A math-based model for deep-water oil drilling

Aug 25, 2011

Oil well control is one of the most important processes during drilling operations. In deepwater drilling, controlling pressure in the oil well is crucial, as excessive pressures in the drilled hole can result in blowouts, leading to disastrous events like the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill.

The deeper the well, the higher the pressure, and the higher the risks associated with tapping oil from wells. During drilling, when the pressure applied to balance the hydrocarbon pressure in a well is not great enough to overcome that exerted by gas and fluids in the drilled, water, gas, oil, or other formation fluid can enter the hole. This is called a "gas kick," which in worst-case scenarios can lead to blowouts.

In a paper published earlier this month in the SIAM Journal on Mathematical Analysis, author Steinar Evje presents new analysis of a that has applications to the study of such gas kicks in deep-water oil wells.

The use of mathematical models is important for the development of tools that can help simulate, and hence, increase control in deep-water well operations. "Various gas kick simulators are being developed for the purpose of studying well control aspects during exploratory and development drilling," says Evje. "Simulators have become an important tool for the development of new, more efficient and safer drilling methods."

"A simulator for drilling operations is composed of a set of nonlinear coupled partial differential equations that describe the simultaneous flow of hydrocarbons in a well. This mathematical represents a 'virtual laboratory' where the finer mechanisms related to a number of different physical effects can be studied in detail," Evje goes on to explain.

The main challenge presented in many of these models is the precise prediction of the pressure profile in addition to liquid/gas volumes and flow rates at various points along the oil well. "This issue becomes even more critical as many drilling operations today involve long and deep wells with corresponding high pressures and high temperatures," Evje explains. Regions along the well that are open to crevices and deformities in the rock formations present specific challenges, as it is critical to maintain well pressure at these positions within certain limits. Thus, in the case of inflow of gas from surrounding rock formations, it would be important to safely transport this gas out of the well.

The starting point for Evje's proposed mathematical model is a one-dimensional two-phase model, which is often used to simulate unsteady, compressible liquid and gas flow in pipes and wells. Unlike previously analyzed models, in this gas-liquid model, the two phases may have unequal fluid velocity and a generalized term to jointly represent liquid and gas pressure.

This allows a model that can describe the ascent of a gas slug (conglomerate of high pressure gas bubbles) due to buoyancy forces in a vertical well. A gas-kick situation is usually accompanied by such a flow scenario.

In order to compute reliable solutions, it is crucial to have a model that is well defined mathematically. Mathematical methods are applied in order to derive upper and lower limits for various quantities like masses and fluid velocities, which provide insight into the parameters that are important for the control of these quantities. In addition, they allow proof of the existence of solutions for the model in a strict mathematical sense. In this paper, the author demonstrates that under certain assumptions, a solution exists.

Conditions are assumed to be isothermal, and relevant physical mechanisms are factored into the model, such as frictional forces, hydrostatic pressure, force of gravity, and compression and decompression of gas.

Such is essential to optimize and evaluate drilling operations and well-control practices in order to minimize the possibility of oil well disasters, especially in deep-water wells. "The possibility of blowout occurrences needs to be mitigated in order to avoid human casualties, financial losses, and finally but not least, environmental damage," says Evje.

Explore further: Researchers help Boston Marathon organizers plan for 2014 race

More information: Weak Solutions for a Gas-Liquid Model Relevant for Describing Gas-Kick in Oil Wells, Steinar Evje, SIAM Journal on Mathematical Analysis 43 (2011), pp 1887-1922. Online publish date: August 11, 2011

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hundreds attend EPA hearing on Pa. gas drilling

Jul 22, 2010

(AP) -- Hundreds of people are attending a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hearing in southwestern Pennsylvania on a controversial natural gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

Mathematical model improves reactor efficiency

Jun 12, 2007

During his PhD project at Eindhoven University of Technology, Dutch researcher Vinit Chilekar developed a mathematical model for the design of a so-called slurry bubble column. That is a reactor for large-scale chemical processes, ...

Reducing prices at gas pump goal of UH engineers

Feb 01, 2006

Developing radios no larger than a grain of sand to increase the drilling efficiency of oil wells, University of Houston engineers see promise for reducing prices at the gas pump.

OU researchers developing shale gas reservoir simulator

Jan 05, 2011

University of Oklahoma researchers are developing a new simulator for shale gas reservoirs that will provide oil and gas companies with an essential tool for managing production and choosing drilling locations to lower costs ...

Recommended for you

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

8 hours ago

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.