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SPE 84497

Balancing Act: Gulf of Mexico Sand Control Completions, Peak Rate Versus Risk of
Sand Control Failure
G. K. Wong, SPE, Shell E&P Company, P. S. Fair, SPE, Shell E&P Technology Company, K. F. Bland, SPE, Shell E&P
Company, and R. S. Sherwood, SPE, Shell E&P Company.

Copyright 2003, Society of Petroleum Engineers, Inc.

pressure drop and down-hole velocities and is integrated with
This paper was prepared for presentation at the 2003 SPE Annual Technical Conference and prudent surveillance. The method recommends several
Exhibition held in Denver, Colorado, U.S.A., 5–8 October 2003.
pressure transient analyses be taken, at increasing flow rate,
This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE Program Committee following review of
information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper, as
during the process of ramping up toward the peak rate, to help
presented, have not been reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to assess and diagnose the performance of the completion. This
correction by the author(s). The material, as presented, does not necessarily reflect any
position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its officers, or members. Papers presented at integrated assessment by direct measurement of completion
SPE meetings are subject to publication review by Editorial Committees of the Society of
Petroleum Engineers. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper
pressure drop and corresponding calculation of flowing
for commercial purposes without the written consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is velocity provides real time feedback of information on the
prohibited. Permission to reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300
words; illustrations may not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous performance of the completion during the ramp up process.
acknowledgment of where and by whom the paper was presented. Write Librarian, SPE, P.O.
Box 833836, Richardson, TX 75083-3836, U.S.A., fax 01-972-952-9435.
Using this direct and simple process, engineers can customize
the operating guidelines for each well so that less impaired
wells can be produced at higher rates and the more impaired
Abstract or higher risk wells are identified for remedial operations and
This paper outlines a general concept and develops a practical produced less aggressively.
well surveillance method to monitor and operate sand control This paper demonstrates the application of the proposed
completions that optimizes production without introducing concept and surveillance procedure, in reaching the peak rate,
extra risk of completion impairment and failure. The general for the cased-hole gravel pack completion. Three field
concept requires: (a) determining the sand control failure examples are provided to illustrate how engineers are able to
criteria that the surveillance method should be based on, (b) use standard pressure transient analyses and the proposed
establishing a direct link between the identified failure criteria simple method to assess the completion response to each
and pressure transient analysis information, and (c) validating additional choke increase and to optimize well productivity
the surveillance method. The proposed surveillance method during the ramp up process. This paper summarizes key
utilizes readily accessible well information without requiring findings on the implementation of this new integrated
production log measurements of down-hole velocities within surveillance tool.
the completion interval.
The proposed method is fully developed for cased hole,
gravel pack completions assuming the gravel-filled
The economics of developing unconsolidated sand and geo-
perforations dominate flow within the completion. The
pressured reservoirs in deepwater in the Gulf of Mexico
equations are given and velocity criteria are established. In
(GOM) increasingly demands fewer wells per project. These
this case the two dominant completion failures are screen
wells need sand control completions and require higher
erosion and destabilization of annular pack. The maximum
production rate and higher ultimate recovery per well.
flowing velocities for these failure mechanisms can be
Production from each well is more critical which highlights
established using field production logs, laboratory screen
the importance of maintaining well productivity and
erosion data, and mathematical calculations of fluid flow in
minimizing completion failure risk.
the annulus pack. The pressure drop across the gravel packed
Proper selection, effective design, rigorous quality
perforation tunnel is the dominant completion pressure drop
assurance and control of equipment and field execution
for the cased-hole gravel pack system. This pressure drop
procedures of sand control completion have been recognized
equation is non-linear or proportional to square of perforation
to be essential for meeting productivity and reliability
flowing velocity.
requirements.1,2 However, for geo-pressured reservoirs the
The well surveillance method monitors down-hole flowing
higher reservoir pressure also provides the potential of
velocity and completion pressure drop to operate the well
delivering greater rate with higher production drawdown and
without introducing unnecessary completion impairment and
larger tubing. This approach elevates the need for developing
sand control failure risks. The process of ramping up the well
well surveillance guidelines to operate these wells without
and determining a safe maximum rate goes beyond the strict
impairing and failing the sand control completion.
adherence to absolute values of acceptable completion
2 SPE 84497

Production and surveillance engineers are constantly surveillance method that maximizes production of sand
balancing the act of maximizing the production rate per well control completions without introducing extra risks for
versus the risk of opening the well too far and compromise the completion impairment and failure. The procedure involves
integrity of the sand control completion. Different maximum (a) determining the sand control failure criteria that the
rate guidelines, largely based on field experiences, are surveillance method should be based on, (b) establishing a
available in literature using completion pressure drop ranging direct link between the identified failure criteria and PTA
between 200 and 400 psi.3,4 However, systematic definitions information, and (c) validating the surveillance method.
of maximum flow rate, completion pressure drop, and Sand control failure criteria. Knowing the maximum rate to
practical well surveillance guidelines to operate sand control safely produce a sand control completion is a critical step.
wells are not available in literature and warrant consideration. This depends on causes of completion failures and would be
The main objective of this paper is to develop a practical specific to the types of sand control completion, for examples,
well surveillance method to monitor and operate sand control cased-hole gravel pack, open-hole gravel pack, screen only
completions that optimizes production without introducing completion, expandable sand screen, etc. Therefore, for a
extra risk of completion impairment and failure. This method given type of sand control completion the following should be
is based on the mechanical skin component of the completion considered:
pressure drop (∆pskin-mechanical) and down-hole flowing velocity. 1. Identifying the dominant failure mechanisms. Sand
To be practical, ∆pskin-mechanical is determined directly from control failure is usually defined as production of
standard pressure transient analyses (PTA). The down-hole intolerable amounts of sand that requires choking back or
flowing velocity is calculated using ∆pskin-mechanical and a losing all production. There are numerous possible
realistic completion model with known reservoir and causes for completion failures during well production.
completion parameters. The surveillance method recommends These include: (a) screen erosion, (b) screen corrosion,
that pressure surveys be taken, at increasing flow rates, during (c) “hot spots” from localized flow after screen plugging
the process of ramping up toward the peak rate. This by scale, (d) hot spots caused by inadequate gravel
approach provides real time feedback of changes in the packing in the annulus resulting in localized flow, (e)
completion performance and allows engineers to customize screen collapse due to compaction, (f) destabilization of
the operating guidelines for each well. For example, less annular pack because of excessive down-hole flowing
impaired wells can be produced at higher rates and the more velocity from perforation (at casing ID), (g) screen
impaired or higher risk wells are identified early for possible collapse due to plugging, etc. The dominant failure
remedial operations or to be produced less aggressively. modes would depend on the type of sand control
This paper begins with the description of a generalized completion being considered. For cased-hole gravel
approach in arriving to the proposed surveillance method. pack, the dominant failure mechanisms are screen erosion
This is followed with application of the approach to cased- and destabilization of the annular pack. For cased-hole
hole gravel pack completion which includes high rate water expandable screen the failure mechanism is screen
pack (HRWP) and fracpack (FP). Field examples of high rate erosion.
wells are presented to illustrate and discuss the practicality 2. Determining the maximum constraints for these
and limitation of this new surveillance method. Finally, main failures. The limiting condition or maximum constraint
lessons learned are discussed and conclusions of this study are of pressure drop or flowing velocity for each failure
summarized. mechanism usually is obtained from physical testing,
The reader should remember three key things while numerical modeling, and field data (e.g., production logs
reviewing this strategy: and well performance and failure databases). Some
• It is not a draw down limit general rules of thumb have also been developed based on
• Use both ∆pcompletion and flowing velocity field observations. For example, completion pressure
• Different completions have different critical failure drop between 500 and 1000 psi has been viewed as
mechanisms and maximum velocity criteria intolerably high for gravel pack impairment and screen
The process of opening up a well involves a wide range of erosion.3
operations that could impact the well performance. Some of Failure criteria and PTA. This step integrates completion
these operations include: unloading a new well for the first failure criteria with surveillance data. The principal tool for
time, “beaning” up or rate of choke changes, re-starting a well understanding the performance of sand control completions is
following a shut-in, and ramping up the well to reach the PTA. The primary reason is practical. Although a full
peak-rate. The surveillance method presented in this paper characterization of the completion failure and performance
only addresses the “ramp-up” - bringing a completion to its requires distributed pressure and flow velocity measurements,
peak rate for the first time. Results from this paper can be the reality is that performance data is usually limited to
utilized to design and operate sand control completions more pressure data from permanently installed down-hole pressure
effectively. This paper should be of interest to production, gauges or the occasional test obtained by running slickline
completion, and reservoir engineers. conveyed memory pressure gauges. Production log data
provide the closest and most direct down-hole flow velocity
A Generalized Approach information. Unfortunately, such logs are not commonly run.
This section outlines a generalized procedure to develop a Thus any use of PTA carries all of the inherent uncertainties
associated with how the method quantifies the reservoir and
SPE 84497 3

completion components. feedback and allows for corrective actions, when needed, be
Although the fundamentals of PTA are well established,5 a taken before opening to a higher production rate. Engineers
brief discussion is warranted to clarify how PTA results are can customize the operating guidelines for each well so that
intended to be used with this surveillance method. The main less impaired wells can be produced at higher rates and the
parameter for quantifying the completion is the skin (S). The more impaired or higher risk wells are identified for remedial
fundamental definition of skin has not changed significantly operations and produced less aggressively.
since the concept was first introduced by van Everdingen and
Hurst.6,7 The pressure drop due to skin (∆p skin) is determined Implementation for Cased-hole Gravel Packs
from the PTA and skin is obtained by converting this pressure This section develops the surveillance method for cased-hole
drop attributed to skin into a dimensionless pressure.8 gravel packs using the generalized approach outlined above.
Cased-hole gravel packs include HRWP and FP completions.
kh They cover a large portion of sand control completions
S= ∆pskin …………………………….. (1) currently deployed in deepwater in GOM. Applications to
141.2qBµ other types of sand control completions, using the outlined
approach, are possible but are beyond the scope of this paper.
Generally, ∆p skin could be separated into different Sand control failure criteria. Figure (1) shows the
components: completion components of cased-hole gravel packs and
depicts the production flow path through the system. This
∆p skin = ∆p skin-mechanical + ∆p skin-geometrical + ∆p skin-other ….. (2) illustrates the highest flowing velocity is through the
perforations where the flow converges. The average flowing
The ∆pskin-mechanical is the main part of the completion pressure velocity exiting the perforation at the casing inside diameter
drop that directly impacts the completion failure mechanism in (ID) is labeled as Vc and the flowing velocity on the screen
question. The ∆pskin-geometric is attributed to the geometry of the surface directly across the perforation is labeled as Vs. For
well bore. Partial penetrations like limited perforation, cased-hole gravel packs, the two dominant completion failure
hydraulic fractures in the FP, and hole deviation angle are modes which may be avoided by controlling production rate
some of the possible contributing factors.9-11 They affect the are: (a) destabilization of annular pack and (b) screen erosion.
total completion performance but they are not directly related Other failure mechanisms such as screen collapse due to
to the completion failure mechanism. Finally, ∆pskin-other is the plugging and screen collapse due to casing deformation
part of pressure drop that is not directly attributed to the induced by reservoir compaction could also be considered.
completion failure mechanism that the engineer can However, they are generally not viewed as dominant
effectively estimate and remove. The most typical example mechanisms during the completion ramp-up process.
for down-hole permanent pressure gauge installation is the The destabilization of the annular pack is an instability
pressure drop between the gauge and the perforation due to failure that occurs when the perforation velocity at the casing
both friction pressure drops in the tubing and the differences ID (Vc) is high enough to “fluidize” the granular pack in the
between flowing and static bottom-hole fluid gradients. In annular region around the perforation. Laboratory tests and
addition, in gas-condensate systems flowing at pressures field production log data can provide estimates of the
below the dew point, one might remove the pressure drop due maximum flowing velocity (Vcm) above which this failure
to condensate buildup surrounding the well bore. occurs. Using a semi-radial laboratory flow model with a 2”
The completion pressure drop needed to relate and pre-pack outside a 0.5” perforation, Penberthy and Cope12
integrate with the completion failure mechanism is given as: observed no annular pack instability and impairment up to the
limit of the equipment at 80 bbl/d/perf or 3.8 ft/sec. Figure (2)
∆p skin-mechanical = ∆p skin - ∆p skin-geometrical - ∆p skin-other …… (3) shows a production log for a FP completion at 8,000 bpd
where 3,500 bpd of production is being produced over a 3’
The down-hole flowing velocity is then calculated with a perforated interval at 8 SPF with 0.7” perforation and a
realistic completion model that describes the flow in the formation volume factor of 1.5. This well reached a peak rate
dominant failure mode using ∆pskin-mechanical and known of 22,586 bpd and failed the gravel pack shortly thereafter.
reservoir and completion parameters as inputs. Assuming that the production profile remained unchanged
Surveillance method. Both down-hole flowing velocity and from 8,000 to 22,586 bpd, the estimated down-hole flowing
∆p skin-mechanical are monitored during the completion ramp-up velocity (Vc) was greater than 14.6 ft/sec. Laboratory tests to
process. Practical surveillance guidelines should not focus better define the critical or maximum flow velocity that would
solely on how close a completion is with respect to the destabilize an annular pack are ongoing in Shell. In the
maximum velocity and pressure drop limits. Instead, the meantime, a conservative maximum velocity limit (Vcm) of 10
emphasis should be on assessing and monitoring relative ft/sec is recommended until additional laboratory and field
changes in the completion performance. The surveillance results are available. Equation (4) defines the maximum flow
procedure recommends several pressure transient analyses be velocity criterion for the destabilization of annular pack
taken, at increasing flow rates, during the process of ramping failure as:
up toward the completion peak rate. This process helps For Failure: Vc ≥ Vcm = 10 ft/sec ……….…… (4)
diagnose the performance of the completion with real time
4 SPE 84497

Screen erosion is a progressive failure that depends on For the destabilization of annular pack, the perforation
fluid flow velocity, the angle of incidence of the flow, sand flowing velocity, Vc, is the main variable. In cased-hole
particle size and concentration, duration of the flow, and fluid gravel packs the perforations are the most vulnerable part of
properties (such as density and viscosity).13 Laboratory testing the completion. All flow from the reservoir must pass through
procedures to determine the screen erosion resistance data for the perforation tunnels (between the casing cement sheath and
different types of screen and screen erosion failure models are the casing ID) packed with gravels. The porous media flow
available.14 For the cased-hole gravel pack, Figure (1) shows across this cylindrical perforation tunnel can enter the non-
the fluid flow exiting from the perforation (Vc) is directly Darcy regime and the flowing pressure drop, ∆p perf, as a
impinging on the surface of the screen at a flow velocity of Vs. function of Vc, for a nearly incompressible fluid, is given as:3
The annulus gravel pack protects the screen by bridging and
preventing large and high particle concentration from eroding ∆p perf = b (Vc) + a (Vc) 2 ……………………. (6a)
the screen. Defining the critical velocity to erode the screen is
a challenging task as down-hole flow dynamics are difficult to
b = 1.138E+06 µ Lp / kg ……………………….. (6b)
predict. Samples of eroded screen retrieved from the field
a = 1.799E-05 ρ βg Lp ………………………… (6c)
usually show screen erosion to be localized. If we define a
wire-wrap screen as “eroded” or “failed” when its slot
Equation (6a) provides a simple and effective means to
increases by 0.001”, Figure (3) shows the modeled time to
calculate Vc after ∆p perf is known. This pressure drop will be
failure as a function of screen flow velocities for different
provided from PTA.
sand concentrations.14 For a desired screen life of 1 year (at
The perforation tunnels packed with gravel are the most
the peak rate), the screen flow velocities are 0.65 and 1.2
likely choke point within the cased-hole gravel pack
ft/sec for the high sand concentration of 50 lbs per thousand
completion where both the flow velocity and pressure drop
bbls (pptb) and the medium concentration of 10 pptb,
would be the highest. For simplicity, the assumption is made
respectively. Until more reliable field screen erosion failure
that the entire completion pressure drop from PTA can be
data are available for additional model calibrations, a
attributed to flow in the perforation tunnels only. Therefore,
maximum screen erosion velocity limit (Vsm) of 1 ft/sec is
Equation (6a) can be re-written as:
currently proposed. Equation (5) defines the maximum flow
velocity criterion for the screen erosion failure as:
∆p skin-mechanical = ∆p perf = b (Vc) + a (Vc) 2…….….(7)
For Failure: Vs ≥ Vsm = 1 ft/sec ……….………(5)
The use of Equation (7) would generally result in a higher
value of Vc as other pressure drops in the completion (Figure
It is important to highlight that laboratory screen erosion data
(1)), like flow converging into perforations outside the casing
for gas are not available.14 Extension of the data and erosion
and flow across the annular pack are ignored with the above
model to down-hole gas flow should be done with caution.
assumption. This is conservative but not inappropriate given
Failure criteria and PTA. After the dominant failure
the uncertainties of field data and economic consequences of
mechanisms are identified and the corresponding criteria or
well failures. The proper application of Equation (7) requires
maximum flow velocities are established (Equations (4) and
that the completion pressure drop be extracted consistently as
(5)), the next step is to develop solutions to calculate the
described in Equation (3).
flowing velocities Vc and Vs using realistic completion flow
models and PTA data. This step links the surveillance data Besides ∆p skin-mechanical, PTA also provides the production
and the completion failure criteria to effectively operate the rate, q, before the pressure buildup. This and the calculated
well without increasing risks of completion impairment and Vc provide a direct means to calculate the number of flowing
failure. perforations, N, and effective shots per foot, SPF’ in the
For screen erosion, the flow velocity outside the screen, Vs, completion as:
can be described using porous media flow equations with the
flow velocity at the casing ID, Vc, being one of the boundary N = 9.358E-03 ( B q / (Vc Ap )) ………………….. (8a)
conditions.15 For Darcy’s flow the solution of Vs depends on SPF’ = N / hp ……… ……………………….…. (8b)
the thickness of the annular pack (tap), casing inside diameter
(ID), and perforation pattern. The thickness of the annulus Surveillance method. Equations (6) to (8) and solution of Vs
pack helps diffuse the flow exiting the perforation (at the complete the set of equations needed for the proposed
casing ID) and reduces the flow velocity impacting the screen. surveillance method. They require (a) field surveillance
Increasing the thickness of the annular pack reduces Vs for a information of q and ∆p skin-mechanical from the PTA, (b)
given Vc. For example, Vs is 1/16 of Vc after the flow diffuses reservoir properties of B, ρ, and µ, and (c) completion
over 1” thick annular pack in a 7” ID casing. In the extreme information of tap, casing ID, Ap, Lp, kg, and βg. All the
case when casing ID equals screen OD (i.e., no annular pack), reservoir and completion inputs are readily available and can
such as the case of expandable sand screen on perforated be bracketed using laboratory data and engineering judgment.
casing, Vc and Vs would be the same. Therefore, in general They are also less likely to change and are assumed to be
once Vc is known, then through Darcy’s flow, Vs can be constant during the ramp-up period in order to arrive to a
determined.15 practical surveillance method. However, the calculated
flowing velocity (Equation (7)) depends on the gravel
SPE 84497 5

properties of kg, and βg. These inputs are chosen such that the For example, Failure (f3) is below the annulus destabilization
surveillance method can optimally identify and separate limit in Figure (4) but is correctly placed above the screen
known failures without being too limiting as calibrated from a erosion limit in Figure (5). This is encouraging as Failure (f3)
set of available field data. had a small annular thickness of 0.65” where the screen
To assess the feasibility of the maximum velocity criteria velocity is expected to be higher. Similarly, Failures (f6) and
and to select the optimum gravel input properties for the (f8) are below the screen erosion limit in Figure (5) but both
surveillance method, a set of 45 wells is gathered and failures are already covered in the annulus destabilization
analyzed using the PTA and flow calculations described in limit in Figure (4). Therefore, the proposed annular
Equations (3) and (7). These wells all have permanent down- destabilization and screen erosion velocity limits are
hole pressure gauges to ensure the most consistent and reliable complementary. Both need to be considered in cased-hole
PTA interpretations. There are 32 FP completions with 30 oil gravel packs.
and 2 gas wells. The peak production rate ranges between When sand control wells operate above the maximum
5,000 and 38,740 bpd for oil wells and 55 and 101.7 MMCF/d velocity limits without failing, the implication is the velocity
for gas wells. The 13 HRWP completions have 8 oil and 5 limits are too restrictive or the predicted velocity is too high
gas wells with peak rates ranging between 10,640 and 28,730 such that production potentials may be lost as wells below the
bpd and 74.6 and 119.3 MMCF/d for oil and gas wells, rate limits are being held back unnecessarily. Inputting less
respectively. Although Shell has many more sand controlled damaged gravel (higher kg and lower βg) would accentuate
wells, the choice was made to limit the wells included in this this effect of predicting higher flowing velocities. Figures (4)
study to recently installed sand control systems with high and (5) show that wells with flowing velocities larger than the
quality PTA data such that the method implied by Equation maximum velocity limits do not always fail. For example, in
(3) could be maintained. Figure (4) there are 5 non-failure wells and 3 failed wells with
Within this dataset, there are 8 known sand control Vc greater than 10 ft/sec. This results in a non-failure rate of
completion failures: 3 gas and 1oil HRWP and 3 oil and 1 gas 62.5% (5/8) when Vc exceeds the limit of 10 ft/sec. This
FP wells. They are labeled as Failures (f1) to (f8). Detailed conservatism may be partly due to the assumption that all
evaluations of these failures reveal that: Failures (f1) and (f2) completion pressure drops are attributed to the pressure drop
are completion installation induced failures (with burst in the perforation tunnels. Optimizing the maximum velocity
screens), Failure (f4) is a high risk completion design with an limits and the input of gravel properties require balancing the
annular gravel pack thickness of 0.5”, and Failure (f5) is a well failure risk against the potential production benefits.
late-life failure (over 14MMbbls recovered) attributed to This is still a major engineering challenge inhibited by limited
casing deformation due to reservoir compaction. No obvious and uncertain data from production, the completion, and the
completion design and installation problems have been found reservoir. The selection of gravel properties with 65%
for the remaining Failures (f3), (f6), (f7), and (f8). Only these damage has allowed the proposed method to correctly separate
last four failures should be used to assess the applicability of all 4 failures without being too restrictive. The surveillance
the proposed maximum velocity limits. The other failures method proposes applications of the maximum flowing
(design, installation, and compaction problems) are included velocities in Equations (4) and (5) and the input of gravel
for completeness and to highlight the importance of how non- properties with 65% damage.
rate factors can also greatly impact completion failures. Relying on a single maximum completion pressure drop
Figures (4) and (5) show ∆p skin-mechanical vs. Vc and ∆p skin- limit to define sand control failure is not effective. Figure (4)
mechanical vs. Vs plots, respectively, for all 45 wells at their peak shows Failure (f8) failed at 315 psi while Failure (f7) failed at
rates using a gravel permeability with 65% damage. Sand 3050 psi. However, completion pressure drop is still the most
control failure points and the appropriate maximum velocity readily available and directly measurable information that is
limit line (Vcm = 10 ft/sec or Vsm = 1 ft/sec) are depicted on useful in identifying impaired wells and wells that are
these plots to help assess the applicability of the method. operated outside the known pressure envelops. Producing a
When sand control wells fail below the maximum velocity well with high completion pressure drop for a long extended
limits, the consequences are costly well failures. Inputting period is not recognized to be a good practice. Therefore, any
severely damaged gravel (i.e., lower kg and higher βg) in proper surveillance tool should make use of this completion
Equation (7) would predict lower perforation and screen pressure drop together with down-hole flowing velocities.
velocities and increase the risk of failing the completion Well surveillance should not focus solely on determining
before reaching the maximum limits. For annulus the precise maximum velocity limits (Vcm and Vsm). Many
destabilization, Figure (4) shows Failures (f6) to (f8) are completion design and execution factors directly impact
appropriately placed above the velocity limit of 10 ft/sec but completion failures. Failures ((f1), (f2), (f4), and (f5)) are
Failure (f3) is below the velocity limit. For screen erosion, good examples. As shown in Figures (4) and (5), these
Figure (5) shows the velocity limit of 1 ft/sec delineates failures usually occur at flowing velocities below the
Failures (f3) and (f7) but not Failures (f6) and (f8). These maximum velocity limits. An effective well surveillance
results suggest that, with the input of 65% gravel damage, method should focus on identifying high risk completions
neither one of the failure mechanisms alone properly defines early and developing an effective diagnostic tool to closely
all four failures in this dataset. This is not unexpected given monitor performance changes so that corrective actions may
the complexity of the completion. Fortunately, when both be taken early enough to prevent a potential failure. The
proposed velocity limits are used they predict all 4 failures. process of identifying high-risk completions involves
6 SPE 84497

evaluations of reservoir and sand control demand, completion mechanical skins by changing the flow patterns or the porous
design (material and equipment), and completion execution. media properties. Running a buildup test after producing at a
Details on these requirements are beyond the scope of this higher rate will also lead to higher skins in the absence of a
paper. Instead, the next section discusses the surveillance reduction in impairment affecting both the Darcy and non-
diagnostic tool and monitoring procedures illustrated using Darcy components. Thus mechanical skin determined from
several field examples. the pressure buildup tests is more than just the Darcy
component of skin.
Field Examples Well A. The first example, Well A, is a FP oil well. The well
The first step in the process is the determination of the was originally brought on stream at a rate of 2000 bpd to
completion pressure drop as given in Equation (3). In unload the completion fluids with about 100 psi drawdown.
practice, skin determined from the pressure buildup tests are After oil cuts measured over 95%, the well was switched from
resolved by matching the measured pressure response for the the clean-up system into the production process train. The
well to completion/reservoir model specific dimensionless well was slowly ramped up to achieve an estimated 500 psi
pressure solutions. Extrapolating the model back to the time total drawdown, which corresponded with a rate of 10,800
of shut in and determining the difference between the flowing bpd, then stabilized. A pressure buildup test was performed.
pressure and the model results establishes the pressure drop Figure (6) shows a picture of the measured data along with the
due to skin. model match. Note the derivative exhibits the transition from
Several factors prevent the straightforward calculation of linear to pseudo-radial flow which helps quantify the
the ∆pskin. The first factor is one of measurement. Time from geometric skin. For many FP wells, no signs of linear flow
shut in and distance from the well bore are roughly correlated. are present in the buildup due to the low conductivity of the
The radius of investigation16 (ri) demonstrates this point. fractures and the high diffusivity of the formations. In those
cases, the fracture geometric skin must be estimated from the
ri = ………………...(9) design parameters along with the actual installation reports.
φµct The pertinent results along with the gauge corrections are
The better quality gauges provide data at sampling rates of 1 shown in Table 1.
to 2 seconds. During this time frame, the pressure response is Figure (7) shows the results of the first two buildup tests
significantly influenced by flow in the reservoir beyond the plotted on a standard diagnostic plot. This has rate (q) (in the
actual completion. The second factor is well bore storage. Y axis) and both casing and screen velocities (Vc and Vs) (in
Because the well is shut in at a valve at the surface, there is a the Second Y axis) as a function of the ∆p skin-mechanical in the X-
period of time where the sand face flow rate decreases as the axis. The pressure drop due to the mechanical skin is defined
pressure rises filling the well bore with production. During by Equation (3). Equations (7) and (8) define the q curve
this time, the pressure transient is dominated by well bore through Point (1) where the velocity (Equation (7)) is
capacity influences rather than flow from the base pipe of the converted to rate using the average cross-sectional area
screen out to the reservoir. It is not uncommon to lose at least (Equation (8a)) and effective number of shots per foot
one log cycle of reservoir pressure response from the early (Equation (8b)). The curvature is a result of non-Darcy flow
time data for purposes of interpretation. Finally, the and highlights the sensitivity of q with ∆pskin-mechanical for
interpretation models are relatively simple compared to the cased-hole gravel packs, even for oil wells. Point (2), the
actual completion. Rarely do actual pressure transient models second buildup test result, is also plotted on Figure (7). This
explicitly model details of the completion such as flow point lies above the curve defined by Point (1). On this plot,
convergence into the individual perforations, the variation in the rate line is the current estimated operating line (based on
layer permeabilities, and flow within the sand face to the top the first buildup test). If the next data point falls above or to
of the completion interval. the left of this curve, as in this case, the well has cleaned up
One other aspect must be considered. In the near well bore with production. If the point lies below or to the right of the
region, high local velocities may be encountered leading to curve, then impairment is developing indicating that the well
non-Darcy flow and rate dependent skins. For purely radial should be monitored carefully. Naturally, a well with
flow into a cylindrical well bore, the Reynolds numbers are increasing impairment also has an increased risk of well
not sufficiently large to indicate the presence of non-Darcy failure if the impairment is completion related, such as caused
flow except in high rate gas wells17,18; however, the sand by a plugging mechanism. Note that despite the increase in
controlled completions that are HRWPs and FPs are cased skin interpreted in the PTA between Points (1) and (2) in
hole, perforated completions. When the completion acts as if Table (1), Well A cleaned up, yielding a higher target peak
there is only a limited effective shot density (SPF’), the rate, according to this model.
velocities in the perforation tunnels enter the non-Darcy
region even for many oil wells. The use of Equation (7) The velocity curves for the secondary Y-axes on Figure
indicates this point. The skin results of the buildup tests (7) can be used to quickly identify the ranges of ∆p skin-mechanical
contain both the non-Darcy and Darcy components of skin. corresponding to the maximum velocity limits. By solving
The total skin is the mechanical skin. It is rate dependent. Equation (7) with the first buildup results, the estimated
Altering the completion with different perforations, gravel, or casing and screen velocities can be obtained for the entire
even stimulation to clean the perforations will lead to different range of operating pressure based on the method assumptions
SPE 84497 7

that all reservoir and completion inputs remain constant demonstrate how the current surveillance method could have
during the ramp-up period. From this plot, it is obvious that detected the potential failure risks and discuss possible
neither the casing nor the screen velocity will be limiting this surveillance procedures to help prevent the failure.
well (10 and 1 ft/sec, respectively). Instead, the extrapolated Figure (10) depicts the diagnostic plot with the buildup
pressure drop of 1,220 psi at a rate of 30,000 bpd would data during the entire ramp-up period. Again, the q vs. ∆pskin-
exceed the standard operating range for ∆pskin-mechanical of 1,000 mechanical curve was based on the last buildup data of Point (5).
psi or less. Again, this range is not a limit; however, good From the first buildup data point both velocity curves (Vc and
wells are not often operated close to the upper pressure end Vs) are already available for the entire operating range. Table
because other practical facilities constraints enter in or the (2) details the operating values for desired rates of 15,000 to
skin can be reduced through stimulation to produce the well 20,000 bpd, which highlights the challenge and the potential
more efficiently. The majority of high drawdown wells are risk in operating this completion with high pressure drop
either geologic disappointments or wells that have been (greater than 1,000 psi) and high casing velocity (exceeding
impaired with production. Therefore, it makes sense to take the limit of 10 ft/sec). Therefore, a more cautious and careful
an intermediate step (Point (3)) before going all the way to the monitoring for this well would be warranted, as the well is
peak-rate to ascertain if well clean up would continue. being ramped-up. The second pressure buildup point, Point
Table (1) contains the data for the sequence of buildup (2), was collected at 14,600 bpd. The well showed clean up
tests used to achieve the peak rate for Well A. Figure (8) and the actual ∆pskin-mechanical was only 435 psi. However,
depicts all the buildup test points. They show continued clean between Point (2) and Point (3) the well showed impairment.
up over the entire ramp-up period, which represents 320,000 Unfortunately, the well was opened up to a peak rate of
total cumulative barrels of oil produced. After Point (4) the 22,590 bpd, for a brief period of several days. This resulted in
risk to reach the peak-rate has been reduced with an a predicted ∆pskin-mechanical of 1,240 psi, Vc of 11.5 ft/sec, and
extrapolated pressure drop of less than 1,000 psi. Based on Vs of 0.9 ft/sec based on the buildup Point (3). The well was
this and the history of continued clean up, Well A was then brought back to a lower rate of 17,120 bpd (Point (4)). Again,
opened up to the peak-rate (Point (5)). Not all of these between Points (4) and (5) the well showed additional
buildups were planned. Because permanent down-hole impairment. One more time, in spite of the impairment
gauges were installed, surveillance data are also obtained information the well was opened up to the last point of 18,300
when routine field operations or upsets shut the well in. bpd at a predicted ∆pskin-mechanical of 990 psi, Vc of 10 ft/sec,
Water production is usually too small to measure during the and Vs of 0.8 ft/sec. By coincidence, the well started to make
ramp-up period but samples of completion brine are obtained gravel and formation sand shortly after this last point.
with major rate fluctuations. This supports the contention that It is difficult to conclude that well operations caused this
the well is still cleaning up by slowly yielding completion well to fail. However, the surveillance information as
fluids. Attempts to increase production beyond the last point presented in the diagnostic plot has revealed several high risk
were not warranted as the well was fully open into the lowest activities that should have been avoided. Common sense
pressure system available. suggests that when a well shows sign of impairment, it is not a
Well B. This is a FP oil well in a 5.5” 23 lb/ft casing with a good practice to open the well to higher rate before
3.5” screen outside diameter. The annulus gap is only 0.6” understanding the cause of impairment. In this case the risk is
thick; thereby, raising pre-production concerns with the further compounded as the well was already operating close to
potential for high Vs and screen erosion failure. Figure (9) the casing velocity limit and standard high pressure drop
depicts the diagnostic plot with the buildup data during the envelop.
entire ramp-up period. The q vs. ∆pskin-mechanical curve shown is
based on the last buildup (Point (6)). Both, Vc and ∆pskin- Summary
mechanical beyond the forecast rate of 11,000 bpd were not the A practical well surveillance method to monitor and operate
limiting factors. As anticipated, due to the 0.6” annulus pack, sand control completions that optimizes production without
Vs became the limiting factor. At Point (2), Vs was already introducing extra risk of completion impairment and failure
0.81 ft/sec at a production rate of 5,000 bpd. Therefore, a has been outlined. The feasibility and applicability of this
more cautious approach with additional buildup tests was method for cased-hole gravel pack completions has been
warranted. Fortunately, this well continued to show clean up established.
(Points (1) to (5)). After Point (5), the history of continued
improvement gave us the confidence to open up this well • Operating Strategy. A simple, direct, & efficient ramp
toward a higher than expected peak-rate of 14,400 bpd at a Vs up method using available PTA, reservoir & completion
of 1.0 ft/sec. This example illustrates how surveillance data information is developed. No special data (like
and performance history were used to effectively manage the production logs) and large number of calibration factors
risk of pushing this challenging completion (5.5” liner) to a are needed. The only calibration factor is the amount of
higher than targeted rate as it approached the maximum gravel impairment. In this case, a reasonable 65%
velocity limit. damage was calibrated from the dataset.
Well C. This last example is a FP oil well that had a sand • Two Complementary Velocity Failure Criteria.
control failure. The well was ramped up before the current Annulus destabilization and screen erosion were used for
surveillance method was developed. This example is used to the cased-hole gravel pack failure criteria. The velocity
8 SPE 84497

criteria or maximum velocity limits for these failure well bore modeling would be warranted. Lastly,
mechanisms of 10 and 1 ft/sec have been shown to work important down-hole data for surveillance are the flow
reasonably well without being too restrictive. However, velocity and pressure distribution along the sand control
these limits should be updated as additional field and completion interval. Therefore, developments of direct
laboratory data are made available. and continuous pressure and flow measurements along
• Surveillance Tool. A simple but effective diagnostic plot the sand control completion are encouraged.
has been introduced to facilitate data evaluations during • Design Tool. Finally, this model has also been utilized to
the surveillance period that shows all 4 critical parameters affect the design and forecast of completions. For
(∆pskin-mechanical, q, Vc, and Vs) on the same plot. instance, in a FP gas well planned to have a small annular
o As an outcome of our simple perforation model and clearance, the perforation gun choice was based upon
the assumption that reservoir and completion inputs modeled perforation inner diameter relationships with
are unchanged during the ramp-up period, the casing screen velocities. Pre-production assumptions must be
and screen flow velocities can be calculated for the made for skin and effective perforation density for the
entire operation range once we have just a single completion types. Once build-ups are available, the
pressure buildup data point. This allows early completion strategy and the peak production forecast
assessments of different failure mechanisms at the rates can be reviewed and reconciled.
peak production rate. For example, the dominant
mechanisms for the three field examples were: high Conclusions
pressure drop across completion for Well (A) , high The following conclusions may be drawn based on our study:
screen velocity for Well (B), and high pressure drop • A simple surveillance method for sand control
and casing velocity for Well (C). completions can be developed using both completion
o The relative positions of successive buildup data pressure drop and down-hole flowing velocities to
points with respect to q vs. ∆pskin-mechanical curve monitor well performance.
provide a quick and simple visual presentation on • For cased-hole gravel packs, two dominant, and rate
how the well is progressing. More importantly, it dependent, failure modes were (a) destabilization of the
tracks the relative changes of productivity during the annular pack and (b) screen erosion. These two failure
ramp-up process. modes were shown to be complementary and should be
o The q vs. ∆pskin-mechanical curve predicts changes in used for each completion. The maximum velocities that
pressure drops for higher production rates more define these failures were: Vc = 10 ft/sec and Vs = 1 ft/sec
reliably as it captures the non-Darcy flow effects. for annular destabilization and screen erosion failure,
• Lessons Learned. Key lessons learned from the 45 wells respectively.
were: • Using only pressure buildup data, consistent definition of
o Well surveillance should focus on relative changes or completion pressure drop, and the assumption that gravel-
performance history and not just on how close the filled perforation dominates the flow in cased-hole gravel
predicted velocities are to the limiting values. When packs, the down-hole flowing velocities can be easily
a well shows continued clean up (Wells (A) and (B)), calculated from ∆pskin-mechanical. This relationship is not
then the risk to open up the well toward the velocity linear.
limits or to higher operating pressures may be lower. • The reliability of the maximum velocity criteria and the
However, when a well is showing impairment (Well feasibility of the surveillance method were demonstrated
(C)), then the relative cost and benefits of opening up using data from 45 sand control completions.
the well should be addressed. Generally, wells with • It is recommended that during the ramp-up period, in
history of impairment should not be opened up until reaching the peak production rate for the first time,
the mechanism or cause of impairment is identified several PTAs be taken, at increasing flow rates, to assess
with additional data or diagnostics. and diagnose performance changes with the completions.
o Knowing precisely the maximum rate limits may not • Wells with a history of impairment, or operating close to
be the most critical item (as this may be beyond the maximum velocity limits or operating with high
capacity of the well system). Instead, it is more completion pressure drop should be monitored carefully
critical to establish a real time feedback approach and identified for further evaluations before opening up to
through effective surveillance to assess the higher rates.
performance of the well before reaching peak rate.
• Limitations. The method is indeed simple and it is not The authors wish to thank the management of Shell for their
perfect. We need to recognize its limitations that it is permission to publish this paper. Special acknowledgment is
based on average velocities and average completion extended to D. A. Cole for laying down the foundation that
pressure drop (PTA limitations). Therefore, applications most of this work is based on, to D. E. Carpenter and A. R.
of this method to multi-layered reservoirs or completions Melancon for their critical review of this paper and analyses
with high potential of flow localizations should be of the field examples, and to Victor Dunayevsky for
performed cautiously. In these cases, more detailed near developing solutions of the flow in the annular pack. Finally,
SPE 84497 9

we would like to thank our colleagues in Shell E&P Company Nomenclature

who have contributed the field data used in this study.
B = Formation volume factor, r-bbl/s-bbl for oil wells, and r-
References bbl/sMcf for gas wells.
1. Wong, G. K., Fors, R. R., Casassa, J. S., and Hite, R. H.: k = Formation permeability, md
“Design, Execution, and Evaluation of Frac and Pack (F&P) q = Surface production rate, bpd for oil wells and Mcf/d for
Treatments in Unconsolidated Sand Formations in the Gulf of gas wells.
Mexico,” paper SPE 26563 presented at the 68th Annual h = True stratigraphic thickness of the reservoir pay, ft.
Technical Conference and Exhibition, Houston, TX, Oct. 3-6.
2. McLeod, H. O., Jr. and Minarovic, M. J.: “Monitoring and
µ = Down-hole reservoir fluid viscosity, cP
Analysis of Gravel-Packing Procedures to Explain Well ρ = Down-hole reservoir fluid density, lb/ft3
Performance,” paper SPE 27356 presented at the SPE Intl. βg = Kinetic energy coefficient (for nonDarcy flow through
Symposium on Formation Damage Control, Lafayette, LA, porous media) or beta factor for the gravel, 1/ft.
Feb. 9-10. kg = Gravel permeability in the perforation tunnel, md
3. McLeod, H. O., Jr. and Crawford, H. R.: ”Gravel Packing for Lg = Length of the perforation tunnel, defined as the
High Rate Completions,” paper SPE 11008 presented at the difference between well bore radius and radius to casing
57th Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, New ID, inches.
Orleans, LA, Sept. 26-29. Ap = Average cross-section area of individual perforation, in2
4. Crouch, E. C. and Pack, K. J.: “Systems Analysis – Use for the
hp = Measured length of perforated interval, ft
Design and Evaluation of High-Rte Gas Wells,” paper SPE
9424 presented at the 55th Annual Fall Technical Conference, t = Time in hours
Dallas, TX, Sept. 21-24. φ = Formation porosity, fractions
5. Matthews, C. S. and Russell, D. G.: “Pressure Buildup and Ct = Reservoir compressibility, 1/psi
Flow Tests in Wells,” Monograph Volume 1, Society of
Petroleum Engineers of AIME, New York, 1967, Dallas.
6. Van Everdingen, A. F.: “The Skin Effect and Its Influence on Pre- Shut- PTA Adj Vc Vs Tot Target
the Productive Capacity of a Well,” Trans., AIME (1953) 198, BU in Mech ∆p (ft/s) (ft/s) Compl Peak
Rate Time Skin Skin etin Rate
171-176. (bpd) (hrs) Mech ∆p (bpd)
7. Hurst, William: “Establishment of the Skin Effect and Its (psi) (psi)
Impediment to Fluid Flow Into a Well Bore,” Pet. Eng. (Oct.
1 10,800 5.60 2.7 175 3.0 0.24 504 26,990
1953) B-6 through B-16. 17,747 0.84 3.9 424 4.8 0.38 948 27,921
8. Earlougher Jr., Robert C.: “Advances in Well Test Analysis,” 2
3 21,276 1.14 4.0 505 5.2 0.42 1145 Outflow
SPE Monograph Volume 5 (1977).
9. Brons, F. and Marting, V.E.: “The Effect of Restricted Fluid 4 21,003 2.48 3.5 421 4.8 0.39 1116 Outflow
Entry on Well Productivity,” J. Pet. Tech. (Feb. 1961) 172- 5 28,693 1.29 4.0 655 6.0 0.48 1638 Outflow
174; Trans., AIME, 222.
Table 1 – Well A PTA Results
10. Cinco, Heber, Samaniego-V., F., and Dominguez-A., N.:
“Transient Pressure Behavior for a Well With a Finite-
Conductivity Vertical Fracture,” paper SPE 6014 presented at
the SPE-AIME 51st Annual Fall Technical Conference and q (bpd) 15,000 20,000
Exhibition, New Orleans, Oct. 3-6, 1976. ∆pskin-mechanical (psi) 700 1,200
11. Cinco, H., Miller, F. G., and Ramey, H. J.: “Unsteady-State
Vc (ft/sec) 8 11
Pressure Distribution Created by a Directionally Drilled Well,”
Trans., AIME (1975) Vol. 259, pp. 1392-1400. Vs (ft/sec) 0.6 0.9
12. Penberthy, W. L., Jr. and Cope, B. J.: “Design and Table 2 – Well C Operating Values
Productivity of Gravel Packed Completions,” paper SPE 8428
presented at the 53th Annual Fall Technical Conference, Soc.
Pet Eng. AIME, Las Vegas, NV, Sept. 23-26.
13. Procyk, A., Whitlock, M. and Ali, S.: “Plugging-Induced
Screen Erosion Difficult to Prevent,” Oil & Gas Journal, July
20, 1998.
14. Bennett, C. and Svedeman, S.: “Sand Control Screen Erosion
Industry Joint Project,” Final Report, SwRI Project 04-8560,
May 1998.
15. Yildiz, T. and Langlinais, J. P.: “Calculation of Pressure
Losses Across Gravel Packs,” paper SPE 17167 presented at
the SPE Formation Damage Control Symposium, Bakersfield,
CA, Feb. 8-9, 1988
16. Hurst, William: “Advances in Petroleum Engineering,”
PennWell Publishing Company (1981) Tulsa, Oklahoma
17. Muskat, Morris: “Physical Principles of Oil Production,”
McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. (1949), New York, NY.
18. Geerstma, J.: “Estimating the Coefficient of Inertial Resistance
in Fluid Flow Through Porous Media,” Soc. of Pet. Eng. J.,
(Oct. 1974) 14(5):445-450.
10 SPE 84497

SEPCo GOM - Cased Hole GP at Peak Rate

Cement Sheath FP-Oil FP-Gas HRWP-Oil HRWP-Gas SC Failures

Vs 3000
Vc 0.5" Annulus Pack

dP skin-mechanical (psi)

Pack 2000 Compaction
Failures f6


f2 f5
Screen 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22
Perforation Vc, Avg Velocity Exiting Perf @ Casing ID (ft/sec)
Fig. 4 – Predicted casing velocity at peak rates for 45 wells.

Fig. 1 – Completion components and flow schematics for SEPCo GOM - Cased Hole GP at Peak Rate
cased-hole gravel packs 3500
FP-Oil FP-Gas HRWP-Oil HRWP-Gas SC Failures


Production Log Data
0.5" Annulus Pack

dP skin - mechanical (psi)

Perforation: 17,200' to 17340' 2500
10,000 75
Covered by Vc

2000 Compaction
"Hot" Spot 4.7" casing - not
Installation f6 covered by Vc
8,000 60
1500 Failures
Cumulative Rate (bpd)

Gamma Ray (GAPI)

6,000 45 f5

4,000 30
f8 Shunt Tubes
0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 1.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 2.0

Vs, Avg Velocity @ Screen (ft/sec)

2,000 15

Fig. 5 – Predicted screen velocity at peak rates for 45

0 0
17180 17200 17220 17240 17260 17280 17300 17320 17340 17360
Measured Depth (ft)

Fig. 2 – Production log used to estimate the maximum

flowing velocity limit.

6 Gauge Wire-Wrap - Erosion Life

(failure = 0.001 inch slot opening)

Life to Failure (year)




1.0E-02 Fig. 6 – PTA pressure data match for Point (1) of Well A
0.1 1.0 10.0
Vs, Screen Velocity (ft/sec)
(lb/1000 bbls) 50 (lb/1000 bbls) 10 (lb/1000 bbls) 1

Fig. 3 – Wire-wrap screen erosion modeling results.

SPE 84497 11

Well A Well C

30000 10.00 dP Skin Mech Measured Data DP Screen Vel Casing Vel Vc Vs

27000 9.00 30000 24.0

Well is cleaning
Peak Rate
24000 up with 8.00
25000 20.0

Casing & Screen Vel (ft/sec)

production. Impairing
21000 7.00

Vc and Vs (ft/sec)
18000 Well is 6.00
Rate (Bopd)

20000 5 16.0

Rate (Bpd)
15000 5.00 up 2 3 4
impaired with
15000 12.0
12000 1 production. 4.00

9000 3.00 10000 Well Failed 8.0

shortly after
6000 2.00
5000 4.0
3000 1.00

0 0.00 0 0.0
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000 0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000
∆P Skin Mech (psi)
Dp Skin Mech (psi)
dP Skin Mech Measured Data dP Screen Vel Casing Vel Vcasing Vscreen

Fig. 7 – A proposed diagnostic plot for well surveillance. Fig. 10 – Diagnostic plot for Well C
Well A

30000 10.00

27000 5 9.00

24000 8.00
Casing & Screen Vel (ft/sec)

21000 3 7.00
Rate (Bopd)

18000 6.00
15000 5.00

12000 4.00
9000 3.00

6000 2.00

3000 1.00

0 0.00
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000

∆P Skin Mech (psi)

dP Skin Mech Measured Data dP Screen Vel Casing Vel Vcasing Vscreen

Fig. 8 – Diagnostic plot for Well A

Well B
30000 10.00

27000 9.00

24000 8.00
Casing & Screen Vel (ft/sec)

21000 7.00

18000 6.00
Rate (Bopd)

15000 5.00

12000 4.00

9000 4 3.00

6000 3 2.00
1 2
3000 1.00

0 0.00
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000
∆P Skin Mech (psi)
dP Skin Mech Measured Data DP Screen Vel Casing Vel Vc Vs

Fig. 9 – Diagnostic plot for Well B