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The Impact of Permanent Downhole Multiphase Flow Metering

S Kimminau, Schlumberger Cambridge UK, C Cosad, Schlumberger Houston USA. Abstract


Whilst permanent downhole pressure measurement is now accepted as routine, the increased technical challenge and complexity of downhole multiphase flow measurement has delayed introduction until recently.- Successful field trials with over one year of operation show that design integration and deployment in both new and mature fields is imminent. We present here a discussion of the wider impact of this technology on our industry. Downhole flow monitoring at the most basic level can be considered as simply an alternative flow measurement required for well production optimisation.- In subsea environments a downhole meter can be the most cost-effective option for adequate data gathering, however, the decision to meter production downhole, rather than at surface should be based upon total value, rather than the cost of the installed device. In some production situations (such as gas lift) factors associated with the downhole measurement of produced fluids, rather than the surface flow rates, allow direct measurement of well production efficiency, and hence allow near real-time production optimisation. In the advanced completions of the future, a reservoir-integrated system of both downhole (moving to individual branch monitoring in multi-branch wells) and surface flow measurements allows the ultimate flexibility, both to optimise production systems and to cope with variations of reservoir behaviour that would otherwise require well interventions or unplanned shutdowns. Hydrocarbon surface (fiscal) production rates are the ultimate bottom line of total asset production, but do not diagnose individual well productivity. Downhole flow rates are the most basic measure of well and reservoir performance, which coupled with the classic techniques of pressure analysis, allow optimisation of well and asset production.

Introduction to Multiphase Flow Metering


It is now widely accepted that multiphase metering is here to stay, and that the old technology of test separators will gradually be replaced in more and more installations.- Test separators are bulky and expensive in themselves, and if a dedicated, separate test line is also needed the capital cost and maintenance of the test line and manifold should be added to the separator cost when a comparison is made with a Multi-Phase Flow Meter (MPFM) installation.- Surface and downhole MPFMs are designed to be virtually maintenance-free, and have demonstrated significant longevity since their introduction nearly twenty years ago. They also offer quantifiable reductions in operational expenditure (OPEX) in topside and subsea installations when compared with conventional test separators1. Considering measurement quality, test separators measure cumulative volumes at discrete points in time, often requiring time to stabilise and (being affected by slugging) suffering from flow regime effects. By comparison MPFMs offer the possibility of real-time, complete and continuous flowrate data. This allows, for example, detection of slugs and gas-lift problems, allowing production optimisation and extension of field life2 not possible with separators. Given that test separation is the industry standard method of well allocation for production purposes; MPFMs have had to demonstrate, over more than 5 years1 that comparable standards of accuracy can be achieved. The classic 1985 paper by Ashkuri and Hill3 of BP set challenging standards, and although at the time it was rather optimistic, hoping that significant advances could be made in three years! almost twenty years on, technology is now at the stage that accurate and reliable measurements can be made with a multiphase meter in the most challenging conditions, for example crude oils with high (5-3000cp) viscosity4.

Downhole compared with Surface Multiphase Flow Metering


In the surface measurement of typical oilfield oil/water/gas flows, by either separation or MPFM, the most important parameter is the Gas Volume Fraction (GVF)5. Separator measurement problems are often due to failure to separate the phases adequately carry-over or carry-under, foaming or emulsion. MPFMs generally do not separate the phases and so do not suffer from these problems, but they do have to cope with the tendency of gas to travel at a different velocity than the liquids, which requires a model-based correction6. Downhole metering has the advantage that because absolute pressure is greater than at surface, the GVF is hence smaller, with a corresponding increase in gas density, and a much smaller contrast between gas and liquid density.

Figure 1 Surface and Downhole Multi-Phase flow measurements. Traditional oilfield practice uses tock-tank volumetric units, however care must be taken when comparing volumetric flowrates between downhole (near sandface), flow-line (separator or MPFM), and standard (stock-tank) conditions. In reservoir engineering calculations volumetric rates and productions are calculated in reservoir units, and by definition q stock-tank barrels at standard conditions will occupy qB reservoir barrels, where B is the symbol for the formation volume factor. In some applications the direct measurement of reservoir volumetric flow rates may be an advantage, and in cases where both downhole and surface rates are being measured and compared, mass flow rate calculations can be used to advantage, as no conversions need to be made.

New Types of Downhole Multiphase Flow Metering


Because of size and layout, surface metering systems represent a significant technical challenge to adapt for downhole use. Flow-intrusive measurement systems, and those that require regular maintenance, are also unsuitable. The simplest form of downhole flow measurement, a venturi, grew as a logical extension of proven permanent downhole pressure measurement. If the downhole fluid properties (in particular the in-situ density) are known, then volumetric or mass flow rates can be derived from the venturi pressure drop. Another potential technique estimates flow by monitoring the pressure drop across a downhole valve in a multizone well. Unfortunately the need to know the downhole in-situ fluid properties restricts the quantitative use of such techniques to well-known singlephase fluids, such as injection water. A logical extension to the two-pressure gauge venturi is to add a third gauge some height above the venturi, allowing an in-situ measurement of fluid density (actually holdup) from the manometric pressure difference. Downhole flow meters of this type have been in operation for several years and are inherently as reliable as the pressure gauge technology7. As the downhole density difference between phases can be calculated from surface fluid analyses, venturi meters using three pressure gauges can be considered effective bi-phasic flow meters when suitable care is taken with calculation. When at least one downhole permanent pressure gauge is considered essential for reservoir monitoring, the extra cost associated with the venturi and subsequent gauges is marginal compared to the total instrumentation cost. Disadvantages of the manometric method are that significant corrections are required for friction and slip effects, and that fluid density measurement is not feasible in horizontal well sections.

Figure 2 Evolution of new downhole MPFMs based upon venturi. Two new types of downhole flow meter have been developed that overcome traditional limitations. These are now in field trials. One meter uses an in-situ densitometer, a small radioactive source measures the density directly in a way which avoids the need for slip corrections. The sealed and shielded unit means that no special precautions are needed, even during installation and surface handling. No friction and slip effects occur, and the device works equally well at any inclination. The other meter uses a non-contact method of measuring the electric properties of the fluid flowing through a venturi, allowing a very sensitive detection of both small quantities of water, as well as accurate measurements of oil rates at high water cuts. Both of these new downhole techniques are designed to quantitatively measure two phases, although this does not preclude their use when reasonably small or constant fractions of a third phase are present.

Applications of Downhole and Surface Multiphase Flow Metering


An obvious application of a downhole MPFM is for multi-zone production through a single string, where the only alternative method of zonal allocation is by intervention and production logging on a regular basis. For high rate production wells even a few percent increase in average monthly production can pay back the installation cost in a few months. If the well was designed to incorporate permanent downhole pressure monitoring as a pre-requisite the incremental cost is only that of the meter itself. In multilateral wells most of same considerations apply as in a multi-zone production well, except that production rates from a multilateral are generally higher, hence payback from production optimisation has the potential to be quicker.

Figure 3 Applications in Land wells, multi-zone and multi-laterals

For subsea wells, interventions are so undesirable due to cost, deferred production, and well risk, that some form of permanent monitoring is rapidly becoming the norm. For a single zone of production the choice may be between a downhole meter and a subsea meter, in which case the possibility of maintenance of subsea equipment may be a deciding factor. For multi-zone production a combination of both downhole and subsea could be the preferred option.

Figure 4 Applications of downhole metering in Offshore and Subsea wells In advanced completions, or so called Intelligent wells, that have both monitoring and control functions, well performance should be measured as close to the sandface as possible, in order to optimise production with the most accurate and timely information, perhaps even using control algorithms running at the wellsite. Some of these functions exist today, especially when considering artifical lift optimisation. Multi zone production and reservoir sweep optimisation is a topic now under active development, with several installations operating in the experimental or field test stages. The effective use of advanced completion and measurement technology offers the potential of significantly increasing hydrocarbon economic recovery factors8.

Figure 5 Combining Flow measurement and control - Intelligent Wells for multi-zonal production, sweep management, and control of coning.

Conclusions
Downhole flow monitoring at the most basic level can be considered as simply an alternative flow measurement required for well production optimisation. In subsea installations a downhole meter can be the most cost-effective alternative for adequate data gathering. In some production situations (such as gas lift) factors associated with the local measurement of downhole produced fluids, rather than the surface flow rates, allow direct measurement of well production efficiency, and hence allow near real-time production optimisation. In the future, a reservoir-integrated system of both downhole (moving to individual branch monitoring in multi-branch wells) and surface flow measurements allows the ultimate flexibility in production optimisation, both in terms of reservoir recovery and coping with variations of reservoir behaviour that would otherwise require well interventions or unplanned shutdowns.

References
1. Letton, W, Svaeren, J, and Conort, G, Topside and Subsea experience with the Multiphase Flow Meter, 1997, SPE 38783, Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Conference and Exhibition, San Antonio Texas, 5-8 October 1997. 2. Falcone, G, Hewitt, G, Alimonti, C, and Harrison, B, Multiphase Flow Metering: Current Trends and Future Developments, SPE 71474, Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Conference and Exhibition, New Orleans, Lousiana, 30 September-3 October 2001. 3. Ashkuri, S, and Hill, T, Measurement of Multiphase Flows in Crude Oil Production Systems, Petroleum Review, November 1985. 4. Atkinson, D, Berard M, and Segeral, G, Qualification of a Nonintrusive Multiphase Flow Meter in Viscous Flows, SPE 63118, Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Conference and Exhibition, Dallas Texas, 1-4 October 2000. 5. Theuveny, B, Segeral, G, and Pinguet, B, Multiphase Flowmeters in Well Testing Applications, SPE 71475, Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Conference and Exhibition, New Orleans, Lousiana, 30 September-3 October 2001. 6. Equation (6), page 4 of SPE 71475, reference 5 above. 7. Veneruso, A, Hiron, S, Bhavsar, R, and Bernard, L, Reliability Qualification Testing For Permanently Installed Wellbore Equipment, SPE 62955, Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Conference and Exhibition, Dallas Texas, 1-4 October 2000. 8. Corzine, R, 1996, Group with a vision pursues oils holy grail, Financial Times, 10 April 1996.