Best Practices for Drilling Coal Formations in Long Tangent Wells Using Water-Based Mud

Drilling through coal formations, especially in long tangent wellbores, presents a unique set of challenges for the oil and gas industry therefore we need best practices for drilling coal formations. Coal seams are notorious for their potential instability, abnormal formation pressures, and propensity for swelling and sloughing when exposed to water-based drilling fluids. These challenges can lead to various drilling problems, such as stuck pipe incidents, lost circulation events, and well control situations, ultimately compromising the safety and efficiency of drilling operations.

Coal over shale shakers

Coal over shale shakers

When drilling extended reach or horizontal wells with tangent sections, the complexities associated with coal formations are further amplified. The increased wellbore exposure to these challenging formations, coupled with the difficulties in maintaining adequate hole cleaning and wellbore stability in long tangent intervals, necessitates a comprehensive approach to mitigate risks and ensure successful drilling operations.

Using water-based muds for drilling coal formations introduces additional considerations, as these fluids can interact with the reactive shale and coal layers, potentially exacerbating wellbore instability issues. Consequently, careful mud design, composition, and treatment are paramount to maintain the desired mud properties and mitigate formation-related challenges.

The best practices for drilling coal formations in long tangent wells using water-based mud systems are listed below;

Mud Weight and Density Control:

Coal formations are often associated with abnormal formation pressures, either overpressured or underpressured. Maintaining the correct mud weight and density is crucial to prevent kicks (influx of formation fluids) or lost circulation events. Regular formation pressure integrity tests (FIT) and careful pore pressure/fracture gradient analysis should be performed to optimize the mud weight.

Mud Composition and Inhibition:

Coal formations are prone to swelling and sloughing when exposed to water-based muds. The mud should be properly inhibited with potassium chloride (KCl) or other shale inhibitors to minimize wellbore instability. Maintaining a slightly alkaline pH (8.5-9.5) can also help mitigate shale/coal instability.

Hydraulics and Hole Cleaning:

Maintaining effective hole cleaning is of paramount importance in long tangent sections to prevent the accumulation of formation cuttings, which can lead to potential wellbore instability issues and compromised drilling performance.

To enhance cuttings removal and mitigate associated risks, operators should consider employing high-viscosity pills or performing wiper trips, which involve circulating a viscous fluid or specialized pills to displace and lift cuttings from the wellbore effectively.

Drilling Fluids Monitoring and Treatment:

Coal formations can release methane, carbon dioxide, and other gases, which can affect the mud properties and potentially cause kick situations. Regular monitoring of gas levels, mud weight, and rheological properties is essential. Appropriate solids control equipment and treatments (e.g., degassers, defoamers) may be necessary to maintain the desired mud properties.

Wellbore Stability and Casing Design:

Coal formations are often associated with unstable wellbore conditions due to their swelling and sloughing tendencies. Proper casing design, including casing setting depths, mud weights, and potential use of expandable casing or liners, should be considered to maintain wellbore stability.

Bit Selection and Drilling Parameters:

Coal formations can be abrasive and challenging to drill, leading to increased bit wear and potential stuck pipe situations. Selecting the appropriate bit type (e.g., PDC, impreg, or roller cone) and optimizing drilling parameters (WOB, RPM, ROP) is crucial for efficient and safe drilling operations.

Real-time monitoring while drilling:

Utilizing formation evaluation tools while drilling is crucial to identify coal seams and other potential hazards, allowing for timely adjustments to mud properties and drilling parameters to mitigate risks proactively.

Continuous monitoring of key drilling parameters, such as torque and drag, is essential to detect early signs of wellbore instability. Prompt corrective actions, such as modifying mud properties, adjusting drilling parameters, or implementing contingency plans, should be taken to prevent further deterioration of wellbore conditions and potential stuck pipe incidents.

Team collaboration:

Successful drilling of coal formations in long tangent wells necessitates close collaboration among the drilling team, mud engineers, and geologists. The drilling team executes operations while working closely with mud engineers to design inhibitive muds that control coal swelling and maintain proper rheology. Geologists provide critical insights into formation characteristics, hazards, and pore pressures to guide drilling parameters and casing design. This multidisciplinary teamwork enables informed decision-making, proactive adjustments, and timely implementation of contingency plans for safe and efficient operations.

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