Concepts in Cleanup of Fracturing Fluids Used in Conventional Reservoirs: A Literature Review

Al-Muntasheri, Ghaithan A. (Saudi Aramco) | Li, Leiming (Aramco Services Company: Aramco Research Center–Houston) | Liang, Feng (Aramco Services Company: Aramco Research Center–Houston) | Gomaa, Ahmed M. (Saudi Aramco)


Summary Fracturing fluids are used for transport and placement of proppants in hydraulic-fracturing operations. In the case of conventional reservoirs, sufficient fluid viscosity is needed to transport proppant. An ideal fracturing fluid should possess enough viscosity to suspend and carry proppant. After the proppant placement, the fluid viscosity should drop to facilitate an efficient and quick fracture cleanup. This ensures adequate fracture conductivity. Most of the fracturing fluids used in these operations are dependent on crosslinking reactions between polymers and crosslinkers. Breaker technologies such as oxidizers, enzymes, fluoride compounds, oxides, vitamins, and decrosslinking agents are used to break the crosslinked polymer-based gels. These materials are added as components of the initial fracturing-fluids recipe. This paper will focus on the available breaker technologies used for degrading and cleaning up fracturing fluids used for conventional reservoirs. Each breaker has its own operating mechanism and window of application in terms of temperature and pH. The design and selection of a breaker package will first require an understanding of how the fracturing fluid forms. The current review reveals the crosslinking mechanisms of various fracturing fluids. These include the crosslinking of biopolymers with borates, the crosslinking of synthetic and biopolymers with metals, and the crosslinking of phosphate esters with metals. In the acidizing of carbonate reservoirs, the use of viscous fluids is needed to allow diversion of acid to lower-permeability paths. Moreover, the high viscosity retards the reaction between the acid and the rock, and this ensures deep penetration of the stimulation fluid. In this application, the viscosity develops as a response to the change in pH. Hydrocarbon fluids are used for hydraulically fracturing water-sensitive formations. Each of the aforementioned fracturing fluids has its own suitable breaker technology. For borate-crosslinked biopolymer gels, breakers such as oxidative and enzyme breakers can be used to reduce fluid viscosity by degrading polymer chains. An alternative approach to reduce viscosity of this type of fluid is the use of acids that lower the pH and decrosslink the fluid. A third route to reduce this fluid viscosity is by use of chelating agents and complexing agents. Lowering fluid viscosity alone may not sufficiently guarantee adequate proppant-pack and formation cleanup. It has been proved that low-viscosity fluids may still contain high-molecular-weight (MW) polymers that could severely damage formation and proppant pack. These high-MW polymers should be further broken into low-MW fragments with oxidizers or enzymes to achieve better production numbers. When metals are used to crosslink biopolymers and synthetic polymers, breakers such as oxidative breakers can still be effective. Acid fracturing fluids use fluoride-based breakers that can complex with the zirconium (Zr) and hence decrosslink the gel. When fracturing high-temperature wells, breakers can prematurely degrade the gel viscosity. This leads to less proppant placement and possibly screens out the proppant. As a result, the propped fracture becomes shorter and the well productivity will be less. To avoid this, breakers are encapsulated with materials that act as barriers between the breaker and fluid. The dissolution of the encapsulating material gives additional time for the gel to place the proppant. This paper reviews more than 100 papers and patents to summarize the experience and available knowledge in the area of using breakers for cleaning up fracturing fluids.

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