The drilling industry has always relied on cement as a primary barrier. Although the cement represents about 5% of the well cost, when squeezes are required, cementing averages 17% of the well cost. Only 50% of the squeezes achieve the objective of establishing a barrier for well integrity. A little bit more than half of the failures can be attributed to operational challenges (pump failure, cement contamination), or design oversights (cement recipe, centralizers). However there are still cement failures with perfect design and field execution. These failures typically exhibit some of the following characteristics: high deviation, high pressure, washouts, natural fractures, long casing section, heterogeneous sands.

For these specific conditions, it is beneficial to add an assurance that would maintain the integrity of the well even in case of bad cement. Some of the assurances used include port collars, external casing packers (ECP) and swell packers. Port collars allow a squeeze above the first stage cement, while ECP serves as a base for a second stage cement, and swell packers provides a baffle for sustained casing pressure. A more recent technology is the well annular barrier that can form a combined barrier with cement, and can also be used as a stand-alone primary barrier.

The well annular barrier is a metal-expandable barrier that is expanded with hydraulic pressure. It is full bore, highly customizable, and qualified to ISO 14310. The metallurgy allows the packer to shape fit into either an open hole with irregular geometry or inside a casing to preclude annular pressure build up by giving a life-of-well reliable seal. The well annular barrier has been deployed in a variety of wells to achieve well integrity with and without cement, protect the B-annulus from sustained casing pressure, or serve as a barrier between reservoirs that cannot be commingled.

This paper performs a review of the technologies used for cement assurance, their advantages and disadvantages. Case histories of well annular barrier deployments are presented, including a case where the well annular barrier was used as a stand-alone well barrier element without the need for dispensation. This paper also discusses how the well annular barrier fits into the regulatory requirements for well construction providing to the drilling industry an alternative to cement for the purpose of well integrity.

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