Drilling (from a bottom supported rig) for the Surface Casing and Encountering Gas

When penetrated from a platform or a jack-up, shallow gas reservoirs have the potential of being more hazardous. Since the conductor almost reaches the floor of the rig, any kick products discharge into the hazardous zone directly.

To direct the flow overboard, the diverter will close automatically when a shallow gas flow occurs. During a period of stress, the diverter system’s reliability is questionable which is why failure should always be considered.

If a restriction forms in the diverter line, a hazardous situation quickly develops on a bottom supported rig. Around the seabed’s casing, gas can actually broach as a result of the pressure build-up. Whenever this occurs, the risk of the seabed becoming fluidized increases and therefore so does the risk of a rapid reduction in spudcan resistance.

Shallow gas encountered on a jack up rig (Ref – officerofthewatch.com)

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Drilling with a Riser from a Floating Rig for the Surface Casing and Encountering Gas

When in shallow offshore environments, the formation in which the conductor is set is normally weak, which means it struggles to contain the pressure that occurs during a gas kick. To avoid an underground blowout, the well should be diverted when a kick is detected in these circumstances. This should also prevent gas reaching the conductor shoe.

Whenever a situation demands a riser for drilling, when drilling for the surface casing, Company Policy will dictate that subsea dump valves and an annular preventer are installed at the mudline. Additionally, the surface should have a normal diverter system.

Thanks to extensive experience, we know that shallow gas blowouts cannot be controlled with current diverter systems alone. Instead, the annular preventer and subsea dump valves can be used at the mudline to control the shallow gas flows at the seabed. Once these are installed, the next step should be to unlatch the LMRP or pin connector before then winching off location (no downwind, only up current).

Prior to spud, a contingency plan should be considered with the Drilling Contractor so three main procedures have been covered;

  • Winching the rig from location
  • Shallow gas flow
  • Any failure in major components of the riser, diverter, or BOP system

All issues and considerations for the contingency plan can be discussed at the pre-spud meeting. If ever the subsea system fails, the surface diverter system will act as a back-up. Furthermore, the surface diverter system can also be a useful feature for diverting gas in the riser (above the stack).

While the surface hole is open, certain precautions should be taken and these are listed below;

  • Mud should always be kept on site; enough to fill the hole volume twice over.
  • Moorings should allow, after the rig is moored, the rig to be winched some distance away from the plume (around 400 feet is recommended). Only if practical, and after the surface casting is set, the chain stoppers can be applied. Also, the windlasses should remain on their brakes.
  • If sudden losses occur, facilities need to be available to allow the annulus to be filled rapidly from the surface.
  • To prevent the invasion of voids, hatches should be secured and this should prevent inflammable gas and even downflooding when a loss of heel or buoyancy causes a reduction in the freeboard.
  • In the drillstring, a float valve should always be run.
  • The annulus shouldn’t become overloaded with cuttings so care must be taken to prevent this, because this can cause liberated gas and losses and therefore the possibility of unloading the annulus.
  • While tripping, the hole should remain full and so care must also be taken to monitor this.

What if the well starts to flow?

If this occurs, the following steps may be useful as a guide;

  • Start by opening the subsea dump valves and then close the annular preventer – this will allow the gas to vent at the seabed.
  • Pump seawater or mud at the maximum rate as an attempt to control the well, assuming there’s no danger to the rig or any personnel nearby. If there is danger to either, consider shearing the pipe or dropping the drillstring. Additionally, winch the rig to a safe position after unlatching the pin connector or LMRP.
  • If the subsea diverter system happens to fail, there’s still the option of unlatching the pin connector/LMRP or to divert at the surface; therefore, venting the gas at the wellhead. Although diverting at the surface isn’t recommended, it can become necessary at times and the process starts by maintaining maximum pump rate. Then, space out ensuring that the lower kelly cock is above the rotary table before then closing the shaker valve, opening the diverter lines, and closing the diverter element; the returns should then be diverted overboard. The upwind diverter line should also be closed. From here, all non-essential machinery and equipment should be shut down and this reduces the risk of ignition; as a precaution, deploy firehoses beneath the rig floor. Finally, get ready to unlatch the LMRP or pin connector and winch safely.
  • If the situation is steadily getting worse and a loss of control is looking likely, consider shearing the pipe or dropping the drillstring. Once again, winch the rig to safety after releasing the LMRP or pin connector.


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.

Shallow Hazard while Drilling Without a Riser (from a floating rig) and Encountering Gas

According to many company policies, unless circumstances and conditions apply, as stated in the Drilling Policy and Guidelines Manual, the surface hole should be drilled riserless. By doing this, it’s possible to eliminate the most common cause of blowouts in a shallow and pressured gas reservoir (most importantly, the loss of hydrostatic head). Of course, there will still be a risk of penetrating an overpressured reservoir so there must always be a contingency plan in place. Prior to stud, the operator and the drilling contractor must also together on the plan and it needs to include;

  • Common procedure when winching the rig off location
  • Common procedure when a shallow gas flow occurs

Normally, the pre-spud meeting will be the ideal time and place to discuss contingency plans. A 10-degree cone of low-density water is normally produced after a gas blowout in open water and there will also be a discharge of highly-flammable gas. The current and water depth will decide the intensity of the blowout with greater water depth leading to more dispersed water from the plume. When a current is active, the result would be a plume away from the rig.

West Vanguard Blowout

West Vanguard Shallow Gas Blowout

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Introduction to Shallow Gas Well Control

This is the introduction to shallow gas well control which will briefly describe the overview of shallow gas and some related information. We have few articles regarding this topics and we will separate into small parts for better understanding. Let’s get started.

Whenever offshore shallow gas accumulations are seen, they’re normally linked with down sand lenses enveloped by mudstones. Typically, lenses will be permeable, unconsolidated, and highly-porous when found in shallow depths. Although normally flat, thin, and normally pressured, many have previously encountered over-pressured lenses. When at this depth, one cause of over pressure is inclination of the lens; this can therefore increase both the lens height and pore pressure gradient (top of the lens).

Although rare, shallow gas can also be linked with vuggy limestone or buried reefs; these have the risk of being infinitely permeable and incredibly porous.

Shallow gas kick

Shallow gas kick

When drilling in the top-hole section, resulting kicks from shallow sands can be dangerous with short casing strings; there are many case histories to show this. Charged formations can also cause kicks from shallow sands and this itself can be a result of improper abandonments, previous underground blowouts, casing leaks, injection operations, and poor cement jobs.

The example of the shallow gas blow out is below.

Sedco 700 Shallow Gas Blow Out 6 June 2009

 When it comes to shallow gas kicks, the most common cause is a loss of hydrostatic head and this can be a result of two common problems;

  • Expanding drilled gas unloading the annulus
  • Poor hole fill while tripping
  • Losses through the overloading of the annulus with cuttings

In order to minimize the risk of inducing a shallow gas flow, we recommend some general precautions including restricting the rate of penetration, drilling a pilot hole, drilling riserless, and always monitoring the hole.

High flow rates of gas are often produced by shallow gas flows; high quantities of rocks from the formation are also possible. This is particularly true after long sections of sand have been exposed. When a shallow gas flow occurs, the representative responsible should contact a senior contract representative; all non-essential individuals should be evacuated from the rig. This eventuality should always be addressed, and there should be an implementation of the contractor’s emergency evacuation. Continue reading