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Geomechanical analysis in real time

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In situations in which predrill analysis reveals high risk but has a large uncertainty, it is possible to mitigate that risk by carrying out geomechanical analysis in real time. Performing real time assessment requires acquisition of a variety of data while drilling.


Annular pressure measurement using a Pressure While Drilling (PWD) tool is one key component of real-time stability analysis because knowledge of the hydrostatic and circulating pressures is required to:

  • Determine the magnitude of kicks
  • Identify borehole ballooning events
  • Monitor hole cleaning

The measurement can also be used to show where transient pressure events such as surging and breaking the gel strength of the mud exceed fracture pressure, or where swabbing reduces the pressure below the pore or collapse pressure of the wellbore. Information for use in constraining pore pressure and rock strength is provided by:

Direct pore-pressure measurements while drilling can provide critical data to calibrate pore-pressure predictions in permeable formations. Extended leakoff tests are strongly recommended. Even observations of cuttings shapes and volume can be important to identify the amount and cause of wellbore failure. Because the relationship between rock strength and log data is often poorly known, penetrometer tests and velocity measurements on cuttings are useful both to quantify the strength parameters and relate them to a measurement that can be obtained while drilling. However, the single measurement that would contribute the most to wellbore stability analysis is a wellbore image log, from which breakout characteristics can be determined.

Fig. 1 shows examples of displays of real-time wellbore stability pressure plots. On the left is a display as a function of time, with collapse and lost-circulation pressures predicted using the geomechanical model superimposed on the real-time and recorded data from a PWD tool. As the well was being drilled, a mud-loss episode occurred, which the analysis indicates occurred because the downhole Equivalent Circulating Density (ECD) exceeded the fracture gradient. This indicated that the model was fairly accurate at that depth. Deeper in the hole, data recorded while drilling indicated that an adjustment needed to be made to the geomechanical model. Fig. 1.b shows a plot of predicted mud weights as a function of depth on which the real-time PWD pressure data have been superimposed. In this case, the ECD is high enough to avoid drilling problems, but it appears that the static mud weight is very close to the minimum required to avoid excessive instability. Based on this observation, high cuttings volumes should be expected, and one recommendation would be to take extra care to avoid high running speeds and accelerations that might swab the hole.

Evaluating problems and drilling options

A key component of real-time analysis is to provide an understanding of the origin of problems to make the right adjustment to drilling parameters to compensate. For example, when drilling through shales with inhibitive (chemically nonreactive) mud, fluid leakage may change the mud characteristics over time. When would an adjustment to the mud properties be required? A comparison of stability risk vs. mud chemistry could help make that decision. Or what happens if the rock strength suddenly decreases due to crossing from relatively strong shale into one that is much weaker? To handle this case, a crossplot of breakout width as a function of Co and mud weight can be used to determine the amount of mud weight adjustment required.

Figs. 2 and 3 show a hypothetical case of using geomechanical decision tools to help evaluate various drilling options when crossing from a strong shale into one that is substantially weaker and highly reactive. In Fig. 2, it is apparent for this hypothetical case that to maintain the same degree of stability if Co decreases from 4,000 psi to 2,000 psi, it is necessary to increase the mud weight to a value that exceeds the fracture gradient. This makes it impossible to continue drilling, and the options are either to stop and set casing or to investigate other possibilities.

Plots such as Fig. 3 that shows breakout width as a function of mud weight and mud activity, can reveal whether it is possible to compensate for changes in strength by changing mud chemistry. Since breakout width in this particular shale is a strong function of mud activity, to compensate for the change in strength without changing mud weight it is only necessary to decrease the mud activity from its current value of 0.8 to a value of 0.6. This would achieve the desired result with no change in mud weight. It is also possible, of course, to maintain safe drilling conditions using a combination of a mud activity reduction and a mud weight increase.

Advances in the application of geomechanics to drilling

The information presented are only an introduction to the theory and application of geomechanics to drilling. It is a very young field, and rapid advances are being made. One example of this is a new approach that has been developed to model the near-wellbore behavior of fractured rock. Another is the application of uncertainty analyses to pore-pressure prediction. At the same time, new engineering techniques are being developed that provide solutions to geomechanical problems. For example, the same analysis as presented in Fig. 4[1] can be carried out for dual-gradient drilling, to quantify the potential of the technique to extend casing seats to greater depths in deep water. It is important to realize that the same geomechanical models that help improve drilling efficiency can be shared among drillers, geologists, and reservoir engineers and used to help improve operations throughout the life of a field. In fact, the best use of geomechanics is to develop initial models as early as possible and to use these models in every phase of field development, updating and refining the models as new information is obtained.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Moos, D., Peska, P., Finkbeiner, T. et al. 2003. Comprehensive wellbore stability analysis utilizing Quantitative Risk Assessment. J. Pet. Sci. Eng. 38 (3–4): 97-109.

See also

Building geomechanical models


Noteworthy papers in OnePetro

Michael S. B. 2001. Geomechanical Analysis and Decision Analysis for Mitigating Compaction Related Casing Damage, SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, 30 September-3 October. 71695-MS.

L.J.N. Guimarães, I.F. Gomes, and J.P.V. Fernandes, 2009. Influence of Mechanical Constitutive Model on the Coupled Hydro Geomechanical Analysis of Fault Reactivation, SPE Reservoir Simulation Symposium, 2-4 February. 119168-MS.

External links

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Fersheed Mody, Ph.D., P.E.