Treatment of Prodigious Reactive Shale in the Permian Basin Using High-Performance Drilling Fluid: A Successful Case Study

Almostafa Alhadi, Musaab Magzoub

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

1 Citation (Scopus)


In the Permian basin, Spraberry Trend is one of the formations that markedly contribute to the unconventional shale production in the U.S. lately. Unusual shale reactivity was encountered while drilling several horizontal wells, leading to wellbore instability issues. Consequently, shakers’ screens blockage increased the mud losses and drilling time, leading to an increased non-productive time (NPT). This paper addresses the challenges and causes of the formation instability issues resulted from shale interaction with the used drilling fluid and presents the timely actions taken to mitigate such problems. During the drilling operation, several rock samples were collected at different depth intervals from the shale shaker. Rock samples were analyzed to identify the clay and minerals contents in the formations. The collected samples were first cleaned to remove the mud, dried, ground, and then characterized by an X-ray diffraction test (XRD) and microscopic imaging. After identifying the possible reasons for the wellbore instability, several timely actions were taken to mitigate this issue. These actions include: 1) increasing the emulsion stability, 2) increasing the water phase salinity (WPS), 3) decreasing the water phase volume, 4) adding wetting agent, 5) using wider screens for the shaker, and 6) controlling drilling parameters such as weight on bit and rotational speed. Afterward, wellbore stability, well control problem indicators, and drilling fluid properties, especially rheology, were closely monitored to identify any subsequent or unusual events. The geological and mineralogy studies show that the drilled formation contains high smectite and illite clay content, up to 49%, which was believed to be the main reason for the unusual shale reactivity. Replacing the existing screens (200 API) with wider screens (160 and 140 API) showed an insignificant effect in mitigating the screens blockage. The adopted method of reducing the rate of penetration (ROP) and increasing the circulation time helped significantly alleviate the screens blockage by reducing the cuttings production and giving more time for hole cleaning. Furthermore, the optimal hole cleaning successfully increased the formation's stability. Adding a wetting agent to the drilling mud did not impact the cuttings aggregations; however, it led to a decrease in the rheological properties; thus, adding more concentration of the viscosifier was required to maintain the fluid rheology. Increasing the water phase salinity (WPS) to over 230k ppm and the emulsion stability to over 700 mV was considered the backbone of the treatment plan that significantly resolved the issue by inhibiting the clay. Eventually, the critical considerations were pointed out.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSociety of Petroleum Engineers - SPE International Conference on Oilfield Chemistry, OCC 2021
PublisherSociety of Petroleum Engineers (SPE)
ISBN (Electronic)9781613997468
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes
Event2021 SPE International Conference on Oilfield Chemistry, OCC 2021 - The Woodlands, United States
Duration: Dec 6 2021Dec 7 2021

Publication series

NameProceedings - SPE International Symposium on Oilfield Chemistry
ISSN (Print)1046-1779


Conference2021 SPE International Conference on Oilfield Chemistry, OCC 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityThe Woodlands


  • Drilling
  • Formation stability
  • Hole cleaning
  • Reactive shale
  • Unconventional shale

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology


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