November 2017

Extending coiled tubing reach capabilities in lateral wells

Coiled tubing manufacturing technology has revolutionized CT string design optimization.
Irma Galvan / Global Tubing

Horizontal wells have been drilled successfully since the 1920s, but with the advent of the “Shale Revolution,” the number of these wells drilled each year is growing dramatically. The drive for efficient resource production, optimized capital investment and superior reservoir exploitation has motivated E&P operators to shift from vertical wells to more productive, and cost-effective, horizontal wells. In fact, significant numbers of operating oil and gas properties developed with vertical wells are being converted, retroactively, to horizontal wells, to more efficiently produce fields and prolong their productive lifespan.

With the latest developments in drilling technologies and multi-stage fracturing technologies in unconventional plays, operators are maximizing reservoir contact (MRC), while minimizing surface footprint, by increasing drilled lateral lengths. At the time of writing, well laterals of more than 23,800 ft have been drilled internationally, as well as domestic U.S. examples up to 19,500 ft in length (Utica shale, Pennsylvania). This drilling strategy has brought advantages and efficiencies, but it often results in complex well trajectories that complicate service operations throughout a well’s life cycle. For example, access to the furthest reaches of the lateral section of these wells—“the toe”—has strained traditional completions, logging and coiled tubing (CT) well intervention technology. 


CT is an important tool in the completion and workover of horizontal wells. CT service and manufacturing companies work with operators to develop products and technologies, to stay in step with growing requirements for deeper, longer-offset, more challenging wells. Newer models of surface CT equipment are designed to accommodate the longer lengths, heavier weights and larger outside diameter tubing required in wells with long lateral runs and higher working pressures. However, with the increasing demand for larger CT units, equipment mobilization and logistics, as well as field deployment for these massive CT rigs to remote field locations, has escalated to a difficult, complex challenge.  

Concurrent with the efforts of equipment manufacturers, CT manufacturers continue to evolve from production of small-diameter, conventional CT strings to state-of-the-art, custom-engineered CT strings. These strings focus on optimization of extended life and enhanced reach capabilities that provide a cost-effective, safe and low-risk solution for both operators and service companies.

Fig. 1. Historical growth of CT outer diameter utilization (U.S. & Canada).
Fig. 1. Historical growth of CT outer diameter utilization (U.S. & Canada).


Figures 1, 2 and 3 show the historical increase in CT’s maximum diameter, length and grades utilized in the U.S. and Canada. Since 2013, the 2.375-in. and larger CT sizes represent approximately 60% to 80% of the market in those regions. The maximum CT length increased 50% in the last eight years, from 19,000 ft to roughly 28,000 ft, and is expected to increase further over the next few years. The utilization of 100,000-psi and higher yield strength CT corresponds to 90% of total consumption during 2017. All this has led to the more efficient, reliable use of larger and stronger CT in North America. 

Stress and strain are the primary components that lead to the accumulation of a CT string’s useable fatigue life. Operationally, stress and strain directly correlate to CT OD, number of trips in and out of the well, and pumping pressure. Historically, CT service providers could utilize very generic designs for a variety of conventional workover projects, because of the relatively minimal levels of stress and strain imparted on the CT.  

Fig. 2. Historical growth of CT length.
Fig. 2. Historical growth of CT length.

With the advent of the Shale Revolution, the most prevalent CT operations in the U.S. have been post-fracturing plug mill-out and clean-out operations in deep, horizontal, high-pressure wells. These well designs and successive service operations require larger CT diameters and higher pumping pressures to effectively complete job objectives. The resulting increase of stress and strain imparted on the tubing can cause exponential accumulation of fatigue, particularly at welds in the CT made during the assembly process, called bias welds. This accumulation of fatigue is irreversible and decreases the total number of jobs that can be completed by the CT string prior to retirement. To remain a competitive solution in these demanding conditions, more complex CT string designs are necessary. 

Fig. 3. Historical increase of CT grade utilization.
Fig. 3. Historical increase of CT grade utilization.

Service companies across the globe are searching continuously for new CT technologies and engineered designs, to support local operators and perform safely in the most challenging well conditions. Thus, CT string design optimization has become an integral part of the well intervention job design. CT string engineering has progressed to a complex process that requires a multifaceted understanding of well conditions: CT working boundaries (pressures and axial loads); low cycle fatigue; forces; stresses; and fluid dynamics expected during the operation. CT surface equipment capabilities and regional transportation logistics are also considered during the string design optimization.

The development of new steel chemistries in recent years has spawned higher-grade CT with yield strengths ranging from 110,000 psi to 140,000 psi. CT strings from higher-grade steels enable service providers to meet new performance requirements for strings used at greater depths and in high-pressure applications. However, due to high material hardness inherent in high-strength steel, bias welds are even more susceptible to increased fatigue life accumulation compared to adjacent material, which is taken into account by using a bias weld derating factor in the cycle fatigue modeling software. 

Fig. 4. CT string configuration profiles available in the market.
Fig. 4. CT string configuration profiles available in the market.

The introduction of SMARTaper technology (Dual Rapid Taper strips) five years ago focused on minimizing the effects of the derating factors applied to tubing bias welds, which positively impacts the overall useful life of the string. The Dual Rapid Tapered strips are manufactured with a small increase in wall thickness where bias welds are made (see reference in Fig. 4, Dual Rapid Taper strip). While these thicker, bias-welded joints are made using the same welding process as with conventional strings, they are roughly equivalent in fatigue life accumulation to the adjacent tube, thus eliminating the impact of the derating factors. This patented Dual Rapid Taper strip configuration is also utilized to quickly increase or decrease wall thickness without a Step-Tapered bias weld, while optimizing CT weight and overall fatigue performance.

This revolutionary technology increases safety and reliability by reinforcing the most vulnerable area of a CT string with localized, heavier wall thicknesses and strength. Additionally, its rapid wall transitions allow for unique string design configurations that can achieve unprecedented well lateral reach.


With its first successful application in North America, the flexibility and operational benefits of this strip technology became well known. Its use expanded into other applications and regions, but especially for unconventional resource developments, where CT is subjected to extreme, challenging environments.

Why rapid wall thickness transitions expand CT utilization in extended reach wells. In general, the purpose of varying wall thicknesses along the string length, by using taper designs, is to optimize several characteristics of the CT string. Tapered CT strings (Step Taper and Continuous Taper) have been utilized for more than 25 years, mainly to optimize weight and axial load capacities. These designs help to increase CT operating performance at greater depths and higher pressures; key reasons for its successful utilization in unconventional, extended-reach horizontal wells.

A downside of Step Taper strings is the required inclusion of every wall thickness available from the CT manufacturer, to transition from a thicker to lighter wall thickness. Also, the difference in wall thickness geometry in the Step Taper bias welds, negatively impacts the durability of the string, due to hinge-effects created at the weld. This hinge effect is exacerbated in larger-diameter CT and poses significant fatigue performance limitations, as high derating factors are generated in every wall thickness change along the length of the tubing. Traditional, Continuously Tapered CT designs have sections with a linear change in thickness over the length of a strip (~1,800-ft average). The advantage of this type of taper is that all the weld joints (bias welds) have the same wall thickness geometry, which increases the tubing durability compared to Step Taper CT strings. While these strips may transition up to two wall thicknesses, they have physical restrictions, so their length is fixed and the transition is long. This reduces design flexibility of the CT string configuration.

Dual Rapid Taper strip technology was developed to overcome the shortcomings of the existing taper configurations, which require longer transition lengths between wall thicknesses. This is particularly crucial in extended-reach CT designs, where the configuration of the wall thickness changes determines, among other variables, the stiffness and the axial force transmitted from surface to bottom of the string. 

With CT geometry (combination of CT size and wall thicknesses) dictating the stiffness of the tubing inside the well, the lower the CT stiffness, the more helical buckling takes place, therefore limiting reach. By placing high-thickness material in the areas where the tubing tends to helically buckle (vertical section of the well), and tapering down quickly to a thinner wall thickness, lateral reach is maximized for a particular CT diameter.

The most efficient method to overcome the limitations of Step Taper and traditional Continuous Taper strings is to have uniform thicknesses at each bias weld, and transition quickly to the required wall thicknesses. Dual Rapid Taper strip technology, with transitions of ~300 ft in length, has the benefits of improved fatigue life in the bias welds, extended-reach capabilities, minimized overall string weight, and enhanced operational safety and reliability. Figure 4 shows examples of strip cross-sectional profiles of the different types of taper configurations in the CT manufacturing market: Step Taper, Continuous Taper and Dual Continuous Taper.


The latest generation of string designs is reaching unprecedented weights by using wall thicknesses and innovative configurations to enhance well lateral reach and fatigue performance. CT service companies are searching for ways to reduce tubing weight while maintaining and/or increasing string length, without sacrificing safety, CT reach or service life performance. As a response to address these challenges, “Hourglass” CT design configurations have increased in popularity. 

Fig. 5. Example of a custom-engineered hourglass string for extended-reach operations, using rapid taper strip technology.
Fig. 5. Example of a custom-engineered hourglass string for extended-reach operations, using rapid taper strip technology.

An hourglass string configuration features a reduced wall thickness in the upper end of the CT string, which is typically not under severe stress. However, this reduced wall is selected carefully to provide enough axial load capacity to maintain safe overpull values during operations. The inherent flexibility of Rapid Taper strips allows for the manufacture of a custom-engineered hourglass CT design that maximizes reach, overpull, and fatigue life, while meeting CT surface equipment design constraints. 

Figure 5 shows an example of an hourglass configuration using Rapid Taper Strip technology.

This new trend of string design configuration does not affect the reach capacity of the CT, if utilized properly. The main benefits for custom designed CT are:

  • Weight optimization 
  • Reduced CT frictional pressure losses, due to the restricted inner diameters (IDs), caused by the extended heavy wall used to add rigidity to the string 
  • Reduced overall tubing costs 

Weight is the predominant challenge in extended-reach CT string designs. With this new generation of large-diameter CT string that may exceed 24,000 ft in length and more than 125,000 lb in weight, one of the critical challenges is the current mobilization weight constraints of the CT surface equipment (reel and trailer). This weight restriction limits the maximum wall thickness that can be used in the CT design, which affects the stiffness and horizontal reach capacity of that specific design.  

Fig. 6. Summarized CT design methodology for extended-reach designs.
Fig. 6. Summarized CT design methodology for extended-reach designs.

The weight limitations can adversely affect the maximum length of the string produced. To this end, the CT service companies have to reduce the CT size and rely solely on the performance of extended-reach tools and fluid additives to reach target depths, which can hinder CT suitability for the operation. 

An engineered approach to the challenge. Figure 6 summarizes the CT design methodology followed by Global Tubing that has modernized CT manufacturing and enabled service providers to support operator requirements. These design criteria have been proven to increase CT performance in extended-reach well operations, as well as increasing useable fatigue life while conforming to surface equipment design constraints. 

The process starts by reducing the CT weight in a well’s horizontal section. The CT weight can be reduced by increasing the diameters to wall thickness ratios (D/t) in the downhole end, which is achieved by decreasing the wall thickness as much as possible. To retain sufficient mechanical properties, the material yield strength is increased to compensate the pressure and axial load capacity. The process continues by strategically selecting and placing various wall thicknesses along the length of the CT string, to improve bending stiffness and avoid the onset of helical buckling in the well. If necessary for weight limitations, the heavy wall thickness in the upper end is reduced as much as permissible, creating the “Hourglass” configurations.


CT service companies working in the Williston, Powder River, and Denver-Julesburg basins (Fig. 7) collaborated with Global Tubing to engineer strings that have a reach capability of up to 10,500 ft, while adhering to strict weight limitations. To this end, information provided by the CT service company, such as well completions diagrams, surveys, operational practices and CT surface equipment available, was evaluated for the development of an optimized CT string.

Fig. 7. CT-engineered solution was applied in the Williston, Powder River, and Denver-Julesburg basins.
Fig. 7. CT-engineered solution was applied in the Williston, Powder River, and Denver-Julesburg basins.

The custom-engineered string designs balance several factors to maximize reach while maintaining acceptable tubing weights. The manufacturer’s extended-reach CT design methodology was focused to minimize CT helical buckling in the 7-in. casing by placing specific thickness to increase bending stiffness and reduce wall contact forces. Proper selection of the thinnest wall thicknesses was based on the proper diameter to wall thickness ratio (D/t) for the CTU geometry (gooseneck, reel), to avoid being at surface during milling operations.

An hourglass configuration was employed on the CT designs to manage the weight limitations set by the CT service equipment and mobilization logistics. This was coupled with the use of dual rapid taper strips at the expected work area, to optimize fatigue life of the bias welds. 

The string designs were used in their respective areas and exceeded expectations on lateral reach. The 2-in. CT design reached 9,500-ft laterals in the DJ basin, the 2.375-in. CT design reached 10,000-ft laterals in Powder River, and another 2.375-in. CT design reached 10,500-ft laterals in the Williston area. Figure 8 describes the CT-engineered solutions for the aforementioned basins. 

Fig. 8. CT-engineered solutions for Williston, Powder River, and Denver-Julesburg basins.
Fig. 8. CT-engineered solutions for Williston, Powder River, and Denver-Julesburg basins.

The combination of using a custom-fit CT design, friction reduction tools and fluids additives, aligned with superior operational techniques, had great impact on economically and efficiently developing longer laterals wells in the DJ, Powder River and Williston basins.

What’s next? Longer laterals, larger completion well designs are a top priority. U.S. unconventional shale producers continue to push well lateral limits, as 10,000 ft has shown to be achievable for drilling and completion. Operators in the Bakken and Permian basin projected drilling, during 2018, extra-long laterals reaching over 16,000 ft, with an aim to increase overall oil recovery per well. The use of CT has been vetted thoroughly, and custom CTUs are being built to support the increased CT length and weight. Engineered solutions for 2.375-in. and 2.625-in. CT, with over 29,000 ft in length and 0.276-in. maximum wall thickness (highest wall thickness ever used in a working string), are in the final design stage. These strings are expected to surpass 155,000 lb in weight, becoming a new milestone for U.S. CT interventions.

CT manufacturers keep innovating. Recent technological innovation in the CT manufacturing industry, with the introduction of an in-line quench and temper process, has transformed CT interventions by producing CT with consistent steel microstructure throughout its entire length. Consistent steel microstructure adds strength to the steel while increasing the tubing resistance to fatigue and corrosion factors. This technology enables the engineering of high-profile CT strings by using greater diameter to wall thickness ratios (D/t), while satisfying pressure ratings, tensional load limits and enhanced fatigue performance. 

The application of CT with Rapid Taper Strip technology, through an inline quench and temper manufacturing process, has improved the safety, reliability and profitability of CT service operations across multiple shale plays. In cooperation with operators and CT service companies, a CT manufacturer is producing highly engineered CT strings with greater resistance to deformation and low-cycle fatigue. These technologies have facilitated the advent of economic solutions for CT interventions in extreme and new extended-reach drilling projects worldwide. 

The oil and gas industry has a long history of continuous innovation and technology development in support of E&P operations. As new cutting-edge horizontal drilling and completion technologies are released and utilized in the industry, CT manufacturers will continue to innovate and provide engineered solutions that enable CT to be a premium, safe and reliable technology in the toughest environments, and on the most critical projects. wo-box_blue.gif 

About the Authors
Irma Galvan
Global Tubing
Irma Galvan is director of engineered solutions at Global Tubing LLC. Ms. Galvan’s technical emphasis is on CT string design optimization for difficult downhole environments, well geometries and special applications. Her CT designs are being used worldwide in conventional and unconventional operations. Before joining the company in 2012, she was a CT engineer at Archer. Before assuming roles in the oil and gas industry, she was an automation and control systems project engineer at AMI GE, responsible for R&D of systems interfaces. Ms. Galvan holds an honors degree (BS) in electronics and automation engineering and an MS degree in manufacturing engineering from the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
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