Fracture analysis for lost circulation and wellbore strengthening




Feng, Yongcun

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Lost circulation is the partial or complete loss of drilling fluid into a formation. It is among the major non-productive time events in drilling operations. Most of the lost circulation events are fracture initiation and propagation problems, occurring when fluid pressure in a wellbore is high enough to create fractures in a formation. Wellbore strengthening is a common method to prevent or remedy lost circulation problems. Although a number of successful field applications have been reported, the fundamental mechanisms of wellbore strengthening are still not fully understood. There is still a lack of functional models in the drilling industry that can sufficiently describe fracture behavior in lost circulation events and wellbore strengthening. A finite-element framework was first developed to simulate lost circulation while drilling. Fluid circulation in the well and fracture propagation in the formation were coupled to predict dynamic fluid loss and fracture geometry evolution in lost circulation events. The model provides a novel way to simulate fluid loss during drilling when the boundary condition at the fracture mouth is neither a constant flowrate nor a constant pressure, but rather a dynamic wellbore pressure. There are two common wellbore strengthening treatments, namely, preventive treatments based on plastering wellbore wall with mudcake before fractures occur and remedial treatments based on bridging/plugging lost circulation fractures. For preventive treatments, an analytical solution and a numerical finite-element model were developed to investigate the role of mudcake. Transient effects of mudcake buildup and permeability change on wellbore stress were analyzed. For remedial treatments, an analytical solution and a finite-element model were also proposed to model fracture bridging. The analytical solution directly predicts fracture pressure change before and after fracture bridging; while the finite-element model provides detailed local stress and displacement information in remedial wellbore strengthening treatments. In this dissertation, a systematic study on lost circulation and wellbore strengthening was performed. The models developed and analyses conducted in this dissertation present a useful step towards understanding of the fundamentals of lost circulation and wellbore strengthening, and provide improved guidance for lost circulation prevention and remediation.


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