an environmentally-friendly alternative to oil-based fluids in the Middle East.

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