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Design Optimization of Multilateral Wells in Heterogeneous Reservoirs

Ajayi Temitope Ayokunle, Mohamed Hossni Hashem, The Petroleum Institute

Copyright 2016, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Annual Technical Symposium and Exhibition held in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, 25–28
April 2016.

This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents
of the paper have not been reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect
any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written
consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is prohibited. Permission to reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may
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Maximizing profit with minimal costs is a top priority in the oil and gas industry. With the dynamics of
today’s oil market, finding economically feasible tools to maximizing the production is vital. Multilateral
wells possess the potential of achieving such a goal. To date, different theoretical designs of multilateral
wells are proposed in literature. One of the most common designs studied is the fishbone configuration.
This configuration maximizes the reservoir contact and thus the productivity of the well. While the merits
of the application of multilateral wells are well documented, an understanding of the best operating
conditions for the use of multilateral wells is rare thus we answer cogent questions related to the
optimization of multilateral wells under different reservoir conditions and well design parameters.
To answer such questions, Design of Experiment (DOE) and Response Surface Methodology (RSM)
was utilized. Selected factors to be optimized are the number of laterals, length of horizontal sections of
laterals, correlation lengths for heterogeneity indication, reservoir thickness, and permeability anisotropy.
These factors were chosen based on literature search, perceptions and deliberations while the objective
function is the cumulative oil production. Several experiments were conducted using extensive three
dimensional fine scale numerical simulations and the Box Behnken response surface methodology was
used to derive the response surfaces. Single effects and interaction plots are made to show the interactions
between parameters and the effect of these parameters and interactions on the objective function.
Results show a high dependence of productivity on the horizontal section length and reservoir
thickness. This implies that candidate reservoirs for the application of fishbone multilateral wells should
possess larger thickness. However, where the reservoir is thin production can be improved using longer
horizontal sections. The outcome of this study indicates the importance of the horizontal section and
lateral lengths on a fishbone multilateral well productivity from the same reservoir.
This study provides a template for decision making in field development operations thereby reducing
uncertainties and maximizing gains.

Production Optimization is important to the success of oil and gas activities. Decisions as to what kind
of well should be drilled are encountered frequently in the oil and gas business, these decisions are usually
carried out after production has commenced and the reservoir has been monitored. It is essential however
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to understand factors that could affect reservoir and well performance even before the well is produced.
Heterogeneous reservoirs are a common occurrence in the industry, a perfectly homogenous reservoir is
impossible in real scenarios. This necessitated the need to carry out the study on heterogeneous reservoirs.
Different kinds of well configurations have been applied in the industry, there is no gainsaying that
horizontal and multilateral wells improve the productivity of candidate reservoirs. Multilaterals are also
known as multi-branched wells (Butler et al., 2015; Crouse, 1997). It is defined by several authors as a
well which has more than one horizontal of close to horizontal section drilled from a single mother-bore
which on the other hand can be vertical, horizontal or deviated mother-bore (Crouse, 1997).
This form of wells has several advantages over other forms of wells as they increase and maximize the
recovery over a shorter period of time (Butler et al., 2015; Crouse, 1997). They also have the advantage
of increased reservoir contact, faster production, less drilling sites and reduction of pressure losses through
the wellbore (Yildiz, 2005). However, this technology possess risk which causes operating companies to
refrain from utilizing it (Butler et al., 2015). Such risk could be as a result of the loss of the main bore,
loss of a lateral, loss of more than one lateral and the main bore (Butler et al., 2015). Butler et al. (2015)
detailed a comprehensive assessment of the risks associated with the deployment of multilateral wells. The
previous wells drilled as multilaterals showed a reliability and success rates of more than 90% (Butler et
al., 2015).
Multilaterals can have different and complicated designs which may result in difficulties analyzing
their production performance during different flow regimes (Aguilar et al., 2007; Shi et al., 2005). A
multi-branched well can be dual lateral, trilateral and quad lateral (Crouse, 1997). Different configurations
of multilateral wells exist and can be applied depending on the reservoir and properties of the reservoir.
Retnanto et al. (1996) classified these configurations into six main types; multi-branched wells, fork wells,
several laterals leading into one main horizontal hole, several laterals leading into one main vertical hole,
dual opposing laterals and stacked laterals as depicted below.

Figure 1—Multilateral Well Configurations (Retnanto et al., 1996)

Fishbone Multilaterals are multilateral wells whose laterals (fishbones) are drilled from one single
horizontal mother wellbore. They are defined by Yu et al. (2012) as a well where several fishbones as
drainage passage are drilled from one horizontal section. They are similar to laterals leading into one main
horizontal hole but with each lateral emanating from different positions on the horizontal section as shown
SPE-182764-MS 3

Figure 2—A Simple Fishbone Lateral

The productivity equations for multilateral wells have been proven to vary from that of vertical and
horizontal wells therefore, several authors have discussed the productivity of multilateral wells with
different designs (El-Sayed and Amro, 1999; Salas et al., 1996). Salas et al. (1996) in their paper described
the different methods for predicting the productivity of multilateral wells via analytical solutions and
numerical simulations thereafter developing an analytical model for determining the inflow performance
of multilateral wells, their model was then applied in reservoirs containing faults and shales. Results of
this application showed that multilateral wells could be more effective than horizontal wells in the
waterflooding of faulted reservoirs. El-Sayed and Amro (1999) developed models to calculate the
productivity of planar and stacked multilaterals, they used the developed model to determine the
productivity of a hypothetical model. They realized that planar multilaterals are more effective compared
to stacked laterals for small drainage areas and thin formation reservoirs. Their results also proposed
certain conditions favorable to the performance of multilateral wells.
Chen et al. (2000) developed a deliverability model for multilateral wells by coupling the reservoir
inflow model with wellbore flow model for horizontal laterals before integrating the model into a
multilateral deliverability model whilst acounting for pressure drop along the laterals and mother bore.
Yildiz (2005) developed a mathematical model using analytical solutions to investigate the performance
of dual lateral and multilateral wells, the model developed was derived from the 3D diffusivity equation
for steady state flows into multilateral wells. Their model was verified with experimental data and with
Salas et al. (1996) model for different multilateral well configurations with excellent agreement. Li and
Zhang (2013) developed a semi-analytical model to predict the productivity of horizontal and fishbone
multilateral wells in a row well pattern using conformal transformations and mirror image theory. Their
results were verified with the electrolytic experimental methodology with a maximum error of about
12.5%. Experimental techniques have also been used by some researchers to determine and optimize the
productivity of different multilateral well configurations (Guoqing et al., 2004; Huang et al., 2006; Zhu
et al., 2011). These researchers basically use a series of electric field analogue experiments for their
investigations. Other attempts included mathematical studies on the productivity equation of multilaterals
(Chen et al., 2000; Yildiz, 2003, 2005).
The methodology used in this analysis is the Design of Experiment (DOE) and Response Surface
Methodology (RSM). Design of Experiment (DOE) is a statistical technique that has been applied in
several industries (Hibbert, 2012; Lazic, 2006). It is used specifically to gain an insight into the effect of
different factors on a particular response that exhibits uncertainties or variations(Box et al., 2005;
Montgomery et al., 2009). Response surface methodology (RSM) is an addendum to DOE used to
optimize processes based on the initial experiments conducted.
Different forms of DOEs can be performed depending on the need of the investigator, the Factorial
Design method is used for screening and determining the effect of each parameter on a particular response
and thereafter screening out all factors considered inappropriate to the experimenters goals, there are two
forms of the factorial design method, the full factorial method and the fractional factorial method, the full
factorial involves considering the effect of each parameter and all possible interactions of the parameter
space on the response, fractional factorial design methods however aims to reduce redundancies in
experimentation by removing those combinations of factors which have been proven to be redundant to
4 SPE-182764-MS

the experiment. Other DOE techniques are the D-optimal techniques, Plackett-Burman designs and the
Box-Behnken Designs. The Plackett-Burman design can also be used in reducing redundancies in
experiments, it has the advantage of requiring less amount of runs than the fractional or full factorial
designs and being more projective in its analysis. The Box-Behnken designs have the advantage of
requiring less simulations and being able to characterize more levels of each factor thus giving more room
for the parameter space required for simulations. The usual workflow for optimizations using design of
experiments involves screening, characterization and optimization as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3—Workflow for Optimization using DOE and RSM.

To analyze and optimize the effect of the different factors on the objective function, response surface
methods are usually used. This involves representing the factors and their interactions in a complex
mathematical model which can then be optimized. It reflects at first glance what parameters have the most
effect on the objective function and also what interactions of the parameter space have the most effect on
the response.
Petroleum engineering processes involve lots of uncertainties and therefore the method of design of
experiment has been used to assess the uncertainties present in many petroleum engineering processes
(Dejean and Blanc, 1999; Elvind et al., 1992; Itotoi et al., 2010; Ogunbanwo et al., 2012; Van Elk and
Guerrera, 2000). The ability to make predictions is also useful to the success of many operations in the
oil and gas industry, DOE provides an excellent means of making predictions and has thus been applied
in the petroleum engineering literature for predictive purposes(Chu, 1990; Vanegas Prada and Cunha,


Reservoir models
This study uses a commercial reservoir simulators for its analysis. Different 3D reservoir models were
constructed using Petrel®. These reservoirs are conventional cartesian reservoirs extending over 10000 ft
and 15000 ft in the x and y directions respectively and have a uniform porosity of 25%. Permeability
values are obtained from a lognormal distribution function with a mean of 80mD and a standard deviation
of 75. Permeability is populated using Sequential Gaussian Simulation technique with varying correlation
lengths to indicate heterogeneity. A 50 ft *50 ft * 10 ft fine grid is produced to capture high resolution
depletion and production data. The models have varying thicknesses (50, 100, and 200), ranges (1000,
2000, and 4000) and permeability anisotropies (0.1, 0, and 1). Table 1 summarizes the test parameter
properties for the different reservoir models.
SPE-182764-MS 5

Table 1—Reservoir Model Properties


Reservoir Model H Range Anisotropy (I)

1 50 1000 0.1
2 50 1000 0
3 50 1000 1
4 50 2000 0.1
5 50 2000 0
6 50 2000 1
7 50 4000 0.1
8 50 4000 0
9 50 4000 1
10 100 1000 0.1
11 100 1000 0
12 100 1000 1
13 100 2000 0.1
14 100 2000 0
15 100 2000 1
16 100 4000 0.1
17 100 4000 0
18 100 4000 1
19 200 1000 0.1
20 200 1000 0
21 200 1000 1
22 200 2000 0.1
23 200 2000 0
24 200 2000 1
25 200 4000 0.1
26 200 4000 0
27 200 4000 1

CMG Builder and IMEX Simulator are considered for the dynamic simulation using Black Oil model.
The reservoir is modeled above the bubble point to prevent gas evolution. The bubble point is set at 1500
psi and the reservoir has a zero flux and constant pressure boundary condition with an average initial
pressure of 5000 psi. Furthermore, rock compressibility and reservoir temperature was kept constant at
3*10-6 psi-1 and 200°F respectively.
38°API oil was used in this study. Relative permeability data was derived using the Brooks Corey
Model as shown below. Capillary pressure effect is ignored in all simulations.
6 SPE-182764-MS

Figure 4 —Relative permeability curves for the resevoir models (left water-oil, right oil-gas)

For the water-oil system connate water and residual oil saturations are 0.2 and 0.25 respectively. The
gas-oil system was defined for the software; however, the reservoir is above the bubble point pressure and
therefore the gas is not present. All saturation values are defined as shown in Table 2 and Corey exponents
are obtained from literature survey for carbonate reservoirs to construct the relative permeability curves
required for fluid mobility. Table 3 summarizes other common properties used for the simulations.

Table 2—Data used to generate relative permeability curves

Property Value

Swcon 0.2
swcrit 0.2
soirw 0.25
sorw 0.25
soirg 0.25
sorg 0.25
sgcon 0.25
sgcrit 0.25
krocw 1
krwiro 0.3
krgcl 0.5
krogcg 1
ekrw 4
ekrow 2
ekrog 2
ekrg 4
SPE-182764-MS 7

Table 3—Reservoir Properties common to all models

Property Value

Porosity 0.25
Compressibility (Psi-1) 3.00E-06
Reference pressure (Psi) 14.7
Reservoir Temp (F) 200
Bubble point Pressure (Psi) 1500
Boundary Pressure (Psi) 5000
Gas gravity 0.75
Oil API 38
Water Salinity (ppm) 10000
Mean Permeability (md) 80

Well models
The multilateral wells are with a mother bore extending 2000 ft, 5000 ft or 8000 ft horizontally into
the reservoir and 2, 4 or 6 laterals. The location of each well is set at an equal distance from all the
boundaries of the reservoir for uniform comparison between the results. All the wells have a 4700 psi
bottom hole flowing pressure. The laterals are equally spaced from one another with each lateral facing
either the east or west direction. The cumulative production of these wells is obtained for 10 years to
evaluate their productivity.

Response Surface Modelling

To explore which parameters have greater impact on the productivity of multilateral wells, Design of
Experiment (DOE) and Response Surface Methodology (RSM) are utilized using Box-Behnken method
and 40 different simulation runs. The Box Behnken methodology was chosen due to the previously stated
reasons. Selected factors to be optimized are the number of laterals (N), length of horizontal sections (L),
correlation lengths for heterogeneity indication (R), reservoir thickness (h), and permeability anisotropy
(I). These factors are chosen based on literature search, perceptions and deliberations while the objective
function is the cumulative oil production. Model configurations used in each run are presented in Table
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Table 4 —Configuration of each simulation run

Run # L h I Correlation length Number of laterals

1 -1 0 -1 0 0
2 0 0 1 0 -1
3 0 0 1 0 1
4 1 0 1 0 0
5 -1 0 1 0 0
6 1 0 0 0 1
7 1 0 0 0 -1
8 -1 0 0 0 -1
9 -1 0 0 0 1
10 0 0 -1 0 -1
11 0 0 -1 0 1
12 1 0 -1 0 0
13 0 0 0 1 1
14 1 0 0 1 0
15 -1 0 0 1 0
16 0 0 0 1 -1
17 0 0 1 1 0
18 0 0 -1 1 0
19 0 0 0 -1 -1
20 1 0 0 -1 0
21 -1 0 0 -1 0
22 0 0 0 -1 1
23 0 0 -1 -1 0
24 0 0 1 -1 0
25 0 1 0 0 -1
26 0 1 0 0 1
27 1 1 0 0 0
28 -1 1 0 0 0
29 0 1 -1 0 0
30 0 1 1 0 0
31 0 1 0 1 0
32 0 1 0 -1 0
33 0 -1 1 0 0
34 0 -1 -1 0 0
35 1 -1 0 0 0
36 0 -1 0 0 1
37 0 -1 0 0 -1
38 -1 -1 0 0 0
39 0 -1 0 1 0
40 0 -1 0 -1 0

The values -1, 0 and 1 are designated to each level of the property used as follows:
SPE-182764-MS 9

Table 5—Properties and their levels

Property Value Designated Level

h 50 -1
100 0
200 1
L 2000 -1
5000 0
8000 1
I 0.1 -1
1 0
10 1
Range (R) 1000 -1
2000 0
4000 1
Number of laterals (N) 2 -1
4 0
6 1

Analysis of Results
Understanding the yearly production plots and how the parameters affect it for different scenarios allows
for a better decision making. It can be noticed that the daily production rate increases by increasing the
length of the horizontal section for a four-laterals well. This increase is significant over time. However,
increasing the length four times results in only double of the production rate over the years as shown in
Figure 5.

Figure 5—Effect of increasing length of the horizontal section

On the other hand, Figure 6 shows the difference between drilling two and six laterals from a 5000 ft
horizontal well in a 100 ft thick isotropic reservoir modeled with a correlation length (range) of 2000 ft.
It was found that the increase in the number of laterals for a given well in a given reservoir does not yield
10 SPE-182764-MS

promising results. This may be due to the short length of each lateral (200ft) and the resulting drainage
pattern which does not produce a greater drawdown around the well.

Figure 6 —Effect of number of laterals on the daily production rate

Moreover, wells in reservoirs with higher permeability anisotropy value produce at higher rates as
discussed in literature. In spite of this increase in recovery, the increment is not significant (Figure 7).
Furthermore, the resulting gain in production dimensions over the lifetime of the well. This effect is
expected as the vertical extent of the reservoir is considerably smaller than its horizontal extent.
Additionally, after a long period of production the vertical resources in the reservoir with higher vertical
permeability (higher permeability anisotropy) are exhausted at a higher rate, thus, the diminishing gain.

Figure 7—Effect of anisotropy on the daily production rate

SPE-182764-MS 11

Reservoir thickness has the most profound effect on productivity. Thick reservoirs are expected to
produce higher quantities of oil due to larger drainage volume available for the well to extract from.
Furthermore, a reservoir with quadruple thickness of another one results in a five-time increase in the
productivity of the well (Figure 8).

Figure 8 —Effect of reservoir thickness on the daily production rate

Range or correlation length is not a physical parameter in a real reservoir. However, range controls how
reservoir properties are populated in a certain reservoir model. Lower range values represent homoge-
neous reservoir models with more continuous properties. It is important to understand the required level
of continuity based on real well logs and other property indicators available.

Figure 9 —the effect of range on permeability distribution (left Rⴝ4000, right Rⴝ1000)

Figure 10 shows the effect of correlation lengths on the productivity of the multilateral well. Even
though the change in production is not significant, it is important to know that this parameter is chosen
by the user and also affect the results of simulation. This means that production forecasts depend on the
methodology of populating the reservoir properties in the model.
12 SPE-182764-MS

Figure 10 —Effect of reservoir model correlation length on the daily production rate

DOE and RSM Results

A statistical software was used for the analysis of the simulation experimental results gotten from the
commercial simulator. The results obtained from the DOE show how the cumulative oil production is
affected by the factors and their respective level. Furthermore, the interaction between these factors is
investigated to see their effect on Np.
Main Effects Plots
Figure 11 shows the high dependency of Np on the thickness (B) of the reservoir for the multilateral. It
also indicates that well length (A) also has a positive effect on the productivity of the well. Both reservoir
thickness and well length have the highest impact on the productivity of the multilateral.

Figure 11—Main effects plot for NP (fitted means)

Moreover, reservoirs with higher anisotropy (C) values can positively influence the productivity but
has less impact than both the thickness of the reservoir and the length of the horizontal mother-bore.
Surprisingly, the correlation length (Range) (D) used in populating reservoir permeability values in the
model has a different effect trend on the productivity of the well. At its lowest and highest values (1000
and 4000 ft) the well will produce at higher rates. However, at its middle value (2000 ft) it has a reduced
SPE-182764-MS 13

impact on the productivity. This interesting finding shows the importance of accurately populating the
data which will affect the future production forecasts of the well. The Number of laterals (E) does not
produce a profound impact on the productivity. It should be noted that longer laterals may produce
different results, yet, there will be drilling challenges involved in drilling such wells.
Interaction Plot Results
Figure 12 shows the two-way interaction between the factors studied. Interactions which show parallel
trends at different factor levels mean that these factors do not have an interaction with each other in
affecting the production data. This can be seen in the interactions between anisotropy and well length
(C*A), number of laterals and well length (E*A), number of laterals and reservoir thickness (E*B),
anisotropy and range (C*D), number of laterals and range (E*D). All the factors do not have an interaction
with the number of laterals in affecting the well productivity (A, B, C, D*E).

Figure 12—Interaction plot for Np (fitted means)

The interaction between well length and reservoir thickness (A*B and B*A) shows that a combination
of these factors can lead to substantial increase in productivity. Furthermore, the interaction between the
reservoir thickness and the range used produces an interesting trend on the production. It is interesting to
find that thinner reservoir models with lower range values (1000 ft, i.e. More heterogeneous) have a
positive effect on the productivity of the well model. The interaction plot also shows that the opposite is
right for the thicker reservoirs models. This may be the case for the current permeability values used in
this study.
Contour Plots
Contour plots are shown in Figure 13 to further show the relationship between different parameters. These
are plots of two different factors while keeping the remaining factors at a median level in order to show
the effect of these combination of factors on the objective function. It can be seen from the plots that a
combination of thickness and lateral length, anisotropy and thickness, range and thickness provide the
highest oil production rate from candidate reservoirs whilst other paramters were held constant. These
14 SPE-182764-MS

indicates that the thickness of the reservoir provide the highest indication as to the suitability of reservoirs
for multilateral well drilling.

Figure 13—Contour plots of Np (fitted means)

A regression model was derived to show the relationships between the different factors using a single
mathematical equation thereby providing a basis for an optimization.

The equation provided above was therefore used for the optimization which aims at maximizing the
production of the reservoir given the various singular effects of the factors and the interaction effects of
combined factors.
SPE-182764-MS 15

Figure 14 —Optimization Plots

Analysis of the optimization procedures showed that the maximum optimized attainable value for the
cumulative oil production from the combination of specified sensitivity parameters is 101585756 barrels.
This value would be gotten when all values are set at the maximum value of ⫹1 for each parameter. A
95% confidence interval for the optimization process was within a range of 88421769 to 114749743 while
the 95% prediction interval was within the range of 86581898 to 116589614 with a standard error of
Summary and Conclusion
This paper has presented the results of simulation runs made for the purpose of optimizing the
performance of multilateral wells in heterogeneous reservoirs. The following conclusions can be deduced
from this study
1. An optimization technique is presented to determine the ideal operating conditions for the
application of multilateral wells in candidate reservoirs.
2. The productivity of multilateral wells shows a high dependence on the thickness of the reservoir
and the length of the main horizontal bore.
3. The number of laterals in the used multilateral well design does not have a significant effect on
the productivity of the well.
It is recommended to consider other types of multilateral wells in order to have a profound effect on
the production. Furthermore, it is also recommended to consider the length of each lateral in the
parameters affecting the productivity of the well. However, this will impose a bigger challenge during
drilling. Additionally, reservoir models should be studied in a greater detail or history matching and
production forecasts as presented by the effect of range used in populating the reservoir properties.

N – Number of laterals
I – Anisotropy
H – Thickness
R – Range (Correlation length)
L – Length of Horizontal Section
Np – Cumulative Oil Production
swcon – Endpoint Saturation: Connate Water
swcrit – Endpoint Saturation: Critical Water
soirw – Endpoint Saturation: Irreducible Oil for Water-Oil Table
sorw – Endpoint Saturation: Residual Oil for Water-Oil Table
16 SPE-182764-MS

soirg – Endpoint Saturation: Irreducible Oil for Gas-Liquid Table

sorg – Endpoint Saturation: Residual Oil for Gas-Liquid Table
sgcon – Endpoint Saturation: Connate Gas
sgcrit – Endpoint Saturation: Critical Gas
krocw – Kro at Connate Water
krwiro – Krw at Irreducible Oil
krgcl – Krg at Connate Liquid
krogcg – Krog at Connate Gas
ekrw – Exponent for calculating krw from krwiro
ekrow – Exponent for calculating krow from krocw
ekrog – Exponent for calculating krog from krogcg
ekrg – Exponent for calculating krg from krgcl
API – American Petroleum Institute

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