Well stimulation

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The well stimulation ship Bigorange XVIII being repaired in Frederikshavn, Denmark

Well stimulation is a well intervention performed on an oil or gas well to increase production by improving the flow of hydrocarbons from the reservoir into the well bore. It may be done using a well stimulator structure or using off shore ships / drilling vessels, also known as "Well stimulation vessels".[1][2]

Cleaning the formation[edit]

The assortment of drilling fluid pumped down the well during drilling and completion can often cause damage to the surrounding formation by entering the reservoir rock and blocking the pore throats (the channels in the rock throughout which the reservoir fluids flow). Similarly, the act of perforating can have a similar effect by jetting debris into the perforation channels. Both these situations reduce the permeability in the near well bore area and so reduce the flow of fluids into the well bore.

A simple and safe solution is to pump diluted acid mixtures from surface into the well to dissolve the offending material.[3][4] Once dissolved, permeability should be restored and the reservoir fluids will flow into the well bore, cleaning up what is left of the damaging material. After initial completion, it is common to use minimal amounts of formic acid to clean up any mud and skin damage. In this situation, the process is loosely referred to as "well stimulation." Oftentimes, special interest groups that oppose oil and gas production refer to the process as "acidization," which is actually the use of acids in high volume and high pressure to stimulate oil production.

In more serious cases, pumping from surface is insufficient as it does not target any particular location downhole and reduces the chances of the chemical retaining its effectiveness when it gets there. In these cases, it is necessary to spot the chemical directly at its target through the use of coiled tubing. Coiled tubing is run in hole with a jetting tool on the end. When the tool is at its target, the chemical is pumping through the pipe and is jetted directly onto the damaged area. This can be more effective than pumping from surface, though it is much more expensive, and accuracy is dependent on knowing the location of the damage.

Extending the perforation tunnels and fractures[edit]

In cased hole completions, perforations are intended to create a hole through the steel casing so that the reservoir can be produced. The holes are typically formed by shaped explosives that perforate the casing and create a fractured hole into the reservoir rock for a short distance. In many cases, the tunnels created by the perforation guns do not provide enough surface area and it becomes desirable to create more area in contact with the wellbore.

In some cases, more area is needed if the reservoir is of low permeability. In other cases, damage caused by drilling and completion operations can be severe enough that the perforation tunnel does not effectively penetrate through the damaged volume near the bore. This means that the ability of fluids to flow into the existing perforation tunnels is too limited. One method to achieve more stimulation is by carrying out a hydraulic fracture treatment through the perforations.

If permeability is naturally low, then as fluid is drained from the immediate area, replacement fluid may not flow into the void sufficiently quickly to make up for the voidage and so the pressure drops. The well cannot then flow at a rate sufficient to make production economic. In this case, extending a hydraulic fracture deeper into the reservoir will allow higher production rates to be achieved.

Propellant stimulations can be a very economical way to clean up nearbore damage. Propellants are a low-explosive material that generate large amounts of gas downhole very rapidly. The gas pressure builds in the wellbore, increasing tension in the rock until it becomes greater than the breakdown pressure of the formation. Fracture length and fracture pattern are highly dependent on the type of propellant stimulation tool that is used.

Hydraulic fracturing[edit]

Schematic depiction of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas


Hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, hydrofracking, and hydrofracturing, is a well stimulation technique involving the fracturing of bedrock formations by a pressurized liquid. The process involves the high-pressure injection of "fracking fluid" (primarily water, containing sand or other proppants suspended with the aid of thickening agents) into a wellbore to create cracks in the deep-rock formations through which natural gas, petroleum, and brine will flow more freely. When the hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, small grains of hydraulic fracturing proppants (either sand or aluminium oxide) hold the fractures open.[5]

Hydraulic fracturing began as an experiment in 1947,[6] and the first commercially successful application followed in 1950. As of 2012, 2.5 million "frac jobs" had been performed worldwide on oil and gas wells, over one million of those within the U.S.[7][8] Such treatment is generally necessary to achieve adequate flow rates in shale gas, tight gas, tight oil, and coal seam gas wells.[9] Some hydraulic fractures can form naturally in certain veins or dikes.[10] Drilling and hydraulic fracturing have made the United States a major crude oil exporter as of 2019,[11] but leakage of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, has dramatically increased.[12] Increased oil and gas production from the decade-long fracking boom has led to lower prices for consumers, with near-record lows of the share of household income going to energy expenditures.[13][14]

Hydraulic fracturing is highly controversial.[15] Its proponents advocate the economic benefits of more extensively accessible hydrocarbons,[16][17] as well as replacing coal with natural gas, which burns more cleanly and emits less carbon dioxide (CO2).[18][19] Opponents of fracking argue that these are outweighed by the environmental impacts, which include groundwater and surface water contamination,[20] noise and air pollution, and the triggering of earthquakes, along with the resulting hazards to public health and the environment.[21][22] Research has determined that human health is affected,[23][24] including confirmation of chemical, physical, and psychosocial hazards such as pregnancy and birth outcomes, migraine headaches, chronic rhinosinusitis, severe fatigue, asthma exacerbations and psychological stress.[25] Adherence to regulation and safety procedures are required to avoid further negative impacts.[26]

There is considerable uncertainty about the scale of methane leakage associated with hydraulic fracturing, and even some evidence that leakage may cancel out the greenhouse gas emissions benefits of natural gas relative to other fossil fuels. For example, a report by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) highlights this issue, focusing on the leakage rate in Pennsylvania during extensive testing and analysis was found to be approximately 10%, or over five times the reported figures.[27] This leakage rate is considered representative of the hydraulic fracturing industry in the US generally. EDF has recently announced a satellite mission to further locate and measure methane emissions.[28]

Increases in seismic activity following hydraulic fracturing along dormant or previously unknown faults are sometimes caused by the deep-injection disposal of hydraulic fracturing flowback (a byproduct of hydraulically fractured wells),[29] and produced formation brine (a byproduct of both fractured and nonfractured oil and gas wells).[30] For these reasons, hydraulic fracturing is under international scrutiny, restricted in some countries, and banned altogether in others.[31][32][33] The European Union is drafting regulations that would permit the controlled application of hydraulic fracturing.[34]

Lifting the well[edit]

Some stimulation techniques do not necessarily mean altering the permeability outside the well bore. Sometimes they involve making it easier for fluids to flow up the well bore having already entered. Gas lift is sometimes considered a form of stimulation, particularly when it is only used for starting up the well and shut off during steady state operation. More commonly though, lifting as a stimulation refers to trying to lift out heavy liquids that have accumulated at the bottom, either through water entry from the formation or through chemicals injected from surface such as scale inhibitors and methanol (hydrate inhibitor). These liquids sit at the bottom of the well as can act as a weight holding back the flow of reservoir fluids, essentially acting to kill the well. They can be removed by circulating nitrogen using coiled tubing.

Well stimulation vessels[edit]

In more recent times, due to the temporary nature of well stimulation, specialized drilling ships known as "well stimulation vessels" have been used for deep sea well stimulation.[35][36] Offshore companies such as Norshore and Schlumberger operate a fleet of such specialized ships.[1] Also known as "Multipurpose drilling vessels", these ships replace the conventional drilling oil rig, thus resulting in considerable savings in cost.[37] Some WSV's such as the "Norshore Atlantic" are able to perform multiple tasks including riserless operation in the shallow- and mid-water segments, drilling complete oil wells and performing complete subsea decommissioning (P&A). They are also able to perform pre-drilling of the top hole sections in deep water and well intervention operations with workover risers.[38][39]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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