In this work, a novel low molecular weight zwitterionic copolymer for improving wellbore stability, which is expected to be an alternative to the current shale inhibitors, was obtained by copolymerization of tris hydroxyethyl allyl ammonium bromide (THAAB), 2-acrylamido-2- methyl propane sulfonic acid (AMPS) and acrylamide (AM), initiated by a redox initiation system in an aqueous solution. The copolymer, denoted as SX-1, was characterized by FT-IR, TGA-DSC, and GPC. Results demonstrated that the molecular weight of SX-1 was approximately 13,683 g/mol and it displayed temperature resistance up to 225 °C. Regarding the inhibition performance, evaluation experiments showed the hot rolling recovery of a Longmaxi shale sample in 2.0 wt % SX-1 solutions was up to 90.31% after hot rolling for 16 h at 120 °C. The Linear swelling height of Na-MMT artificial core in 2.0 wt % SX-1 solution was just 4.74 mm after 16 h. Methods including particle size analysis, FTIR, XRD, and SEM were utilized to study the inhibition mechanism of SX-1; results demonstrated that SX-1 had entered into the inner layer of sodium montmorillonite (Na-MMT) and adsorbed on the inner surface, and the micro-structure of Na-MMT was successfully changed by SX-1. The particle size of Na-MMT in distilled water was 8.05 μm, and it was observed that its size had increased to 603 μm after the addition of 2.0 wt % of SX-1. Its superior properties make this novel low molecular weight copolymer promising for ensuring wellbore stability, particularly for high temperature wells.
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