First Fully Sulfide Stress Cracking Resistant Drillpipe System

Jellison, Michael J. (NOV Grant Prideco) | Redlinger, Thomas Michael (Weatherford International Ltd.) | Howie, William (Weatherford International Ltd.)


As the severity of sour drilling applications has increased, the requirement for drill stem materials resistant to sulfide stress cracking (SSC) has accelerated. Sour service drillpipe, traditionally manufactured with SSC resistant upset tubulars and tool joints, has been available for some time. Sour Service drillpipe metallurgy is not specifically controlled by NACE MR 0175/ISO 15156,1 however these tubulars and tool joints are often evaluated in accordance with the standard. The friction welds joining the upset tubulars and tool joints were not resistant to SSC and were not evaluated. This has been acceptable for many sour drilling applications since the weld is not the mostly highly stressed region of the drillpipe joint and because the operator has a certain degree of control over the environment through the drilling fluid properties and additives. As more severe environments with higher Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) concentrations were identified for exploration and development, it became apparent that a fully SSC resistant drillpipe system including the friction welds was necessary.

This paper presents the successful development and qualification of SSC resistant friction welds for critical sour applications. It describes the engineering and manufacturing philosophy employed, laboratory testing procedures with results presented and applications for the SSC resistant drillpipe. Since NACE MR 0175/ISO 15156 does not address friction welds the engineering team developed unique and innovative criteria together with testing procedures for the new weld technology. A new patent pending four-point bending test procedure and fixture were developed that employed unpolished samples that represent the surface finish of the product in service, in contrast to the polished samples used in NACE TM-0177 testing. This paper provides background information on the evolution of sour service drillpipe and reviews case histories where sour service drillpipe has been successfully used including the new pipe with SSC resistant friction welds. The paper can benefit drilling engineers involved in critical sour drilling operations.

Sour Service Drillpipe
The drillpipe assembly incorporates a tool joint that is typically manufactured from a forging and a friction weld that attaches the tool joint to the upset of the pipe body. This is the same manufacturing configuration that has been employed on drillpipe for decades and has been adapted to incorporate materials that resist SSC for dritical sour applications. The manufacturing technology for critical service drillpipe has evolved significantly in the last several years. Major advances relating to pipe specifically developed for use in areas with significant H2S content have been realized.

Sulfide Stress Cracking (SSC) due to the presence of H2S gas in the downhole drilling environments has led to the development of sour service drillpipe, which is engineered to have resistance to SSC. Previously available sour service drillpipe was comprised of an SSC resistant upset to grade tube and tool joint. The friction weld areas that are used to join the tool joints to the upset ends of the tubes were not manufactured for resistance to SSC.

The weld area of sour service drillpipe has not been SSC tested in the past, and there have been no documented SSC failures in the weld zone of sour service drillpipe. There are several factors that make an SSC failure in the weld zone of sour service drillpipe unlikely. The region on both sides of the weld has a much larger cross-section (1.5 to 2.0 times) than that of the tube. This larger weld area cross-section means the stress experienced in that area is less by the same proportion. This reduced stress makes the likelihood of failure due to SSC significantly less likely. It is generally possible during drilling operations to control the well environment and help prevent SSC failure of the drillpipe and weld zone.2 Implementing the following practices can help control the drilling environment and prevent SSC:

- Maintain the drilling fluid density to minimize formation fluid influx.
- Neutralize H2S in the formation fluids by maintaining a mud pH of 10 or higher.
- Utilize sulfide chemical scavengers and/or corrosion inhibitors.
- Use oil-base drilling fluids.