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Development of an optimised integrated underbalanced drilling strategy for cuttings transport in gas-liquid flow through wellbore annuli.

Mahon, Ruissein



Babs Oyeneyin

Amol Bali


Although understanding the relationship between gas-liquid two-phase fluid flows and the effects of the major drilling variables is critical to optimising underbalanced drilling (UBD) operations, to date, this has been an area of limited research and knowledge. This study contributes to the limited knowledge base by: 1) determining the key operational drilling parameters which shape the gas-liquid two-phase multiphase flow behaviour characteristics during UBD operations, 2) evaluating the most critical operational issues that have impacted the implementation of global UBD programmes, and 3) investigating the Newtonian and non-Newtonian gas-liquid two-phase flow patterns which affect the wellbore hydraulics and cuttings transport efficiency during UBD operations. Thus, this study developed a rigorous integrated strategy for maximising the efficiency of UBD for the transport of cuttings in gas-liquid two-phase flow through wellbore annuli. An experimental approach was applied to analyse and evaluate the relationship between the gas-liquid two-phase flow patterns and the major operational drilling parameters (gas and liquid flowrates, fluid rheology, inner pipe rotation, pipe inclination angle, pipe eccentricity and solid particle size and density) and to investigate their influence and interaction on the fluid flow dynamics and solids transport mechanisms in horizontal and inclined annuli. Experimental results revealed that drilling fluid flowrate along with fluid flow pattern are the most prominent parameters that strongly influence the cuttings transport efficiency within wellbore annuli. Annuli cleaning requirements for a concentric annulus was found to be lower than that required for an eccentric annulus for both Newtonian and non-Newtonian fluids. Pipe inclination angle was shown to affect hole cleaning, with the degree of its effect being significantly influenced by the drilling fluid properties, prevailing gas-liquid fluid flow pattern and cuttings transport mechanism. Moreover, inner pipe rotation was observed to improve cuttings transport in both horizontal and inclined eccentric annuli to varying extents. Experimental evidence was supplemented with a theoretical approach. Flow pattern dependent multi-layered mathematical models applicable for any level of pipe eccentricity were used for the different cuttings transport mechanisms existing in the different fluid flow patterns (dispersed bubble, bubble, and slug), offering a unique method to evaluate cuttings transport efficiency and wellbore hydraulics performance for UBD operations. A favourable comparison was observed between the experimental data and proposed flow pattern dependent multi-layered mathematical models with an error margin of ±15%. This research has generated new knowledge and created value through mapping the factors influencing particle transport and by evaluating the fluid-particle dynamics (fluid forces, gas-liquid fluid flow patterns and particle transport mechanisms) for flow in wellbore annuli. It has further identified and evaluated the effect of gas-liquid two-phase fluid flow patterns on fluid-particle transport dynamics which results in areas of preferential flows and stagnation zones. It also proposed a systematic solution to the governing equations for the simultaneous flow of gas-liquid two-phase fluids and solid particles in wellbore annuli. Overall, the mapping of the major operational drilling parameters and their influence and interdependencies on wellbore dynamics and cuttings transport efficiency in the context of gas-liquid fluid systems, provides a tool for the prediction of cuttings transport mechanism, determination of the stationary bed height, and calculation of the annuli pressure losses. Therefore, wellbore pressure evaluation and management and hole cleaning requirements for UBD operations can be addressed.


MAHON, R. 2022. Development of an optimised integrated underbalanced drilling strategy for cuttings transport in gas-liquid flow through wellbore annuli. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis. Hosted on OpenAIR [online]. Available from:

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Feb 10, 2023
Publicly Available Date Feb 10, 2023
Keywords Underbalanced drilling; Drilling; Offshore engineering; Multiphase flow; Newtonian and non-Newtonian
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