The Research on Influence of Unloading on Borehole Stability in Clay-Rich Shale Formation

Yi Ding, Xiangjun Liu*, Pingya Luo, Lixi Liang
State Key Laboratory of Oil and Gas Reservoir Geology and Exploitation, Southwest Petroleum University, Chengdu, Sichuan 610500, P.R. China

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© 2017 Ding et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the State Key Laboratory of Oil and Gas Reservoir Geology and Exploitation, Southwest Petroleum University, Chengdu, Sichuan 610500, P.R. China; Tel: 13408084383; E-mail:



Unloading phenomenon happens in the beginning of drilling and is able to change stress state around borehole. This change of stress state causes impact on rock structure and strength, thus affecting the evaluation of wellbore stability. Especially for determining initial mud pressure, unloading is a significant influence factor. Clay-rich shale formation is well-known for high risk of borehole collapsing, appropriate mud pressure is necessary to stabilize wellbore. Therefore, the unloading influence needs to be considered when it comes to selection of initial mud pressure.

Materials and Methods:

In this paper, based on the triaxial test, unloading situation has been simulated to investigate the influence of unloading on rock mechanical property. It is shown that clay-shale strength declines with increasing unloading range. Also, note that in comparison with internal friction angle, cohesion has larger decline caused by unloading.


Taking account of the unloading influence, new model has been established to investigate wellbore stability. These results demonstrate that unloading creates variable strength decrease at the wall of borehole due to different in-situ stress and well trajectory. This strength decrease gives rise to increasing collapse pressure. In particular, unloading has relatively larger impact in the formation with strong anisotropy and high in-situ stress. Besides, inappropriate well trajectory will increase unloading impact.


Finally, this model has been applied to several cases in clay-shale formation, Northern China. And the new model in each case is well consistent with oilfield experience, indicating its practicability and proving unloading is a non-negligible factor for the assessment of wellbore stability.

Keywords: Unloading, Clay-shale, Mechanical property, Wellbore stability, Unloading range.