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SPE-180017-MS

Innovative Concepts in Wireline Continuous Coring


Rahman Ashena, Walter Vortisch, Michael Prohaska, and Gerhard Thonhauser, University of Leoben

Copyright 2016, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE Bergen One Day Seminar held in Bergen, Norway, 20 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
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Abstract
Coring in unconventional reservoirs with typical unconsolidated formations has introduced additional
challenges requiring more innovative concepts to be developed. These requirements, economic issues of
unconventional reservoirs, and also issues of conventional coring particularly in regard to excessive trip
times incurred have recently led to widespread attention to wireline continuous coring (WCC) modified
from mining industry to petroleum industry applications. This coring method has contributed to coring
deep formations, long core sections, multiple zones, jam prone formations, exploration zones or areas with
unknown core points. Currently, WCC is suffering from several drawbacks while some recent attempts
have been made to remove them. In this accordance, this work is missioned to remove some existing
defects by adding some innovative concepts to be applied to the ordinary WCC. Therefore, a more
efficient continuous coring method is aimed which includes enhanced coring key performance indicators.
Therefore, several identified challenges of WCC are considered to be removed or alleviated by
innovative concepts to be added. The challenges consist of un-flushed inner tube while run in hole, limited
retrievable core size, in-situ/pressure coring hazards (i.e. safety issues, complex sealing, etc.), slick line
issues (rig time, torque, rupture, etc.), untimely and inefficient decision making while coring/drilling,
non-optimized coring/drilling and tripping induced core damage in WCC.
In order to address these issues, as novelty measures, first an inner tube flushing system is proposed
for flushing inner tubes prior to commencing coring. Second, casing drilling coring is recommended in
order to obtain larger core sizes contributing to improved core analysis. Third, in-situ downhole
measurement and sampling systems are proposed to measure properties of in-situ fluids in order to
complete or replace pressure/in-situ coring systems and ensure safety. Fourth, an innovative mode
conversion system is proposed to mitigate slick line issues. Fifth, a less complex logging while coring
system has also been proposed in special cases to enhance and expedite real time decision making process
in regard to proceeding to core cutting or not. Sixth, an innovative mode conversion system contributing
to partial elimination of wireline jobs will also be proposed to substitute slick line/ wireline retrievals.
Seventh, optimum tripping schedules have been characterized as crucial to match formation rock and fluid
properties and type of WCC applied and also to prevent coring induced damage.
Key Words: Wireline continuous coring (WCC) · coring/drilling mode · in-situ measurement · inner core cutter ·
pressure/in-situ coring · slick line · core damage · tripping
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Introduction
Coring in unconventional reservoirs with typically unconsolidated formation types has faced additional
challenges which have required more innovative methods to be developed and applied to enhance coring
key performance indicators (coring efficiency, core recovery, core quality, coring cost). Lessons learned
from other industries such as mining, have also contributed to further development of coring techniques
and systems particularly WCC, particularly in recent years. This method of coring is a widely accepted
method which seems to have a bright future ahead. Recently, some serious attempts have been made to
alleviate or even remove some of the method drawbacks of the method. This work is missioned to remove
or alleviate some remaining drawbacks of the WCC method. It is noted that pressure coring in practice
nowadays is not containing the formation pressure completely as was the practice with the dated real
pressure coring, but just keeps the core barrel pressure e.g. at 1000 psi to the surface. Thus, it is better to
be called ‘pseudopressure/in-situ coring’.

Objectives
In this study, it is attempted to discuss some main challenges of WCC method and also possible solution(s)
or later on features. The innovative concepts proposed help to obtain more efficient WCC. The objectives
can be briefly listed as preventing core jamming and fill/junk accumulation in core barrel, obtaining larger
core sizes (particularly in slim holes), enhancing coring safety, preventing excessive wireline trips,
enabling rapid decision making, optimizing coring and coring progress, and providing detailed tripping
schedule in WCC.

Basic Bottom Coring Methods

Basic bottom coring methods mainly applied for petroleum exploration, comprise conventional and
WCC methods. Conventional coring is a method of rotary coring by which the inner tube containing the
core is retrieved along with the outer tube assembly to the surface following a conventional drill string
trip.
WCC is a method of coring/drilling by which the same outer assembly is used as bottom hole assembly
(BHA) and the same core bit is applied both for drilling and coring modes; however, changing the inner
assembly can be easily performed via wireline in order to switch to the desired mode. Although WCC was
developed long ago in 1950s-1960s (US Patent 2,708,103 A 1955, and US Patent 3,127,943 A, 1964) and
practiced, it was rarely in practice in petroleum industry until early 1970s which was neglected for some
years for some technical challenges including low rate of penetration, out of gage cores, damaged/broken
low quality cores, and small sized cores obtained. Since 1990s, attention to WCC was resumed again to
significantly deal with the associated problems. In recent years, serious attempts have been made to
greatly remove the problems. Therefore, WCC has been recently identified as an optimum less time-
consuming coring method to replace conventional coring in certain circumstances (e.g. multiple zone
coring, exploration wells, jam prone formations, etc.).

WCC Challenges
WCC still faces some practical issues consisting of un-flushed inner tube prior to commencing coring and
jamming, limited core size retrieved, pressure coring hazards, slick line issues, poor core point detection,
non-optimized coring, tripping induced core damage due to excessive wireline retrieval speed. Schematics
of WCC in coring and drilling modes have been shown in Figures 1 and 2.
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Figure 1—Wireline Continuous Coring (Coring Mode) a) Outer Tube Assembly, b) Inner Tube Assembly
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Figure 2—Wireline Continuous Coring (Drilling Mode)

Challenges and Solutions


In the following, the possible solutions to some currently existing WCC issues are discussed.
Flushed Inner Tube While Run-In Hole
Problem As a common practice in conventional coring, about 90 ft (27 m) before reaching the bottom
(off-bottom), mud circulation is started, still without string rotation. This is because the mud circulation
which passes within inner tubes contributes to conditioning and flushing the inner tubes to ensure
cleanliness of the inner tube out of debris/junk/fill. The most problematic issue with debris/fill is the high
risk of jamming off in core bit, core catcher or inner tube. Following tagging the formation to be cored,
just prior to commencing coring, the ball is either dropped from surface or hydraulically activated by
virtue of a drop ball sub in order to change the mud path from within the inner tube to the annulus between
inner and outer tubes so that mud does not flush the core while entry into the inner tube (Baker Hughes,
1999 and 2013). After cutting enough cores or coring termination, the drop ball enables any gas and
trapped pressure to be released through top of inner assembly. It is noted that for coring systems with
closed inner tube systems (e.g. sponge coring, gel coring, etc.), there is no possibility for drop balls to be
utilized, instead enclosed ball and seat is used.
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In wireline continuous coring, also an enclosed ball in place is commonly utilized in the inner coring
assembly (above the inner tubes) instead of dropping ball from surface or hydraulic activation using drop
ball sub. Therefore, prior to commencing coring, the mud never passes through inner tube and thus never
flushes the inner tube prior to commencing coring. Although the exposure to fill or junk is less In wireline
continuous coring than in conventional coring as the inner assemblies are run inside outer tubes in last,
there is still some risk. It is just noted that the enclosed ball also lets gases and pressure on top of inner
tube be released in a similar manner to conventional coring.
Solution (Hydraulic Inner Tube Ball and Seat) Based on the description, hydraulically activated in-
ternal drop ball sub to be developed as part of the inner tube assembly, is highly recommended (Figure
3a and Figure 4). This contributes to ensuring flushing the inner tube out of debris/fill prior to core cutting
start. Thus, the risk of debris/fill entering the inner tube while coring (and mainly its corresponding
jamming in the bit throat, catcher, or inner tube) is greatly diminished.

Figure 3—WCC with a) hydraulically activated internal drop ball sub and b) an already enclosed ball in place
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Figure 4 —Drop Ball Sub. It includes a ball kept in place in front of a restored spring and behind a wall (yellow) which can be removed
by pressure surge. It is in application for motor coring or high angle wellbore where dropping ball from surface is not possible.

Enlarging Retrievable Core Sizes (Slim Holes)


Problem Larger sizes of cores obtained are beneficial to enhanced and more detailed core analysis results
for reservoir engineering and geological studies. In addition, the larger the core diameter is, the larger the
inner core part apart from mud invasion can be obtained. As an example, using low invasion coring
systems (i.e. low invasion core catchers and core heads), the intact core-interior with about 2 ’/2-in
diameter can be extracted from a 4-in core size (Rathmell et. al., 1999). Therefore, the larger the core size
to be retrieved, the larger intact interior can in turn, be extracted for core analysis tests.
Using conventional core barrel, obtaining large core size is viable (e.g. 5 ’/4-in core for 9-in hole size1)
as the core barrel is retrieved at surface following a conventional drill string/pipe trip. However, one of
the challenges of WCC is the limited diameter/size of cores retrieved (particularly in slim holes) as the
inner tube assembly containing the core must be tripped out through the drill pipe. Standard API drill pipes
do not have a large enough inner diameter to obtain the core sizes desired Usually, most WCC applications
are not designed for slim holes and typically obtain only a 2-in size core for 7 7/8-8 %-in hole size.
Therefore, in order to remove the limited diameter cores retrieved in WCC, some solutions should be
found.

1
HT40 Baker Hughes
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Figure 5—WCC with casing drill rods (left) and with normal drill pipes

Solution (Specialty Drill Pipes for holes sizes 5 7/8-7 7/8-in and Casing Drilling Coring) As the so-
lution to the limited core size in WCC, some coring companies have considered designing and developing
specialty drill pipes with OD: 5 ½-in, 21.9 Ib/ft, ID: 4.625-in and also specialty /large-bore jars with ID:
4 ’/4-in (Farese, et.al, 2013) with some additional cost. Undoubtedly, only maximum 3 or 3 ½-in core can
be retrieved in 5 7/8-7 7/8-in hole sizes via wireline.
Application of casing drilling coring in slim holes (diamaters ⬍ 5 7/8-in) using drill rods (with the
same size as casings) can be highly beneficial particularly for obtaining large cores where newly
developed specialty drill pipes are not able to contribute (due to their OD of tool joints). Besides, using
drill rods for coring in slim holes helps to diminish excessive vibrations.
Alleviating Pressure Coring Hazards
Problem When pressure coring (or better to be called ‘pseudo-pressure/in-situ coring’) is applied, the
inner tube assembly containing the core may be raised to the rig floor with maximum 1000 psi. As main
functions of pseudo-pressure coring, there is a possibility to obtain initial gas volume in place, gas/fluid
composition, gas deliverability and fluid samples (Bjorum, 2013, Bjorum and Sinclair, 2013, Davis et.al,
2013, and Bjorum et. al, 2014). In addition, a semi-pressured core is provided which is partly suitable for
geomechanical studies. A typical schematic of pressure coring is shown in Figure 6.
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Figure 6 —A Schematic of Pressure Coring

One of the advantages of this system is claimed to be safety compared to traditional pressure coring
tools; however some safety concerns still exist as the core barrel is retrieved with maximum 1000 psi
pressure to be handled at surface. There is a complex pressure sealing utilized in the system wherein there
seems some chance of pressure seal failure to exist. Pressure coring requires very special core and rig site
handling and lab analyses techniques with skilled personnel. Still, information about individual fluid
phases (gas and oil at downhole conditions) can not be provided at all. In other words, the exact volume
and composition of fluids released out of the core at each depth cannot be discriminated from other depths.
Finally, pseudo pressure coring is currently one most costly coring technique.
Solution Downhole measurement of core rock and fluid properties are proposed. Several properties can
be measured in a real time mannerincluding volume of fluids, density, etc. liberated with time and depth.
A time-based log can also be provided. This provides more idea about how the fluids inside the core are
being extracted due to pressure depletion while retrieval to surface rather than only normal canisters on
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top of the core barrel. The measuring sensors and meters between the core barrel and canisters can
providecanisters can be a complimentary concept to the pressure coring. If just metering is utilized without
the canisters, the coring can be performed with no pressure safety concerns. From a fluid point of view,
downhole fluid samplers while drilling can be used to obtain fluid properties analysis in lieu of fluids
obtained by pressure coring. From amatrix point of view, the core obtained from a non-pressure coring
method WCC can be proper enough to obtain formation rock and geomechanical properties. In later
publications, more information will be provided about this concept.

Alleviating Slick Line Issues


Problem In wireline continuous coring, slick line is frequently utilized to retrieve and run in hole with
the inner assembly (either the inner tube assembly for coring mode or the inner drilling assembly for
drilling mode). This is performed in order to switch from drilling mode to coring mode and vice versa.
Undoubtedly, some elapsed rig time is lost due to wireline trip time for switching from coring to drilling
mode and vice versa. In addition, utilization of slick line in wireline continuous coring is sometimes
problematic due to high torque incurred, or rupture. Therefore, it is essential to stop several times while
retrievaing the core or running in hole with the inner assembly in order to prevent excessive slick line
torques incurred. In case of rupture, fishing jobs are necessitated to be performed and thus excessive rig
time and costs incurred.
Solution (Catcher with Inner Core Cutter) In order to lessen the risk associated with slick line fre-
quent application, it is recommended to reduce slick line application by eliminating the slick line
application for switching from coring mode to drilling mode. In other words, slick line would be just
utilized for retrieving and tripping in the inner tube assembly containing the core and tripping in with the
empty inner tube assembly.
In the new innovative feature as an innovative mode conversion system, switching from coring to
drilling mode is accomplished by activating the core catcher electrically or hydraulically which makes the
inner core cutter which is installed just below the core catcher, appear so that drilling/grinding mode can
begin. The inner core cutter is located at a distance of 2-3 inches up from the bit center. A similar method
was applied, but for conventional coring method just with mud motors (US Patent WO 2014012781 A2,
2013). This method of switching from coring to drilling mode has two main advantages:
1. It helps to eliminate the time elapsed by wireline trips.
2. As inner drilling assembly is eliminated; less equipments and personnel would be required as a
result.

Core Point Detection and Timely Decision Making


Problem One major problem in coring operations is failure to identify the core point timely and thus the
core point may be passed by drilling several meters. Logging while coring has not yet been seriously field
practiced although it was developed years before (US Patent 6,003,620 A, 1999 and US Patent 6,006,844
A, 1999) and was subsequently further modified and even field tested (US Patent 2005/0199393 A1).
Logging while coring has shown to greatly enhance decision making capability either to proceed to taking
core or not. The main drawback of logging while coring is extra costs incurred. Logging while coring to
be modified for slim holes faces the challenge of limited space required for downhole electronics existing.
As no downhole dynamic drilling parameters are recorded in normal practice, undesirable vibration, rather
low core cutting and drilling speed are resulted which has influence on core quality either mechanical or
mud-invasion-related and also jamming.
Solution (Logging /Seismic While Drilling, etc.) In the hole section that proceeding to coring is pos-
sible, utilization of data telemetry to surface is recommended for core point detection. Therefore, for
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proper core point detection there are two proper options suggested for this purpose: logging while drilling
or seismic while drilling. Sesismic while drilling can contribute to
Moreoever, detailed cuttings analysis along with surface gas chromatography can be replaced with the
disadvantage of lag time negative effect on swift decision making. For this hole section, it is also a shrewd
decision to apply micro coring (which is indeed a drilling method) in lieu of normal drilling bit to obtain
micro cores of e.g. 1-in diameter while keeping proper cuttings and micro cores analysis to keep track of
geology (Deschamps, 2008). If the core point is missed due to lag time issue (no LWD/SWD), in case
micro coring at least some micro cores (though contaminated with mud) have been already obtained that
has some basic core anlysis value e.g. mineralogy, bedding, etc.
In the case of complex critical geology, it is recommended to utilize just basic resistivity gamma ray
sensors with the core barrel (Goldberg et.al, 2004, 2006) in order to to log the formation along with the
core in a real time manner.

Optimized Coring/Drilling
Problem Coring optimization is considered as one of three basic elements of successful coring. While
core cutting, and drilling by virtue of WCC system, vibrations incurred e.g. due to excessive weight on
bit (WOB) and rate of penetration (ROP) can cause induced fractures ahead of core bit leading to core
jamming off and also low and non-optimized coring rate of penetration attained. Core jamming is the most
critical issue causing unprecedented termination of coring jobs and low coring efficiency. At the same
time, coring ROP should not be too low as the lower the core cutting rate of penetration, the more mud
invasion would occur. The more the magnitude of the mud invasion and resultant core damage, the slower
tripping speed would be possible (Byrne et. al., 2015).
Solution (Coring Optimization) It is recommended to install downhole dynamic drilling sensors in the
WCC system to record downhole drilling parameters so that coring can be optimized in a real time manner
particularly in order to reduce vibrations incurred and also maximize the possible rate of penetration
attainable. This is because installing downhole sensors contributes to enhanced coring optimization
(Myers, et.al, 2006). The less the core cutting rate of penetration, the more mud invasion would occur.
Therefore, coring optimization (controlling WOB, revolutions per minute, circulation rate, ROP, etc.) is
of great prominence to ensure coring efficiency and core quality. As ongoing research, simulating the rock
geomechanics based on rock properties and drilling parameters while core cutting can ensure no fractures
to be induced ahead the core bit.

Mitigated Tripping Induced Core Damage


Problem One main key to the recovery of core in an undamaged manner is to allow release of gas in
order to balance the core external and internal pressures (Figure 7). High wireline speed sometimes
practiced without engineering causes physical/mechanical damage to quality of core retrieved due to gas
expansion ocurred. The core retrieved in this way, has certainly undergone tensile micro-fractures which
are distributed throughout the core.
SPE-180017-MS 11

Figure 7—Internal and External Pressures While Core retrieval

Solution (Detailed Engineered Tripping Schedule) Based on core rock and fluid properties and also
damage incurred, a detailed engineered tripping schedule should be presented in any region so that core
critical pressure is not exceeded and occurrence of the micro-fractures is inhibited. The tripping schedule
designed should include the entire depth interval from bottom to surface (not only the near surface
interval). All effective parameters on safe tripping speed including formation pressure, temperature,
bubble point pressure/depth, core damage in the exterior walls of the core, etc. can be considered in basic
computational fluid dynamics modeling (Byrne, et. al., 2015 and Zubizarreta, et. al., 2013) and also
thermos-poroelastic geomechanical modeling. Utilizing fracture detection sensors installed in the core
barrel is also suggested to contribute to successful time-based detection of the tensile fractures in the
cores.

Conclusion
Although wireline continuous coring (WCC) shows to have a bright future in lieu of conventional coring,
it suffers from some drawbacks. In this study, an outlook to a multi-functional approach has been given
in order to deal with several main drawbacks and enhance WCC by introducing innovative concepts to be
incorporated. Hence, the following solutions have been proposed for removing drawbacks and the
corresponding purposes: hydraulic inner tube ball and seat (for flushing inner tube while run in hole prior
to coring), casing drilling coring or specialty drill pipe/jar (for enlarging retrievable core size), downhole
in-situ measurements and downhole sampling (for alleviating pressure coring hazards), core catcher
equipped with inner tube cutters (for alleviating slick line issues), detailed cuttings analysis/micro cores,
logging while drilling and seismic while drilling (for timely decision making while coring/drilling), coring
optimization (for optimizing coring and enhancing core quality and coing ROP) and detailed engineered
tripping schedule (for mitigating tripping induced core damage).

Acknowledgements
We would like to appreciate Chair of Drilling and Completion Engineering, Petroleum Engineering
Department, Montanuniversitat Leoben, Austria for allowing us the time to develop the theory and the
methods for presentation in this conference. We also express Special thanks to George Williamson and
Audun Kvinnesland, from Halliburton (former Baker Hughes Inteq); Corin Lewsey and Ian Ross from
National Oilwell Varco; Chris Daws and George Tophinke from Sandvik, Australia, and Alf E. Berle,
from CoreAll, Norway for their kind gracious consultations and information.
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