To minimize fluid loss and the associated formation damage, foam is a preferred fluid to perform cleanout operations and reestablish communication with an open completion interval. Because of their high viscosity and structure, foams are suitable cleanout fluids when underbalanced well-cleanout operations are applied. Although several studies have been conducted to better understand foam-flow behavior and hydraulics, investigations performed on foam stability are very limited. Specifically, very little is known regarding the impact of wellbore inclination on the stability of foams. Unstable foams do not possess high viscosity, and as a result, they are not effective in cleanout operations, especially in inclined wellbores. Predicting the downhole instability of foam could reduce the number of drilling problems associated with excessive liquid drainage, such as temporary overbalance, formation damage, and wellbore instability. The objectives of this study are to investigate the effects of wellbore inclination on the stability of various types of foams and develop a method to account for the effect of inclination on foam stability in inclined wells.
In this study, foam-drainage experiments were performed using a flow loop that consists of a foam-drainage-measurement section and pipe viscometers. To verify proper foam generation, foam viscosity was measured using pipe viscometers and compared with previous measurements. Drainage experiments were performed with aqueous, polymer-based, and oil-based foams in concentric annulus and pipe under pressurized conditions. Tests were also conducted in vertical and inclined orientations to examine the effect of wellbore inclination on the stability of foams. The foam-bubble structure was examined and monitored in real time using a microscopic camera to study bubble coarsening. The foam quality (i.e., gas volume fraction) was varied from 40 to 80%.
Results show that the drainage rates in the pipe and annular section were approximately the same, indicating a minor effect of column geometry. More importantly, the drainage rate of foam in an inclined configuration was significantly higher than that observed in a vertical orientation. The inclination exacerbated foam drainage and instability substantially. The mechanisms of foam drainage are different in an inclined configuration. In inclined wellbores, drainage occurs not only axially but also laterally. As a result, the drained liquid quickly reaches a wellbore wall before reaching the bottom of foam column. Then, a layer of liquid forms on the low side of the wellbore. The liquid layer flows downward because of gravity and reaches the bottom of the test section without facing the major hydraulic resistance of the foam network. This phenomenon aggravates the drainage process considerably.
Although foam-drainage experiments have been reported in the literature, there exists only limited information on the effects of geometry and inclination on foam drainage and stability. The information provided in this paper will help to account for the effect of inclination on foam stability and subsequently improve the performance of oilfield operations involving foam as the working fluid.