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International Journal of Engineering Trends and Technology (IJETT) Volume 5 Number 1- Nov 2013

ISSN: 2231-5381 Page 10

The Utilization Of Underbalanced Drilling
Technology May Minimize Tight Gas Reservoir
Formation Damage: A Review Study
Ribwar Abdulrahman
Faculty of Engineering, Koya University, Kurdistan region. Iraq

Abstract as many oil & gas reservoirs are depleting every day
around worldwide, the demand for fossil fuel has been dramatic.
Therefore, the international oil & gas companies & operators are
trying to find out new hydrocarbons energy sources for instance,
heavy oil and tight sand gas. Nowadays, tight gas reservoirs are
one of the most attractive new energy sources for oil & gas
companies and researchers as well. Tight gas reservoir refers to
hydrocarbons reservoir that content unconventional gas. Tight
gas reservoir usually possesses low permeability rocks that make
the gas tricky and difficult to produce (Noeth, 2004). Tight gas
reservoirs are distributed in many part of the world for example,
Australia, Asia and North America. However, the largest
accumulations of it are in two major regions, North America and
Russia. Tight gas formation is usually damaged due to its low
permeable rocks. In fact, hydrocarbons formation damage is a
huge operation and economic problems that cause several
operation problems. Therefore, many researchers are attempting
to find out new technics to drill and produce tight gas and avoid
tight gas formation damage for example, adopting especial
drilling fluids, utilizing horizontal drilling technology and
underbalanced drilling technology (Bennion & Thomas, 1994).
Therefore, this review study aims to study the advantages of
underbalanced drilling in minimizing formation damage in tight
gas reservoir during drilling operations. It focused on the
benefits of underbalanced technology in tight gas reservoir for
instance, it inspected the features of underbalanced drilling in
tight gas reservoir drilling and the potential factors that may
cause tight gas formation damage during the well drilling
operation. The study finds out that the underbalanced drilling
may more beneficial than conventional drilling operation in tight
gas reservoir. However, the underbalanced drilling could also
cause some potential technical problems in tight gas wells.

Keywords Tight gas, formation damage, drilling technology,
underbalanced drilling, low permeable reservoirs.


To keep step with the growth of world oil & gas markets,
international oil and gas companies have a duty to find
economically solutions for accessing new resources. One
current potential target of research is the development of
unconventional gas reserves such as tight gas. Although the
volumes in place are distributed all over the world, the largest
accumulations occur in two major regions, North America and
Russia (Bennion & Thomas, 1994). Tight gas reservoirs
formed by rocks of low porosity and low permeability, tight
gas is a prospect which, to date, remains underexploited
outside the United States (Noeth, 2004). Tight gas reservoirs
is compared with the middle or high-permeability gas
Reservoirs by many researchers, the low-permeability and
tight sandstone gas reservoirs possess the characteristics of
small pore throat, high water wettability, strong capillary
imbibition effect. Therefore, tight gas reservoir is very easy to
be damaged during well drilling operation & completion
(Feng et al., 2009).
The tight gas reservoirs contain large accumulations of
hydrocarbons that could be produced by adopting new oil &
gas technics. In order to meet global energy demand, oil & gas
companies try to access these gas reservoirs and drill deeper
and harder to get at hydrocarbon reservoirs requires. However,
tight gas reservoir drilling & operation may consider quite
costly in recent era. Therefore, it needs more investigation &
researches to make it faceable & more economical. Tight gas
reservoir usually possesses low permeable rocks that make the
gas tricky and difficult to produce. In other word, tight gas
reservoir has a formation with permeability of 0.1 millidarcy
(mD). As Ghosh & Prelas (2009) defined low-permeability
(tight) reservoirs as "Having permeability less than 0.1
millidarcies". Moreover, tight gas reservoir is also called tight
gas sands because the reservoir rocks is usually sandstone
rocks (Bennion & Thomas, 1994).Therefore, tight gas
reservoir may consider a difficult energy source.

Figure (1): Thin section of a conventional sandstone reservoir
(Pinedale, 2013).

International Journal of Engineering Trends and Technology (IJETT) Volume 5 Number 1- Nov 2013

ISSN: 2231-5381 Page 11

Figure (2): Shows a thin section of tight gas reservoir
(Pinedale, 2013).

A. Formation damage is considered one of the most obvious
oil & gas well drilling problems. It has been described by
many researchers & experts as undesirable operation and
economic problemthat can occur during the various oil
and gas wells operations for instance, well drilling, well
completion and work over operation. As Civan (2001)
indicated that Formation damage is an undeniable
operational and economic problem that occur during
various phases of oil and gas recovery fromsubsurface
reservoir. Formation damage requires several engineering
work for instance, damage assessment, damage control &
damage remediation. Indeed, formation damage may lead
to many technical problems for example, permeability
impairment, decrease of well performance, loss of
circulation & skin damage. Formation damage may be
occurred during well drilling, hydraulic fracturing and
work over operation. As a result, in all well operation
phases formation damage will reduce the permeability of
hydrocarbons formation. In tight gas reservoir formation
damage causes reduction in productivity of low permeable
gas reservoirs. Tight gas reservoirs are quite susceptible to
formation damage. Because of the nature of its low
permeable rocks. Therefore, tight gas revoir incur much
more excessive formation damage than other reservoir
types. These damage mechanisms predominantly fall into
the following three major classifications (Bennion &
Thomas, 1994):
- Mechanical formation damage mechanisms
- Chemical formation damage mechanisms
- Biological formation damage mechanism
B. This review study will focus on this phenomenon in case of
formation damage in tight gas reservoirs during well
drilling and completion stages. As mentioned earlier, tight
gas reservoir possess low permeable rocks specially in
well formation area that make it quite sensitive to any
damage. Defiantly, formation damage will cause huge
technical problem for the gas well. In fact, one of the most
successful solutions to prevent formation damaged
problems is adopting underbalanced drilling. Technology
rather than conventional drilling operation. Underbalanced
drilling, or UBD, is a procedure used to drill oil and gas
wells where the pressure in the wellbore is kept lower than
the fluid pressure in the formation being drilled. When the
well is being drilled, formation fluid flows into the
wellbore. Underbalanced drilling will reduce the drilling
time & make the process more economical. Moreover,
UBD has many advantages for example, increases the rate
of penetration & prevent formation damage problems.
Underbalanced drilling (UBD) allowed the hole section to
be drilled 40% faster than planned, with instantaneous
ROP increases of 2-1/2 times (Waterford, 2013). Drilling
of tight gas reservoir formation is quite sensitive and it
might be damaged easily because the tight gas reservoir
possesses low permeable rocks. This is due to the
generally unforgiving nature of low permeability rock in
that we can tolerate only a minimal amount of damage,
due to the already inherently low permeability, and to
the fact that low permeability formations generally
experience much more severe damage than their higher
permeability counterparts because it has a high degree
of sensitivity to capillary effects. As mentioned earlier,
underbalanced drilling is defined as drilling operations
where the drilling fluid pressure in the borehole is less
than the pore pressure in the formation rock in the open-
hole section. By using light drilling fluids, the driller
intentionally keeps the borehole pressure frombalancing
the formation pore fluid pressure. The light fluids used in
underbalanced drilling are usually air, gas, foam, and
aerated water. However, oil, water, and even weighted
mud can be used for underbalanced drilling in areas where
formation pore pressure gradients are higher than the
hydrostatic pressure gradient of water.
In conventional drilling or overbalanced, drilling fluid is
pumped into the well at pressure higher than in the
reservoir. This keeps the oil and gas in the reservoir during
drilling, but the high pressure can damage the rock around
the wellbore. Underbalanced drilling a type of managed
pressure drilling uses lighter fluids or gases so pressure is
lower than in the reservoir so that fluids can enter the well
shaft (Civan, 2001). This prevents damage to the reservoir
rock and allows oil and gas to flow freely, increasing
production. Drilling induced formation damage
becomes more of an issue when open hole non-fractured
completions are contemplated (Bennion & Thomas, 1994).
The low permeability gas reservoirs, these types of
completions are generally only successful if a large
surface area of the formation can be accessed, for
example, in a horizontal well, a large vertical pay zone
with a conventional well, or an open hole completion
in a shorter but naturally micro zone of the formation
(Bennion & Thomas, 1994). The physical invasion of
International Journal of Engineering Trends and Technology (IJETT) Volume 5 Number 1- Nov 2013

ISSN: 2231-5381 Page 12

artificial solids may occur during well drilling,
completion, work over or kill treatments if operating in
hydrostatically overbalanced conditions. Due to the very
small pore throats normally associated with low
permeability gas reservoirs, any significant depth of
invasion of mud solids into the rock is not normally
observed (unless fractures or extremely small solids,
which can sometimes be generated by PDC bits, are
present) (Bennion & Thomas, 1994). Once again, this is
usually only a concern in situations where open hole
completions are contemplated due to the shallow
nature of the damage. Indeed, the effects of formation
damage in tight gas reservoirs are varying in the deferent
well operation stages. However, many researchers
indicated that the drilling stage may face the majority of
this damage. Moreover, the degree of formation damage
during drilling process may be related with the type of
well drilling for example, directional, underbalanced and
overbalanced drilling. In fact, in conventional drilling mud
is used in order to clean the borehole fromdrilling cuts
and supporting the hydraulic pressure inside the wellbore
(Bennion & Thomas, 1994). However, mud solid
invitation may occur and damaging the formation. In
general these physical invasions of artificial and natural
solid particulars occur during overbalanced drilling
conditions. Therefore, it seems that the adopting of
underbalanced drilling may consider more successful
operation than overbalanced drilling in tight gas reservoirs.
In conclusion, this study is attempted to revise & describe
the tight gas reservoir features & properties. Moreover, it
described the most obvious technical problems that
associated with tight gas reservoir drilling & operation
problems for example, formation damage. It could be
argued that the formation damage is considered the most
obvious technical problems during tight gas well drilling,
work over and production. However, the majority of
formation damage problems in tight gas wells could be
occurred during drilling operation and it cause by
overbalanced drilling operation due to low permeability of
these reservoirs. Therefore, it could be argued that the
adopting of overbalanced drilling in tight gas wells is not
successful and cause several technical & economic
problems. However, the adopting of underbalanced
drilling technology may consider more successful &
economical to achieve well drilling operation. Moreover,
underbalanced drilling technology in tight gas reservoir is
also poses more benefits for instance, reduce drilling time
& operating cost, increase the rate of penetration and
prevents many other technical problems (Weatherford,


1- Sheila Noeth (2004) Economics of Petroleum
Production: A Compendium. Huston: multi-science
2- Bennion, D. &Thomas, F. (2000) 'Low Permeability
Gas Reservoirs and Formation Damage -Tricks and
Traps'. Gas technology symposium. Alberta, 3 April.
Alberta: SPE, pp. 1/1-1/9.
3- Pinedale (2013) Tight Gas Reservoirs. [Image]
Available at:
(Accessed: 2 September 2013).
4- Feng, Z., Hongming, T. & Yingfeng, M. (2009)
'Damage evaluation for water-based underbalanced
drilling in low-permeability and tight sandstone gas
DEVELOPMENT. 36(1), p.p 113-119.
5- Ghosh, T. & Prelas, M. (2009) Energy Resources and
Systems. Columbia: Springer.
6- Civan, F. (2001) Reservoir Formation Damage.
Burlington: Gulf professional publishing.
7- Weatherford (2013) Underbalanced Drilling
Operation Enables Successful Performance. Available
at: Accessed: (12 September 2013).