After the casing string is run, the next task is cementing the casing in place. An oil-well cementing service company is usually called in for this job although, as when casing is run, the rig crew is available to lend assistance.
Cementing service companies stock various types of cement and have special transport equipment to handle this material in bulk. Bulk-cement storage and handling equipment is moved out to the rig, making it possible to mix large quantities of cement at the site. The cementing crew mixes the dry cement with water, using a device called a jet-mixing hopper. The dry cement is gradually added to the hopper, and a jet of water thoroughly mixes with the cement to make a slurry (very thin water cement).
Special pumps pick up the cement slurry and send it up to a valve called a cementing head (also called a plug container) mounted on the topmost joint of casing that is hanging in the mast or derrick a little above the rig floor. Just before the cement slurry arrives, a rubber plug (called the bottom plug) is released from the cementing head and precedes the slurry down the inside of the casing. The bottom plug stops or “seats” in the float collar, but continued pressure from the cement pumps open a passageway through the bottom plug. Thus, the cement slurry passes through the bottom plug and continues on down the casing. The slurry then flows out through the opening in the guide shoe and starts up the annular space between the outside of the casing and wall of the hole. Pumping continues and the cement slurry fills the annular space.
A top plug, which is similar to the bottom plug except that it is solid, is released as the last of the cement slurry enters the casing. The top plug follows the remaining slurry down the casing as a displacement fluid (usually salt water or drilling mud) is pumped in behind the top plug. Meanwhile, most of the cement slurry flows out of the casing and into the annular space. By the time the top plug seats on or “bumps” the bottom plug in the float collar, which signals the cementing pump operator to shut down the pumps, the cement is only in the casing below the float collar and in the annular space. Most of the casing is full of displacement fluid.
After the cement is run, a waiting time is allotted to allow the slurry to harden. This period of time is referred to as waiting on cement or simply WOC.
After the cement hardens, tests may be run to ensure a good cement job, for cement is very important. Cement supports the casing, so the cement should completely surround the casing; this is where centralizers on the casing help. If the casing is centered in the hole, a cement sheath should completely envelop the casing. Also, cement seals off formations to prevent fluids from one formation migrating up or down the hole and polluting the fluids in another formation. For example, cement can protect a freshwater formation (that perhaps a nearby town is using as its drinking water supply) fromsaltwater contamination. Further, cement protects the casing from the corrosive effects that formation fluids (as salt water) may have on it.
Since the pay zone is sealed off by the production string and cement, perforations must be made in order for the oil or gas to flow into the wellbore. Perforations are simply holes that are made through the casing and cement and extend some distance into the formation. The most common method of perforating incorporates shaped-charge explosives (similar to those used in armor-piercing shells).
Shaped charges accomplish penetration by creating a jet of high-pressure, high-velocity gas. The charges are arranged in a tool called a gun that is lowered into the well opposite the producing zone. Usually the gun is lowered in on wireline. When the gun is in position, the charges are fired by electronic means from the surface. After the perforations are made, the tool is retrieved. Perforating is usually performed by a service company that specializes in this technique.