State of the Art of Flow Management for Frac Plug Drillout and Flowback | SLB
Tech Paper
Permian Basin, Utica Shale, Eagle Ford, DJ Basin, United States, North America, Onshore
Dmitriy Potapenko, Bertrand Theuveny, Ryan Williams, Katharine Moncada, Mario Campos, Pavel Spesivtsev, and Dean Willberg, Schlumberger
Paper Number
Presentation Date
30 September–2 October 2019
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State of the Art of Flow Management for Frac Plug Drillout and Flowback


Highly efficient multi-stage hydraulic fractured horizontal wellbores are the dominant completion method for many basins worldwide. One potential weakness of multi-stage hydraulic fracturing is that the later stages of the completion workflow – frac-plug drill out (FPDO) and flowback – cause large pressure fluctuations and transient flows through the perforation clusters that coincide with a period of low closure stress in the fractures. The proppant packs in the fractures during this period are fragile and prone to failure. Previously reported results show that flowback and initial production practices have a major impact on proppant production, maintenance and disposal costs and the subsequent well performance. In this paper the results from over 200 FPDO and flowback operations from the United States and Argentina are reviewed. These results show that maintaining a balanced flowrate during FPDO operations is critical for minimizing inadvertent damage to the hydraulic fracture network.

The FPDO flowrate balance is the difference between the coiled tubing injection and annular return flowrates. The magnitude and sign of the balance corresponds to the instantaneous flowrate through the open perforation clusters into or out of the hydraulic fracture network. A positive balance rate, or overbalance, injects fluid into the fracture system. A negative balance rate, or underbalance, produces stimulation or formation fluids from the fracture network. Sudden changes between these two regimes creates local flows that can be severe enough to flush large quantities of proppant out of the fractures. Our results show that high-frequency multiphase flowmeters simplify the process of maintaining balance (no inflow, no outflow). Furthermore, close monitoring of any imbalance that develops, and rapid control of the surface choke and injection rate, can provide for an efficient operation while protecting the integrity of the fracture system.

Early monitoring of flowback and production with a high frequency flowmeter was shown to be extremely useful technique for optimizing well productivity during well clean-up. This paper also shows how a dual energy gamma ray multiphase flowmeter successfully quantified proppant produced during FPDO and flowback. Examples of the dynamics of sand production are shown, as well as correlations to events of excessive underbalance conditions.

At the end of the paper we show that most of the highlighted problems can be solved through making changes to the well construction workflow and accounting for relationships between various well operations. Incorporation of this workflow enables early prediction of well performance issues and their efficient resolution.

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