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SPE/IADC 92565

Tortuosity Factors for Highly Tortuous Wells: A Practical Approach

G. Robello Samuel and Kaiwan Bharucha, Landmark Graphics; Yuejin Luo, BP

Copyright 2005, SPE/IADC Drilling Conference

pragmatic approach provides a comprehensive framework for
This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE/IADC Drilling Conference held in calibrating tortuosity values for complicated tortuous
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 23-25 February 2005.
This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE/IADC Program Committee following
review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the
paper, as presented, have not been reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers or the Introduction
International Association of Drilling Contractors and are subject to correction by the author(s).
The material, as presented, does not necessarily reflect any position of the SPE, IADC, their Drilling operations in deep and ultra-deep water are increasing
officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper around the world. The development of these substantial
for commercial purposes without the written consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers or
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print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied.
The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of where and by whom the paper knowledge with prudent designs at different stages of the well
was presented. Write Librarian, SPE, P.O. Box 833836, Richardson, TX 75083-3836, U.S.A., development. However, the cost premium imposed by deep
fax 01-972-952-9435.
and ultra deepwater wells is very high and many of the
discoveries are marginal in terms of the commercial viability.
Abstract With the increase of developing and operating costs, there is a
Tortuosity is one of the critical factors to be considered for growing need to reduce the cost of drilling and other allied
complex directional well trajectories, complicated build rates, operations. Also, more wells are drilled in rotary steerable
precise steering in thin reservoirs and extended reach wells. mode. Alternating between the sliding and rotary modes
When planning a well, wellpath modeling commonly results in hole spiraling and wellbore oscillation becomes
generates smooth curves, whereas an actual well contains more pronounced due to frequent slide drilling. This paper
severe doglegs and other irregularities. Determining the presents a study on how to adapt to the new wellbore hole
tortuosity factors to apply in the well path is always a spiraling effects encountered in ultra deep wells. This paper
challenge during the planning phase. Presently no examines some of these effects, while asserting that it is
quantification method is available and field tests have shown necessary to integrate this new approach, as a result more
that the present calculations gravely underestimate the accurate solutions can be predicted. This new hydraulic design
drillstring torque and drag values for highly deviated, tortuous encapsulating hole spiraling effects provides a simple,
deep wells. Problems mostly occur when the drillstring lies in practical way to view the severity of the wellbore oscillation.
a strongly curved wellpath. In the long transitional region that Qualitative assessment and quantitative characterization of
covers most of the operational range in field applications, the the torque and drag are critically important in many phases of
conventional equations used for torque and drag calculation the well construction. They not only allow subsequent
results in underprediction. Due to increased extended and adjustments to the wellplan when combined with payzone geo
steered wells the torque and drag calculations need correction steering tools, but also successful completion of extended
to take care of the tortuous effects of the wellbore. This paper reach and complex wells. Increasingly more difficult wells are
addresses the adverse impact of the torque and drag being drilled that requires an accurate estimation of torque and
calculations in highly tortuous wells and presents an approach drag calculations. Operating outside the safety limits may lead
to calibrate the tortuosity factors whereby the accuracy of the to costly complications. This paper describes a method to
calculations is enhanced. The methodology uses actual survey calculate tortuosity factors that better represent the actual
data and known surface hook loads for different operating curved wellbore.
conditions, such as tripping in, tripping out, and rotating off
bottom, to arrive at appropriate friction factor values that can Hole Spiraling and Wellbore Oscillation
be used further in torque and drag calculations. Once the
friction factors for both cased hole and open hole are The occurrence of borehole spiraling or oscillation of wellbore
determined, sensitivity analyses can be done on the planned path has been known for many years in the drilling industry.
survey. Appropriate tortuosity values are derived at by Characterization of this behavior and the effects are
comparing predicted results with the field driller’s data. This increasingly discussed and analyzed with improved borehole
paper also describes four methods, Sine Wave, Random- imaging techniques and logging tools. Increased evidence of
Azimuth, Random-Inclination-Azimuth and helix used to hole spiraling have been reported (1, 2, 3, 4). The hole spiraling or
calibrate the tortuosity factors that better represent the actual threading will have deep impact on the well construction and
curved wellbore. The simple guidelines are presented along completion process. During the planning phase, the hole
with two field examples from Gulf of Mexico. The simple, spiraling or oscillation of the wellbore can effectively be
2 SPE/IADC 92565

described by applying tortuosity to the wellbore with the and period (wave length) specified. The angle change is
desired tortuosity factor. Tortuosity is one of the critical modified using the following relationship
factors to consider for complex directional well trajectories, D 
accurate build rates, precise steering in thin reservoirs and ∆α = sin  × 2π  × M
extended reach wells. Presently, the industry uses different
The magnitude M is the maximum variation of angle that will
generations of rotary steerable systems and adjustable
be applied to the inclination and azimuth of the native
downhole tools to reduce wellbore tortuosity. When planning
(untortured) wellpath. The determination of magnitudes
a well, wellpath modeling commonly generates smooth
should be based on the evaluation of historical data from
curves, whereas an actual well contains severe doglegs and
offset or similar wells. The values of magnitude can vary
other irregularities. The difference between the planned
depending on many factors including hole type (cased or open
smooth well profile and the actual well drilled can have a
hole), hole size, drilling performance, hole curvature, and
major impact on the torque and drag losses for the well.
other parameters. Further, the inclination angle is modified so
Models apply different "rippling" or "roughness" techniques to
that it does not become less than zero, since negative
a planned wellpath to simulate the variations found in actual
inclination angles are not allowed. The new angle and azimuth
wellpath surveys. This option renders planned (smooth) well
are given as follows
profiles in a form that more realistically predict loads. Note
that tortuosity is usually applied only when the surveys α n = α + ∆α
represent an unrealistically smooth path. ε n = ε + ∆α + ψ xvc
Also while applying tortuosity, ensure that the measured depth
The industry has no standard for quantifying tortuosity. of the survey point is not an exact integer multiple of the
Tortuosity is usually expressed in degrees/100 ft, similar to the
expression of dogleg severity. The calculation of “running period as ∆α = sin  2π  = 0
tortuosity” is the station-to-station summation of the total  P 
curvature normalized to a standard wellbore course length In this situation, tortuosity will not be applied to the
between survey stations. In general, tortuosity is defined as the undithered data set and caution should be exercised to avoid
ratio of the summation of the total curvature, including build this situation.
and walk, to the survey stations length. The rippling or
undulation can be applied based on the different methods that Helical method modifies the inclination and azimuth of the
modify the inclination and azimuth of the survey points. survey points by superimposing a helix along the wellbore
Furthermore, "micro-tortuosity(5)" caused by hole spiraling path using the magnitude (radius of the cylinder in the
results in a spiraled hole axis instead of a straight line. This parametric equation) and period (pitch) specified. This method
can be planned during the planning phase by applying uses the circular helix defined as:
tortuosity over and above the wellpath that has been already f (u ) = a cos(u ) + a sin( u ) + bu
tortured with the desired magnitude and amplitude or The generalized parametric set of equations for helix used to
superimposing a helix with desired pitch and magnitude. superimpose the wellbore path is given by
x (u ) = M cos(u )
Tortuosity Methods y(u ) = M sin( u )
There are different methods used to apply "roughness" to a P
planned well path to simulate the variations found in actual z(u ) = u
well path surveys. These options render planned (smooth) well 2π
profiles in a form that gives rise to more realistic prediction
for the analysis. It is expressed as the difference between the Random Inclination and Azimuth method is similar to the
actual and planned curvatures divided by the respective Random Inclination Dependent Azimuth Variation method as
distance between the survey stations and can be written as described as above, except that the azimuth variation is
n m independent of inclination. The new angle and azimuth are
 DL a −  DL p given as follows
α n = α + ∆α
j=1 i =1
T= and is expressed in deg/100 ft.
MD j − MD i ∆α
εn = ε + + ψ cvc
Rippling or undulation is applied based on the following four 2 sin α n
a. Sine Wave method Random Inclination Dependent Azimuth method applies a
b. Helical method random variation to the survey inclination and azimuth within
c. Random Inclination and Azimuth method the magnitudes specified. Random numbers used may be
d. Random Inclination Dependent azimuth method between -1.0 to +1.0. In this method the azimuth variation is
inversely proportional to inclination resulting in higher
Sine Wave method modifies the inclination and azimuth of the inclination with lower azimuth variation and lower inclination
survey point based on the concept of a sine wave shaped ripple with higher azimuth variation. The change in angle, new angle
running along the wellbore using the magnitude (amplitude) and new azimuth are given by:
∆α = ζ × δ
SPE/IADC 92565 3

where example provides an analysis of two hole sections with

∆MD diameters 121/4 and 81/2-in. daily drilling reports provided
δ= M the actual measured weights for tripping in, tripping out, and
α n = α + ∆α rotating off bottom. Torque and drag calculations were used to
predict the measured weights and torque while tripping in,
∆α tripping out, rotating off bottom, and rotating on bottom. After
εn = ε + + ψ cvc
2 sin α n comparing the field surface data with the predicted surface
data using different friction-factor values, it was found that a
Methodology friction factor of 0.17 inside the casing resulted in the best
The following simple procedure is a guideline to estimate the match as shown in Fig 1.
tortuosity factors for a particular hole size.
Step 1 -- Collect the relevant drilling data. These include the Using the estimated casing friction factor, the model calibrated
original well plan (casing program, directional plan, BHA the openhole friction factor to match the entire 121/4-in. hole
designs, etc.) and actual drilling data (well configuration, hole section. As shown in Fig 2 it was found that a casing friction
section BHAs, definitive survey data, mud logging data and of 0.17 and openhole friction of 0.24 match well with the
any down hole torque / WOB measurements, etc.). predicted calculations. The predicted values are slightly
Step 2 -- For each hole section, calibrate the friction conservative, especially for the tripping out operation. The 8
factor through casing based on the actual drilling data while ½” diameter hole section was then used to validate the
drilling out the shoe and the definitive survey data without any friction-factor values. A similar procedure was followed for
tortuosity correction. determining the casing friction factor for the 8 ½” diameter
Step 3 -- Repeat step 2 for the open hole in each of the hole casing section; found to be 0.15. This is slightly lower than
sections. Note the friction factor through the casing should be the casing friction factor of 0.17 for the 12 ¼” hole section.
that from step 2). The difference may be attributed to the fact that when casing
Step 4 -- Once the appropriate FFs have been established for is run inside of another casing string, it smoothes out the effect
both cased and open holes, these can be used in conjunction of tortuosity and results in lower friction factor as shown in
with the original planned well profile to define the most Fig 2.
appropriate tortuosity factor for the well by matching the
torque and drag predictions with the actual drilling data. Note
the tortuosity factor obtained will be applicable to the BHA
that have been used in the hole section. 700

650 600
Hook Load (kips)


Actual Tripping In

500 400 Actual Tripping Out

Hook Load (kips)

Actual ROT_off bottom

Predicted Tripping In
Predicted Tripping Out
Actual Tripping In Predicted ROT_off
350 Actual Tripping Out 200
9000 11000 13000 15000 17000 19000 21000 2300
Actual ROT_off bottom
Measured Depth (ft)
Predicted Tripping In

PredictedTripping Out Figure 2: Field tripping in, tripping out, and rotating off
Predicted ROT_off
bottom hook loads vs. actual survey data and predicted
200 hook loads using friction factor 0.17 for casing and 0.24 for
9000 10000 11000 12000 13000 14000 15000 16000 17000 18000
Measured Depth (ft)
12.25” (OBM) open hole.

Figure 1: Actual tripping in, tripping out, and rotating off For 12 1/4” hole section, good hook load and surface torque,
bottom hook loads vs. actual survey data and predicted while rotating off bottom, data was available and was
hook loads using casing friction factor 0.17 for 12.25” compared with the simulated hook load and surface torque
(OBM) hole section. prediction. The results are shown in Fig 3. The field data trend
matched the predicted results well.
With the availability of definitive survey data, one can assume
that the tortuosity of the well has been built into the survey. It To further validate the results, simulations were re-run for the
can used to calibrate the friction factor for the first hole size well using the same friction factor numbers used in the well to
for which the tortuosity factor needs to be estimated. Our predict surface torque, while rotating on bottom. For this well
4 SPE/IADC 92565

only mud logging data for torque, rotating on bottom, was Tortuosity factor calibration
available and hence it was used for this study. The graph in As the friction factor numbers for these wells were already
Fig 3, shows that the trend line has three different slopes one determined the next step was to compare the planned surveys
starting from 17000’ to 18000’ the next from 18000’ to with actual surveys for these particular wells and come up
20000’ feet and then it increases till TD. This can be explained with some base line tortuosity number i.e. wavelength and
by the fact that the WOB and torque at bit were varying magnitude for the sine wave.
throughout the hole section. Three different torque at bit
values were taken, 5000 lb-ft, 8200 lb-ft, and 13000 lb-ft to Torque and drag calculations were used to predict the Hook
mimic the down-hole conditions. One can see from Fig 3 that loads for tripping in, tripping out, and rotating off bottom
the predicted upper (13000 lb-ft), middle (8200 lb-ft), and the using the 12 ¼” hole section, planned survey, for the well
lower (5000 lb-ft) trend lines bound the field data real well under analysis. It was determined that by using the Tortuosity
and there slopes are in agreement. wavelength or period of 500ft, magnitude of 0.35 inside casing
and a magnitude of 0.5 inside the open hole we get a very
1000 35000 good match between field surface data and predicted data as
shown in Fig 4, where as Fig 5 shows that when applying no
tortuosity values the simulated data is under predicting as
compared to the field data. By viewing both the plots it can be
seen that the predicted data are in close agreement with the
field data when using tortuosity period of 500ft, magnitude of
Hookload (kips)

0.35 inside casing and a magnitude of 0.5 inside the open hole.
700 15000 800
Actual Hookload
600 Predicted Hookload

Mud Logging Surface 650
500 Torque
Measured Depth (ft)

0 600
Predicted Surace
400 -5000
Actual Tripping In
18300 18500 18700 18900 19100 19300 19500
Measured Depth (ft) Actual Tripping Out

450 Actual ROT_On Bottom

400 Predicted Tripping In w/o

Figure 3: Mud logging hook-load vs. actual survey data Tortuosity
Predicted Tripping Out w/o
and predicted hook-load using friction factor 0.17 for 350 Tortuosity
Predicted ROT w/o Tortuosity
casing and 0.24 for open hole. Pump rate = 1000 gpm, 300
WOB = 40 kips (OBM) 9000 11000 13000 15000 17000 19000 21000 23000
Hookload (kips)

800 Figure 5: Hook Load Vs. Measured Depth -Casing FF =

0.17, OH FF = 0.24 (OBM) Tortuosity None


650 750
Measured Depth (ft)

600 700

550 650
Measured Depth (ft)

Actual Tripping In
450 Actual Tripping Out
Actual ROT_On Bottom
Predicted Tripping In w/Tortuosity 500
400 Actual Tripping In
Predicted Tripping Out w/Tortuosity
Predicted ROT w/Tortuosity 450 Actual Tripping Out
Actual ROT_On Bottom
Predicted Tripping In w/Tortuosity
Predicted Tripping Out w/Tortuosity
300 Predicted ROT w/Tortuosity
9000 11000 13000 15000 17000 19000 21000 23000 350

Hookload (kips)
9000 11000 13000 15000 17000 19000 21000 23000
Hookload (kips)
Figure 4: Sine Wave Method: Hook Load Vs. Measured
Depth - Casing FF = 0.17, OH FF = 0.24 (OBM) Tortuosity Figure 6: Helical Method: Hook Load Vs. Measured Depth
Periods = 500ft Magnitude Csg = 0.35, OH = 0.5 - Casing FF = 0.17, OH FF = 0.24 (OBM) Tortuosity Pitch
= 500ft Helix Radius Csg = 0.35, OH = 0.5
SPE/IADC 92565 5

Similar procedure was repeated for other methods. Fig 6 applied as similar to the 12 ¼” hole section and under
exhibits the result comparison between the actual data and the predicted when tortuosity was not applied.
match with the helical method. It was observed that by using These results are specific to the deepwater wells in the
the Tortuosity pitch or period of 700ft, magnitude of 0.35 GOM undertaken in this study. The friction factors vary based
inside casing and a magnitude of 0.5 inside the open hole a on hole diameter, hole conditions, lithology, and drilling fluid
good match between field surface data. Further the plots type. It can be concluded for these wells that good predictions
shown in figures 7 and 8 are for the Random Inc and Azimuth were achieved by using friction factors of 0.17 for casing and
and Random Inc Dependent Azimuth. It can be seen that the 0.24 for open hole in 121/4-in. hole. For 81/2-in. hole, the
tortuosity period between the Random Inc and Azimuth and friction factor value for casing is slightly lower, 0.15, which
Random Inc Dependent Azimuth did not affect the results to a we attribute to the smoothing effect of the casing being set
large extent in this case. inside another casing string. For planned well paths different
800 magnitudes and tortuosity periods can be applied to have a
750 comparable predicted surface torque and drag results for
different operating modes.

650 Concluding Remarks

The proposed method demonstrates and ascertains the
Measured Depth (ft)

dependence on the calibration of friction factors and tortuosity
factors for the prediction of the results accurately during the
500 planning stage of the well. Also this method provides a
powerful and robust method for investigating and quantifying
Actual Tripping In
Actual Tripping Out
the wellbore tortuosity. The proposed framework generally
400 Actual ROT_On Bottom
Predicted Tripping In w/Tortuosity
describes wells that are very deep with tortuous or spiraled
350 Predicted Tripping Out w/Tortuosity wellpath. From the analysis it can be concluded that the
Predicted ROT w/Tortuosity

severity of the torque and drag calculations depends on the
9000 11000 13000 15000 17000 19000 21000 23000 tortuosity and spiraling of the wellpath. The method proposed
Hookload (kips)
provides a relative comparison of various designs by way of
Figure 7: Random Inc and Azimuth: Hook Load Vs. evaluating with the untortured wells. This method can be
Measured Depth - Casing FF = 0.17, OH FF = 0.24 (OBM) further expanded to quantify the hole quality for different
Tortuosity Period = 200ft Magnitude Csg = 0.35, OH = 0.5 drilling BHAs (rotary, motor and rotary steerable).

800 Acknowledgments
The authors would like to express appreciation to their
companies for the opportunity to present this paper.
D = Measured depth, ft
Measured Depth (ft)

600 P = period,
M = magnitude,
ψ xvc = cross vertical correction
ζ = random number
Actual Tripping In

Actual Tripping Out References
Actual ROT_On Bottom
Predicted Tripping In w/Tortuosity 1. Stroud, D., Peach, S., Johnston, I., “Optimization of
350 Predicted Tripping Out w/Tortuosity
Predicted ROT w/Tortuosity
Rotary Steerable System Bottomhole Assemblies
Minimizes Wellbore Tortuosity and Increases Directional
9000 11000 13000 15000 17000 19000 21000 23000 Drilling Efficiency”, SPE 90396. Presented at the SPE
Hookload (kips)
Annual Technical Conference, Houston, Texas, U.S.A.,
and September 2004.
Figure 8: Random Inc Dependent Azimuth: Hook Load 2. Tom Gaynor, Doug Hamer, David Chen, and Darren
Vs. Measured Depth - Casing FF = 0.17, OH FF = 0.24 Stuart: “Quantifying Tortuosities by Friction Factors in
(OBM) Tortuosity Periods = 200ft Magnitude Csg = 0.35, Torque and Drag Model” SPE 77617 presented at The
OH = 0.5 SPE Annual Technical Conference, San Antonio, Texas,
29 September-2 October 2002.
The simulations were repeated for 8 ½” hole section also for 3. Paul Pastusek and Van Brackin,.: “A Model for Borehole
predicted hook loads vs. actual hook loads. Similar tortuosity Oscillations” SPE 77617 presented at The SPE Annual
and friction values were applied to compare surface torques as Technical Conference, Denver, Colorado, U.S.A., pp. 5-8
before. The results showed that the simulated hook loads October 2003.
matched closely with the field data when tortuosity was
6 SPE/IADC 92565

4. Yuejin Luo, Kaiwan Bharucha, Robello Samuel, Faris

Bajwa: “Simple practical approach provides a technique
for calibrating tortuosity factors” Oil & Gas Journal 15,
5. Tom Gaynor, Doug Hamer, David Chen, Darren Stuart,
and Blaine Comeaux.: “Tortuosity versus Micro-
Tortuosity - Why Little Things Mean a Lot” SPE 67818
SPE/IADC Drilling Conference held in Amsterdam, The
Netherlands, 27 February-1 March 2001.