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Underbalanced Drilling

Underbalanced Drilling (UBD)

Underbalanced Drilling

Modern Underbalanced Drilling (UBD) technology has been around for more than 10 years, but variations of the technology such as flow drilling have been around for over 30 years.


In Underbalanced Drilling operations, the pressure of the drilling fluid in the annulus (hydrostatic head of the fluid, whether being circulated or at rest) is intentionally engineered to be less than the formation pore fluid pressure in the openhole section of the well, so as not to damage the formation during drilling.

Conventional mud systems were unable to accomplish this since even the lightest mud available could cause damage due to fluid invasion. The damage caused during drilling operations required stimulation to eliminate the skin. Often times, this procedure was unsuccessful, resulting in an uneconomic well. Problems with drill string sticking and lost circulation were also commonplace in these formations.


This underbalanced condition can be achieved by using gas as the drilling fluid, utilizing a lighter fluid, or a combination of both, liquid and gas fluid, in a form of foam or mist, thereby reducing the density of the entire circulating system.


As a consequence, formation fluids flow freely into the well when a permeable formation is penetrated during underbalanced drilling.


This required the development of surface control equipment to handle the flow while drilling. Through this evolution, the modern age of underbalanced drilling was born.

The main reasons for considering UBD techniques are shown below:


  • To enable drilling

  • Improve ROP

  • Extends the life of the drill bit

  • Maximize production through minimizing reservoir impairment

  • Reservoir characterization

  • Minimizing NPT

  • Reduce Stimulation Requirements

  • Reduce overall drilling cost

  • Earlier Production

  • Environmental Benefits

This technique resolves many traditional drilling problems and hazards. Some of the benefits include:


  • Decrease probability of differential sticking

  • Reduce probability of lost returns

  • Decrease formation damage

  • Improve hole cleaning

  • Increase the length of the hole that can be drilled

  • Reservoir characterization

Technological Advantages and Cost Saving Features of our Equipment

Reform Energy Services has taken great pains in designing its own equipment with many innovative features to save time and money, and enhance safety. The following are some of the key differences versus other equipment on the market.


Fully portable: Typically, UBD separator are built on skids. At Reform, each UBD unit is built right into a trailer for easy towing. This offers great cost savings to the client, especially in cases where multiple locations need to be serviced.


Trailer booster: Our UBD equipment is capable of accepting a booster, meaning we can easily add wheels to distribute weight that normally would be problematic in the case of a road ban. This means you can conduct business as usual when others face work stoppages. We can also add a jeep under the front of the trailer.


Higher pressure separators: Most underbalanced separators have a working pressure of 250 psi. Reform Energy Service’s UBD units have a working pressure separator of 500 psi. This translates to less erosion on the equipment and lower costs to you for downtime.


Multiple inlets with sleeves: Most separators have only one inlet, which means when it erodes, it causes immediate downtime. Our UBD units have multiple inlets, so flow can be dispersed. We also sleeve the inlets to reduce downtime and cost (sleeves are inexpensive and relatively easy to replace). No heat treatment or radiography is required.


Multiple compartment sparge system: Most of our competitors simply sparge one compartment of the separator. We sparge several compartments, meaning the tanks stay cleaner, resulting in cleaner drilling fluid. This helps prevent damage to the separator, rig equipment and downhole tools, reducing downtime.


Variable speed auger: The variable speed auger removes solids from the separator and can adjust for the amount of solids in the fluid. This saves wear-and-tear on the pump and keeps the tanks cleaner. It also helps to reduce downtime.

Self-contained electric heating system: Our UBD systems feature their own self-contained electric heating systems. This means you’ll never need to supply a boiler for our equipment, reducing your operating costs.


High horsepower fluid transfer pumps: Most companies use 5 HP pumps. Reform Energy Service’s UBD systems use 10 HP pumps. This results in less downtime due to overtaxed motors.


Dual head electrical chemical injection pumps: Most companies use pneumatic systems (using nitrogen or propane). Ours use electricity, saving substantial operating costs.


Tornado pilot system: Our UBD units use a Tornado pilot system, which substantially reduces the consumption of propane and ultimately saves on operating costs.


Free standing flare stacks: Our flare stacks offer zero ground disturbance and eliminate the need for anchors, as well as a picker to set them up. This saves substantial time and cost.


2” 5K Kelly bleed manifold with 2 bypass choke loops: The dual choke manifold is capable of bleeding off drill string to the separator, direct to the flare or down the fluid line.


4” 5K plug valve drill manifolds with dual choke 4” bypass: Typically, when a valve leaks, the flanges must be broken to change it out. Most operators will insert a new valve without re-pressure testing the manifold. In our manifold, we use plug valves, eliminating the need to remove the complete valve when repairs are made. With our drill manifolds, the plug and seats can be removed and replaced without breaking any flanges in a very timely manner. This is safer and quicker — and means the client’s other contractors aren’t waiting around while valve maintenance is being done (or redone because the lack of pressure testing caused a failure).

Rotating Flow Control Diverter: Our RFCDs are one of the industries newest passive rotating control heads, designed in accordance with API Specification RCD-16. These RFCD has several unique patent pending design components intended to make this RFCD one of the safest and most efficient available.


Dual pressure relief valves: If the UBD system becomes overpressured, you risk safety hazards. Most competing systems have a single pressure relief valve to combat this. Ours has two — if one fails, there is always a backup.