Nitrogen Cap Drilling (NCD) is a technique developed by Tengizchevroil (TCO) that enables drilling a highly fractured reservoir under conditions where more conventional pressurized mud cap drilling techniques are not viable. NCD is an extension of the closed hole circulating drilling (CHCD) technique (Ref SPE Paper # 79850) previously developed and used extensively by TCO for drilling a highly fractured carbonate reservoir where severe loss circulation is encountered and incurable.
CHCD is a pressurized mud cap drilling technique that relies on the ability to fill the well with a fluid density lighter than the reservoir pressure gradient in order to maintain communication with the reservoir pressure. Once the reservoir pressure gradient drops below the density of the lightest fluid available, the well will no longer support a full column of fluid to surface and an alternate drilling method must be employed.
TCO has developed NCD as a response to this operating reality in the Tengiz field. The NCD technique involves filling the annulus with a heavier than reservoir pressure gradient fluid once severe lost returns are encountered. The annulus fluid level does not reach the surface, and the resulting air gap is pressurized with nitrogen gas. This nitrogen "cap" is contained under the Rotating Control Device (RCD) which allows for maintaining pressure communication with the formation. Well status is continuously monitored by tracking the wellhead pressure and measuring the annulus fluid level. The bottom hole pressure is balanced by manipulating the composition of the annular fluid column and controlling the wellhead pressure.
In 2017, TCO conducted successful field trials and demonstrated that NCD is a viable technique to enable the continuation of the low reservoir pressure drilling program in Tengiz. TCO has since adopted NCD as the standard technique in wells where CHCD is not technically viable or operationally preferable. This paper will describe NCD technique development, equipment, procedures, operational implementation, and key learnings to date.