Selecting, arranging, and operating solids-removal equipment to optimize the drilling-fluid cleaning process require accurate information about the intrinsic nature of the cuttings (drilled solids) and solid additives.
1. Nature of Drilled Solids and Solid Additives
Particle size, density, shape, and concentration affect virtually every piece of equipment used to separate drilled solids and/or weighting material from the drilling fluid. In the theoretically perfect well, drilled solids reach the surface with the same shape and size that they had when they were created at the drill bit. In reality, cuttings are degraded by physicochemical interaction with the fluid and mechanical interaction with other cuttings, the drill string, and the well bore.
Cuttings hydrate, become soft, and disperse in aqueous fluids and even in invert-emulsion NAFs with excessively low salinity. On the other hand, cuttings may become more brittle than the formation in highwater- phase-salinity NAFs and can be mechanically degraded by the action of the rotating drill string inside the well bore, particularly in deviated, slim-hole, and extended-reach wells. Cuttings are also degraded by mechanical action. Abrasion of the cuttings by other cuttings, by the steel tubulars, and by the walls of the well bore can lead to rapid comminution of the particles. In summary, cuttings recovered at the surface are generally smaller and frequently more rounded than at their moment of creation, depending on the nature of the cuttings themselves and the drilling fluid. Accordingly, the particle size distribution (PSD) seen at the flowline can range from near-original cutting size to submicron-sized particles.
The surface properties of the drilled solids and weighting material, such as stickiness and amount of adsorbed mud, also can play major roles in the efficiency of a rig solids-separation device. Large, dense particles are the easiest to separate using shale shakers, hydrocyclones, and centrifuges, and the differences in size and density among different types of particles must be well known to design the appropriate piece(s) of equipment for the separation process. Indeed, the optimum efficiency window for each device depends on all four of these parameters: concentration, size, shape, and density. Furthermore, since removal of some— but not all—particles is desirable, characterization of each and every type of particle with respect to those variables is critical. LCM serves as a good example of this. Usually economics dictates removal of large LCM along with cuttings using scalping shakers. Sometimes, however, large concentrations of LCM are required—as much as 50 to 100 ppb— in the circulating system. In such cases, a separate scalping shaker may be installed ahead of the regular battery of shakers to remove the LCM and recycle it back into the mud system [Ali et al ].
2 Physical Properties of Solids in Drilling Fluids
Particle sizes in drilling fluids are classified as shown in Table 2.2 [M-I llc]. PSD is measured using various techniques. For particles >45 mm diameter, wet sieve analysis is simple, accurate, and fast [API RP 13C]. Alternative methods include the American Petroleum Institute (API) sand test, which provides a measure of the total amount of particles >74 mm diameter [API RP 13B1]; microscopic image analysis, whose size limit at the low end depends on the type of microscope employed; sedimentation, for particles 0.5 to 44 mm diameter [Darley & Gray]; Coulter counter, for particles 0.4 to 1200 mm diameter [API RP 13C]; and laser granulometry (also called laser light scattering, diffraction analysis, and Fraunhoffer diffraction), for particles 1 to 700 mm diameter [API RP 13C].
With the Coulter counter, the solids are suspended in a weak electrolyte solution and drawn through a small aperture separating two electrodes, between which a voltage is applied and current flows. As each particle passes through the aperture, it displaces an equal volume of conducting fluid and the impedance between the electrodes increases in a manner that can be correlated with the particle size.
Laser granulometry is rapidly gaining popularity as the method of choice for PSD measurements. In laser granulometry, the solids are dispersed in a transparent liquid and suspended by circulation, if necessary, the slurry may be viscosified with a material like xanthan gum polymer. A beam of light is shone on a sample of the suspended solids, and the intensity versus the angle of the scattered light is analyzed to determine the PSD. Freshwater is used to disperse inert materials like barite. The drilling-fluid base fluid (saltwater, etc.) is used for all other solids (e.g., drilled solids). The sample is diluted to make it sufficiently transparent to obtain accurate readings. The instrument fits the particles to a spherical model to generate a histogram of number of particles versus particle size. For particles that do not fit a spherical model very
well, such as plates or rods, calibration with a known PSD of those particles is preferable. Laser granulometry results also depend on the step size chosen—for instance, for step sizes of 5 mm versus 10 mm, using 5 mm will generate two peaks that are each about half the size of a peak generated using 10 mm. If the step size chosen is too large, the reported PSD may miss some of the fine structure of the spectrum; on the other hand, a step size that is too small will generate excessive oscillations and the spectrum will appear to be very ‘‘noisy.’’
Figure 2.6 shows typical laser granulometry PSD curves for feed, liquid effluent (overflow), and solids discharge (underflow) for a field mud processed by a centrifuge. The efficiency of the device may be calculated from these data. PSD curves for each piece of equipment allow a more detailed understanding of what the device is doing and whether the equipment is optimally configured for the fluid being processed. There are calls within the drilling industry now to make laser granulometers standard equipment on critical wells, particularly high temperature/ high pressure and extended-reach wells, where the equivalent circulating density (ECD) is likely to exceed the fracture gradient.
Adsorbed mud, as well as swelling and/or dispersion of the cuttings resulting from interaction with the mud, can affect the PSD of cuttings. Comminution (degradation) of drilled solids has a strong impact on rheology and the total amount of mud adsorbed on the solids, inasmuch as the forces between the particles and the amount of mud adsorbed on them is proportional to their surface area. Drilled solids generally become comminuted while in the well bore and mud pits, as well as during passage through solids-control devices, through abrasion and chemical interaction with the base fluid. Surface-area increase due to comminution is proportional to the decrease in particle diameter. For example, breaking up a 100-mm-diameter particle into 5-mm particles will increase the total surface area by a factor of 20. Consequently, the
amount of mud adsorbed on the solids in this case will increase roughly by a factor of 20 as a direct result of comminution. Low-shear-rate viscosity will also increase significantly with this increase in total surface area, though the relationship is not strictly linear.
Average particle density, also termed ‘‘true’’ or ‘‘intrinsic’’ density, has units of weight/volume. Specific gravity (SG) is the ratio of the density of the material in question to the density of water and is, of course, unitless. Since the density of water is close to 1 g/cm3 over a wide range of temperature and pressure, the values reported for average particle density and SG are essentially the same. Average particle density should not be confused with bulk density (as often given in the Material Safety Data Sheet), which is a measure of the density of the packaged material. The LeChatelier flask method is the standard for determination of the average particle density of barite and hematite [API 13A]. In this method, one measures the incremental change in volume accompanying the addition of 100 g of the weighting material to a precisely measured volume of kerosene. A more convenient, but less accurate, method for determining density of weighting materials is the air pycnometer
[API RP 13I]. Another convenient method, which is rapidly gaining in popularity, is the stereopycnometer [API RP 13I]. In contrast to the air pycnometer, the stereopycnometer is as accurate as the LeChatelier flask method, and it can be used to measure density of any kind of particulate, including drilled cuttings. The stereopycnometer employs Archimedes’ principle of fluid displacement (helium, in this case) and the technique of gas expansion [API RP 13I].
Particle shape, partly described by the so-called aspect ratio, is not fully quantifiable. Neither is it possible to incorporate the broad spectrum of particle shapes in drilling fluids into particle-separation mathematical models. At this time, an old simple classification scheme is still used: granule, flake, fiber [Wright].
Concentration of particles in a mud is generally measured using aretort (an automatic portable still). The volume percentage of lowgravity solids (% LGS)—clays, sand, and salt—and the volume percentage of high-gravity solids (% HGS)—weighting material—are calculated from the measured volumes of the distilled fluids and the density of the mud. The calculated % LGS serves as an indicator of the effectiveness of the solids-control equipment on the rig. Occasionally both the overflow
and underflow solids from each piece of equipment are reported. Unfortunately, inaccuracies inherent in the retort, combined with the common practice of using an average density for the LGS and an average density for the HGS, can generate considerable uncertainties in % LGS. This is particularly true for low-density fluids, where a slight error in reading the retort will generate misleading—usually high— values of % LGS. However, if the calculated % LGS is below the target
limit (typically 5%), and dilution is not considered excessive, the solidscontrol equipment is considered to be efficient. (Calculation of solidsremoval
efficiency is presented in Chapter 15 on Dilution.) It should be noted that % LGS includes any clays that are purposefully added to the drilling fluid (for viscosity and filtration control). If a fluid contains 20 lb/bbl bentonite, it already contains 2.2% LGS before it acquires any drilled cuttings; in such fluids, the target limit of % LGS may be somewhat higher than 5%.
Concentration of particles affects mud properties, particularly rheology, which in turn affect the amount of residual mud on drilled solids. For noninteracting particles, the Einstein equation describes the effect of particles on the effective viscosity, μe, fairly well:
where μ is the viscosity of the liquid medium and μ is the volume fraction of the inert solids. This effect is independent of particle size, as long as the particles are suspended in the medium. The Einstein equation represents the effect of ‘‘inert’’ particles like barite fairly well, at least until their concentration becomes so great that the particles begin interacting with each other. Most particles in drilling fluids, however, have strong surface charges and interact strongly with each other at any concentration. Since all particles are enveloped by drilling fluid, attractive forces among strongly interacting particles (e.g., clays, drilled solids) generally lead to higher internal friction, hence a higher viscosity. Repulsive forces, such as are generated in muds containing high levels of lignosulfonate or other anionic polymers, will tend to exhibit lower viscosity. Because of these attractive/repulsive forces, strongly interacting particles generate an internal ‘‘structure’’ in a fluid, which manifests
itself most clearly at low fluid velocities. Thus, in most drilling fluids, significant deviations from the Einstein equation are the norm, as is discussed in more detail in the next section.
The viscosity of a drilling fluid must be maintained within certain limits to optimize the efficiency of a drilling operation: low-shear-rate viscosity needs to be high enough to transport cuttings out of the hole efficiently and minimize barite sag, while high-shear-rate viscosity needs to be as low as possible to maintain pumpability, remove cuttings from beneath the bit, and minimize ECD of the mud. In an analogous manner, for efficient operation of solids-control devices, the concentration
of drilled solids needs to be maintained within a specified range [Amoco]. The upper end (e.g., 5%) is particularly important, but the lower end (typically higher than 0%) is also important for most devices.
Stickiness of cuttings and its effect on the performance of solidscontrol devices are only beginning to be investigated. Various properties of the mud, along with lithology of the formation being drilled, are known to affect stickiness of particles, especially cuttings [Bradford et al.]. Generally, separation efficiency of any solids-control device decreases with increasing stickiness of the cuttings. Rheology, shale inhibition potential, and lubricity of the mud all can affect the stickiness of particles, which in turn affects performance of solids-control equipment, especially shale shakers. To handle gumbo (very sticky cuttings consisting primarily of young water-sensitive shale), operators will install special gumbo removal devices ahead of the shakers. To aid in conveyance of gumbo, the shaker screens are kept wet with a fine mist and
angled horizontally or downward toward the discharge end. Gumbo cannot be transported effectively on a linear motion or balanced elliptical
motion screen that is sloped upward.