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SPE 107169

Controls on Water Cresting in High-Productivity Horizontal Gas Wells


R.P. Sech, SPE, M.D. Jackson, SPE, and Gary Hampson, Imperial College London

Copyright 2007, Society of Petroleum Engineers


This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE Europec/EAGE Annual Conference and
Exhibition held in London, United Kingdom, 1114 June 2007.
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Abstract
It is widely agreed that gas reservoirs with a component of
water drive should be produced at high rates to minimize the
volume of gas which is trapped at high pressure by the
advancing water (often termed outrunning the aquifer). Yet
high production rates are also associated with coning (in
vertical wells) or cresting (in horizontal wells) of the
encroaching water, leading to early water breakthrough. In
vertical wells, the formation of an inverse gas cone means that
high gas rates can be maintained post-breakthrough until
almost the whole perforated interval is flowing water.
However, in horizontal wells, water breakthrough is a serious
threat to gas deliverability, because the inverse coning
mechanism does not apply and the well rapidly loads with
water. Consequently, it is not clear whether producing at high
rates is the best strategy to maximize recovery in gas
reservoirs developed using horizontal wells.
We investigate the risk associated with producing
horizontal wells at high rates by simulating gas recovery and
aquifer response over a broad range of reservoir properties and
production scenarios. We find that high rates always result in
lower gas recovery unless the ratio of vertical to horizontal
permeability is very low, in which case water cresting is
suppressed. However, there are many instances where
accelerating production recovers only slightly less gas over
much shorter timescales, so may be economically favorable.
Rate sensitivity increases in low permeability reservoirs with
thin gas columns, because these conditions increase the
tendency for water cresting, and decreases in reservoirs with
strong aquifer support, since water breakthrough occurs
regardless of the rate at which the well is produced. Our
results can be used as a reference framework to rapidly assess
gas production behavior and aquifer response within a wide
range of field development scenarios.
Introduction
Horizontal and highly deviated wells are increasingly being

used in gas field developments worldwide.1-5 Large-bore


horizontal wells can deliver significantly higher gas
production rates than conventional completions,2 reducing
field development costs by allowing reserves to be targeted
with fewer wells.4-6 However, realizing the potential of highproductivity gas wells requires an understanding of the
subsurface risks to deliverability, to ensure sustained gas
production, maximize profitability, and establish large-bore
completions as an economically viable development option. A
key subsurface risk in gas reservoirs with a component of
water drive is early water breakthrough.3-5,7,8 In large-bore
horizontal wells, early water breakthrough is a particularly
serious threat to deliverability, because of the significant
reduction in gas flow capacity associated with flowing
entrained water to the surface.4,9-11 At best, substantial water
production will require expensive processing facilities; at
worst, it will effectively kill the well.3-5,12
Based on material balance considerations, it is widely
agreed that gas reservoirs with a component of water drive
should be produced at high rates. This approach (often
described as outrunning the aquifer) maximizes gas recovery
by reducing the volume of gas which is trapped at high
pressure by the advancing water.13-18 In this context, high
productivity horizontal wells might be expected to make a
positive contribution to gas recovery, because they can
generally produce at much higher rates than vertical wells.
However, material balance approaches assume that the gaswater
contact
(GWC)
remains
flat
during
production.13,14,16,18,20-22 Yet bottom-water drive gas reservoirs
are associated with coning (in vertical wells) or cresting (in
horizontal wells) of the GWC towards the well.7,23-28 Cresting
occurs when viscous forces associated with pressure
drawdown overcome gravity forces resulting from the density
contrast between gas and water, causing a crest or cone of
water to be drawn upwards towards the producing well29 (Fig.
1). Water crest behavior has been described using analytical
approaches to predict a critical rate above which water
breakthrough is expected,30,31 and time to water
breakthrough.32,33 These approaches imply a sensitivity of gas
recovery to production rate that conflicts with material balance
techniques, as the severity of water cresting is increased with
accelerated production, and therefore water breakthrough is
expected earlier at higher rates. Water crest development also
becomes more significant as the separation between the well
and GWC is reduced, the horizontal reservoir permeability
decreases, and the vertical permeability increases.29
In gas fields developed with vertical wells, it has been
suggested that the benefits of outrunning the aquifer outweigh

the penalties associated with coning.24 McMullen and


Bassiouni (2000)28 explained this in the following way.
Producing at high rates does indeed induce the formation of a
water cone, leading to earlier breakthrough. However, the
high mobility of the gas means that high gas rates and low
water-gas ratios can be maintained post-breakthrough, owing
to an inverted coning effect, until almost the whole perforated
interval is flowing water (Fig. 2). Their results suggest that
high production rates are never detrimental to overall gas
production. McMullen and Bassiouni (2000)28 also suggest
that higher gas recovery is obtained in formations with
intermediate values of permeability (c. 10-100 mD). This is
because well productivity is still high due to the high mobility
of the gas, but aquifer influx is restricted. As the permeability
increases above this range, the aquifer can respond more
rapidly to production, leading to higher abandonment pressure;
as the permeability decreases below this range, gas well
productivity begins to decline. Finally, they suggest that
restricting well completions to the top of the formation does
not improve recovery. Completing vertical wells far away
from the GWC has conventionally been used as a strategy to
mitigate against coning, because the tendency for coning is
increased as the stand-off decreases between the completion
interval and the GWC.29 However, they argue that decreasing
the completion interval reduces well productivity, and has no
benefit because coning is not a significant threat.
It is not clear whether these same conclusions will apply
to horizontal wells, particularly those with high potential
productivity. Production capacity has been severely impaired
by water influx in horizontal and highly deviated gas wells
producing at significantly higher rates than the maximum of
30 MMscf/d considered by McMullen and Bassiouni
(2000).1,3,28 Generally, water influx results in the need to
significantly choke back production, because very high water
rates are difficult to handle at the surface;3,4 expensive well
intervention is often required to locate the source of the water
and shut it off.3 At least one horizontal gas well in the North
Sea has experienced very early abandonment caused by
excessive water production.12 Despite this risk, several gas
reservoirs have been developed recently using a small number
of high-rate horizontal wells to optimize recovery and net
present value.2-6,8 In developments such as these, it is desirable
to design a reservoir management strategy that avoids early
water production.
The aim of this study is to determine quantitatively the
controls on gas production and water breakthrough in dry gas
reservoirs producing from horizontal wells at high rates, in the
presence of an active bottom-water aquifer.
We are
particularly interested in the risks associated with (1) very
high production rates (up to 500 MMscf/day 5); (2) uncertainty
in aquifer size and support; (3) reservoir permeability and
permeability anisotropy; (4) gas column thickness; and (5)
well location with respect to the GWC. We use a simple
homogenous simulation model to investigate these key
uncertainties. The results of this study provide a benchmark in
relation to which the effects of geologic heterogeneity on gas
recovery and aquifer behavior can be considered; we are
currently investigating such effects using simulation models
that include a detailed description of facies architecture in
shallow-marine reservoirs. Early water breakthrough in gas

SPE 107169

reservoirs has been attributed to geologic heterogeneity in


several cases.1,3,7,12,34

Figure 1: Simulated water saturation at breakthrough to a


horizontal well. The gas-saturated zone has been filtered out;
only water saturation is shown. The gas-water interface responds
to viscous forces induced by gas production by forming an
axisymmetric crest geometry below the well.

Methodology
We simulate gas production in the presence of an active
bottom water aquifer using a simple three-dimensional model
(Fig. 3). The reservoir zone measures 900 m in the x and y
(horizontal) directions and has a maximum thickness of 50 m.
A bottom-water aquifer is attached to the base of the reservoir.
The aquifer measures 1800 m in the x and y directions,
extending beyond the reservoir. Aquifer thickness is 100 m.
We change the effective size of the aquifer by modifying the
aquifer porosity away from the reservoir connection.28 This
basic model geometry is used for all simulations.
Reservoir and aquifer porosity (adjacent to the reservoir
connection) is constant in all simulations (= 0.25). We use the
relative permeability and capillary pressure data measured for
gas-water systems in the experimental work of Chierici et al.
(1963)35 and simulated in the coning study of Kabir (1983)25
(Table 1). The relative permeability to water (krw) at residual
gas saturation (Sgr) is high and yields a higher water mobility
than considered in other coning studies.28,34 Production is via
a single 330 m (1000 ft) horizontal well with 0.18 m (7 inch)
internal-tubing diameter, which is consistent with the
dimensions of high-rate gas wells utilized in the Columbus
Basin, offshore Trinidad.4 The well is located in the centre of
the model area. Initial reservoir pressure is 4094 psia, which
represents the average pressure of 12 reported water drive gas
reservoirs from the Cassia and Mahogany Fields of the
Columbus Basin.8 Reservoir permeability (kh), permeability
anisotropy (kv/kh), gas column thickness, and stand-off
between the well and the GWC, are varied in a sensitivity
analysis which is described in the following section.

SPE 107169

3
35

from Chierici et al. (1963)

Gas

Water

Water coning

Sg

krg

krw

Pc

0.00

0.0000

1.0000

0.0000

0.10

0.0000

0.8750

0.0700

0.20

0.0000

0.7500

0.1500

0.30

0.0200

0.6250

0.2300

0.40

0.0850

0.5000

0.3000

0.50

0.2000

0.3750

0.3700

0.60

0.3700

0.2250

0.4500

0.70

0.6500

0.1250

0.5300

0.80

1.0000

0.0000

0.6000

Table 1: Relative permeability and capillary pressure (in PSI) data


used in the simulation models.

Gas coning water breakthrough


low GWR
C

Gas coning high GWR


D
High

High

Cumulative Gas Production

Cumulative Water Production

Low

Low
Early

Time

Late

Figure 2: Series of schematic cross-sections illustrating coning


behavior in a gas-water system produced with a vertical well (after
28
McMullan and Bassiouni, 2000) : (A) during early production, the
gas-water interface deforms below the well to form a prominent
cone, (B) after water breakthrough, the gas-water interface inverts
to create a gas-cone which protects the well from increased
water influx, and (C) the high mobility of gas relative to water
maintains the gas-cone as the GWC rises, ensuring a low watergas ratio until virtually all of the producing interval is flowing
water. (D) Cumulative recovery profiles for gas and water from the
production scenario shown above. McMullan and Bassiouni
28
(2000) simulated a similar response with a maximum production
rate of 20 MMscf/d, noting that nearly all gas is recovered prior to
a rapid increase in water production as the well eventually floods.

Figure 3: Simulation model used in the sensitivity analysis. The


reservoir is shown in red; the aquifer in blue. The reservoir
measures 900 m x 900 m areally, and a maximum of 50 m
vertically. The aquifer measures 1800 m x 1800 m areally, and
100 m vertically. The reservoir gas pore volume (GPV) is 68 Bcf
for a gas column thickness of 50m.

We measure the sensitivity of reservoir performance to


various factors by considering the total volume of gas
recovered prior to well abandonment, when (1) water breaks
through to the well, or (2) reservoir pressure depletes to the
minimum flowing bottom-hole pressure (BHP) of 500 psia. In
real reservoir cases, gas production is likely to continue after
breakthrough, but at significantly reduced rates and increased
cost because of the need to handle large volumes of water.
However, this study focuses on the impact of production
strategy on water-free gas production in high-rate horizontal
wells. Production rate is the primary target for each
simulation, and is varied in the sensitivity analysis. The target
rate may decrease during production in order to comply with
the BHP constraint.

SPE 107169

Flow is simulated using a gridding scheme that is locally


refined around the well, and coarsened within the aquifer. The
highest resolution cells are located closest to the well, and
measure 0.3 m perpendicular to the length of the horizontal
well, and 50 m parallel to the well (Fig. 3). The width of each
grid cell increases exponentially away from the well in the x
direction (perpendicular to the well) for a distance of 150 m.
Beyond this region, each reservoir grid cell measures 50 m in
the x and y directions (Fig. 3). The refinement in the x
direction is necessary to resolve the water crest geometry. Grid
layering in the z (vertical) direction is set constant at 1 m
within the reservoir zone (Fig. 3). The areal local grid
refinement is maintained within the upper 15 m of the aquifer
to ensure flow convergence at the reservoir-aquifer
connection. Vertical cell thickness within this aquifer section
is increased to 5 m. The remaining grid cells below this
aquifer section measure 50 m in the x and y directions, and
15 m in the z direction (Fig. 3). In total, 41,040 grid cells are
active in the reservoir section and 12,960 cells are active in the
aquifer. All flow simulations are undertaken using the
Eclipse 100 black oil simulator.
Sensitivity Analysis
The following study assesses the sensitivity of gas recovery to
four key parameters: (1) gas production rate; (2) aquifer
strength; (3) gas column thickness, and (4) well-GWC standoff. Table 2 lists the ranges over which these parameters are
varied, and also the range of kh and kv/kh, against which the
impact of each parameter is tested. Parameter ranges are
chosen to represent good reservoir quality sands typical of gas
fields in the Columbus Basin. Management strategy within a
number of these fields relies upon using few high rate
horizontal wells to target thick, sand-rich reservoirs.4,8 It has
been forecasted that production rates of up to 500 MMscf/d
may be achieved from these reservoirs,5 yet the loss of
deliverability from a single well can potentially disable
production from an entire reservoir. Therefore, we consider
the risk of producing at high rate in a reservoir with a bottom
water-drive aquifer, against the critical parameters which may
_

be difficult to characterize from subsurface datasets, and are


often associated with significant uncertainty.
Impact of Production Rate on Gas Recovery and Aquifer
Behavior. We begin by considering the sensitivity of gas
recovery to production rate for different values of reservoir
permeability and permeability anisotropy (kv/kh ratio). Each
simulation run assumes the well is located at the top of a gas
column 50 m (164 ft) thick. Aquifer strength is fixed at
25xGPV (gas pore volume); all other reservoir and production
parameters are varied according to the values in Table 2.
We find that recovery always decreases with increasing
production rate, regardless of reservoir permeability (Fig. 4).
However, the sensitivity of recovery to rate decreases as the
kv/kh ratio decreases. Well abandonment is caused by water
breakthrough in all cases, except for the highest permeability
considered (3000 mD), the lowest production rate (50
MMscf/d), and the lowest kv/kh ratio (0.01). Recovery ceases
owing to the BHP constraint in these cases. The sensitivity of
recovery to rate increases with decreasing permeability, except
for the lowest permeability considered (5 mD).
Decreasing the kv/kh ratio yields higher recovery for any
given production rate. Furthermore, as kv/kh decreases, the
sensitivity of recovery to reservoir permeability decreases, as
does the penalty of producing at high rate. When the kv/kh
ratio is low (<0.01), recovery is still maximized for the lowest
production rate, but the penalty of accelerating production is
modest (<5% across the production range 50-500 MMscf/d),
regardless of reservoir permeability.
These results suggest that water cresting from the bottom
water aquifer dominates production efficiency. Consequently,
recovery decreases as production rate increases, because water
breakthrough occurs earlier. The penalty of accelerating
production decreases as kh increases, because high rates can be
maintained with less pressure drawdown, so cresting is
reduced. As the kv/kh ratio decreases, the aquifer response is
inhibited, so water breakthrough is delayed and recovery
increases. This is consistent with analytical descriptions of
cresting response and time to water breakthrough (e.g. [29]).

Table 2: Parameters used in the sensitivity analysis


Parameter

Setting

the following parameter settings remain fixed for each simulation run
Well length

330 m (1000 ft)

Tubing diameter

0.18 m (7 inches)

Porosity

0.25

Initial reservoir pressure

4094 (psia)

BHP limit

500 (psia)

the following parameter settings are varied for each simulation run, depending upon the sensitivity analysis
Production rate

50, 100, 200, 300, 500 (MMscf/d)

Aquifer size

1, 2.5, 5, 10, 25, 50, 200 (ratio of aquifer PV to GPV)

Gas column thickness

10, 20, 30, 40, 50 (m)

Standoff

10, 20, 30, 40, 50 (m)

kh

5, 75, 250, 400, 750, 1000, 1400, 2000, 3000 (mD)

kv/kh

0.01, 0.1, 1

SPE 107169

Figure 4 A-C: Variation of gas recovery factor with production


rate. Different curve colors denote different values of reservoir
permeability (kh). Each plot corresponds to a different kv/kh
ratio.

In this base case scenario, maximum recovery is always


achieved with the lowest production rate; producing at high
rates to outrun the aquifer leads only to an increased risk of
early water breakthrough, rather than increased recovery. The
risk of early breakthrough is reduced as vertical permeability
decreases, but the sensitivity of recovery to the kv/kh ratio is

high, particularly when kh is low. Consequently, accelerating


production in the presence of a large, bottom water aquifer
does not increase overall recovery, and is associated with
significant risk of early water breakthrough if reservoir
permeability is poorly understood. This may change if the
aquifer size is different. We consider this issue in the next
section.
Impact of Aquifer Strength on Gas Recovery and Aquifer
Behavior. The impact of production rate and reservoir
permeability on cresting behavior may change with aquifers of
varying strength, through the dynamics of reservoir pressure
decline interacting with different levels of water influx and
pressure support. Variations in aquifer strength are accounted
for within material balance expressions of gas recovery (e.g.
[8]), but are not included in analytical descriptions of water
cresting because these are based on the local balance of
viscous and gravity forces. We therefore use our simulation
model to investigate the impact on recovery of varying aquifer
strength over the range listed in Table 2. All other simulation
parameters remain the same as in the previous section. We
present results for low (kh = 75 mD) and high (kh = 1400 mD)
values of reservoir permeability, and low (50 MMscf/d) and
high (300 MMscf/d) production rates.
For small aquifers (1xGPV to 2.5xGPV) we find that the
well is abandoned at the BHP limit, except for the lowest
reservoir permeability, highest kv/kh ratio, and highest
production rate (Fig. 5). Water breakthrough is observed for
these cases. As aquifer size increases, recovery decreases
owing to earlier water breakthrough for cases with high
production rate, low reservoir permeability and high kv/kh
ratio. However, in cases with low production rate and high
reservoir permeability, and in all cases with low kv/kh ratio,
recovery increases with increasing aquifer size, and water
breakthrough does not occur, up to an aquifer size of 25xGPV.
As aquifer size increases above this, recovery decreases with
increasing aquifer size, and the well is abandoned owing to
water breakthrough. As kv/kh decreases, recovery becomes less
sensitive to rate and reservoir permeability. Increasing
production rate generally decreases recovery, except when the
kv/kh is low (0.01) and the aquifer is large (>50xGPV).
These results suggest that, in cases where water cresting
is expected (high rate, low permeability, and high kv/kh ratio),
increasing aquifer size leads to earlier water breakthrough and
hence lower recovery. However, in cases where cresting is
inhibited (low rate, high permeability, and most significantly,
low kv/kh ratio), recovery increases as aquifer size increases up
to a maximum value. For aquifer sizes less than this, water
breakthrough does not occur; for aquifer sizes greater than
this, recovery decreases with increasing aquifer size owing to
earlier water breakthrough.
When cresting is suppressed, it might be expected that
reservoir behavior would be predicted by material balance
approaches. However, an increase in recovery with increasing
aquifer strength is not predicted by material balance. It occurs
because aquifer support slows the rate of reservoir pressure
decline, allowing further reserves to be produced prior to
abandonment at the BHP limit (e.g. Fig. 6). This effect has
been observed in Columbus Basin gas fields produced through
vertical wells, which are protected from water influx by the

SPE 107169

inverse coning effect.8,28 The benefit of aquifer support has


also been predicted in a simulation study for the Mahogany 20
___
A

Sand in this basin, which considered a horizontal well of 7inch diameter and similar ranges of reservoir parameters.36
Our results suggest that it is particularly important to
characterize aquifer size in reservoirs with low kh and high
kv/kh ratio, because these conditions provide the greatest risk of
cresting leading to early water breakthrough at high
production rates. If the kv/kh ratio is low (<0.01) and aquifer
support is very strong, recovery can be marginally increased
by producing at high rate over a restricted range of kh. This is
the only situation where outrunning the aquifer yields higher
recovery. Water influx is inevitable, and gas remains trapped
at high pressure if the reservoir is produced at low rate (Fig.
6). Producing at high rate reduces reservoir pressure prior to
water breakthrough, so more gas is recovered. However, the
increase in recovery is small (<10%), and the associated risk is
high, as recovery will decrease at higher rates if the kv/kh ratio
is higher than predicted.

Figure 6: Reservoir pressure against GPV produced, during


production for a case with low kh (75 mD), low kv/kh ratio (0.01)
and large aquifer size (200xGPV).

Figure 5 A-C: Variation of gas recovery factor with aquifer


strength. Different curve colors denote different values of
reservoir permeability (kh); different curve symbols denote
different production rates. Each plot corresponds to a different
kv/kh ratio.

Impact of Gas Column Thickness on Gas Recovery and


Aquifer Behavior. Production characteristics for various gas
column thicknesses smaller than the base case are now
considered, to determine whether there is a critical minimum
gas column thickness below which early water breakthrough
always inhibits gas production. We assess gas column
thickness over the range listed in Table 2. All other simulation
parameters remain the same as in the previous section. We
present results for low (kh = 75 mD) and high (kh = 1400 mD)
values of reservoir permeability, and low (50 MMscf/d) and
high (300 MMscf/d) production rates. The well is located at
the top of the reservoir in each case.
We find that recovery decreases as the gas column
thickness decreases (Fig. 7). Production ceases as a result of
water breakthrough when the gas column thickness is less than
40 m (131 ft), regardless of reservoir permeability,
permeability anisotropy, or production rate. Increasing
production rate always leads to earlier water breakthrough and
lower recovery.
__________

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Figure 7 A-C: Variation of gas recovery factor with gas column


thickness Different curve colors denote different values of
reservoir permeability (kh); different curve symbols denote
different production rates.
Each plot corresponds to a
different kv/kh ratio.

For high permeability cases, the sensitivity of recovery to


production rate increases with decreasing gas column
thickness. For low permeability cases and high kv/kh ratio, rate
sensitivity decreases with decreasing gas column thickness,
because water breakthrough occurs almost immediately for
gas column thickness of 20m (66 ft) or less. This suggests that
there is a critical minimum gas column thickness, below which
gas recovery is severely compromised by very early water
production. Its value varies with production rate, reservoir kh
and kv/kh ratio. Our results suggest it is less than 10 m (33 ft)
in reservoirs with high permeability (>75 mD) or low kv/kh
ratio (<1) for production rates up to 300 MMscf/d.
Decreasing the kv/kh ratio delays water breakthrough
regardless of kh, production rate or gas column thickness. The
sensitivity of recovery to production rate and kh again
decreases with decreasing kv/kh ratio, so the penalty of
accelerating production is reduced. The controls on recovery
and time to water breakthrough are essentially the same as
those discussed previously, regardless of gas column
thickness. However, when the gas column is thin, early water
breakthrough is expected even when the vertical permeability
is very low. These results are consistent with analytical
approaches, which predict that cresting will be enhanced as the
well proximity to the GWC decreases (e.g. [29]).
Impact of Stand-off on Gas Recovery and Aquifer
Behavior. We finally consider the impact of varying the
stand-off between the well and initial GWC when the gas
column thickness is fixed at 50 m (164 ft), to determine the
penalty associated with failing to locate the well at the top of
the reservoir. Production is simulated for the range of well
locations (stand-off from the GWC) listed in Table 2. All
other simulation parameters remain the same as in the
previous sections. We present results for low (kh = 75 mD)
and high (kh = 1400 mD) values of reservoir permeability, and
low (50 MMscf/d) and high (300 MMscf/d) production rates.
The variation in recovery with stand-off is similar to the
variation in recovery with gas column thickness. For example,
recovery is similar for a well located 10 m (33 ft) above the
GWC, regardless of whether the well is completed at the top
of a thin reservoir, or significantly offset from the top of a
thick reservoir (compare Figs. 7 and 8). Moreover, the same
sensitivity to production rate is observed, with recovery
decreasing as rate increases.
Decreasing the kv/kh ratio delays water breakthrough, and
reduces the sensitivity of recovery to production rate and kh.
In cases with low kv/kh, cresting is inhibited so production is
essentially described by material balance. As the well is
moved closer to the contact, recovery decreases approximately
linearly (e.g. Fig. 8B) simply because the (flat) water front
reaches it more quickly.
The reduction in recovery with decreasing stand-off can
be significant (up to 65%) (Fig. 8). Thus, there is a strong
motivation to bring wells in as high on structure as possible to
maximize stand-off. However, for the range of parameters
investigated, we do not observe a critical stand-off, below
which gas recovery is severely compromised by very early
water production. Its value will vary with production rate,
reservoir kh and kv/kh ratio, and our results suggest it is less
than 10 m (33 ft) for the cases considered.

Figure 8 A-B: Variation of gas recovery factor with stand-off


between the well and the GWC. Different curve colors denote
different values of reservoir permeability (kh); different curve
symbols denote different production rates.
Each plot
corresponds to a different kv/kh ratio. Key as in Figure 5C.

Discussion
We have found that water cresting dominates aquifer response
and hence recovery in gas reservoirs with an active bottomwater aquifer, when produced at high rates through horizontal
wells, unless the kv/kh ratio is low. Cresting is controlled by
reservoir pressure drawdown, which in turn is a function of
production rate, permeability and aquifer strength. An
understanding of the interaction between these parameters is
required to develop a reservoir management strategy which
avoids water production.
In general, producing at high rates increases pressure
drawdown, leading to the formation of a water crest, earlier
water breakthrough and lower gas recovery. Consequently,
producing at high rates to outrun the aquifer does not lead to
higher recovery in bottom-water drive gas reservoirs.
However, the risk of early water breakthrough associated with
producing at high rates decreases with increasing horizontal

SPE 107169

permeability, and decreasing vertical permeability, because


reservoir drawdown is decreased for a given production rate,
and water cresting is suppressed. The sensitivity of recovery
to kv/kh is high, and there is a significant production penalty
associated with producing at high rates when vertical
permeability is underestimated, particularly if aquifer support
is strong.
We observe three recovery responses to varying aquifer
strength: (1) recovery can be enhanced as aquifer strength
increases, in cases where crest development is inhibited either
by low production rate, high horizontal permeability, or low
vertical permeability; (2) when aquifer response is dominated
by cresting, increasing aquifer strength reduces recovery and a
low production rate is recommended; and (3) accelerating
production rate can enhance recovery in a small number of
cases in which the aquifer is very strong and vertical
permeability is very low. This is the only situation where we
find that gas recovery is increased by producing horizontal
wells at high rates to outrun a basal aquifer.
The significance of these observations must be
considered with respect to the level of uncertainty inherent to
each. Producing at a low rate appears to be favorable in terms
of ultimate gas recovered, since recovery can be enhanced if
the aquifer strength is weaker than assumed, and the well is
afforded greater protection from early water breakthrough if
the aquifer is stronger and/or the kv/kh ratio is higher than
initially thought. Accelerating production to target the
conditions necessary to enhance recovery at higher rates
requires a good understanding of aquifer strength and
permeability anisotropy. However, these parameters often
remain uncertain.
Despite this, there might be an economic benefit to
producing at high rates, which offsets the reduction in ultimate
gas recovery. We have integrated the results of the sensitivity
analysis in a series of contour plots, which represent the
difference in absolute recovery prior to well abandonment
between producing at 50 MMscf/d and 300 MMscf/d (Fig. 9).
The responses are interpolated between simulation results to
provide a rapid assessment of the change in recovery that
results from producing at high rate. Each plot provides an
assessment of when producing at high rate is not likely to be
detrimental to ultimate recovery. It can be seen that few cases
directly indicate any benefit in terms of ultimate recovery
from accelerating production. However, a number of cases
show less than 10% difference in recovery between 50
MMscf/d and 300 MMscf/d. Producing at the high rate case in
these examples would return a similar recovery six times
faster, which might be economically beneficial.
Gas fields in the Columbus Basin have exhibited
enhanced recovery owing to a weak component of water
drive.8 However, most of the reported field examples utilized
vertical wells which, as discussed previously, benefit from an
inverse gas cone which protects the flowing interval and
maintains gas deliverability.28 Our results indicate that
pressure support can also increase recovery in fields developed
with horizontal wells, so long as cresting is not significant.
Documented experimental and real field examples which
indicate increased gas recovery through accelerated production
invariably employ vertical well completions.16,17,25,28 This is a
result of the inverse coning phenomenon described by

SPE 107169

_______

Figure 9: Contour plots showing the


difference in absolute recovery between
low (50 MMscf/d) and high (300 MMscf/d)
production rates.

10

McMullan and Bassiouni (2000)28 (Fig. 2). The protection


afforded to vertical wells by this mechanism is not available to
horizontal completions. Consequently, although horizontal
wells can produce at higher rates than vertical completions,
consideration should be given to post-water breakthrough
performance when water influx is inevitable. Of course, the
fundamental assumption of the recovery forecasts we present
is that production ceases as soon as the water contact reaches
the well. We use this production constraint because water
breakthrough has such a negative impact on production that
avoiding water breakthrough is highly desirable. However, we
recognize that continued gas production in association with
water could enhance the benefit of accelerated production.
We have considered production via high-rate horizontal
wells in a simple homogenous reservoir with a bottom-water
aquifer. Reservoirs with edge-water drive should not be
associated with significant cresting towards horizontal wells,
because the distance between the well and the GWC is much
larger. Consequently, producing at high rates in reservoirs
with edge-water drive may lead to improved recovery.
Moreover, a homogenous model cannot account for the impact
of permeability heterogeneity on water cresting behavior. It is
uncertain to what extent reservoir architecture will modify our
findings. Depositional heterogeneity can provide preferential
fluid flow pathways which might exacerbate water cresting,
and baffles to flow which might benefit high-rate gas
production by suppressing cresting or protecting the well
from the aquifer. Our results suggest that enhanced recovery
from a high rate horizontal gas well is most likely to occur
because heterogeneity is suppressing cresting, rather than
because production is outrunning the aquifer. However, in
order to examine the influence of heterogeneity on gas
recovery and dynamic aquifer behavior, a detailed description
of heterogeneity is required.
Conclusions
Our results suggest that accelerated production via large-bore
horizontal wells in gas reservoirs with a component of bottom
water drive does not increase the ultimate recovery of gas,
because aquifer response is dominated by water cresting.
Consequently, there is no benefit to ultimate recovery in
attempting to outrun a basal aquifer. Cresting initiated by
producing at high rates results in poor sweep efficiency and
early water breakthrough, unless the ratio of vertical to
horizontal permeability is very low, in which case water
cresting is suppressed.
Rate sensitivity increases in low permeability reservoirs
with thin gas columns, because these conditions increase the
tendency for water cresting, and decreases in reservoirs with
strong aquifer support, because water breakthrough occurs
regardless of the rate at which the well is produced. In a small
number of cases, with very strong aquifer support and very
low vertical permeability, gas recovery is increased by
producing at high rates. Water influx is inevitable, and gas
remains trapped at high pressure if the reservoir is produced at
low rate. However, the increase in recovery is small, and the
associated risk is high, as recovery will decrease at higher
rates if the vertical permeability is higher than predicted.
Despite this, there are many instances where accelerating
production recovers only slightly less gas over much shorter

SPE 107169

timescales, so may be economically favorable.


The dynamics of water cresting are neglected in material
balance approaches, which may over-estimate the benefit of
accelerated production; moreover, gas production from
horizontal wells is much more significantly affected by early
water breakthrough than in vertical wells, because vertical
wells are protected from water production by an inverse gas
cone which forms in response to the high mobility of gas.
Acknowledgements
Funding for this work is gratefully acknowledged from the UK
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
(EPSRC) and BP Trinidad and Tobago (bpTT). The authors
would like to thank Schlumberger Geoquest for providing the
Eclipse 100 simulation package and Roxar for providing the
RMS software.
Nomenclature
BHP = bottom-hole pressure, psia
GPV = gas pore volume, cubic feet
GWC = gas-water contact
kh
= horizontal permeability, mD
kv/kh = ratio of vertical to horizontal permeability
krg
= gas relative permeability
krw
= water relative permeability
PV = pore volume, cubic feet
qg
= gas flow rate, MMscf/d
Sg
= gas saturation
Sgr
= residual gas saturation
x
= distance in x-direction
y
= distance in y-direction
z
= distance in z-direction
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SI Metric Conversion Factors


bbl 1.589 873 E-03 = m3
cp 1.0*
E-03 = Pa s
ft 3.048*
E-01 = m
ft3 2.831 685
E-02 = m3
md 9.869 233 E-04 = mm2
psi 6.894 757 E+00 = kPa
F (F-32)/1.8
= C