Jointed Pipe Versus Coiled Tubing Underbalanced Drilling​

Underbalanced drilling (UBD) is defined as drilling when the effective downhole circulating pressure of the drilling fluid is equal to, or lower than, the formation pressure.  There are many advantages to UBD including minimised formation damage/skin and therefore increased well productivity, increased ROP, and reduced risk of lost circulation as well as many others. The main disadvantages are additional complexity, higher risk of equipment failures, and the incompatibility of certain drilling fluids with conventional MWD systems, for example, two phase drilling fluids.


Equipment Considerations


Certain parts of the equipment are common across Jointed Pipe UBD and Coiled Tubing UBD operations. For example, the fluid coming back from the well still passes through a choke manifold followed by a separator. The separator can take many different forms and use different methods for separation. Both the choke and separators used are common to both Jointed Pipe UBD and Coiled Tubing UBD operations so won’t be discussed further here.


Where Jointed Pipe UBD and Coiled Tubing UBD diverge is on the pressure control equipment. On conventional drilling rigs or snubbing units carrying out UBD operations, a rotating control device (RCD) becomes the primary barrier and the annular and ram preventers become secondary barriers. The RCD diverts the fluid returns from the well to the choke manifold. When drilling with single phase liquid, two phase gas-liquid fluids, or foam, the remainder of the BOP stack is not that much different from the BOP stacks used for conventional overbalanced drilling with mud. RCD’s should be considered as high pressure diverters rather than an annular preventer or BOP. Their rated working pressure is usually lowered by 50% when rotating. Another consideration for Jointed Pipe UBD is the number and location of float valves that are necessary to prevent the influx of reservoir fluids inside the drill string either when tripping or making connections.


Well control is significantly simpler when carrying out UBD operations with Coiled Tubing because a coiled tubing rig up is inherently designed for underbalanced operations and pressure control. The bit is turned by a downhole motor and the pipe does not need to rotate; this allows for a standard BOP stack up, plus lubricator and a simple stripper assembly. The safest and simplest way to deploy the Coiled Tubing UBD BHA is with a suitable length of lubricator that allows the well to be shut in during rig up. Once the BHA is made up to the CT and the lubricator is made up again the well can be opened up and the BHA deployed in the safest possible manner. Although less preferable, it is also possible to deploy the BHA under pressure in two stages by using a slickline lubricator.


Comparative advantages of UBCTD over conventional UBD


When drilling the reservoir section of a well or sidetracking from an existing well to access another area of the reservoir, Coiled Tubing UBD usually has the edge over conventional UBD with hole sizes up to 8-1/2”. Coiled Tubing UBD has a safer, simpler and more reliable stack up. For Jointed Pipe UBD, when drilling with two phase fluids the time taken for the well to stabilise after making a connection can be prohibitive and remove a lot of the value of UBD. It is also difficult to maintain underbalance conditions when making connections as the following diagram shows.  

Author: Adam Miszewski

Published: 1st February 2017




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ointed Pipe Versus Coiled Tubing Underbalanced Drilling​

The potential of Coiled Tubing UBD


Despite the obvious advantages of UBD in terms of reservoir protection and drilling jobs that have been outstanding successes, it is a technology that has not yet fulfilled its full potential. However, in parts of the world, for example Saudi Arabia, it is the advantages of Coiled Tubing technology that has made UBD be the success that it has been over many years.  

Tuesday 7th February 2017 at 4:15am

Lot of really good articles on your site based on Coil Tubing drilling. What sort of build rate does AnTech’s COLT give? Having a single BHA which can do curved sections as well as straight laterals is definitely an advantage and will reduce tripping in and out of hole. Other service companies were also developing RSM's which were capable of doing curves as well as provide straight laterals which would increase reach and lateral length. On the field and engineering side we always preferred having a straight BHA as it made operations smoother in terms of better drilling parameters. I worked on the Underbalanced Coil Tubing Drilling project in Saudi as a Well Site Drilling Engineer, sometimes we were chasing reservoir target zone which were 1-2ft TVD thick. The bent motor or AKO motors were the preferred choice by the client. But yes, overall having a BHA which can do both curved sections and straight laterals will be the way forward.

Sumith Manoharan commented:

Tuesday 7th February 2017 at 3:11pm

Naceredine Fares commented:

Great article With joined pipe is the reservoir pressure is high enough you have to kill the well every time you trip or install a downhole deployment valve as you will reach the pipe light depth when tripping; However, the coil tubing is already equipped with the injector and you can trip out and in hole without the need of killing fluid. Coil tubing UBD can start operation on any existing well without the need to remove the completion or the wellhead however drilling underbalance with conventional rig the completion should be removed and BOP installed prior starting the operations.​

Sunday 14th May 2017 at 2:30am

Steve Nas commented:

One of the biggest advantages of using Coiled Tubing for underbalanced drilling was the ability for a wire in the coil. Having high speed pressure and directional data. Early UBD wells drilled back in the late 90's gave us some fantastic insights into what happened downhole and this provided that first real time reservoir inflow performance data. Also, using a WOB sensor provided the crews with the ability to increase ROP and manage hole cleaning.​

Wednesday 27th December 2017 at 6:56am

Meghan Joyce commented:

I am really surprised to get this kind of handy information which will be useful to me because I wanted to know about this type of job. Keep it up! Thanks!

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