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Mechanical pipe sticking

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The causes of mechanical pipe sticking are inadequate removal of drilled cuttings from the annulus; borehole instabilities, such as hole caving, sloughing, or collapse; plastic shale or salt sections squeezing (creeping); and key seating.

Causes of mechanical pipe sticking

Drilled cuttings

Excessive drilled-cuttings accumulation in the annular space caused by improper cleaning of the hole can cause mechanical pipe sticking, particularly in directional-well drilling. The settling of a large amount of suspended cuttings to the bottom when the pump is shut down, or the downward sliding of a stationary-formed cuttings bed on the low side of a directional well can pack a bottomhole assembly (BHA), which causes pipe sticking. In directional-well drilling, a stationary cuttings bed may form on the low side of the borehole (see Fig. 1). If this condition exists while tripping out, it is very likely that pipe sticking will occur. This is why it is a common field practice to circulate bottom up several times with the drill bit off bottom to flush out any cuttings bed that may be present before making a trip. Increases in torque/drag, and sometimes in circulating drillpipe pressure, are indications of large accumulations of cuttings in the annulus and of potential pipe-sticking problems.

Borehole instability

The most troublesome borehole instability issues occur when drilling shale. Depending on mud composition and mud weight, shale can slough in or plastically flow inward, which causes mechanical pipe sticking. In all formation types, the use of a mud that is too low in weight can lead to the collapse of the hole, which can cause mechanical pipe sticking. Also, when drilling through salt that exhibits plastic behavior under overburden pressure, if mud weight is not high enough, the salt has the tendency of flowing inward, which causes mechanical pipe sticking. Indications of a potential pipe-sticking problem caused by borehole instability are:

  • A rise in circulating drillpipe pressure
  • An increase in torque
  • No fluid return to surface

Fig. 2 illustrates pipe sticking caused by wellbore instability.

Key seating

Key seating is a major cause of mechanical pipe sticking. The mechanics of key seating involve wearing a small hole (groove) into the side of a full-gauge hole. This groove is caused by the drillstring rotation with side force acting on it. Fig. 3 illustrates pipe sticking caused by key seating. This condition is created either in doglegs or in undetected ledges near washouts.

The lateral force that tends to push the pipe against the wall, which causes mechanical erosion and thus creates a key seat, is given by


where Fl is the lateral force, T is the tension in the drillstring just above the key-seat area, and ϴdl is the abrupt change in hole angle (commonly referred to as dogleg angle).

Generally, long bit runs can cause key seats, therefore, it is common practice to make wiper trips. Also, the use of stiffer BHAs tends to minimize severe dogleg occurrences. During tripping out of hole, a key-seat pipe-sticking problem is indicated when several stands of pipe have been pulled out, and then, the pipe is stuck.

Freeing mechanically stuck pipe

Freeing mechanically stuck pipe can be undertaken in a number of ways, depending on what caused the sticking. For example, if cuttings accumulation or hole sloughing is the suspected cause, then rotating and reciprocating the drillstring and increasing flow rate without exceeding the maximum allowed equivalent circulating density (ECD) is a possible remedy for freeing the pipe. If hole narrowing as a result of plastic shale is the cause, then an increase in mud weight may free the pipe. If hole narrowing as a result of salt is the cause, then circulating fresh water can free the pipe. If the pipe is stuck in a key-seat area, the most likely successful solution is backing off below the key seat and going back into the hole with an opener to drill out the key section. This will lead to a fishing operation to retrieve the fish. The decision on how long to continue attempting to free stuck pipe vs. back off, plug back, and then sidetrack is an economic issue that generally is addressed by the operating company.


See also

Stuck pipe

Differential-pressure pipe sticking


Noteworthy papers in OnePetro

External links