Hydro-Pressured Shale Causes Stuck Pipe

Hydro-pressured shale is a common problem in some areas where shale become unstable under period of time. With mud weight in the wellbore higher than formation pressure, the pore pressure of shale is always charged by hydrostatic pressure from drilling mud.

Charged pressure due to hydrostatic pressure

Shale is charged by hydrostatic pressure.

When the well has been drilled for a period of time, shale formations become unstable due to charged pressure and finally shale breaks apart and falls down into the hole.

Shale becomes unstable.

Shale becomes unstable.

Then, a drill string gets stuck due to hydro-pressured shale which has accumulated in the annulus.

Pipe becomes stuck by unstable shale.

Pipe becomes stuck by unstable shale.

This process is time dependent just like shale instability. It may take days before the stuck pipe situation will occur.

Warning signs of hydro-pressured shale:

• Torque and drag increase.

• Over pull may be observed.

• Observe shale caving in on shale shakers

 Indications when you stuck due to hydro-pressured shale:

• When it happens, the hole will be either partially bridged off or packed off; therefore, circulate is restricted or impossible in some cases.

• It could happen while tripping and drilling.

What should you do for this situation?

1. Attempt to circulate with low pressure (300-400 psi). Do not use high pump pressure because the annulus will be packed harder and you will not be able to free the pipe anymore.

2. If you are drilling or POOH, apply the maximum allowable torque and jar down with the maximum trip load.

3. If you are tripping in a hole, jar up with the maximum trip load without applying any torque.

4. Attempt until the pipe is freed and circulate to clean the wellbore.

Preventive actions:

1. Use oil based mud instead of water based mud because oil will not react with shale.

2. Minimize surge pressure and equivalent circulating density (ECD) in the wellbore.

3. Keep mud properties in good shape. Avoid drilling and circulating with thick mud because it creates additional surge pressure.


John Mitchell Drilbert Engineering, 2002. Trouble-Free Drilling Volume 1: Stuck Pipe Prevention. Edition. Drilbert Engineering Inc.

Fanarco.net. 1999. Stuck Pipe Prevention Self-Learning Course. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.fanarco.net/books/drilling/stuck-pipe.pdf. [Accessed 21 June 2016

Steve Devereux, 2012. Drilling Technology in Nontechnical Language, 2d Ed.. 2 Edition. PennWell Corp.

Understand About Formation Pressure

Formation pressure is the pressure of fluid contained in pore space of rock and there are 3 categories of the formation pressure which are normal pressure, abnormal pressure and subnormal pressure.

1. Normal Pressure: Normal pressure is the hydrostatic of water column from the surface to the subsurface formation.  It can be simply stated that normal pressure is equal to hydrostatic pressure gradient of water in pore spaces of  formations on each area. The concentration of salt in water affects the normal pressure. Higher salt concentration in water, higher specific gravity of water will be. Therefore, the normal pressure can vary from slightly salt 0.433 psi/ft (8.33 PPG) to highly concentrated salt 0.478 psi/ft (9.2 PPG) based on salt concentration in water. Table 1 demonstrates the average normal pressure gradient based on several areas.

Table 1 - Average Normal Pressure Gradient from Some Areas

Table 1 – Average Normal Pressure Gradient from Some Areas

2. Abnormal Pressure: The abnormal pressure is the pressure greater than the pressure column of water (normal pressure). Generally, the abnormal pressure zones are good reservoir which oil companies are looking for. This kind of pressure has the highest potential leading to a well control problem.

3. Subnormal Pressure: The subnormal pressure is the pressure that is less than normal pressure and it  possibly causes lost circulation problems.

Looking at the drawing below (Figure 1), it demonstrates the comparison of formation pressure when drilling into each pressure regime. At the same True Vertical Depth (TVD), subnormal pressure shows least pressure in comparison to others. However, abnormal pressure gives the highest pressure at the same level of TVD.

Figure 1 - Simplified Formation Pressure Illustration

Figure 1 – Simplified Formation Pressure Illustration


Coleman, S. (2018). Well Control Quiz Online. [online] Well Control Quiz Online – Test Your Well Control Knowledge for Free. Available at: http://wellcontrolquiz.com/ [Accessed 2 Aug. 2018].

Cormack, D. (2007). An introduction to well control calculations for drilling operations. 1st ed. Texas: Springer.

Crumpton, H. (2010). Well Control for Completions and Interventions. 1st ed. Texas: Gulf Publishing.

Grace, R. (2003). Blowout and well control handbook [recurso electrónico]. 1st ed. Paises Bajos: Gulf Professional Pub.

Grace, R. and Cudd, B. (1994). Advanced blowout & well control. 1st ed. Houston: Gulf Publishing Company.

Watson, D., Brittenham, T. and Moore, P. (2003). Advanced well control. 1st ed. Richardson, Tex.: Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Pressure and Force Relationship and Its Application

Relationship of pressure, force and cross sectional area is one of the most commonly used concepts in oilfield and we will review this concept and its application. Pressure is force divided by cross section area (see an image below).

Pressure = Force ÷ Area

We normally use pressure in many units such as psi (pound per square inch), Pascal, kg/m3, etc.

In drilling operation, we mostly use circular area so area can be calculated by this formula;

Area = π x (radius)2 or π x (diameter)2÷ 4

Where  π= 22/7 = 3.143, so we can write a formula above in easy way

Area = 3.143 x (radius)2 or 0.7857 x (diameter)2

Pressure calculation based on the relationship above is shown below;

Pressure = force ÷ (3.143 x (radius)2) or force ÷ (0.7857 x (diameter)2)

Example : For this example, we will use the oilfield unit so force is in lb, diameter is in square inch (in2), and diameter is in inch.

Let’s try to apply pressure and force relationship in drilling operation. We plan to bullhead well and we still have drill string in the hole.

Drill string weight in the air = 45,000 lb
Mud weight in hole = 12.0 ppg
Bit size = 8.5”
Drill pipe size = 5″

What is the maximum pressure at surface you can apply before drilling string will be hydraulically pushed out due to bull heading pressure?


Buoyancy factor = (65.5 – 12.0) ÷ 65.5 = 0.817

Buoyed weight of drill string = 45,000 x 0.817 = 36,765 lb

Area = 0.7857 x (diameter)2= 0.7857 x (8.5)2= 56.77 square inch

Pressure = 36,765 lb ÷ 56.77 square inch= 647 psi.

In order to perform safe bullheading operation with drill string in hole, you need to apply bullheading pressure less than 647 psi on surface.

Bull Heading

Bull Heading

Ref books: Lapeyrouse, N.J., 2002. Formulas and calculations for drilling, production and workover, Boston: Gulf Professional publishing.

Bourgoyne, A.J.T., Chenevert , M.E. & Millheim, K.K., 1986. SPE Textbook Series, Volume 2: Applied Drilling Engineering, Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Mitchell, R.F., Miska, S. & Aadny, B.S., 2011. Fundamentals of drilling engineering, Richardson, TX: Society of Petroleum Engineers.