Monday, December 15, 2014

Calamity 3, broken casing

Rupert Sutherland, GNS Science and Victoria University of Wellington
John Townend, Victoria University of Wellington
Virginia Toy, University of Otago

HWT (4.5”, 114 mm) steel casing. 13/12/14. R. Sutherland.
Nobody likes a sequel, and a sequel to a sequel is even worse. Yes, we dropped another heavy steel tube to the bottom of our borehole. This time it was worse, because our recipe had 40 tons of cement added to the 25 tons of steel in the hole.

It was a complicated casing operation last Wednesday, and it was done carefully. We lowered PWT casing (5.5”, 140 mm) with only a minor hitch – the float shoe apparently failed with a third of the pipes still on the rack. Before this, mud had been displaced from the borehole as each piece was added. A float shoe is a one-way valve at the bottom of the pipe that stops mud entering, giving the pipe some buoyancy (air inside it) and reducing its effective weight, and preventing backflow when the pipe is cemented.

Float shoe for PWT casing. 10/12/14. R. Sutherland

Next, a BQ steel pipe (2.25”, 56 mm) had to be threaded 890 m to the bottom of the borehole (8.5”, 210 mm diameter), running alongside the PWT casing (5.5”, 140 mm). Simple maths tells you that a 14 mm tolerance over 890 m of rubbing against jagged rocks had a small chance of success. But it went in!

Next, a stainless-steel tube with delicate optical fibres inside was threaded into the BQ pipe. That worked, and we tested our sensors. OK too!

At 4 a.m. on Thursday, it seemed that everything had gone as planned. Just in time too, because the trucks showed up at 5 a.m. to set it all in concrete.
Concrete appears at wellhead. PWT and BQ pipes visible, and fibre optic cable held by clamp. 
11/12/14. R. Sutherland

By 9 a.m., the joyous mood had changed. Cement appeared back at the surface much earlier than it should have, and pump pressures were lower than predicted. We quickly deduced that the PWT steel casing had broken.

Our immediate action was to flush cement out as best we could before it set. Fortunately, we had waste pits prepared for just such an emergency.

Cement pumped from the hole. 11/12/14. R. Sutherland
The next step was to determine where the break in casing had occurred, and what we could do about it. Over the last few days we have been trying to determine the state of the borehole 430-470 m below us.

We have analysed records of pump volumes and pressures, and digital data from the drill rig computer. This shows that a significant event occurred at 11:42 a.m. on Wednesday, and it seems this is when the casing broke apart. The depth to the broken joint is estimated to be 436 m.

The drillers made up an HWT drill-string (4.5”, 114 mm) that fits snugly inside PWT pipes, and carefully lowered this into the borehole with a core barrel and bit. We touched an object at 436.0 m, pushed it to 437.0 m, and then cored it. It was the cementing plug. This was the last thing pumped after the cement. It floats, so its position seems consistent with our depth estimate for the break.

We advanced farther and eventually started coring rock below 470 m. This is bad news. It means that the pipes are not aligned.

Cement plug and concrete core. 13/12/14. R. Sutherland.

It is still too early to tell exactly what this means for the project. Several options are available to us. Our top priority is to remediate the immediate situation and secure the upper casing. However, we need to think through all possibilities before putting more cement in the borehole.

Everyone is looking forward to a break over Christmas. It has been physically and mentally very demanding for the last 16 weeks, and it still seems like there is so much more to do.

The latest addition to our team is as big as Virginia but not as ferocious.

Funded by:
the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP); the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund; GNS Science; Victoria University of Wellington; University of Otago; and governments of NZ (MBIE), UK (NERC), & USA (NSF).


  1. ...oh no...a stripped thread at 436 meters...a metallurgic failure...dropped into Hades...and now misaligned....just move a few meters over and start a new is a marginal cost compared to the actual rupture....and there is always next chirstmas for a break!....ah what a shame...the schist overhang...

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