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A Holistic Approach to Sand Control

S. Maclachlan and C. S. Harper, Baker Hughes Reservoir Development Services

Copyright 2016, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE Bergen One Day Seminar held in Bergen, Norway, 20 April 2016.
This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents
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In an age of low cost oil with increasing lift costs, the challenge is to exploit and drain existing reservoirs
as cost effectively as possible. Completion failures can be a major source of expenditure if not designed
correctly, leading to unnecessary costly workovers or interventions in conjunction with deferred production. By using just a fraction of the existing available data in a structured and consistent manner allows
selection of the optimum completion design. What must be included in a workflow to address this
The objective of this paper is to explain how a multi-discipline approach incorporating, geochemistry,
production chemistry, production technology, and reservoir engineering can be applied and how the
disciplines can interact with and complement each other. The resulting process is a robust structured
workflow that can lead to significant improvements in sand control design and selection.
More time spent planning and designing lower completions as part of an integrated system can result
in significant benefits to the operating company. The completion can be optimised resulting in an
improved completion lifespan, lower CAPEX and OPEX costs and increased production volumes over the
life of the field, while also taking into account environmental considerations.
This holistic approach has been incorporated into several field development plans and individual well
completion designs on behalf of operators around the world.

As big oil companies slash capital spending and consider withdrawal from mature basins such as the North
Sea, smaller companies will move in to try to develop and produce the remaining 24 billion barrels of oil
from the United Kingdom Continental Shelf (UKCS). However, much of the oil will be found in smaller
fields, with more complex geology and developed with only one or two wells tied back to an existing
facility. This increases the financial and technical risk to the operator, and in many cases, such firms may
not have the skillset to meet the technical challenges.
Therefore, the emphasis must be on getting the completion design and execution right first time since
the consequences of getting it wrong, can have economic implications on the viability of the field/well and
on the revenue / cash flow of the operator and its partners. An integrated approach to field and well
completion development that focuses on managing risk is essential. This paper presents some of the less


well understood segments of sand control in an effort to integrate various disciplines into a more coherent
and effective sand control strategy.

Figure 1Inflow along the openhole interval

A Holistic Approach
An integrated sand control approach was developed over a number of years (Fig. 2) by encompassing
learning outcomes from a large number of projects from around the globe. It comprises the following


Figure 2Holistic sand control workflow


Assessment Review existing data to assess the probability of sand production

Selection Provide a methodology for developing the sand management strategy
Define Detail the required equipment necessary to complete and operate the well
Execution Installation of sand control equipment in line with legislation and industry best
Operation How to bean-up the well efficiently

Figure 3Example of erosion profiles

Figure 4 Example of corrosion profiles


The use of a structured approach is essential to ensure the long-term integrity of the chosen completion
design and the economic success of the well and perhaps even the field.

Technical Aspects
A holistic approach to sand control encompasses many facets and disciplines. While many aspects are
relatively well understood, there are some that are not, or may escape consideration, and a few are
discussed below:
Particle Size Distribution (PSD) analysis and the impact on stand-alone screen or gravel pack
The relevance of the particle size distribution provided from sand disaggregation measurements, depends
largely upon how the mode of sample preparation and measurement, relates to the real life fluid exposure
of the near wellbore area. Additionally, any interpretation of this data must also examine and account for
factors such as mineralogy, reactivity/stability/wettability of the mineralogy when exposed to formation
water, consolidation of the productive interval(s) and historical solids production from analogue wells
with no sand control.
Amongst the particle size distribution analysis techniques commonly undertaken is dry sieve analysis
on solvent extracted core material, which while serving as a good baseline in lieu of other data, may
under-estimate the mobile, and therefore, producible fines material during normal production operations.
Conversely, optical particle size analysis of suspensions of disaggregated formation material may over
estimate fines production capability, if the fluids used are of a different composition/pH, or if the natural
wettability of the formation material is altered such that it is no longer representative of the formation
wettability, i.e. by exposure to solvents and mutual solvents, then by exposure to water.
One must also be conscious of the presence of clays and the wettability, both natural and under the test
conditions, accounting for sample preparation techniques. Features such as Kaolinite, which tends to break
off in booklets, is typically naturally oil wet (Bantignies, J.-L., et al, 1997), even after produced water
breakthrough; as such, it may be hydrophobic and protected from destabilisation and mobilisation during
production (due to residual oil). Wettability alteration and the removal of residual oil has been known to
cause kaolinite to be mobilised and therefore over-estimated during the analysis, particularly if test fluid
compositions induce structural instability.
Illite, on the other hand, is preferentially water wet and therefore less susceptible to overestimation
unless water compositions induce instabilities which do not normally exist. Clay stability must be assessed
in relation to the formation water and the fluids used in the analysis (Scheuerman, R.F., Bergerson, B.M.,
1990.) in addition to the natural wettability and any wettability alterations which may occur as a result of
sample handling and processing.
Additionally reactions between other minerals and the fluids used in the test may cause dissolution and
fines release, where under normal production this would not have occurred, i.e. salt dissolution in
hypersaline reservoirs or carbonate dissolution.
Additionally, oil may add competence to the rock, meaning that in the presence of oil, even residual
oil, the rock may be more structurally resistant to disaggregation than a solvent extracted sample (David,
C., et al, 2015). Removal of the oil from relatively weakly consolidated sandstone may increase sand
production rates if produced water does breakthrough, reducing the oil content to residual oil, but this
should still prove more competent than a solvent extracted core.
However, applying largely qualitative assessments and modifications to quantitative analyses is
difficult, and relies upon the use of analogues and experience, meaning that any particle size distribution
is largely open to interpretation, or becomes a matter of selecting which methodology is more representative of the field, i.e. can a high rate of fines production be expected under normal operating conditions?


Core flooding on preserved core material, restored to its original wettability by ageing, and flooded at
representative velocities, with either viscosity matched mineral oil, or gas saturated dead crude oil in
addition to water of a composition (and pH) representative of that likely to be produced is possibly more
representative of the solids production expected from a completion without sand control. Core material
must be monitored for mass loss, and effluent samples from such a core flood must, as a minimum, be
analysed for particle size distribution and solids loading to provide data for the input into sand control
device selection processes.
If the formation is of such poor consolidation that it cannot be flooded, bulk sample particle size
distribution analyses would be necessary.
The Effects of Erosion
Erosion is one of the key drivers behind sand control, in addition to topside process efficiencies and
wellbore stability. In poorly consolidated formations, erosion can be a significant factor in reducing the
lifespan of down-hole and topside equipment. Some industry-standard erosion models such as Salama and
Ventakesh and API 14E cannot only be very conservative, but provide only threshold values for the
velocities at which significant erosion may occur, and may be inaccurate if the models are applied to
multiphase streams or even single phase streams of a fluid type it was not designed for. Additionally the
application of a C factor for various metals means that inputs and outputs are subject to much
interpretation. The Tulsa SPPS model is the industry recognised benchmark, developed at the University
of Tulsa, using empirical data, and it accounts for many factors which influence erosion, which some of
the more simplistic models do not. Within this workflow, the Tulsa SPPS model is applied to estimate
erosion rates over a range of sensitivities. The inputs into the erosion modelling process include: particle
shape size and density, impact angle, velocity of carrier fluid, carrier fluid physical properties, and
metallurgy impacted (hardness and the relevant associated brittle/ductile behaviours at different impact
angles) (Arabnejad, H., et al, 2015). Assuming the aforementioned data is available, this should be the
erosion modelling process of choice.
The Impact of Corrosion
Correctly estimating corrosion rates downhole comprises of an understanding of the fluid compositions
provided, assessing how accurate and representative those compositions are, and how those compositions
change during sampling, storage, transportation and preparation for analysis. Ion balances and accounting
for the scaling potential to rectify water compositions must always be performed and Gas Oil Ratio (GOR)
and Bubble Point (Pb) of oil compositions must always be matched as closely as possible. Effort must be
made to find multiphase equilibrium with regards to corrosive elements. Ideally, CO2 and H2S is
measured from associated gas in well tests, and is recombined at the test separator conditions, accounting
for test separator temperature, pressure, water cut and the GOR. In lieu of test separator data, e.g. on new
fields where production has not commenced, corrosive element equilibrium must be established at
reservoir conditions, under the assumption that the validated PVT data is accurate.
Aqueous pH, CO2 and H2S partial pressure and fugacity profiles must be calculated, accounting for
partitioning changes as a result of the changing temperature, pressure and aqueous pH. Corrosion rates
must be estimated for CO2 on carbon steel surfaces, using industry standard models such as the correct
De Waard-Milliams 1995 model, which account for passivation potential from factors such as siderite
precipitation (de Waard, C., et al, 1995) (Bert, F.M., et al, 2002).
If the reservoir is water injected, and injection water breakthrough is expected, a worst case (mass
balance) souring potential must also be incorporated into potential H2S partial pressure and aqueous pH
profiles. In cases where both H2S and CO2 are present, the dominant corrosion mechanism should be


Vendor data and NACE guidelines (NACE MR0175 ISO_15156, 2009) must be consulted to establish
a metallurgy which is suitable for application in sand control systems and production tubing to avoid
failures, unexpected well interventions, and associated down time and deferred production.
What the workflow hopes to achieve is a sand control scheme in which an estimated combined
corrosion and erosion rate for all surfaces is less than 0.1mm/yr (as per basic industry standards), and
which meets the completion lifespan and economic requirements.
Flow Assurance
Pressure sensitive elements such as asphaltenes and inorganic scale must be examined to establish an
acceptable pressure drop allowance, i.e. a pressure drop which is unlikely to induce a productivity decline
issue or fouling of the lower completion. This is particularly pertinent where ICDs and ICVs are
considered because pressure drops may be significant with these devices.
Additional consideration must also be given to scale-inhibitor squeezes, because elements such as
ICDs may improve squeeze placement, and bull-headed stimulations may also be more effective.
ICDs/ICVs provide better coverage along the wellbore, potentially negating the need for more costly and
time consuming coiled-tubing interventions.
If wells are gravel-packed, it may also be advantageous to increase squeeze capacity by combining
gravel with material which has favourable sorption/desorption characteristics.
Application of Inflow Control Devices
While not strictly part of the sand control toolbox, ICDs/ICVs must be considered for OH horizontal
wells, because the additional CAPEX and deployment overhead is relatively small and the potential
benefits being largely positive. ICDs were installed in hundreds of wells worldwide over the last decade
and are considered a mature well-completion technology. However, how they work and what they can do
is still often misunderstood. They are mainly known for equalisation of inflow along long horizontal wells
(Daneshy, A, 2012) to mitigate the heel-to-toe effect, which assists in increased oil recovery. However,
they also they have additional functionality such as reducing water production (Ouyang, L-B, 2009),
reducing / eliminating annular flow (Al Marzooqi, A. 2010) and improving wellbore clean-up (AlKhelaiwi, F.T., 2009).
Horizontal wells provide maximum reservoir contact and, consequently, an increase in well productivity and improved sweep efficiency. However, long horizontal wells do suffer from the risk of early
water breakthrough and/or gas cusping because of fluid frictional effects and heterogeneity (Fig. 1), in the
reservoir matrix. Early water and/or gas breakthrough can result in a significant impact on the well
productivity and the bypass of potential recoverable oil reserves, both of which impact short and long term
revenue generation. Inflow control systems are designed to mitigate fluid frictional effects and reservoir
heterogeneities and enable a more even influx along the wellbore. This enables the toe of the well to
contribute effectively and a more even influx profile to be generated, leading to the elimination of the
heel-to-toe effect. Furthermore, the reservoir is swept in a more even fashion, delaying initial water
breakthrough and increasing oil recovery.
ICD Modelling The most common method for designing ICD completions has been to use static
analytical modelling, using hydraulic well simulators, in conjunction with production data from various
points in the life of the field. This is simple and quick, however, static modelling does have some
disadvantages compared to dynamic or numerical models (Gurses, S., Vasper, A., 2013), including:

3D property distributions such as permeability and water saturations used in dynamic modelling
give more accurate fluid flow predictions
Compartment sizes and packer locations can be optimised
Forecast saturations, pressure and flow profiles are considered more accurate
Gas or water breakthrough times can be calculated


Cumulative production profiles can be compared for various completion configurations

Takes into account other producers and injectors and their cumulative effect on production

Dynamic models are more detailed because they are based on geological and petrophysical models.
They are also history- matched against production data, and consequently, it is possible to predict more
accurately the fluid flow behaviour from the reservoir into the wellbore and along the wellbore into the
tubing. Static modelling is often used for screening processes and dynamic modelling for more detailed
qualitative studies.
Erosion A major cause of stand-alone-screen (SAS) failure is hot spotting (Zamberi, M.S.A, 2014),
which occurs when fluid flow carrying solids is concentrated over a small region of the SAS such that the
velocity exceeds the erosional threshold of the completion metallurgy. It is shown that reducing or
eliminating annular flow can be achieved with the combination of SAS-ICD and compartmentalisation
(Regulacion, R., 2011). The elimination of annular velocity is caused by the evening out of the wellbore
influx which succeeds in removing any flow convergence points that can eventually be eroded.
Well Clean-Up Increased levels of formation damage are observed in long-reach horizontal wells from
the increased exposure of the formation to the drilling and completion fluids; use of increased overbalance
pressure while drilling; and poor clean-up techniques (Al-Khelaiwi, F.T., 2009).
The extended length of the well causes a variation in the drawdown along the horizontal section,
making it impossible to ensure there is a sufficiently high drawdown to lift the mud cake and remove the
formation damage from the toe of the well. Additionally, taking into account variations in reservoir
parameters means there is an increased chance of reduced productivity when drilling long horizontal
wells. While increased drawdowns are an option, they are not always advantageous because they can lead
to wellbore collapse, early water and/or gas coning as well as encouraging sand production.
Consequently, the equalizing effect of the ICD is beneficial in the cleaning of long horizontal wells,
especially those with large variations in reservoir parameters, and where there is a significant heel-to-toe
Torque and Drag Analysis
When running screens in the hole, the hanging weight of the completion string is usually adequate to push
the screens to Total Depth (TD), however, with long extended-reach horizontal sections, this may not be
possible. Therefore, it is advisable to model the well to ensure the completion string can resist the tension,
compression and torque forces applied and to confirm there is enough weight in the completion string to
get to TD.
The completion string is not as mechanically strong as the casing string, and consequently cannot be
floated or rotated. Torque and drag modelling is very successful in predicting the completion string
behaviour under different scenarios (Rae, G., 2005) and therefore increases the chance of deploying the
completion successfully.
The friction magnitude is dependent on well tortuosity and lubricity of the completion fluid and
whether or not the well is cased-hole or open-hole. Modelling the effects of friction can help predict if the
completion string will undergo helical or sinusoidal buckling. It is good practice to model drag effects in
all proposed well completion designs because this helps reduce any problems at the rig site, reduces costs
and improves overall well productivity.

Operational Excellence
At this moment reliability of Offshore installations in the UKCS is very poor (Cole, D., April 2014) with
an average installation, in 2012, having an efficiency of only 60%, a fall of 21% from 2004. Overall, half
of all losses in the UKCS were from equipment failure and unplanned shutdowns, with the remaining


losses allocated to planned outages, interventions and well workovers. At the same time, operating
expenditures in North Sea oil have doubled in 15 years (Cole, D., June 2014) and these rising costs
coupled with deferred production have begun to shrink the economic life of some fields.
The oil industries primary goal is not only to maximise the production of oil but also to maximise
revenue and profit, a point lost on many in the oil industry. Consequently, if the well completion design
and deployment is not ideal, then there is an economic impact:

Firstly, deferred production, from reduced production or downtime to remediate technical issues,
costs money. The time value of money means that #1 today is always better than #1 tomorrow
because purchasing power is generally eroded with time because of inflation.
Secondly, investments will grow over time. Therefore, the sooner the operator and partners receive
the revenue, the sooner it is invested and the sooner it may start to grow the next investment.
Thirdly, over time, markets can change and commitments and contacts can be broken or
successfully challenged. The further into the future you intend to operate, the greater the
opportunity for something to change or fail; therefore, projects with a shorter payback period are
better/less risky than projects with longer payback periods.
These three points are mitigated, in part, by ensuring the completion design and deployment
techniques are right first time. This approach will improve the Net Present Value (NPV) and
Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of the project.
Improvements via standardisation, simplification and collaboration to minimise risk and maximise
operational efficiency is of paramount importance in all operations. An excellent example is the car
industry, and their use of lean-production techniques (Allan, M.E., et al, 2013). Aera Energy, California,
owned by ExxonMobil and Shell, revolutionised onshore oil and gas extraction by applying these
techniques. It has treated the drilling process as a manufacturing process by utilising just in time planning,
standardisation, and close collaboration with suppliers. In 2011, Aera were the first oil company to win
an award for excellence in manufacturing.

Selecting the correct sand control technique impacts not only the longevity of the well, but also the
longevity and efficiency of the processes downstream from the well. Optimum selection of well
completion design reduces the risk of integrity failure, downtime and process upsets, which is not only
costly and time-consuming to rectify, but also reduces the return on the initial investment through deferred
The more holistic and structured the approach to planning and designing lower completions, the more
likely the deployment will be successful both from a technical and economic perspective.


Inflow Control Device

Inflow Control Valves
Open Hole
United Kingdom Continental Shelf
Gas Oil Ratio
Bubble Point
Net Present Value
Internal Rate of Return
Total Depth



We would like to acknowledge Baker Hughes for their support when compiling this paper.

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