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Abandoned Oil Wells – End of Field Life


As petroleum, production continues to decline in many parts of the globe, more operators are seeing well abandonment as a reality. Drilled wells are plugged and abandoned for different reasons of which the typical and operational reason is that the well has reached its economic limit or when drilled it was found to be a dry hole. (refer). According to Ide, T., et al 2006, well bore is taken to be high fluid transmittal pathway. Even with the current procedure of sealing and abandonment, individual wells have the tendency to loose their integrity due to various factors, which include but not limited to poor cementation, poor or ineffective plugging, and increase in formation pressure after abandonment, corrosion of casing (refer).

Safe and economical well abandonment are important to the industry from environmental and financial standpoints. Improper abandonment can require re-abandonment procedures to mitigate environmental contamination or to comply with updated regulations, causing an increased financial burden on the operator.

1. Introduction


All wells drilled have a distinct life cycle with respect to its cost, duration, recovery, and value. Although these characteristics and attributes are specific to an individual drilled well, all producing wells pass through the same initial and final state, beginning with completion and ending with abandonment. After the drilling stage of a well and the target depth is reached, a decision to complete the well is made based on the reservoir attributes: is the well dry or is the hydrocarbon in place of economic value. Ultimately, every well becomes dormant because of reduced economic returns or technical problem. When a well stops producing, it either may be shut-in (SI), temporary abandoned (TA) or permanently abandoned (pa).

With ageing fields fast approaching their economic limit, abandonment is becoming increasingly frequent and many operators have to modify their abandonment procedure to fit the Wellbore condition and make certain that abandoned wells remain permanently sealed and prevent commingling while balancing the environmental objectives of abandonment and cost of actual abandonment. Wells, which are not abandoned appropriately, can become a major hazard to the underground source of drinking water and possibly the aquatic environment [8]

Shut in status (SI)

When a well is shut-in it is still flowing but its Christmas tree, SV, wing valves are all closed. Usually a well is shut-in if there is a technical or operational problem, which is believed to be temporary. There is no maximum time for a well to remain in shut-in status as long as it is regularly maintained according to regulatory requirement and procedures.

Temporary abandonment status (TA)

A well is said to be temporarily abandoned when the wellhead is removed and the producing interval is isolated with a plug and the casing is plugged below the mud line.


There are various reasons why a well is abandoned, these are:


Drilled wells must at one point in time be abandoned. Before a well reaches the point at which it has to be abandoned it passes through various stages in its life cycle; it begins with the survey and exploitation of an area for signs on hydrocarbon [1]. This leads to a rewarding and exciting discovery of an accumulation of hydrocarbon deposit. This is followed by the acquired Data Processing stage and finally the drilling process. During drilling, the well is created by the use of drill bit and cased off at specific as drilling progresses.

Another fulfilling target is reached when the first hydrocarbon is produced a process which unfortunately eventually proceeds the declining period where the rate of hydrocarbon production decreases. However, successful enhanced oil recovery techniques often than not make this stage rewarding financially as it extends the life of the well [1].

When all enhanced oil recovery technique has been employed, and the cost of producing the well is no longer economically viable, the next process is abandonment; a stage not so welcomed by most operators as it means the cessation of production. Dry hole Abandonment

A drilled well is also abandoned when after drilling, the hole was found to be a dry hole.

Though abandonment is meant to be a permanent termination, the effect is felt for many years more than that of the short producing life of the well.

The main goal of any plugging and abandonment is to provide a permanent and effective isolation of fluids all along the subsurface formation in the different layers where they were enclosed prior to plugging, thereby preventing fluid migration and reduce environmental risks of contamination and prevent costly remedial jobs [1]. To achieve this several significant intervals of the well must be filled and tightly closed with a sealant material from bottom hole to the surface with special attention paid to the production interval [4] and zones of high differential pressure and temperature. The material used for plugging differ depending on what type of well is being abandoned, for oil and gas well the material used is normally cement based materials, for water well, cement based as well as bentonite can be used to isolate the different intervals[4][ PUT UNDER CEMENT PLUG CHARACTERISTICS UNDERE INTEGRITY OF ABANDONED WELLS. The integrity of the abandoned well can fail for very many reasons such as plug failure, poor slurry design etc. A cement plug can fail to set at the desired location as cement slurry often has the tendency to fall through the lighter drilling fluid below it [9]. Failure can also be as a result of downhole changes which may occur after the well has been abandoned [8].

Over the years, techniques for drilling and completion of hydrocarbon wells have continued to evolve. This drive for new technology for hydrocarbon recovery is due to the need to maximize hydrocarbon recovery while protecting the environment [4]. The evolution of well abandonment techniques has been much slower than that of drilling and completion. This is because abandonment is considered a sunk cost [4].

Project Objective

The objectives of this thesis is to review the factors which contribute to the overall integrity of abandoned wells. These include, well parameters, cement placement techniques, casing integrity. These play an important role in the design, construction and actual execution of the abandonment project. In the abandonment of wells, the factors that contribute to the integrity differ depending on the wells. This is because each well is a unique entity and hence has to have independent well abandonment design.


In this work I intend to talk about

For instance, in a well where a fish is lost in hole the abandonment design has to taken into consideration remedial action or ways to set the cement plug as there may be no access to the bottom hole to set a bottom plug in the sump.

Abandoned wells can be a cause of concern due to their potential to act as path for flow between formations, which under normal circumstance are isolated including underground sources of drinking water, of great concern are those abandonment’s with faulty plugs, compromised casing and those having cracks in the cement [7].

This work is aimed at highlighting the different factors which contribute to the integrity of an abandoned well. ( reorder and rewrite)

Chapter 2

Literature review

Well abandonment has come a long way since the first discovery of oil and gas, with the increasing awareness of the importance of environmental protection, the need to improve the processes of abandonment has now become a major concern for many operators, as abandoned wells are considered a possible conduit for fluid flow between different formations. According to C. H. Kelm et al, the objective of abandonment of a well must taken into consideration the need to do so in a best practices manner by examining the following fundamental aim of any abandonment process;

  • The need to protect any hydrocarbon left in the pay zone of the formation drilled.
  • The need to preserve and prevent contamination of freshwater zones (for onshore rigs) penetrated during the course of drilling the well.
  • Avert of any contamination of the surface environment. For instance, in the case of vegetation, air pollution and marine environment.
  • The need to abide by all regulatory requirements stated in during the abandonment.

In the past years many papers has been published on areas ranging from alternative plugging technique, self healing and expandable cement, improved cement slurry design, placement technique with the aim to reduce the cost of abandonment and improve the abandonment. Abandoned well in an oil field are sealed using a plugging material according to regulatory requirements. A perfect example of a plugging material in the ideal sense according to D.G Calvert et al 1994 is one, which can be pumped down the drilled hole, has the ability to harden in a reasonable time, and bond with the walls of the drilled formation and casing in order to prevent fluid flow from one formation to another. While regulations vary from place to place, the general practice involves plugging the Wellbore with a Portland cement material specifically designed for the isolation purpose. In his review of plugging and abandonment techniques, D. G. Calvert et al, stated that the cement mixture used in oil and gas vary depending on the type of hole is to be isolated.

Very few papers has been published that focuses on the integrity of the actual well after abandonment. Liversidge, D. et al. in his work on permanent plug and abandonment solution for the Northsea he presented case histories of the Brent South field abandonment project done using both class G cement with an expandable agent system and flexible cement according to the current stringent regulation.

Cement integrity preservation during well completion, production phases as well as during abandonment is of critical importance for long-term protection. In the past years numerous papers and texts in the area of cement sheath failure, improved flexible and expanding cement and related topics have been published, indicating the increasing need to improve well abandonment and reduce cost. Examples of works published include but not limited to (Bosma et al 2000), (Ravi et al. 2002), (Glessner et al., 2005), (Mainguy et al., 2007), (D. G calvert et al., 1994), (Locolier et al., 2006),( Liversidge et al., 2006). Although many papers have been written, very little work has been done to investigate the cement plug integrity after abandonment. The ascribed cause to this may be that permanent abandonment is considered a non-profit venture.

Mainguy M. et al., 2007 carried out an analysis of the probability of failure of cement plugs when subjected to varying compressive and tensile load using an ideal reservoir model designed to suit changes in the downhole condition. In his study he identified that there is a greater tendency for the material used to seal zones for abandonment to fail in wells situated where there is instability in the pressure, temperature and stress state due to changes that occur downhole. He concluded that when the plug is subjected to maximum tensile stress it failed due to the low tensile strength of the conventional class G cement. Though he suggested the use of pre-stressed cement as they adapt more to changes downhole, his work did not cover the problem of rock-cement de-bonding which is a problem that greatly reduces the sealing capacity of cement. In the study done by R.C. Smith et al., 1984, on the successful method of setting cement plug, he investigated the ongoing failures of cement plugs due to the instability caused by the difference between the density of the cement and the drilling mud. In his work, he suggested the use of mud thickened with bentonite before spotting the cement so as to allow a greater density difference. With respect to the problem of controlling the direction of flow of the cement slurry a diverter placed at the end of the tubing to help divert the direction of flow and improve stability. Drilling fluid can also be used as a plugging material by adding a cementitous additive. The additive can either be ‘fly ash’ of blast furnace slag which have the characteristics of a cement as they harden when the mixed with water.

Cement is not naturally occurring but manmade and like any other manmade material, it is expected to age, wear-off, and, degrade overtime under different subsurface condition, which may differ from the time it was initially set [W. Zhou et. al 2005].

Plugging oil well is a common operation, which is increasing as mature field reach the end of their producing life. In general, plugging and abandonment of a well involves filling a certain length of casing or open hole with a volume of cement mixture designed for it in order to provide adequate sealing against upward migration of formation fluid. After the cement plug is place in the desired location it is left to harden over time. The placement of the cement plug is a major part of abandonment, as failure of this will cause commingling of fluids from different formation. The setting and spotting of cement plugs can be done in various ways depending on the wellbore condition and regulatory requirement.

A review of the worldwide acceptable plugging procedure shows the a minimum of three cement plugs is required of which two are, the first plug is put in place by squeezing the cement plug through the perforation into the former producing zone in order to seal off any further influx of reservoir fluid into the Wellbore[2]. The second plug is usually set towards the middle of the Wellbore or near a protective casing shoe. Finally the third plug is set about200- 300ft below the mud line. In general, the length of a plug ranges from 100to 200ft depending on the regulatory requirements. Any additional plug set is dependent on the well bore condition.

Although observations and studies show that cement plugs have the ability to perform as expected for up to several decades, uncertainty exists that the material can maintain its isolation integrity for several thousands of years. Recent study shows that abandoned wells in which CO2 was used in the enhanced oil recovery technique prior to abandonment have the potential to leak and allow CO2 migration notwithstanding the fact that the well has been properly abandoned [Scherer, G.W et al, 2005]. This is mainly due to corrosion and degradation of the casing and cement. This degradation and corrosion occurs when carbonic acid formed from the dissolution of CO2 in brine attacks the cement and casing [Scherer, G.W et al, 2005] a process, which is dependent on the temperature of the formation, cement composition, brine and the rock mechanics and composition. Potential leakage of reservoir fluids through degraded cement plugs is hence of primary concern.

Various work on inter-formational flow shows that there is still the possibility of flow between formations even with a successful plugging of different interval. This case can arise when the abandoned well is near an active well. Javandel et al developed the first analytical model; their model showed the possible of flow to an upper formation in response to a lower injection pressure build up in a lower formation. Striz and wiggings carried out further work by developing a coupled model to predict flow using a steady state approach to create a transient flow. This model can be used to developed abandoned fluid flow using available field data.

In recent studies, statistics show that in the US one in every three well drilled for hydrocarbon is dry and have to be plugged and abandoned[D.G Calvert, et al 1994]. Wells are drilled for various reasons ranging from industrial, oil and gas, to municipal uses, but in the end these well have to be abandoned [D.G Calvert, et al 1994]. Some wells were abandoned before any regulation and guidelines were defined, these wells may have either been plugged improperly or not plugged at all and these now poses a threat to the quality of the groundwater. For the aim of regulating bodies to be achieved i.e. achieving underground water protect and hence environmental protect, the operating companies must understand that following the different regulatory requirement alone is not sufficient to guarantee a lasting protection of the environment [4].

It is sometimes difficult for operators to abide by the regulatory requirements as well as developing a plan which would both serve to seal off the reservoir and provide long-term protection of the environment while justifying the overall cost in general [4].

Currently there is a high rise in abandonment of ageing and mature field which either have reached their economic limit or are no longer producing (refer).


The initial stage of a decommissioning process is the plugging and abandonment of the wells, during this stage, the tubing, casing strings, and, conductors are cut below the mud line and removed, zones are sealed with cement plug to isolate the flow path between the reservoir fluids and other zones as well as the surface. Zones not sealed with cement plug are filled with mud with fluid having the proper weight and consistency to prevent movement of other fluids into the wellbore.

Most abandonment’s follow a general methodology that is adjusted to meet individual well requirements. As procedures can and do change significantly for each well, cement plug design should frequently be attuned to reach minimum wait-on-cement (WOC) times with varying downhole conditions. Near-wellbore geology should be assessed, and the wellbore and annuli properly cleaned to avoid microannuli and poor cement bonding. Traditional techniques include cement squeezes, gel squeezes, and mechanical plugs such as bridge plugs and packers. Cement and gel technologies are mainly used for behind casing repair, and mechanical options are usually confined to plugging the casing.

In the general process of abandonment there as basic steps which are followed to ensure successful plug and abandonment program. This includes the planning process, wellbore equipment testing, designing, well geometry assessment.


The most essential decision after when to abandon a well [11] is how. Preparation is a key ingredient in plug and abandonment of a well. In order to abandon a well successfully careful planning and effective plugging and abandonment procedure is crucial to prevent gas or fluids from moving to the surface or to other subsurface formations. In addition to the environmental risks that come with poor seals, corrective plugging may be necessary, increasing the cost and difficulty of abandoning a well. However, operators and service companies have several options for obtaining complete, permanent abandonment.

For every well, there is a variation as each well P&A is unique and different. The techniques used to achieve this process are generally based on industry practice, research, and conformance with the relevant regulatory compliance requirement. The synthesis of practical knowledge, current technology and regulatory requirements results in the most effective wellbore plugging and abandonment possible.

Wellbore equipment testing.

A preliminary inspection and survey of the wellhead and wellbore condition is carried out to determine if the valves on the wellhead are in operable condition, if it is found not to be in operable condition they are hot-tapped. The wellbore is surveyed using a slickline unit to check for any obstructions in the well, to confirm measured depth and also to gauge the internal diameter of the tubing. After the survey and removal of the slickline, the annuli and tubing is filled with fluid using a well pump is installed at the wellhead to ascertain an injection rate into the perforations. The tubing and casing are also pressured up to check for integrity. Casing annuli are also pressure tested to check for communication problems between casing strings and to record the test pressure over a period of time. The integrity and reliability of the primary cement is assessed in order to ensure that the cement sheath is still providing isolation across the reservoir and the cap rock.

A well control plan is designed to establish reservoir condition and subsequently the contingency responses to any event which may occur during the abandonment process.


Prior to plugging and abandoning a well, a review of the existing well design, record of past work, previous well performance and geologic and reservoir condition is carried out by the operator. The investigation of everything that may relate to the health and safety issues as well as regulatory requirements is also performed, after which the design of the abandonment program begins. The design is done based the existing wellbore and reservoir conditions depending on the findings from the review and investigation. This allows the operator to plan an abandonment program that will satisfy the goal of making the well safe from future resources. P&A design needs to be integrated in the planning of the well, and should be considered in a single budget. There are many factors which must be put into consideration in order to design an effective abandonment program , such as, the reservoir status, the integrity of the primary cement, hole cleaning and cement placement technique, the temperature and pressure of the well, the type of fluid in the well, the age of the well, the status of the cap rock.

  • Fluid Type

Drilled wells produce fluids in liquid and gaseous form, wells which contain sour fluids i.e. sulphur rich would be expected to have accelerated corrosion rates and stress cracking depending on the age and wellbore construction, may impair the capacity to perform plug and abandonment, to mitigate this components which are corrosion resistant can be used.

  • Reservoir status

In the design of P&A, it is necessary to consider the reservoir status concerning its stability, the current pressure and temperature, the pressure at the initial stages of well development and the permeability of the reservoir both horizontal and vertical. With the information, plug and abandonment is then designed to withstand the pressure of the well after finally reach equilibrium.

  • Cap rock Status

It is also necessary to take into consideration the cap rock status i.e. is it still impermeable, has production activities induced fracture or has weathering taken effect.

Placing the Plugs

After the design and planning of the abandonment program, calculations must be made to determine the amount of cement required and the number of wiper plugs needed to separate the cement plugs from the rest of the fluids. The use of wiper plugs enables the formation of a stable platform on which the cement can be set. A wiper plug is placed in the wellbore, and then a predetermined quantity of cement slurry is pumped on top of it. Because of its weight, the slurry becomes a driving force. The slurry falls to the bottom of the hole, pushing the wiper plug ahead of it and forcing existing air and produced fluids back into the formation. Another plug and perhaps a bit more cement finish the job. In most wells, where there is one permaeble zone, one plug and one volume of cement and the surface plug are all that is needed. In other wells, additional wiper plugs, additional cement slurry, and probably spacers of water or drilling fluid are used consecutively until all of the air and fluid is forced out into the formation, there is zilch pressure on the pipe, and it is apparent from the returns that the whole wellbore is appropriately sealed. The quantity and kind of spacer fluid that can be used is dependent on individual state regulations. The remaining casing at the top of the well is cut off 3 ft below ground level.

Along with this general methodology, each region stipulates its own abandonment methods based on field conditions and local regulations as can be seen in the following examples.

P&A steps in Los Angeles Basin in as follows [12]:

The abandonment program is prepared with the support of a qualified engineer.

A schematic showing the current mechanical condition of the well is prepared.

The geologic condition of the well, including the structure, faulting, and producing zones is assessed.

The depth and position of cement plug that will cover the producing zones and any potable water zones if applicable is measured and verified.

Choice of whether to use perforating or cavity shots is made.

The casing is pressure tested after setting cement retainers.

The different equipment required for the job is determined and assembled.

Estimate of abandonment/re-abandonment costs is made.

In contrast, the steps followed for the Hutton tension-leg platform (TLP) in the East

Shetland Basin of the North Sea involved three phases [13]:

Perform standalone wireline intervention.

Perform drilling unit intervention to set the cement plugs after the first wireline plug has been set.

Cut casing 10 ft below the seabed and recover casing stumps.

Another abandonment performed in the North Sea followed a different procedure [14]:

A permanent cement primary barrier placed immediately above the reservoir.

A secondary barrier placed as a back-up to the first barrier.

A third barrier then placed near the surface to isolate shallow water-bearing sands.

Severed completion tubing and recover wellhead.

In Western Canada, the traditional abandonment procedure of wells with casing vent flows included the following:

The source of the casing vent flow is estimated or determined.

If the source zone is shallower than the producing zone, the producing zone is abandoned.

The source zone is perforated. Depending on the feed rate obtained at the estimated source depth, either a bradenhead or a retainer squeeze is performed.

Retrievable tools are used as required.

Typically, Class G cement with Calcium Chloride and some fluid-loss control is utilized.

The slurry is placed and a static squeeze pressure of 7 MPa is attempted.

As needed, cement is drilled out and perforations are tested for seal.

Often, several attempts are made in order to obtain a static squeeze pressure of 7 Mpa on surface or mitigate the casing vent flow.

Techniques for Abandonment

The techniques used for plugging and abandonment of drilled well worldwide are generally based on industry practise. These techniques include;

  • Rig
  • Coil tubing unit
  • Rigless abandonment


The flexibility of coiled tubing has recently been tailored to develop rigless abandonment [15,16]. This method, focuses on harmonizing all well services to accomplish utmost efficiency. Coiled-tubing unit [fig….] abandonment, like any other method, is more effective when appropriate cementing procedure is used from the kick-off of the well, from original zonal isolation with the primary cement sheath to plugging and abandonment. Early prevention of microannulus can help operators obtain a complete final seal.

Five main criteria are recommended for optimal abandonment performance with coiled tubing:

  • Mobility; All equipment should be mounted on wheels for increased mobility.
  • Self-sufficiency; the service company provides nearly all activities.
  • Dry location; Fluids are not drained on or near the wellsite.
  • Single operation; the job is completed in one visit to the wellsite.
  • Low mileage; Move time is reduced and transport optimized for maximum efficiency in unit and camp moves.

In this abandonment technique geological consideration like the type and condition of the reservoir and caprock formations are take into account. Permanent seals typically must be made between producing zones and at impermeable caprock formations. The condition and configuration of cement, perforations, tubulars, and downhole equipment are also considered.

In addition to providing complete, permanent seals, the use of coiled-tubing can help increase abandonment efficiency. This method can provide the following advantages:

  • Increased tripping speeds
  • Increased rig-move efficiency
  • Precise placement of cement plugs; exact spotting of plugs at the interval of interest even in deep well as coil tubing can be reciprocated while pumping.
  • Suitable for use on live wells; it is possible to run CTU for remedial cement squeeze in live well as the wellbore can be controlled using the BOP and stripper assembly.
  • No need to pull production tubing; existing tubing and wellheads do not have to be removed to access the producing interval.

Success using the coil tubing method has been recorded in Oman.


In the early years on the oil and gas industry, many wells were drilled and some were found to be dry and subsequently were abandoned without much consideration given to the manner in which the wells were abandoned. Sometimes tree stumps were thrown in the well as a means to plug it [3], during this era the preservation of the groundwater, in general, the environment was not a major issue, and there was no defined regulation by the oil states or agencies. During the tail end of the 1930’s different states and agencies in the US started establishing regulations, this defined requirement to ensure better well abandonment [D.G Calvert, et al 1994].

The number of regulation guiding well abandonment has risen along with the rising need to protect the environment in countries around the world. Today most countries have some form of regulation that addresses well abandonment requirement; though these regulations are not uniform and differ from country to country and body to body, they provide a minimum standard for operating companies. For instance for the state of California in the United States of America, the different governing bodies have their own regulations which are as follows;

  • Minerals Management Services (MMS): The basic plugging requirements are found in 30 CFR 250.110 Subpart G.
  • Department of Conservation, Division of Oil: Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOC)
  • The California Code of Regulations Title 14 Division 2, Chapter 4 beginning with Section 1745 focuses on the fundamental plugging requirements.
  • California State Lands Commission (CSLC): The fundamental plugging requirements in the California Code of Regulations Title 2 Section 2128(q).

Abandonment in the North Sea

In the North Sea as in US, the regulations differ. The different countries that make up the North Sea have their different governing bodies and subsequently different regulation. The law in the UK, Norway, Denmark and Holland holds the last operator of a well accountable and responsible to pay for all the cost incurred in permanently abandoning the well. It also holds them accountable for any leakage and any clean up that may be required in the event of a leak.

Abandonment programs in the Northsea are designed to meet the guidelines for abandonment issued by the operation association or government. For the UK sector of the north sea, abandonment guidelines is issued by the UKOOA, similarly for the Norwegian sector the guidelines are contained in the NORSOK/PTIL D-010 standard and for the Netherlands it is contained in the Dutch Mining

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