Micro-annulus generation under downhole conditions: Insights from three-dimensional staged finite element analysis of cement hardening and wellbore operations
Journal of Rock Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering
A micro-annulus (MA) is defined as a high permeability zone or gap initiating/occurring at the casing-cement and cement-formation interfaces during the wellbore life span. An MA can significantly compromise wellbore integrity by establishing enhanced fluid flow pathways. This study uses a staged finite element approach to simulate wellbore integrity during various loading steps of wellbore operations under downhole conditions. Particular emphasis is placed on the processes of cement
... cement poro-elastic property evolution, volume variation, and pore pressure variation as part of the cement hardening step. The resulting state of stress during the life cycle of a typical injection well (i.e. hardening, completion, and injection) is analyzed to assess the onset and evolution of micro-annuli at various interfaces of the composite wellbore system under downhole conditions. The results show that cement shear failure is observed at the casing-cement interface during pressure testing (excessive wellbore pressure); and tensile debonding failure initiates at the cement-formation interface due to cement shrinkage during hardening and injection-related cooling (thermal cycling). Sensitivity analyses considering several parameters show that: (1) the degree of poro-elastic bulk shrinkage has significant implications for both shear and tensile failure initiation -the less the cement shrinks, the less likely the failure initiation is; (2) cement integrity increases with increasing depth; (3) cement pore pressure evolution has significant implications for tensile failure -if cement pore pressure decreases more, higher temperature differences can be sustained before an MA occurs; and (4) cement temperature fluctuations during hardening promote initiation of debonding failure. In summary, the results presented indicate that establishing downhole conditions to quantitatively analyze MA generation is necessary. The results are different compared to laboratory studies without considering/simulating downhole conditions. The knowledge from this study can raise the awareness of predicting and evaluating MA under downhole conditions and can be used to supplement and improve future laboratory experiments.