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Researchers Examine Oil Well Cement Sealers

Thursday, November 21, 2019

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In order to get a better understanding of how chemicals, known as retarders, function in slowing the hardening of cement in borehole linings, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, among others, have developed new techniques that facilitate observing the setting process in microscopic detail.

Drilling new oil wells often necessitates using specialized cements in order to line the borehole, as well as prevent collapse and leakage. Retarders help slow the setting process.

Cement Mixture Research

The endeavor—led by MIT professor Oral Buyukozturk, MIT research scientist Kunal Kupwade-Patil and eight others at the Aramco Research Center in Texas and at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee—focused around observing how different formulations behave during the setting process.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In order to get a better understanding of how chemicals, known as retarders, function in slowing the hardening of cement in borehole linings, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, among others, have developed new techniques that facilitate observing the setting process in microscopic detail.

Customarily, the cement used in sealing the lining of oil wells needs to set hundreds, if not thousands, of feet in the earth, often in the face of extreme conditions and corrosive chemicals. In the past, retarders have been studied by removing samples of cured cement for lab testing, but this limits the results beause it does not reveal what changes occur in the curing process.

In the recent collaborative effort, the team used what MIT bills as a “unique detector” at the ORNL known as the Nanoscale Order Materials Diffractometer (NOMAD). The process in question, known as Neutron Pair Distribution Function, can examine the distribution of pairs of atoms, which replicates realistic conditions.

“NOMAD is perfectly suited to study complex structural problems such as understanding hydration in concrete, because of its high flux and the sensitivity of neutrons to light elements such as hydrogen,” says Thomas Proffen, one of the paper coauthors who also works for ORNL.

Research results indicate that the mechanism largely at work in retarders is the depletion of calcium ions, which results in a much slower solidifying process.

In drilling new oil wells, a steel casing is needed to protect the borehole, also doubling as a way to prevent oil and gas from escaping out into the surface. Leakage could also result in the leakage of methane. According to MIT, there is always a few-inch space between the casing and the borehole that must be filled with cement slurry to prevent leakage, as well as protect the steel lining from exposure to water and corrosive chemicals.

“Also, the well bore circumferential area is next to parts of the Earth’s crust that have instabilities, so material could tumble into the hole and damage the casing," noted Buyukozturk.

Instabilities can be prevented by pumping cement into the area between the well bore and the casing, but the high temperatures and pressures found in a deep environment produces a lot of stress on the material.

This new research method, published in Cement and Concrete Research, allows researchers to examine the setting process in a way that allows for engineering “the next generation of retardants,” noted Kupdwade-Patil.

   

Tagged categories: Cement; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Program/Project Management; Research and development

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