Cementing in wellbores with low fracture gradients can be challenging due to the risk of formation breakdowns when exceeding maximum allowable equivalent circulation densities (ECDs). Consequences include severe losses and formation damage, and insufficient placement of the cement slurry that necessitates time-consuming and costly remedial cementing to ensure zonal isolation.

In recent cementing operations in Spain, the formation integrity test (FIT) of the open hole section indicated that the formation would have been broken down and losses occurred based on calculated equivalent circulating densities (ECDs) if the cement slurry had been pumped in a single-stage to achieve the operator's top-of-cement goal. As a solution to this problem, cementing was performed in stages, using specialty tools. However, during these operations, the stage tool did not work properly, wasting rig time and resulting in unsuccessful cement placement.

To overcome this issue, the operator decided to cement the section in a single stage, preceded by a novel aqueous spacer system that aids in strengthening weak formations and controlling circulation losses. Before the operation, laboratory testing was conducted to ensure the spacer system's performance in weak, porous formations and better understand its mechanism. This paper will outline the laboratory testing, modeling and engineering design that preceded this successful single stage cementing job in a horizontal wellbore, with a final ECD calculated to be 0.12 g/cm3 (1.00 lb/gal) higher than the FIT-estimated figure.

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