Thin oil columns overlain by free gas and underlain by water pose difficult problems in well spacing and completion method, production policy, and reserves estimation. Whether an oil column is considered thin depends on costs to drill and produce the accumulation. For example, in the Bream field (Australia Bass Strait, 230 ft water depth), 44 ft was considered thin, whereas in the Troll field (offshore Norway, 980 ft water depth), 79 ft was considered thin. Onshore U.S.A., 20 ft is considered thin. Irrgang takes a pragmatic approach, defining thin oil columns as those that "will cone both water and gas when produced at commercial rates." The overall reserve estimate of oil from such accumulations can be influenced by well spacing and completion method and by gas-cap management policy.
Topside payloads range from 5 to 50,000 tons, producing oil, gas, or both. A vast array of production systems is available today (see Figure 1). The concepts range from fixed platforms to subsea compliant and floating systems. In 1859, Col. Edwin Drake drilled and completed the first known oil well near a small town in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. This well, which was drilled with cable tools, started the modern petroleum industry.
The majority of offshore fields have been developed with conventional fixed steel platforms. One common feature of fixed steel structures is that it is essentially "fixed" (i.e., it acts as a cantilever fixed at the seabed). This forces the natural period to be less than that of the damaging significant wave energy, which lies in the 8- to 20-second band. As the water depth increases, these structures begin to become more flexible, and the natural period increases and approaches that of the waves. The consequence of this is the structure becomes dynamically responsive, and fatigue becomes a paramount consideration.
This article discusses estimation of stresses encountered during drilling that could cause fracturing or formation damage in the near wellbore area. Ballooning is a process that occurs when wells are drilled with equivalent static mud weights close to the leakoff pressure. It occurs because during drilling, the dynamic mud weight exceeds the leakoff pressure, leading to near-wellbore fracturing and seepage loss of small volumes of drilling fluid while the pumps are on. When the pumps are turned off, the pressure drops below the leakoff pressure, and the fluid is returned to the well as the fractures close. This process has been called "breathing" or "ballooning" because it looks like the well is expanding while circulating, and contracting once the pumps are turned off.
Figure 1.6--The Baldpate Compliant Tower is one of the tallest free-standing structures in the world – Empire State Building (right) for comparison (Web Photograph, Amerada Hess Corp., New York City). Figure 1.9a--Worldwide fleet of installed and sanctioned semisubmersible FPS (courtesy of BP). Figure 1.9c--Worldwide fleet of installed and sanctioned spars (courtesy of BP). Figure 1.10--Semisubmersible FPS planned for the Thunder Horse field (courtesy of BP). Figure 1.11--Alternative proven technology field development options (courtesy of BP). Figure 1.12--Subsea production trees used in conjunction with a fixed jacket structure (Intec Engineering, Houston).
This field produces from a structure that lies above a deep-seated salt dome (salt has been penetrated at 9,000 ft) and has moderate fault density. A large north/south trending fault divides the field into east and west areas. There is hydraulic communication across the fault. Sands were deposited in aeolian, fluvial, and deltaic environments made up primarily of a meandering, distributary flood plain. Reservoirs are moderate to well sorted; grains are fine to very fine with some interbedded shales. There are 21 mapped producing zones separated by shales within the field but in pressure communication outside the productive limits of the field. The original oil column was 400 ft thick and had an associated gas cap one-third the size of the original oil column. Porosity averages 30%, and permeability varies from 10 to 1500 md.
Many types of offshore structures are in service. Selecting a structure type is the first major structural design task after environmental and operational criteria have been defined and will sometimes require preliminary design of several concepts before a choice is made. The most common type of offshore structure in service today is the jacket (or template) structure, as illustrated in Figure 1. The template was derived from the function of the first offshore structures to serve as a guide for the piles. The piles, after being driven, are cut off above the templates, and the deck is placed on top of the piles.
Although conformance-improvement gel treatments have existed for a number of decades, their widespread use has only begun to emerge. Early oilfield gels tended to be stable and function well during testing and evaluation in the laboratory, but failed to be stable and to function downhole as intended because they lacked robust chemistries. Also, because of a lack of modern technology, many reservoir and flooding conformance problems were not understood, correctly depicted, or properly diagnosed. In addition, numerous individuals and organizations tended to make excessive claims about what early oilfield gel technologies could and would do. The success rate of these gel treatments was low and conducting such treatments was considered high risk. As a result, conformance-improvement gel technologies developed a somewhat bad reputation in the industry. Only recently has this reputation begun to improve. The information presented in this chapter can help petroleum engineers evaluate oilfield conformance gels and their field application on the basis of well-founded-scientific, sound-engineering, and field-performance merits.
In recent years, deformation of the reservoir host rocks has become a subject of great interest, prompted in part by the dramatic subsidence observed at Ekofisk platforms in the North Sea. One method of monitoring deformation is by passive seismic monitoring. It is called "passive" because the geopysicist does not activate a seismic source, but rather uses existing geophones to monitor ongoing changes in the rocks due to downhole conditions. Deformation is an important aspect of reservoir production, even without a significant compaction drive in many cases. Previous studies have been published in the scientific and earthquake literature relating earthquakes to oil/gas production and to injection practices.
Traditional methods of monitoring reservoir behavior, including reservoir simulation and history-matching with production rates and pressure, can produce nonunique solutions for reservoir behavior in the interwell regions. In some instances, the uncertainty can be significant, and additional information is needed to optimize production and improve estimates of ultimate recovery. In many cases, the effect of the changing reservoir pressure and/or saturation on seismic data can be used to map the changing pattern of these reservoir properties by obtaining seismic data repeatedly during production of the reservoir. With care, seismic data obtained for other purposes (such as regional exploration) can sometimes be used for time-lapse seismic monitoring, but new data are often obtained from seismic experiments designed particularly to monitor the reservoir. The desire to minimize differences in acquisition parameters between surveys has led, in some cases, to permanent installation of sensors in the oilfield.