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ransmission

Norman P. Lieberman

TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

NORMAN P. LIEBERMAN

PennWel l Books

A PennWell Publishing Company Tulsa, Oklahoma

Copyright © 1987 by PennWell Publishing

1421 South Sheridan RoadlP.O. Box 1260 Tulsa, Oklahoma 74101

Company

Library of Congress cataloging in publication data

Lieberman, Norman

P.

Troubleshooting natural gas processing.

1. Gas industry. I. Title.

TP751.L54

ISBN

1986

0-87814-308-4

665.7

86-16878

All

rights

reserved. No part

of this book may be reproduced,

stored,

in a retrieval system,

electronic or mechanical,

recording, without

or transcribed

including

in any form photocopying

the prior

written permission

or by any and

means,

of the

publisher.

Printed

in the United

States

of

America

2

3

4

5

90

89

Dedicated to Jack Stanley —

Grace Under

u i

Pressure

TABLE OF CONTENTS

DEDICATION

iii

PREFACE

vii

INTRODUCTION

ix

SECTION I

TROUBLESHOOTING AT THE WELL SITE

1

Increasing Gas Row at the Wellhead

1

2

Additional Ideas to Enhance

Gas Row

16

3

Wellhead Surface Equipment

25

4

Wellhead Compression

36

5

Process Cooling in Remote Locations

49

SECTION II TROCBLESHOOTING AT THE DEHYDRATION AND COMPRESSION STATION

6

Glycol Dehydration

59

7

Reciprocating Compressors

80

8

Reciprocating Engines

90

9

Loss in Centrifugal Capacity

Compressor

100

10

Gas Turbine Driven Centrifugal Compressors 112

12

Amine

Scrubbing

Regeneration

and

 

13 Plant

Sulfur

Operation

SECTIO N

III

PIPELINE

PROBLEM S

14 Hydrates

15 Production Metering

16 Piping Pulsations

17 Corrosion and Fouling

GLOSSARY

r

INDEX

VI

133

148

172

180

188

192

195

203

PREFACE

The people who read this book are in the business of exploiting our country's most valuable, non-renewable, natural resource—nat­ ural gas. We are all faying to maximize cash flow and profit for both the lease operator and the landowner. That's fine; that's the Amer­ ican way. But, in a sense, the gas trapped deep in hidden sand formations belongs not only to our current generation, but to the generations

coming along behin d us . When we exploit a

ficiently. It's pretty easy to damage a gas bearing sand formation by careless or hasty production methods.

Once the share for future

ga s

field, let' s do i t ef­

So let's leave

enjoy.

a

fair

gas is gone, it's gone forever.

Americans to exploit and

Norm

Lieberman

vn

INTRODUCTION

FROM WELLHEAD TO TRANSMISSION PIPEUNE

The natural gas which flows from a well is wet, saturated with heavy hydrocarbons and contaminated with salt and sand. Gas pres­ sure at the wellhead varies from a few PSIG to ten thousand pounds. Natural gas flowing from deeper wells may contain large quantities of hydrogen sulfide. The BTU content ranges from 1000 to 1400 BTU per SCF, while the temperature at the wellhead can be over 200°F. In contrast, gas in common carrier transmission lines is of a

much more uniform

quality. Typical conditions are:

• 5 ppm H 2 S

• 800psig

• 90°F

• 1000 BTU per SCF

• 5 pounds water per million SCF

The common carrier transmission lines are usually 16" to 30" in diameter. They carry gas from perhaps fifty thousand wells, scat­ tered throughout remote and inhospitable regions, to the population centers of the nation. The lines from the wellheads are typically 2" in diameter. The gas flows into collection lines called laterals which range from 3" to 12" in diameter. Although there is no generally accepted practice, liquids are often separated from natural gas before the gas enters the collection lateral piping. The liquids consist of brine (salt water usually less saline than sea water) and condensate (natural gasoline). The condensate is collected in trucks and winds up in a petro­ leum refinery or similar facility, where the condensate is blended into gasoline. The brine is also removed from the well site in trucks, then injected back into the ground in designated disposal wells. After separation from wellhead liquids, the gas is metered. Exact measurement of the gas volume flowing from a well is impor­ tant for two reasons. First of all, the owner of the well is not the same individual who owns the mineral rights to the land. The land­ owner must be paid a royalty (about 20%) by the lease operator (i.e. the company or individual that produces and sells the gas). Sec­ ondly, the lease operator pays tax on his production (7% in Texas). Many wells are joint ventures, and this too necessitates careful metering.

IX

Natural gas flows from the collection laterals to a gas condi­ tioning station. A small station may handle 10 million SCFD, while a big station may process 500 million SCFD. Initially, the. gas goes through a knock-out drum to remove entrained liquids. Then it can be filtered to remove sand and corrosion products, compressed and scrubbed with an amine solution to remove hydrogen sulfide. All natural gas is dehydrated. This is accomplished with a cir­

culating ethylene glycol system. The gas is dried so that it will not precipitate water at temperatures down to -35°F. A common carrier pipeline will not accept gas with hydrogen sulfide and water concen­

trations above standard pipeline

After dehydration, ethane, propane, isobutane, normal butane and gasoline may be recovered from the dried gas. If the heat con­ tent of the gas exceeds 1100 BTU's per SCF, it is likely that it will be cost effective to recover these hydrocarbons as liquid products. Only about 35% of the ethane is usually removed from the gas, while 95% of the propane and heavier hydrocarbons are recovered. The propane is sold as HD-5 LPG; normal butane is blended into gasoline; while isobutane becomes a feedstock for a refinery's alky- lation unit. Ethane is used primarily as a feedstock to a chemical plant's ethylene units. From this point on, natural gas is treated as a fungible mate­ rial. It is traded by pipeline companies and producers based on it's BTU content. A pipeline company often transports gas for if s com­ petitors and sundry producers. The tariff that is charged for this transportation is quite variable; 15# per 100 miles is an order of magnitude guideline. The velocity of gas in a pipeline ranges between ten to twenty feet per second. A pipeline that is heavily loaded (i.e. "packed") will exhibit a pressure drop of up to 10 PSI per mile, with 4 PSI per mile being more normal. Pipeline pressures range from 400 PSIG to 1350 PSIG. The standard maximum design pressure for vessels used in natural gas service is 1440 PSIG (100 atmospheres). Most transmission lines will have booster stations located every fifty miles or so. A typical booster station will raise the gas pressure 200 PSI. Gas entering a pipeline should be cooler than 120°F as the protective exterior coating of the pipe deteriorates at a temperature above 140"F. Between booster stations, the flowing gas approaches the temperature of the ground that the pipeline is buried under. Gas inside a transmission line is non-corrosive; it is the ex­ terior corrosion that one has to watch. On the other hand, upstream of the gas conditioning station, along the collection laterals, internal pipe corrosion is a serious problem. Most of the cost of producing natural gas is incurred in explo-

specifications.

x

ration and drilling. The next largest cost components are royalty and tax payments. Gas treating, drying, compression and liquid hy­ drocarbon handling total a distant third on the list of expenses. But it is just these areas that call for the talents of the troubleshooter. Although the process and mechanical engineering concepts needed to tackle these areas are relatively straightforward, it is their in­ teraction with the gas well itself that makes the job of trouble­ shooting natural gas production a real challenge.

XI

Section

±3

Troubleshooting At The Well Site

"Now son, it's only a matter of time and determination". Production Supervisor Larry Wflkes Texas City, Texas

1

INCREASING GAS FLOW AT THE WELLHEAD

"I had left the gate open and now a large black cow was grazing alongside the highway." "What does this have to do with gas production," demanded Mr. Howlaway, "I'm not paying you to listen to another cow story." 'T m coming to that part, but the cow is part of the story too," I explained. "As you probably know, poor grazing land is a sure sign "

of a tight gas formation. Cattle prefer

"No it isn't", interrupted Mr. Howlaway, "Cows have nothing to do with the permeability of a gas bearing sand formation. Kindly stick to the point." Trying to pacify my client, I drew the simplified sketch of a typical gas well shown in Figure 1-1. Mr. Howlaway was interested in methods to promote gas flow from low pressure wells without spending significant sums to up-grade production. It was going to be hard to proceed with my explanation though, without some reference to the cattle:

"There are three basic problems which reduce the flow of gas from a well which has a sufficient gas pressure, porosity and per­ meability in the surrounding sand formation to sustain a much higher production rate:

1. Restriction to flow down hole such as occurs when sand covers the perforations in the casing.

2. Liquid loading of the production tubing with water and natural gasoline condensate.

3. Back-pressure on the wellhead tree caused by such factors as high pressure in the gas collection header piping.

1

2 TROUBLESHOOTING

NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

High-low pressure shutdown

Wellhead tree

Cap ^

X

\

I77777T7777%

v

'

'

, Gas-bearing

Perforations

in casing

fll/

.

Bottom

of hole

w=J

Surface

, Casing

• Tubing

.Packer

///

/T7T

*

sand formation

/

Adjustable choke

Gas to

collection

header

Figure 1-1 Gas production from the tubing of a single completion well.

INCREASING GAS FLOW AT THE WELLHEAD

3

These points can best be understood by referring to Figure 1-1. Simply observing th e operation of a well does little to help differen­ tiate the causes of diminished gas production. One of th e questions asked by lease operators is how to calcu­ late th e incremental gas flow that can be expected from a well due to reduced lateral collection header pressure. The formula used to estimate this increase is:

Q 2 =

Qi

Pf -

P*

-

_,n

Pi

Pi 2

(1)

where

Q x

Q

2

P s

Pi

P 2

n

=

Initial gas flow.

=

Final gas flow.

=

Stabilized shut-in pressure, measured at the wellhead

=

cap. Initial wellhead pressure.

=

Final wellhead pressure.

=

The slope of the wellhead performance curve obtained from a well's multipoint test.

While P x and Qi are known from th e current operating data, and the lease operator will be able to estimate P 2 , (the final well­ head pressure) determining a reasonable value for th e shut-in pres­ sure (Ps) and th e slope of th e wellhead performance curve (n) can be

a challenge. After a well ha s been blocked-in, the pressure on the

wellhead will increase for several hours, or even days. Th e reading on the wellhead tree pressure gauge after this pressure has stabilized, is termed the shut-in pressure.

There are several problems which interfere with obtaining a true wellhead shut-in pressure. One difficulty is that while one is

waiting for th e wellhead pressure to stabilize, th e

lose one to three days of production. Or, liquids may be accumulating in the mile or two of tubing between the perforations and the

wellhead. If a well accumulates 4,000 feet of condensate in

tubing during a shut-in test, then the wellhead pressure will be sur-

pressed by 1,000 psig. For this case, the observed wellhead shut-in

pressure is meaningless. When th e

resumes gas flow, th e wellhead pressure will probably increase,

lease operator can

th e

well is put back on-line and

4 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

rather than decrease! In many instances, the only practical way to determine a shut-in pressure is to search back over production records and find a time when the well was blocked-in for mainte­ nance. Next, check the reported wellhead pressure immediately after flow from the well was resumed. If the flowing tube (i.e. wellhead) pressure is somewhat lower than the shut-in wellhead pressure, one may assume that a reasonable value for the shut-in pressure has been determined. The numerical value for (n), the slope of the wellhead perfor­ mance curve, can often be obtained from the initial performance test run on the well made immediately after completion. Usually (n) varies from .65 to .95. For troubleshooting type approximations, assuming that n = .8 will not introduce much of an error into the predi­ cated increment of gas flow due to a reduction in collection header pressure.

WHY HAS GAS FLOW DROPPED? We are assuming that the reservoir pressure and porosity are adequate — that is, there is a plentiful supply of gas in the ground for the well to draw on. Also, we are assuming that the permeability

of the reservoir is sufficient to allow a relatively free flow of gas to the perforations in the casing. (Porosity and pressure are a measure

of the amount of gas trapped in the sand formation; permeability is

a measure of the resistance of the sand formation

We are concerned in this chapter with factors that interfere with gas flow from the sand formation immediately surrounding the casing perforations up through and into the gas collection header. In this regard then, what is the physical meaning of equation (1) above in the context of our everyday experience? When the flowing tube pressure (i.e. the wellhead pressure during normal operation) is close to the shut-in pressure, a small reduction in the collection header pressure (with a concurrent drop in the wellhead pressure) causes a substantial increase in gas flow. On the other hand, when the flowing tube pressure at the wellhead is much less than the shut-in pressure, a small reduction in the wellhead pressure will not effect gas flow significantly. To emphasize this critical concept, note that when wellhead flow is restricted by back pressure from the collection header piping, the shut- in and flowing tube pressures will be similar. On the other hand, if gas flow is restricted by a discarded tool stuck 8,000 feet down in the tubing string, then the shut-in and flowing tube pressures will be far apart. Why is this? Because, if the errant tool was removed from the tubing, the shut-in pressure will not be effected, but the well­ head flowing tube pressure would greatly increase (assuming that flow

to gas flow).

INCREASING GAS FLOW AT THE WELLHEAD

5

from the well was choked back to maintain constant production). This leads to an important troubleshooting principal: The first point to establish in troubleshooting a well for lost production is whether the problem is above or below the surface!

LIQUID LOADING

Although we have been talking about wellhead pressure (both shut-in and flowing tube), the wellhead pressure is just an indirect indication of the really important parameter-that is, the bottom hole pressure. It is the pressure inside the casing at the level of the perfor­ ations that determines gas flow. By lowering a pressure sensing instru­ ment suspended on a wire-line to the proper depth, bottom hole pres­ sures can be directly measured. But this is an expensive and time consuming procedure, and beyond the scope of the options available to the field troubleshooter. So we do not usually know the actual bottom hole pressure. If we knew the density of the column of fluids (i.e. the mixture ofgas, conden­ sate and brine) inside the tubing, we could calculate the bottom pressure as follows:

P

=

P

+ (SG) H/2.31

(2)

 

p

i

where

P =

=

P i

H =

Pressure at perforations, psig Wellhead Pressure, psig

Vertical distance between wellhead tree and

perforations, ft. SG = The average specific gravity of the three phase mixture in the tubing, taking into account the increase in gas density at greater depths.

It is the difference between the bottom hole pressure (P p ) and the pressure in the surrounding sand formation that determines the rate of gas flow from a well. From equation (2) we can see tha t the bottom hole pressure will increase as the density (SG) in the tubing rises. This increase in P p reduces the gas production from the well according to the formula:

where

2

2

Q-P'-P p

r

Q

= Gas Flow

P

— Reservoir Pressure

(3)

6 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

The main point that the troubleshooter must absorb from the preceeding paragraphs is that any increase in the average fluid density in the tubing will surpress gas flow. An increase in this density is always due to the accumulation of condensate and/or brine in the tub­ ing. Unfortunately, there is no way to measure this accumulation. Hence, the troubleshooter cannot really make direct use of equation (3). However, with a little experience, it is possible to determine the approximate effect of liquid loading on many wells.

ENTRAINMENT VELOCITY

A well that produces 100,000 SCFD of gas as a minimum, but

periodically reaches a peak production rate of 300,000 SCFD once a day, is continuously loading and unloading liquids. The sequence of events are:

• The velocity of gas flowing up through the tubing is insufficient to entrain liquids out ofthe tubing to the surface.

• Liquids accumulate (load) in the tubing.

• The weight of liquid increases the pressure differential between the wellhead tree and the bottom ofthe hole, as per equation 2.

• The gas flow from the well drops, as per equation 3.

• Gas flow continues to bubble-up through the tubing; but at a rate insufficient to entrain liquids out ofthe tubing.

• The gas pressure inside the tubing at the bottom of the well, and also in the sand formation surrounding the perforations continues to build as the gas flow diminishes.

• At some point, the well reaches a condition of instability. For example, a small reduction in the wellhead pressure due to a downstream pressure reduction causes a small increase in gas flow. This promotes a small amount of liquid unloading from the tubing. The resulting decrease in average fluid density in the tubing drops the bottom hole pressure. Gas is now sucked out

of the sand formation, and through the perforations, at an

accelerated rate.

• A chain reaction has been set in motion. Accelerated gas flow speeds liquid unloading; which in turn drops the bottom hole pressure, and progressively increases the rate of gas production. An atomic bomb is detonated by creating a critical mass of plutonium. A gas well is unloaded by reaching the well's entrainment velocity; a point encountered suddenly and in a dramatic fashion. The sound of slugs of brine and condensate blasting through the wellhead tree and surface equipment is quite audible. Typically, both the well­ head pressure and the gas flow will increase as the slugs of liquid "hit" the surface piping with increasing frequency.

INCREASING GAS FLOW AT THE WELLHEAD

7

Once the liquid is cleared out of the tubing (this takes 30 minutes to a few hours), the flow stabilizes for several hours and then slips away as the pressure in the sand formation around the casing perfor­ ations is dissipated. Once the velocity through the tubing drops below that needed to continue entraining the liquids, gas production drops rapidly, and the cycle, as shown in Figure 1—2 is repeated.

SUSTAINING ENTRAINMENT VELOCITY When I first started troubleshooting partially depleted natural gas wells, I often wondered why so many of the hundred odd wells I visited were averaging 200-300 MSCFD. I had expected a more linear distribution between the minimum gas production per well (20 MSCFD). Actually, 30 to 40% of the wells I observed clustered around an average production rate of 250 MSCFD.

I

TlME

Figure 1-2 Peaks indicate cyclic unloading of liquids.

8 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

Wells with average production rates below 150 MSCFD, all had one factor in common - low wellhead pressure. The lower the wellhead pressure, the greater the velocity developed in the tubing with a given volume of gas. For example, 150 MSCFD of gas flowing at a pressure of 600 psig develops the same velocity as 240 MSCFD flowing at a pressure of 1000 psig. For those readers familiar with Stokes Law:

 

V

«

gr 2

(D L - Dy) / (vis)

(4)

where

 

V

= velocity of a droplet of liquid falling in a gas phase under the influence of gravity.

 

g

= Gravitational constant.

D L = Density of liquid droplet.

Dy =

r = Radius of droplets vis = Viscosity of gas phase.

Density of the continuous gas phase.

One can see that as the density of the liquid droplets decreases,

the gas velocity necessary to entrain the droplets also decreases. Hence, one would anticipate that entraining condenate would require a lower velocity than that required to entrain water. Also, dispersing the liquid

forming a n aerated foam)

would also lower the minimum velocity required to entrain liquids. I have observed the flowing gas volume and corresponding wellhead pressure for a dozen odd wells just as they reached their minimum entrainment velocity. That is, the point in time when I could hear repeated slugs of liquid passing through the wellhead tree. Using the tubing inside diameter (see Table 1), I then calculated the minimum or incipient velocity needed to unload liquids from each well. This data was then correlated using the standard relationship for liquid entrain­ ment employed in the chemical process industry:

(i.e. reducing V in equation (4) such as by

where

V E

K

D

=

=

=

V E

=

K

/

V

D L - DyV/2

D v

)

Incipient entrainment velocity An empirically derived constant Density, lbs./ ft 3

(5)

INCREASING GAS FLOW AT THE WELLHEAD

9

Of course, my objective was to derive a value for "K" which I

could use to predict with confidence V E for hundreds of other wells. For my data base, I calculated values for "K" ranging from 0.85 to 1.10. The density of brine is about 63 lbs./ft. and condensate is about 42

Ibs./ft.

pressure.

.The gas density is calculated at the wellhead temperature and

TABLE 1-1

COMMON TUBING DIMENSIONS (Inches)

Size,O.D.*

Size, ID .

2%

1.995

2 7 /s

2.441

3V 2

2.992

4

3.476

4V 2

3.958

*Tubing size in gas field parlance only refers to the outside diameter.

Equation 5 and the corresponding "K" values were developed for 8-10,000 ft. wells, with wellhead pressures varying between 100 to 500 psig. The liquid phase was always brine and 18 molecular weight natural gas was being produced. The tubing strings were either 2%" or 2%" O.D. I do not suggest that one should use any particular "K" value for an individual gas field. The idea is to get out of the office and play with the wells. Then, using Equation 5 as a basis, develop "K" values applicable to one's own gas field. "VE" is a ^ so referred to as the "flowpoint", and a rather detailed review of this subject has been published. 2

KEEPING WELLS UNLOADED Mr. Howlaway eyed my equations suspiciously, "I can see that you have developed a method to predict the combination of the gas production rate and wellhead pressure necessary to keep my wells from loading -up with liquid. But suppose the production rate tha t the reservoir can support is too low, or the wellhead pressure is too high to achieve the minimum entrainment velocity. What should I do about that?" Of course, there were a wide variety of answers to Mr. Howlaway's question. Major industries have been created to assist gas producers to keep wells from loading up with liquids. Gas lift Mandrels and

10 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

plunger lift systems are just two of the many gas lift downhole methods commonly employed to remove liquids from gas wells. However, as far as retrofitting low pressure wells at the surface is concerned, the simplest most cost effective means to remove accumulated liquids from a well is an "Intermitter."

a typical Intermitte r installation . A motor

on-off valve located downstream of the high pressure separator alter­ nately shuts-in and opens-up flow from the well. Wellhead pressure is allowed to build to several hundred psig above the pressure in the gas collection lateral. When the intermitter motor valve springs open, the sudden release in pressure creates a surge in gas flow through the tubing string. The accelerating gas flow reaches and surpasses the

entrainment velocity, and the well is thus unloaded.

Figur e 1-3 illustrate s

PROBLEMS WITH CISE OF INTERMITTERS The valve trim on the intermitter should be at least twice the diameter of the choke. When the intermitter valve opens it should not restrict gas flow from the well. Unfortunately, if the wellhead pressure builds to an excessive level, the sudden surge in gas flow when the intermitter opens may have two detrimental effects:

1. The flow recorder may be over-ranged to such an extent that it is damaged.

2. The high pressure separator may fill with liquid so rapidly that the dump valve may not be able to drain liquid down fast enough to prevent liquid carry-over into the instrument gas bottle shown in Figure 1-3.

Ordinarily, the intermitter motor valve is controlled by a timer (Electronic digital timers with a variety of built-in. computer features are now available). The well may be set to flow on a 24 hour open/12 hour shut-in cycle. To prevent the problems described above, a high- pressure over-ride is set to open the motor valve when the pressure build-up is more rapid than anticipated. The electronic timer mentioned above already incorporates this pressure over-ride feature. The optimum time intervals for cycling between opening and closing the motor valve are learned from experimenting on individual wells. Once experience has shown that a well begins to load up with liquids after free flowing for 28 hours, the intermitter controller should be set to shut the well in for pressure build up after 30 hours of production.

SOAP STICKS

Equation

5 implies

that

the

lower the

density of the

liquid

INCREASING GAS FLOW AT THE WELLHEAD

11

accumulating in the tubing, the lower the entrainment velocity. This means that less gas flow is required to keep a well unloaded of liquids, when the liquid density is reduced. Addition of soap sticks to a well is

a simple method to reduce the density of liquids in the tubing. Adding

soap sticks achieves this objective by causing the water to turn to froth. The soap sticks are approximately 18 in. long by V/z in. in diameter and consist simply of soap. They are dropped down the well by placing them into the wellhead tree between the two master valves on the vertical section of the tree. A typical rate of soap-stick addition is two sticks every four days.

Two different types of soap sticks are available: A hydrocarbon soluble stick for removing naphtha-i.e., natural gas condensate from

the tubing and a corresponding water-soluble stick. Using both types

in conjunction is often an effective means of stimulating gas flow. Note:

Hydrocarbon-soluble sticks may create an emulsion in the naphtha that may subsequently have to be chemically treated in order to sell the condensate. Improper and excessive use of soap sticks can damage the gas bearing sand formation. Dropping sticks into a shut-in well and permitting the soapy solution to permeate back through the perfora­ tions in the casing should be avoided. Also, the froth carried out of a well after soap sticking may over-load the high pressure separator and result in the entrainment of liquid to down stream equipment. This can be an especially troublesome problem when compressors are located downstream of wells being soap sticked.

Often the most cost effective method to unload wells is to increase the velocity of gas flowing through the tubing by reducing the wellhead pressure. For example, if the wellhead pressure is reduced from 315

psig (i.e. 330 psig) down to 150 psig (i.e. 165 psig), the velocity in the tubing string will double. However, according to Equation 5. V E , the entrainment velocity, will also increase by 41%. This occurs because

halving the pressure also halves P v , the vapor density, and

creases V E by the V2~] The sum of these effects is to reduce the SCFD

of natural gas required to exceed the entrainment velocity by 30%,

when the wellhead pressure is halved. The most cost effective method to cut the wellhead pressure is to install a small, reciprocating, gas engine driven compressor at the well-site down stream of the high pressure separator. Techniques to adjust and troubleshoot these machines will be discussed in a later chapter.

this in­

DOWN HOLE PROBLEMS

"Let's hold it a minute", interjected Mr. Howlaway. "It's not that

but

I haven't been trying to listen to you for the past two hours

12 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

O

INCREASING GAS FLOW AT THE WELLHEAD

1 3

my mind tends to wander. I'm thinking about our Juanita # 5 well, down in Jim Hogg County. That well doesn't make any liquids - brine or condensate. When we first put it on line it flowed 4,200 MSCFD. Now,just a year later, it can barely sustain 80 MSCFD with a wellhead pressure floating on the gas collection lateral pressure of 600 PSIG. I tried installing a wellhead compressor to increase gas flow. The com­ pressor worked okay. It reduced the wellhead pressure to 300 PSIG. The results were real disappointing; the incremental gas flow of 10 MSCFD barely was enough to run the compressor." Mr. Howlaway stared out of the window at the emaciated cattle searching for the last blades of withered grass and continued. "I noticed though, that while the well was shut-in to permit the compressor piping to be tied-in, the wellhead pressure rapidly increased to 1900 PSIG. You would think that a well with all that high pressure gas behind it could produce more than 80 MSCFD with a W wellhead choke? What do you think".

c

e

5

c

J2

T3

3

1

J

I

SAND COVERING PERFORATIONS

The points that Mr. Howlaway had enumerated:

• No liquids produced.

• A recent past history ofhigh gas production.

• Low gas flow at a reasonable low wellhead pressure through a relatively large choke.

• Rapid build-up to a high shut-in pressure.

• No significant improvement in gas flow even when the wellhead

pressure was sucked down with a field compressor. These factors were all indicative of down hole problems — most probably sand covering the casing perforations (see Figure 1—1). Some­ times a sand bridge forms above the perforations. Either way, the effect is the same; a great reduction in gas production. Equation 1 explains why all of Mr. Howlaway's observations were consistent. The recent 4,000 MSCFD of gas flow indicated the permea­ bility of the gas bearing sand formation was excellent. See if you can

calculate from Equation 1 why the installation ofthe wellhead compres­ sor was a mistake.

TAGGING BOTTOM

Rapidly opening the wellhead valves on a high pressure well flowing into a low pressure collection system is a good way to ruin a well when the following two criteria are met:

• The wellhead choke is large.

• The well has been shut-in for a while.

14 TROUBLESHOOTING NATCIRAL GAS PROCESSING

The surge ofgas flow resulting from following this procedure may, depending on the producing formation, suck sand out of the formation, through the casing perforations and into the tubing. To determine if sand is indeed covering the perforations, a weighted wire line is lowered through the tubing through a device called a "lubricator". When the wire line loses tension, the operating personnel at the surface surmise that the weight has "tagged bottoms". This tagged depth is compared to the well's completion record to determine if any or all of the casing perforations are submerged in sand. If more than 20% to 30% of the perforations are covered, it is a good idea to wash the well out with a "coil tubing unit".

The cost to tag bottoms with a wire line unit is only a few thousand dollars. Washing a well clear of sand with a coil tubing unit can cost ten times as much. A coil of tubing — perhaps 10,000 feet long, is lowered into the well. Water and high pressure nitrogen are employed to force the sand out of the bottom of the well and up through the annular space between the tubing and the outside of the coil tubing. It is not uncommon to see gas flow triple, after a well has been relieved of it's load of accumulated sand. Prior to placing a compressor on a partially depleted well, it is a good idea to obtain at least a qualitative idea of difference between the shut-in and the flowing wellhead pressure. If this difference is large, then it is far better to check for sand in the tubing than to blindly install the wellhead compressor. Certainly, if sand is covering the casing perforations, it is a waste oftime and money to install a wellhead compressor. Of course, the presence of sand in a relatively young well is indi­ cative of a sloppy operation at some previous occasion. This is especially true if the material being pulled into the tubing is frac sand rather than formation sand. There is no sense pumping frac sand into a for­ mation and then crushing the sand and sucking it out of the formation by over-rapid natural gas production. The sun, having burned the last trace ofmoisture from the already parched hills, dipped below the horizon. Mr. Howlaway stared out the window at the reddening sky. "What about the black cow. Is the cow still relevant". "Of course. The cow is part of the story too", I explained. "Men have been shot for leaving gas field gates open. Driving cattle back onto a lease is always relevant to troubleshooting gas production. As for the black cow, when it saw that I meant business; when it understood that I wasn't leaving until it went back through the gate; it just natur­ ally marched back onto the lease. It was only a matter of time and determination. Sure, the cow is part of the story too", I concluded.

INCREASING GAS FLOW AT THE WELLHEAD

15

1. Smith,

R.V.,

REFERENCES

"Practical

Natural

Gas

Tulsa, Okla., 1984, page 108.

Engineering,

Pennwell,

2. Greene, William R., "Analyzing the Performance of Gas Wells", Journal ofPetroIeum Technology, July, 1983, pages 1378-1384.

3. Otis Engineering Corp., General Sales Catalogue, Dallas, Texas. Gas Lift Equipment & Services, page 250.

ADDITIONAL IDEAS TO ENHANCE GAS FLOW

17

2

ADDITIONAL IDEAS TO ENHANCE GAS FLOW

One of the more puzzling phenomenon I have observed in gas field production happened during my tenure as an operator of well­ head compressors. One would intuitively assume that the faster the wellhead compressor ran, the more gas would be delivered through the sales meter. Normally, as the compressor speed was increased by manually screwing open the governor speed control valve, the com­ pressor suction pressure fell. Of course, this also reduced the well­ head pressure and the gas flow would be expected to increase accord­ ing to the formula:

where

Q

PR

P I

C,n

Q=C(P R

2

-Pf

_ Gas flow, SCF

— Reservoir pressure

= Wellhead pressure

= Constants peculiar to < in individual well

The above equation is really of little use to the field trouble- shooter because C,n and P R are unknown for partially depleted wells. But,the equation does positively indicate that gas flow will never decrease as the wellhead pressure is dropped. Much to my sur­ prise, I began to observe that as I dropped the wellhead pressure by speeding-up the wellhead compressors that:

16

• 30% of the wells did not exhibit any observable increase in gas flow.

• An additional 10% of the wells actually lost production as the wellhead pressure dropped.

If the reader will consult equation 1, of the previous chapter, he will note that when wells have relatively high stabilized shut-in pressures, as compared to their flowing wellhead pressure, that the incremental gas flow obtained from a further reduction in the flow­ ing wellhead pressure may be quite small. It transpires that there is another factor which tends to negate the effects of decreased well­ head pressure. This factor is water.

CONING WATER INTO A WELL

"Mendoza, this meter is broken", I complained. "Every time we increase the compressors speed to pull-down the wellhead pressure, the recorded gas flow drops. I just raised the rpm from 375 to 425, and the wellhead pressure fell from 220 PSIG to 15 PSIG. But the metered flow decreased from 180 MSCFD to 150 MSCFD. That's im­ possible; the meter must be broken". "Yes Sir", responded Mendoza, "you mentioned the same thing last week about that old well down near the river. But when we checked it out, the flow meter was okay". "So you think it's water again", I ventured. Mendoza settled himself comfortably on the trucks tailgate and explained. "Yes Sir, it looks like we're just sucking water into the well. The harder we suck with the compressor, the more water we bring up". "I can see that, but why don't we increase our gas make too". "You know more about these things than I do Sir. But what I've been told is that the gas in the reservoir is floating on top of a pool of brine. Once the gas pressure in the reservoir is pretty much reduced, the brine starts working it's way towards the casing perforations. The lower the pressure at the perforations, the more easily the brine flows up into the gas formation and into the well. That's called "coning", because the water is supposed to be flowing up at an angle to the perforations. Once the water enters the pro­ duction tubing, gas flow from the wellhead always drops off'.

"Yes Mendoza, the water rising to the surface

interfers

gas production. This happens because of the

following:

with

1. The average density of the fluid inside the subsurface increases.

tubing

18 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

ADDITIONAL IDEAS TO ENHANCE GAS FLOW

19

2. The downhole pressure increases relative to the surface

TUBING

pressure.

PRODUCTION

3. The pressure difference between the reservoir and the casing is diminished and hence the flow of gas from the sand formation through the casing perforations slows".

"After all", I continued, "the rate of natural gas production is

the

controlling variables are really the reservoir pressure and the down- hole pressure:

really not a direct function

of the wellhead pressure. Rather,

where

PDH

=

Q

=

C(P R 2 - P D H 2 ) n

The pressure inside the casing at the level of the perforations.

"Mr. Lieberman", interrupte d Mendoza, "aren' t you gettin g off the subject again. What I want to know is what do we do now". "Suppose we get a sample of water from the high pressure separator", I answered. "We could get it analyzed for salt. If the salt content of the water is a lot lower than that of the brine produced when the well was first put on line, we can assume that water is

leaking around the outside of the casing. A "squeeze-job" (i.e. forcing more cement around the casing) is supposed to correct this problem.

Bu t if, a s you say, we ar e promoting wate r

a water zone below the gas bearing sand formation, we had better just slow the wellhead compressor back down to 375 rpm. After all, the flowing water is probably promoting the formation of channels that will make future coneing of brine into the well even worse".

flow (i.e. coneing) from

DUAL

COMPLETION

WELLS

By perforating the casing both below and above the packer, as shown in figure 2-1 , a lease operator can produce natural gas from two different zones simultaneously. Thus, a dual completion can double th e intiia l gas flow from a well. If, a s often happens , th e for­ mation being drained by the tubing is depleted first, a serious prob­ lem arises. If the casing pressure substantially exceeds the tubing pressure, the tubing can collapse and gas flow to the tubing side of the wellhead tree will be restricted. If the casing side formation is first to depressure, an attractive opportunity may develop. A small hole, the size of a button, may be shot into the tubing string just above the packer. The flow of high pressure gas from the tubing into

PERFORATIONS FOR CASING PRODUCTION

PACKER

A

^

Figure 2-1

A dual completion well.

CASING

PRODUCTION

7

PERFORATIONS

FOR

PRODUCTION

TUBING

the annular space inside the casing, will act as lift gas. This lift gas will prevent the casing from loading up with liquids and thus sur- press gas production. If this "button hole", is made too large, a re­ strictive choke may be required on the casing's gas production. This will probably negate the effect of the lift gas, as the restrictive choke will raise the pressure at the perforations above the packer in the same way as would liquid loading.

JET EJECTORS

Figure 2—2 shows how high pressure gas from the tubing side of dual completion can be employed to compress the low pressure

2 0

TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

casing gas. An ejector, an apparatus in common use in process plants, acts as a compressor without moving parts. The installed cost of the apparatus pictured in figure 2-2, is less than $10,000, and there are no operating costs. Use of an ejector in this service re­ quires that both the tubing pressure and flowing gas volume be much higher than the collection header pressure and the casing gas flow, respectively. Note also, that the ejector must be protected against the errosive sand produced form the well.

partially

depleted well must be bled down periodically. A W line connecting the casing to the tubing will permit this gas which slowly accumu­ lates in the annulus to be recovered for sales instead of being vented to the atmosphere.

THE BIRTH AND DEATH OF A GAS WELL

Gas leaking into, and pressuring up, the casing of a

When a well is completed, it must be cleared of sand before it's production can be lined up to the collection laterals. This is ac­ complished by "flowing-back", or "flaring", the well. For a typical gas well, this requires venting the tubing to the atmosphere for 3 or 4 days at a typical rate of 5 MMSCFD. To avoid wasting $50,000

TUBING

200 0 M SCFD

I0O0

PSIG-)

X

CASING

DUAL

COMPLETION

WELL

22

20

0 PSIG 0 M SCFD

 

95

U F

 

MOTIVE

GAS

 

80°F

EJECTOR

 

5 0 0

PSIG

MAIN

LATERAL

Figure 2-2

CIse of an ejector to produce low pressure casing gas from a dual completion well using high pressure gas from the tubing string as motive gas.

ADDITIONAL IDEAS TO ENHANCE GAS FLOW

21

worth of natural gas, a portable sand separator may be installed be­ tween the wellhead tree and the permanent production equipment. While portable sand separator skids may be rented, a sketch has been provided in figures 2-3A and 2-3B for those producers who may wish to build their own unit.

MAWP = 2TO0

ESTIMATED WALL THICKNESS 1 2 VESSEL TO BE STRESS RELIEVED

PSIG

 

QUICK-CONNECT

FITTING

 

Z\t

2

1.0

STELLITE LINED

NOZZLE FITTED

FOR

TANGENTIAL ENTRY-

 
 

QUICK-CONNECT

FITTING

Figure 2-3A Facility to recover wellhead gas during initial flaring.

GAS DRIVEN

PUMP

Figure 2-3B Details of portable sand separator.

2 2

TROUBLESHOOTING NATORAL GAS PROCESSING

Towards the end of a well's life, it should probably be placed on an intermittent type operation as described in the previous chap­ ter. This will keep the well from loading up with liquids. As time goes by, the back-pressure from the collection lateral will be too high to permit the entrainment velocity (or flow point) to be achieved when the well is opened-up, even though it has been shut- in for many days. Under such circumstances, the well must be flowed-back to the atmosphere. Addition of a few soap sticks through the wellhead cap twenty minutes prior to venting the well to the at­ mosphere (really to a pit to contain the brine that will be blown out) is a good procedure. Figure 2-4 illustrates the piping configuration at wellhead required to routinely acomplish the above. It may take 15-30 minutes to successfully blow the brine out of a tubing string. If the procedure is working, the wellhead pressure will climb as the slugs of brine pass up through the flow-back connection. Of course, once a well has declined to this point, installation of wellhead com­ pressor or downhole corrective measures are appropriate.

X

SOAP STICK LAUNCHER

M

1X1

5

ATM. VENT

 

TO PIT

NORMAL

GAS

FLOW FROM TUBING

WELLHEAD

TREE

Figure 2-4

Facilities to unload a depleted well.

ADDITIONAL IDEAS TO ENHANCE GAS FLOW

2 3

AN INTERESTING EXPERIMENT

If a well has been killed with water—that is, gas will not flow

from the well even when the atmospheric vent is left open—an in­ teresting observation can be made. Drop a soap stick down the well and listen as it hits the joints in the tubing string. Each joint is 30-40 feet apart, and the stick makes a quite audible sound, which can be heard at the atmospheric vent, as it passes each joint. On one 12,000-foot well, I heard the stick splash into water after descend­ ing past 120 joints (4,800 feet).

A well that has this much water accumulation normally can­

not be resuscitated with soap sticks. It must be cleared of water by being swabbed out, a procedure that mechanically removes water out of the well. The loading up of wells due to condensate and water formation in production tubing is a highly complex subject. This is particularly true in deeper wells. The inter-action between the surface equipment, the reservoir characteristics, and the two or three phase flow occur­ ring in the tubing string really requires a computer analysis with the input of all the historical data available from the well. The re­ quisite software to achieve this capability are available from a number of organizations. 1

By way of summarizing the concepts discussed in the last two chapters, the reader may wish to work through the following ex­ ample which is based on observations made for an actual, flowing natural gas well in South Texas.

EXAMPLE:

J.B. Smith # 4 is flowing steadily at 1,300 MSCFD with a well­ head pressure of 815 PSIG and a wellhead temperature of 80° F. The gas specific gravity (i.e. its density relative to air) is 0.60. The tub­ ing I.D. is 2%" and the well is producing water at a rate of 10 bbl/ MMSCF. An unexpected incident at a downstream pipeline booster station causes the field pressure to increase from 800 PSIG to 870 PSIG for several hours. Later, the field pressure drops back to 800 PSIG. However, the well is now flowing erratically at an average production rate of 420 MSCFD. Calculate the entrainment ve­ locity, V E and the coefficient, K, in the entrainment velocity equation:

Answer

=

V E

=

K VP T .

6.3 fUsec.,

K

-

Pv

=

P7

1.37

2 4

TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

1. Sim

Sci,

California.

Simulation

REFERENCES

Sciences

Inc.,

PLPEPHASE

Fullerton,

3

WELLHEAD SURFACE EQUIPMENT

A fully outfitted gas well will be equipped with the

items at the

wellhead:

following

• The wellhead tree with a fixed choke.

• Heater with an adjustable choke.

• High pressure separator.

• Low pressure, three-phase separator.

• Gas flowrate orifice meter.

• Condensate tank.

• Brine tank. Figure 3—1 summarizes the functions

and the relationship of

these components. Many gas wells are not equipped with low pres­ sure separators or tanks; the lease operator, may feel that insuffi­ cient liquids will be produced to justify their expense. Also, once the wellhead pressure diminishes to the 1,000 psi range, a heater (used to retard hydrate formation) is not necessary.

THE WELLHEAD TREE My initial impression of the collection of valves sitting atop a gas well was that the assemblage of hardware was unnecessarily complex. This turns out to be a false first impression. Both the casing and the tubing strings terminate at the tree. Figure 3-1 assumes that only the tubing string wiil be used to pro­ duce gas. This is called "single completion well". The casing below the packer has- been perforated to communicate with a gas bearing sand formation. If the casing has also been perforated to draw gas from a shallower formation, then the well would be termed a "dual completion". The wellhead pressure is shown on a gauge atop the tree. This

25

WELLHEAD SURFACE EQUIPMENT

2 7

pressure does not bear a direct relationship to the critical bottom hole pressure (i.e. the pressure inside the tubing at the level of the perforations). There are a minimum of two valves available on the tree to shut-in the high pressure gas flow from the tubing; the mas­ ter and the secondary (or wing) valve. The master valve is upstream of the secondary valve. The master valve is intended to last the life of the well, while the secondary valve is replaced when it starts to leak. Whenever a high pressure, flowing gas stream is blocked-in, the valve so used will be subject to the erosive force of rapidly mov­ ing sand. When two valves are located in series on a gas line, the valve closed first will erode. Alternately, when gas flow is to be re­ stored, the valve opened last will experience the effect of high vel­ ocity, erosive sand. This concept applies to casing wellhead valves and liquid drains from high pressure separators, as well as produc­ tion tubing isolation valves. How does one know when a secondary isolation valve is leaking and requires replacement? Simply close the valve and see if it stops the gas flow to downstream equipment. If a secondary valve (which I like to call the "throwaway valve") is not replaced in a timely fash­ ion, the master valve (which I refer to as the, "permanent valve") will also start leaking. I leave it to the reader to imagine the dif­ ficulty and expense of replacing a leaking master block valve on a 4000 psig gas well.

CASING PRESSURE Ideally, there should not be any gas accumulation inside the casing of a single completion well. If gas does infiltrate the annular space between the casing and the tubing, excessive pressure will build-up inside the casing. If the casing pressure greatly exceeds the tubing pressure, the tubing will collapse. If you observe the opera­ tion of a well that has a collapsed tubing string, the only signs will be low wellhead pressure and diminished gas production. Unfortu­ nately, there are a host of other illnesses that beset gas wells that have identical systems:

• Well loaded up with fluids.

• Perforations covered with sand.

• Low bottom hole pressure.

• Production tubing bridged with sand. To prevent the collapse of the tubing string, the well operator's duties include venting off pressure from th e casing. A cost effective method to accomplish such venting is shown in figure 3-2. Instead of depressurizing the casing to the atmosphere, the excess gas in the casing is vented into the production tubing downstream of the well­ head choke. This saves money. For example, venting a 1000 psig

2 8

TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

casing from a well 10,000 feet deep into a production line operating at 550 psig saves about $60 per venting incident.

HEATER OPERATION Why are there two chokes shown in figure 3—2. Certainly, gas flow could be controlled with a single choke. One reason is that the erosion of the choke is reduced by limiting the pressure drop through a single restriction. Note the pressure profile between the wellhead and high pressure separator shown in figure 3-1. The other rationale for utilizing two chokes on high pressure wells is to prevent hydrate formation. A following chapter, presents the causes and cures of pipeline

freeze-ups.

it to say here that excessive throttling across a

choke will form a water-hydrocarbon solid inside the choke. To pre­ vent this, the flowing gas is partially reheated as follows:

Suffice

• Gas flows to the surface at 3500 psig and 130° F.

• The gas pressure is reduced to 2400 psig across the fixed wellhead choke. As a consequence of this pressure drop, the gas cools to 80° F.

GAS PRODUCTION

FROM

TUBING

3/4"TUBING

WELLHEAD

CHOKE

CASING

tXl=y VENT

- /

'S///

Figure 3-2

/ ////

///

A piece of 3/4" tubing can recover gas leaking into the casing of a single completion well.

WELLHEAD SURFACE EQUIPMENT

29

• The gas stream is reheated to 140° F in the first loop through the heater.

• The adjustable choke—which is an integral part of the heater, throttles the gas pressure down to 1100 psig. This pressure reduction again cools the gas to 80° F.

It is clear from the above data that attempting to break a 3500 psig wellhead pressure down to the 1100 psig separator pressure across a single choke would cause the choke to freeze up (1100 psig natural gas may form hydrates at temperatures below 70°F) and the gas flow to cease. To illustrate this idea, let's assume that a heater's adjustable choke is freezing up. The heater is operating as hot as possible. To overcome this problem, install a smaller fixed choke in the wellhead. This will permit operating with the heater's adjustable choke in a more open position and hence reduce the temperature drop across the adjustable choke. Inadequate heater capacity can be caused by a low water level. Exposing heat transfer tubes to air also accelerates exterior corro­ sion of these tubes. Heating natural gas from 80° F to 140° F as described in the above example consumes about 0.2% of the well's gas flow. While this is not much of a loss, always keep in mind that hotter gas re­ duces compression capacity and creates dehydration problems at downstream facilities. Hence, heaters must be shut down when the danger of hydrate formation expires.

HIGH PRESSURE SEPARATOR To prevent metering difficulties, and to reduce corrosion and pressure drop in downstream piping, liquids are removed from well­ head gas. Water plus natura l gasoline condensate ar e drawn off a s a mixed phase. Gas flows out of the separator, through the sales meter, and into the collection (i.e. lateral) piping. The two main problems associated with the operation of high pressure separators are:

• Liquid carry-over.

• Loss of gas through a leaking liquid dump valve.

Only rarely do high pressure separators carry-over due to ex­ cessive gas rates. The vessel, if properly sized to handle the initial well production, will be adequate to de-entrain liquids from their di­ minishing gas flow as the well ages. Usually, liquid carry over is due to high liquid levels. The liquid dump valve shown in figure 3-1

30 TROUBLESHOOTING NATORAL GAS PROCESSING

is actuated by "instrument gas" (i.e. natural gas) flow from a con­ nection on the high pressure separator. Once the instrument gas bottle illustrated in this sketch fills with water, the dump valve may become inoperable due to water in the instrument gas. The resulting high liquid level in the separator will keep the instrument gas bot­ tle liquid full and hence continue to prevent the dump valve from operating and draining the high pressure separator. Installing a larger instrument gas bottle and instructing field personnel to drain it daily is one answer. The ideal solution though, is to supply dry instrument gas from a nearby glycol dehydrator. Dump valve instru­ ment gas tubing improperly aligned to resist freeze ups is also an . important factor in liquid carry over (see chapter on preventing pipeline freeze ups). The most common cause of high liquid level carry over from high pressure separators is simply that the liquid dump valve be­ comes mechanically inoperable, or it is calibrated to hold too high

a level. If one of the level gauge glass taps are plugged; or the glass has become opaque with dirt, field personnel wil never realize there is a problem. My first assignment in troubleshooting gas field operations was to survey the high pressure separators in a system encompassing four hundred wells for undersized vessels. The dehydration station servicing these wells was being menaced by an ever increasing brine content in the inlet gas. I discovered not a single undersized separator. What I did find was a hundred inoperable liquid dump valves. Almost without exception, the gauge glass isolation ball check valves had become stuck with age and disuse. As these valves could not be opened or closed, field operating personnel had discon­ tinued blowing down the gauge glass to unplug the taps and clear the glass of fouling deposits. Without being able to visually locate the liquid level in the separator, they could not properly calibrate the liquid level control or know when the dump valve had become inoperable.

It is usually pretty easy to find a leaking liquid dump valve on

a high pressure separator. Continuous or frequent venting from the

low pressure, three phase separator is one tipoff. A cool line down­

stream of the dump valve, as well as lack of a liquid level in the separator's gauge glass, are other indications of a leaking dump valve.

A grain of sand that has become lodged in the dump valve's in­

strument gas bleed-off port will cause an "Air-to-Open" dump valve

to stick open. Oft times, a stuck dump valve can be made operable by manually opening and closing it a few times. Not uncommonly, dump valve internals are damaged by erosive sand. To minimize

WELLHEAD SORFACE EQUIPMENT

3 1

this effect, the usual short stem plug inside the dump valve body should be replaced with a long stem carbide plug. On occasion, I have seen dump valves blowing through because a pebble had be­ come lodged between the plug and the seat. The only tool required to disassemble a liquid dump valve to rectify such a problem is a large hammer.

LOW PRESSURE THREE PHASE SEPARATOR

The high pressure liquid flows into the low pressure separator.

Typically the low pressure vessel operates at 30 to 60 psig. Below

20 psig, there will not be enough pressure to push the accumulated

liquids into adjacent tanks. Above 60 psig, natural gasoline conden­ sate will generate excessive vapors when it is introduced to a storage tank.

three

phases:

The

low pressure

separator's

purpose

is

to

separate

• Brine

• Natural Gasoline Condensate

• Evolved Vapors.

When the high pressure liquid flashes in the low pressure

separator, substantial volumes of hydrocarbon vapor are generated. For example, when one barrel of a typical natural gasoline conden­ sate is depressured from 1000 psig to 65 psig, roughly 1.3 moles of

28 molecular weight is vented through the low pressure separator's

back pressure regulation. A typical composition of this flash gas is:

Carbon Dioxide

3%

Methane

53%

Ethane

22%

Propane

13%

Butanes

6%

Pentanes Plus

3%

The condensate is drawn off to control th e separators liquid level, while the brine is withdrawn to hold the condensation-brine interface level. It is quite important that the gas supply used to operate the liquid level dump valves not be withdrawn from the low pressure separator itself. The moisture content of gas withdrawn from a 40 psig vessel will be 18 times higher than gas flowing from a 1000 psig high pressure separator. Also, any surge in the liquid level in the low pressure separator will cause a liquid carryover

3 2

TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

into the gas supply to the liquid dumps. For these reasons, the first step in correcting level control problems in low pressure separators is to connect a source of high pressure gas (dried if possible) to the liquid level dump valves. If the dump valves are operating properly, but surges of liquid from the high pressure separator cause natural gasoline to blow out of the low pressure separator's vent, raise the pressure setting on the back pressure controller. This will force liquid out of the low pressure separator at a greater rate.

CONDENSATE TANK Maintaining the low pressure separator at too high a pressure can cause the natural gasoline condensate holding tank to over-pres­ sure. As a rough approximation, about half a mole of gas is vented from a condensate tank for each barrel of condensate collected. This gas evolution rate is based on a 65 psig low pressure separator pres­ sure and an average vapor molecular weight approximating pro­ pane. Most often, roofs on condensate collection tanks are ruptured when the upper liquid dump valve on the low pressure separator sticks open. This permits all the low pressure separator flash gas to blow into the condensate tank. On one occasion, I observed an operator by-pass liquid from the high pressure separator around the low pressure separator and directly to the condensate tank. He explained that the upper liquid level dump valve was stuck closed, and that consequently gasoline was blowing out of the low pressure separator's vent. While I agreed that spewing gasoline over a nearby road was dangerous, I also correctly predicted that bypassing the low pressure separator would blow a hole in the roof of the conden­ sate collection tank.

BRINE TANK If the interface level controller on the low pressure, three phase separator malfunctions, a well's entire production of natural gasoline may wind up in an open top brine holding tank. Of course, losses in hydrocarbons will be accelerated due to evaporation. More importantly, the lease operator may lose all the well's condensate. It can happen that the brine disposal truck which empties the brine tank also disposes of the accumulated condensate. The condensate is recovered by whoever operates the local salt water disposal facility. Naturally, this enterprising individual will then keep the conden­ sate and sell it at a substantial profit. It has been alleged that on rare occasions, that the interface level controllers on the low pressure, three phase separators are en-

WELLHEAD SURFACE EQUIPMENT

33

couraged to malfunction by human intervention. Certainly, the theft of natural gasoline from wellhead storage tanks is not unknown. Dumping condensate to the brine storage tank is one method to foil auditors monitoring production losses in condensate.

ORIFICE METERS Permitting a wellhead meter to read high robs your employer. The royalty and severance tax payments made by the lease operator are based on the meter readings. Pulsations in the meter run (such as those induced by wellhead reciprocating compressors) will invar- ibly cause the meter to read high. Occasionally, field personnel in­ stall a smaller orifice plate in the meter run and forget to note this fact on the flow chart. This greatly increases the recorded gas flow rate. Incidentally, most meter runs are equipped with facilities to permit change of the orifice plate without interrupting the flow of gas through the meter. This is called a "Senior Meter Run".

WELLHEAD FLASH GAS RECOVERY For each barrel of natural gasoline condensate collected in stor­ age, roughly 1,300,000 BTU's worth of gas is flashed-off from the low pressure three phase separator. This assumes that the high pressure separator is operating at 1000 psig and the low pressure separator is running at 50 psig. In addition to being environmen­ tally reprehensible, this venting waster $400 per day of recoverable gas on a well that is producing 100 BSD of condensate. Figure 3—3 illustrates a system to recover these vented hydro­ carbons. Both a volume pot and a suction pressure spill back control loop are needed to even out surges in gas flow produced when the high pressure separator dumps liquid into the low pressure separator. The action on the high pressure separator's liquid dump valve should be slowed down. The compressor net discharge gas is best injected hot into the gas production line. This is done to prevent the recondensation of the recovered vapors in the compressor after- cooler or in the cooler natural gas product. The gas flowing into the spill-back loop must, however, be cooled to avoid overheating the compressor suction. Typically, the compressor suction spill-back is set to open at 20 psig; while the atmospheric gas vent will open at a pressure of 70 psig. It is a little difficult to precisely size these vent gas recovery compressors. A rough rule of thumb is to calculate the compressor horsepower and suction volume based on the average gas rate at 40 psig. Then double both these calculated values for the final compres­ sor sizing. Remember that this vent gas recovery installation will only be

3 4

TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

COQ.

O

(§>-0i

WELLHEAD SURFACE EQUIPMENT

3 5

needed for a year or two. As wellhead pressure and condensate rates fall, the economics of continued compressor operation will diminish.

WELLHEAD COMPRESSION

37

4

WELLHEAD COMPRESSION

A wellhead field compressor appears to be a simple enough de­ vice. Thousands of these small, gas engine driven, reciprocating machines are in service throughout the country. When properly matched to a well, a field compressor is a cost effective method to maintain or increase gas flow from older wells. However, in spite of their superficial simplicity, the adjustment of field compressors to maximize gas flow is a complex job. This is attributable to the many modes in which a small field compressor can operate and to the dynamic nature of the well itself. It is the inter-action of the com­ pressor, the collection header pressure and the gas well flowing characteristics that make adjusting field compressors a challenging assignment.

COMPRESSOR CONFIGURATION Figure 4-1 illustrates a typical two-stage compressor. Machines of this type range from 30 to 300 horsepower. They are driven by a gas engine; fueled by natural gas. Engine speed is 250 to 450 rpm, with the compressor inter-cooler and after-cooler air fans driven by the engine. Such machines are rugged, reliable and flexible. To il­ lustrate their flexibility, there are three principal modes of opera­ tion.

Two Stage (Tandum) Operation Both compressor stages are fully operational. Note that the first-stage is called the "head-end" and that the second-stage is termed the "crank-end.

36

Head-End Operation The compressor cylinder valves have been disabled in the crank-end (i.e. second-stage), so that only the head-end does compression work. This type of operation is summarized in Figure 4—1.

Crank-End Operation The compressor cylinder valves have been disabled in the head-end (i.e. first-stage), so that only the crank-end does compression work.

Note that the head-end cylinder's volumetric capacity is much greater than that of the crank-end. However, the volumetric capac­ ity of the head-end can be adjusted with the cylinder clearance valve (see Figure 4-1), whereas the volumetric capacity of the crank-end is fixed. In addition to these permutations, the compressor speed can be varied over a wide range, the suction flow may be throttled, engine fuel can be drawn from either the suction or discharge, and the dis­ charge, and the discharge cooler may be by-passed. Reducing the surface pressure by compression reduces the gas pressure in the tubing at the level of the perforations and hence in­ creases the flow of gas from the formation through the casing per­ forations. The incremental flow of gas obtained from a well by sur­ face compression is a function of many complex variables. Gas wells that have become water-logged may double or triple

GAS ENGINE

INTERSTAGE COOLER

795 PSIG

llO°F

\

2lO°F

80 0 PSIG

 

CYLINDER

CLEARANCE

CRANK END

HEAD END

ADJUSTMENT

■I38"F

FUEL GAS"

SPEED

GAS TO PIPELINE

S

CONTROL

79 0

PSIG

;

80°F- -20 0 PSIG

GAS

-*FROM

WELL

Figure 4—1

A wellhead compressor , two stage , ga s driven set-u p for "head ­ end only" operation.

3 8

TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

production when joined to a properly sized and operated field com­ pressor. For example, a well was producing gas at a rate of 300,000 SCFD with a compressor suction (i.e. wellhead pressure) of 400 PSIG. The compressor configuration was altered from crank-end op­ eration to head-end operation. In effect, the volumetric capacity of the machine was doubled. Consequently, the wellhead pressure was reduced to 280 PSIG, and gas flow rose to a rate of 350,000 SFCD. After operating for a short time in this manner, slugs of water began to pass up through the wellhead valves. The hammering sound of water entering a wellhead tree is called "water hits". As the slugs of water raced up the tubing, the weight of water suppres­ sing gas flow was removed (i.e. the well unloaded). Both the well­ head pressure and the flow increased. Hours later, the well perfor­ mance stabilized at 780,000 SCFD and a 350 PSIG compressor suc­ tion pressure.

ENTRAPMENT VELOCITY This incident illustrates the importance of adjusting field com­ pressor operation to maintain a minimum velocity in the production tubing. The velocity must be sufficient to entrain water, which mi­

grates into the well, up into the high pressure separator. Based on

a limited amount of data taken in gas field operation and a more

substantial data base developed in the process industry, the follow­ ing rule of thumb is suggested:

where

V

D

D

E

v

L

V

E

=

1.2 (

D T

-Dv

\ D v

=

Entrainment velocity, ft./sec.

=

Density of gas, lbsVft. 3

=

Density

of liquid, lbs./ft. 3

This equation for entrainment velocity is in the form of Stokes

La w for settlin g of particles i n a fluid. The coefficient of 1.2 will

vary with gas viscosity, depth of the producing formation and the presence of surfactants in the well liquids. The reader should develop a suitable coefficient from his own experiences. Correlations developed by other workers in this field suggest that the minimum velocity to "unload" a well is greater than that shown above. *' 2 Note that adding soap sticks to a well reduces the D L term in the above equation by over 50% and thus effectively lowers the entrain­ ment velocity.

WELLHEAD COMPRESSION

3 9

INCREASING WELLHEAD TUBING VELOCITY The easiest, but least cost effective method, to operate a field compressor is the crank-end mode. When only the Crank-end (i.e. second stage) is in operation, capacity, compression ratio, as well as engine horsepower load and compressor rod loading are minimized. Left to their own devices, field personnel oft-times run compressors on the crank-end only. To increase the wellhead tube velocity, it is usually necessary to switch the compressor operation to the head­ end mode. This involves removing the crank-end cylinder valves and re-installing the head-end cylinder valves. The head-end cylinder clearance valve should then be closed as far as possible so as to fully utilize the available engine horsepower. To calculate approximate horsepower T the following equation may be used:

HP = THFX

MSCFD

(Per Stage)

6.7

where

THP

=

Theoretical horsepower per mole obtained from

HP

=

Figure 4—2. Actual engine horsepower required including auxiliaries.

Maximizing engine horsepower and hence gas flow immediately after switching to head-end operation is helpful in achieving the tubing entrainment velocity. A gradual increase in gas flow will not be as effective in unloading the well. Therefore, the engine rpm should be set at maximum and the head-end cylinder clearance set­ ting should be minimized as soon as the machine is put back on line.

HORSEPOWER BOTTLENECKS

There are three fundamental limits to which all field compres­

sors are

subject:

• Compressor rod loading

• Speed

• Engine horsepower

In addition to calculating the actual engine horsepower by the above equation and comparing it to the name plate rating, the en­ gine exhaust gas temperature should be checked. The engine man­ ufacturer specifies a maximum exhaust temperature for the engine when running at maximum load. If this design temperature is

4 0

TROUBLESHOOTING NATORAL GAS PROCESSING

750°F, while the observed engine exhaust is 600°F, it is quite appar­ ent that the engine is not running at its maximum load. On the other hand, if the cylinder clearance valve is closed a few turns, and the machine slows down (or even stalls) the engine is positively working as hard as it can. Of course, as with a car engine, adjust­ ments to the carburetor and ignition systems can correct horsepower limits. Do not forget that for a field compressor to develop its rated horsepower, -it must be operating at its maximum design speed. Slowing an engine down without reducing its horsepower load will raise the temperature of the exhaust gas. To economize on the avail­ able engine horsepower one can:

• Minimize pressure drop between the wellhead and the com­ pressor suction. If the pressure difference between these two points exceeds 10 PSIG, there is an unnecessary restriction to flow. Perhaps the positive choke in the wellhead has not been removed. Oft-times the surface piping diameter has not been sized for low pressure gas. Gas heaters, necessary to prevent hydrate formation on high-pressure wells, should be by-passed

1.5

2.0

2.5

3.0

COMPRESSION

RATIO

Figure 4—2

Theoretical horsepower for a 0.65 S.G. natural gas .

WELLHEAD COMPRESSION

41

when field compressors are installed.

• Withdraw gas from the suction of the compressor, rather than the discharge, for engine fuel. A 100 horsepower compressor will require 30 MSCFD of fuel or several percent of the unit's capacity.

• Do not simply disable compressor valves when either the head­ end or crank-end is to be taken out of service. Remove the valve assembly completely from the cylinder. Even though the valve plate may have been removed from the suction valve, the remaining portions of the valve will still offer a substantial re­ sistance to flow and hence absorb horsepower.

• By-pass the inter-cooler when on "crank-end" operation; alter­ nately by-pass the after-cooler when on "head-end operation.

• Wash the inter-cooler fin tubes to remove bugs and dust. Com­ pressor horsepower required is proportional to gas inlet temperature.

ROD LOADING LIMITS As the wellhead pressure falls, the differential pressure that the field compressor must deliver increases. This is because the col­ lection header into which the compressor discharges remains rela­ tively constant. As this differential pressure rises, the compressor may become limited by "rod loading". A machine may be only utiliz­ ing a fraction of the available engine horsepower and trip-out due to low suction pressure or high discharge temperature. Both of these trip points are a function of the maximum compressor rod loading which, is, in turn, a function of the differential pressure across an individual stage and the cylinder geometry. Note that at a fixed dis­ charge pressure, a falling suction pressure always results in an in­ crease in discharge temperature. Naturally, operating field personnel will try to avoid repeated compressor shut-downs due to low suction pressure or high discharge temperature. The proper response would be to convert the compres­ sor from single-stage to tandum (i.e. two-stage) operation. However, for reasons enumerated below, field personnel may choose to remain on single-stage operation and:

• If on crank-end operation, reduce rpm.

• If on head-end operation, open the cylinder clearance valve.

Both of these methods will effectively eliminate trips caused by high discharge temperature or low suction pressure. Unfortunately, they also reduce natural gas production. Why is it then, that operat­ ing field personnel do not go immediately to tandum operation to

42 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

eliminate trips caused by excessive rod loading? A few of the reasons are:

• Making the conversion requires tools, valve parts and time. Also, the machine must be shut-down and re-started.

• Often, the well will produce large quantities of water or con­ densate for several hours after the tandum operation is initiated. The vapor-liquid separator drum on the compressor suction line may not be able to keep up with the liquid flow. Manual draining of the drum is therefore appropriate. In practice, this means that an operator must remain at the well site for half a day to monitor and control the liquid level in the compressor suction drum.

• It is human nature to avoid step-changes. Converting from single stage to tandum operation entirely alters the wells characteristics; whereas small reductions in speed or suction volume may be made gradually over a period of time.

Converting to tandum operation reduces the rod loading by spreading the differential pressure out over two stages. For a given wellhead pressure, the two-stage operation also lowers the compres­ sor discharge temperature.

VARYING SPEED

(crank-

end) discharge temperature and a low first-stage (head-end) dis­ charge temperature, one should proceed as follows:

If

a

compressor has an excessively high second-stage

• Reduce the adjustable clearance on the head-end.

• Slow the machine down.

• Balance the above two steps to restore the original wellhead pressure.

This technique switches load from the crank-end to the head­ end without changing gas flow. Note that to minimize horsepower the pressure ratio for both stages should be about equal. Operating with the "head-end" cylinder clearance valve wide open will tend to over-load the crank-end, under-load the head-end and waste net en­ gine horsepower. Regardless of other circumstances, a compressor should never be run over its rated speed. However, if the machine will not come-up to its rated speed when it is runnning below its rated horsepower (as calculated above), then something is amiss with the engine.

WELLHEAD COMPRESSION

4 3

TRANSIENT EFFECTS

To further complicate the adjustment of a field compressor, one needs to be aware of certain transient effects that the well imposed on the

compressor.

• Many

immediately

increase in wellhead pressure sufficient

the engine.

wells,

after

unloading

liquids

exhibit

an

stall

to overload and

• Opening the head-end cylinder clearance valve to reduce the first-stage discharge temperature will immediately increase this discharge temperature and can trip-off the compressor. However, once the wellhead pressure rises due to less gas being moved, the head-end discharge temperature will drop.

• After switching a compressor from single-stage to tandum oper­ ation, the second-stage discharge temperature will tend to in­ crease for a few days as the wellhead pressure drops. This often leads to compressors tripping off unless corrective action is taken.

• The immediate effects of soap-sticking a well (i.e. unloading liquids by adding a foaming agent into the well's tubing) may be to over-load the engine due to excessive suction pressure.

• A compressor which has operated properly in a tandum mode is shut-down for maintenance and thereafter repeatedly trips off on high discharge temperature. The problem is that the well has loaded-up with liquids and the resulting low wellhead pressure is causing too high a compression ratio.

MINIMUM SCICTION PRESSURE Figure 4-3 illustrates how an extraneous factor may cause a field compressor to trip-off prematurely. In this case, the field operators were reporting that they could not operate a compressor suction below 70 PSIG. Their experience had taught them the following:

1. They would set the compressor to operate in the tandum mode.

2. Over a period of a few days the wellhead pressure would diminish from 120 PSIG to 70 PSIG.

3. At 70 PSIG (as indicated by the flow chart pressure recorder) the unattended compressor would trip-off.

Figure 4-3 shows that this was not quite true. The cause and solution to this problem resided in the pressure setting of the three- phase, low pressure separator. As this vessel was set to hold 65 PSIG, it followed that the high pressure separator could not drain

WELLHEAD COMPRESSION

45

whenever it's pressure reached 65 PSIG. The liquid level in the high pressure separator would then rise and carry-over water to the field compressor. As engine fuel was being drawn from the compressor suction line, the water overflowing from the separator entered the engine and caused it to stall. The simple solution to this problem was to reduce the three-phase separator pressure from 65 PSIG to 30 PSIG.

DOAL COMPLETIONS Attempting to utilize a single compressor to service both the casing and tubing flows on a dual completion well can present some real problems. On one installation, both the casing and tubing were piped into the suction of the reciprocating machine. However, the operators observed that when the tubing flowed unrestricted into the compressor suction, the casing flow stopped. To "correct" this sit­ uation, a restrictive choke was placed in the tubing side of the well­ head tree. This resulted in a wellhead tubing pressure higher than the compressor discharge pressure! This odd situation resulted in a net reduction of gas flow from the well as a consequence of the com­ pressor installation. The reason for this detrimental effect was that the wellhead compressor was too small.

FUEL SAVINGS IDEA One method to achieve significant fuel economies on a wellhead compressor, is to utilize the flash gas vented from the low pressure, three phase separator, as compressor fuel. Assuming that the com­ pressor suction pressure is 300 psig, and the low pressure separator pressure is 30 psig, the equivalent of 1,000 SCF of 1,000 BTU nat­ ural gas, will be evolved from the low pressure separator, for every two barrels of condensate collected. For example, a well serviced by a sixty horsepower compressor produces twelve BSD of natural gasoline. Tying in the low pressure separator vent gas to the com­ pressor fuel gas knock-out drum will reduce the net compressor fuel gas consumed by fifty percent.

SUMMARY The objective in adjusting field compressor operations is to maximize the use of available engine horsepower while simultane­ ously maximizing wellhead pressure by keeping the tubing velocity above the entrainment velocity. Compressor rod loading (or high dis­ charge temperature) limits are minimized by adjusting inter-stage pressure with the head-end cylinder clearance valve.

4 6

TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

TABLE 4-1

WELLHEAD COMPRESSION

4 7

liquid will carry-over from the high pressure separator and trip the compressor unless the 3-phase separator pressure is reduced.

 

FIELD TROUBLESHOOTING

CHECKLIST

16. About one out of three wells will start making water "hits"

FOR WELLHEAD

COMPRESSORS

when the compressor suction is dropped significantly. Usually

1.

Check interstage line temperatures to determine which valves have been removed from a cylinder.

the high pressure separator will not be able to drain suffic­ iently fast for the first hour. It needs to be drained manually for this period. Such wells will double or triple their gas flow after

2.

Remove disabled valves, cages, and valves in ends taken out of

making the water hits.

service and replace with gaskets. This reduces parasitic

17. Some wells, after making water hits exhibit a n increasing well­

pressure loss.

hea d pressure . This may tri p off

th e compressor due to overload.

3.

By-pass crank-end when not in use through fuel gas lines.

Is engine exhaust temperature at least 600°F? Lower temper­

18. Is compressor at maximum rpm?

4.

Saves horsepower.

19. Some engines bog down below rated horsepower due to inade­ quate fuel gas flow.

ature indicates inadequate compressor utilization.'

20. Check liquid dumps for leakage (i.e. dump line is cool).

5.

Is engine "missing" more than ten times a minute? This also indicates inadequate engine utilization.

21. Is compressor suction pressure not less than 20 psi below well­ head pressure?

6-

Can a dual acting machine operating on crank-end be changed to head-end?

22. Is discharge to suction bypass check valve leaking and/or blocked-in?

7.

Can a dual acting machine operating on head-end have the cylinder clearance reduced?

23. Does metered flow match the flow predicted by curve charts? About 20% of the time they do not match. Indicates bad valves

8.

Can a dual acting machine operating on head-end be switched

in cylinders or wrong meter reading.

to dual acting without exceeding rod loading, maximum exhaust temperature or maximum horsepower?

24. For compressor's with meters on suction, is the engine fuel gas flow being deducted from royalty payments.

9.

Can tandem machine operating on crank-end be switched to head-end?

25. Is fuel gas from the suction of the compressor? On average, a compressor will use 2% — 5% of it's production for fuel. For

26. Is a well soap-sticked and flowed back properly?

10.

Is a tandem machine, operating on head-end, limited by max­

tandem machines operating at maximum this can be a much

imum rod load and/or discharge temperature? If so, correct by going to tandem operation.

higher percentage.

11.

Are there any bad valves indicated by hot valve caps (suction valves can easily be identified as bad).

27. Remember that the discharge temperature from a compressor will increase as the well pressure is depleted.

12.

When switching to tandem, do not maximize gas production first day. Compressor will have a tendency to trip-off due to high discharge temperature.

13.

When operating a compressor in tandem, the crank-end dis­ charge temperature can be reduced at constant suction pressure and flow by closing the head-end clearance pocket and slowing down the machine. However, this is a small effect.

14.

Opening a clearance pocket to reduce discharge temperature will immediately raise the discharge temperature! However, once the wellhead pressure rises due to less gas being moved, the discharge temperature will drop.

4 8

TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

REFERENCES

1. J.O.

Duggan

"Estimating

Flow

Rate

Required

to

Keep

Gas

*

Wells

Unloaded".

J.

Pet.

Tech.

(December

1961)

p.

1173.

2. R.V.

Smith

"Practical

Natural

Gas

Engineering,

Pennwell

 

Publications (1983) pgs. 204-210.

5

PROCESS COOLING IN REMOTE LOCATIONS

Those of us trained in the process industry think in terms of circulating cooling water or electric powered fans when we envision a cooling operation. None of this applies in the gas fields. Power to provide cooling is supplied by auxiliary drives connected to gas dri­ ven engines. There are three basic cooling functions required in the gas fields:

• Natural gas compressor discharge.

• Engine cooling water.

• Combustion air discharge from a turbocharger.

Air, rather than water, is the usual heat sink employed in gas fields. As an approach temperature of less than 20° is difficult to achieve in an air cooler, summer-time cooling is often marginal. For example, with 105°F ambient conditions, one would not expect to be able to cool a compressor discharge below 115°F to 120°F.

GAS COOLING

Underground gas transmission pipelines are externally wrapped in a protective plastic type coating. Gas temperatures in excess of 130°F to 140"F can cause embrittlement and eventual failure of this coating. For this reason, the usual industry practice is to specify that natural gas discharging into a transmission pipeline be cooled to less than 120°F. Also gas entering a pipeline is cooled to promote efficient glycol dehydration. For example, with an ordinary triethylene glycol dehydration unit, operating at a 900 PSIG contac­ tor temperature, an inlet gas temperature of not more than 125°F

49

50 TROUBLESHOOTING

NATURAL GAS

PROCESSING

is necessary to meet pipeline moisture

Natural gas effluent from a compressor is typically 150°F to 200°F. Wellhead gas from high pressure wells is also in this tem­

perature range. Most often, gas is cooled in a fin-fan air cooler as shown in figure 5-1. The fan is rotated by a belt drive powered by

a compressor's engine. Alternately, the fan may be powered by cir­ culating high pressure oil.

specifications.

NATURAL GAS I N

NO'F-

GAS

COMPRESSOR

=$£ =

20O"F

AIR OUTLET-N

LOURVERS

I

mm

BELT

GAS

ENGIN E

PULLEYS

FUEL-

Figur e 5—1

£ I20°F

COOLED

GAS

OUT

Ga s field cooler .

WHAT CAN GO WRONG

Air cooling is deceptively simple. For instance, I have encountered the following problems while troubleshooting air coolers:

Air leakage around the tube bundle. Fan speed too low. Belts loose. Fan blade pitch wrong. External tube fouling. Internal tube fouling. Maldistribution ofgas in parallel tube passes. Excessive number oftubes plugged. Pass-partition baffle leaking. Excessive gas inlet temperature.

PROCESS COOLING IN REMOTE LOCATIONS

51

HEAT TRANSFER COEFFICIENTS

To check the overall performance of a fin-fan exchanger being used to cool natural gas, the exchanger's heat transfer coefficient "U", should be calculated as follows:

where

U

=

Q

T.A

A

=

Extended tube surface area, ft 2 .

Q

=

Duty, based on specific heat, mass flow and temperature reduction of the gas being cooled, BTU's per hour.

T

= The log mean temperature driving force between the air and natural gas, °F.

A typical value for "U", when cooling 800 to 1000 PSIG gas 3/4" O.D. tubes is four to five BTU's/HR/°F/Ft 2 . Coefficients

using

much lower than this value indicate fouling or a leaking tube-side pass partition baffle. The only difficulty in calculating the heat transfer coefficient is obtaining a representative temperature for the exchanger air outlet temperature. A hand held digital pyrometer is about the best solution to this problem.

INSUFFICIENT AIR FLOW If the air flow existing from the tube bundle is hotter than the effluent gas, the chances are there is insufficient air flow to properly cool the gas. In particular, if the air temperature blowing out of the effluent end of the tube bundle is only 10°-15° cooler than the effluent gas, lack of air flow is almost certainly the culprit.

FAN TIP SPEED Most fans are designed for a maximum fan tip speed of 14,000 feet per minute. To calculate the tip speed of the fan, do not calcu­ late the fan rpm, from the pulley size and driver speed. The belts may be slipping. Measure the fan speed directly with a tachometer. Then calculate the fan tip speed as follows:

where

F =

3.14

. 2ir. (RPM)

.

(F)

=

Fan blade length, ft.

T.S.

52 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

T.S.

=

Fan tip speed, ft./min.

If T.S. is less than 14;000 feet per minute, first check the ten­ sion of th e fan belts. Next, for fans powered via a belt drive from a gas driven engine, determine if the fan speed corresponds correctly to the engine speed:

 

Fan RPM

=

Engine RPM X (PDE/PDF)

where

PDE

=

Diameter of the fan pulley

PDF

=

Diameter of the engine pulley

The smaller the pulley (also called a sheave) the faster the fan speed. A number of standard size pulleys for fans are readily avail­ able. For example, if you decided more air flow was needed on a cooler, and the calculated fan tip speed was only 10,000 feet per minute, a smaller pulley could be placed on the fan. For instance, changing a 24" pulley to a 20" pulley (both are standard sizes) would increase the fan tip speed to 12,000 feet per minute. The end result of such a reduction in pulley size would then be:

• Air flow would increase by 20% (i.e., linear with fan speed.

• The pressure head developed by the fan should increase by 44% (i.e., fan speed squared).

• The engine horsepower consumed by the fan would increase by 73% (i.e., fan speed cubed)

As the horsepower absorbed by a fan is typically in the three five percent range of total engine horsepower, th e 73% increment

to

to obtain an increase in cooling air flow of 20% is normally not pro­

hibitive. Caution: It is good engineering practice to check with the fan manufacturer prior to reducing the size of th e fan pulley.

FAN BLADE PITCH

Air flow from a fan will vary considerably with th e blade pitch. The pitch is adjustable. To save engine horsepower, an operator may set the blade pitch at 15° during the winter. During the summer, he may attempt to maximize air flow by setting th e blade pitch up to maximum—22.5°. Almost all fan cooler blades are adjustable over this range.

th e finned tube bundle by

air by-passing the bundle. Especially in older units, the tube bundle may no longer "square-up" with the fan's frame very well. Seal the leaking areas with strips of sheet metal.

Watch for loss of air flow through

PROCESS COOUNG IN REMOTE LOCATIONS

5 3

is attributed to moths. In their uncounted millions, these tiny kamikazes clog the tube bundle. Along with dust and other assorted bugs, moths must be hydro-blasted from the exterior of tube bundles several times a year.

GAS SIDE PROBLEMS Whenever finned—tubed cooling bundles are arranged in paral­ lel, as shown in figure 5-2, a potential exists for poor cooling due to gas maldistribution. A low gas outlet temperature from an in­ dividual bundle is indicative of lack of gas flow through that bundle. To correct this situation, measure the total pressure drop across the coolers. Next, install restriction orifices in the inlet of each bundle, with openings calculated to double the observed pressure drop. This should bring the outlet temperatures from each bundle reasonably close together. If not, take the tube bundle with the low gas outlet temperature off-line for hydro-blasting of the tube side.

PASS PARTITION LEAKAGE Figure 5-3 illustrates the function of the pass partition baffle in a two pass air cooled bundle. If this baffle starts leaking, hot inlet

220°F ^

COMPRESSOR

DISCHARGE

IOO°F

wwww

MWW W

I80°F

1

COOLED

GAS

■I60°F

sIDLE

ONT- O-PA

OLE

5 4

2

>

TRCKIBLESHOOTfNG NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

<]

UJ

Q x

< o

uJ"

X

^

2

.1—

%K

<

c?5o

U_(— CD O

o

»—

<

Wt-

incc

5t^f

a. a.

\

\

oo

oo

o o

oo

oo

oo

oo

oo

o o

oo

oo

oo

oo

oo

oo

oo

3

PROCESS COOLING IN REMOTE LOCATIONS

55

gas bypasses the tubes and flows directly to the outlet. To trou- bleshoot this problem, see if the temperature at the back end of the bundle is cooler than the gas outlet temperature. If so, a leaking pass partition baffle is positively to blame for the high gas cooler outlet temperature.

EXCESSIVE GAS INLET TEMPERATURE There are three factors which increase an air cooler's inlet tem­ perature:

c

'o

UJ

(0

0)

.c

O D

O to aj

o

-a

(0

• The compressor valves are faulty.

• The compression ratio has increased.

• High pressure, high temperature natural gas is being produced from the wellhead.

For air coolers limited by air flow (as opposed to inadequate

heat transfer surface area) a 10°F increase in compressor discharge

temperature may increase the air cooler outlet temperature by 5 - 8°F. The correlation between compression ratio and temperature rise is presented in Chapter 7. "Troubleshooting Reciprocating Compres­ sors." Temperature rises above those obtained from this correlation indicate bad compressor valves (plates or springs broken) or, less commonly, leakage across the piston rings in a double-acting cylin­ der.

Depending on the compression ratio, a 10°F increase in the compressor inlet pressure will translate into a considerably larger increase in compressor discharge temperature. Thus, it is conceiva­ ble that the cooler outlet temperature may increase due to the effect of putting high temperature wells on line.

(0

XI

c

o

+3

CO

GLYCOL DEHYDRATORS INCREASE GAS TEMPERATURE

We invariably cool the compressor discharge prior to dehydra­

tion. Unfortunately, natural gas will be reheated—sometimes by 10°F — in a typical gas field dehydration contactor. This occurs be­

a. cause of two factors:

to

Q.

c

01

• The circulating glycol may be 70° hotter than the contactor gas

inlet temperature.

• The heat of condensation or absorption of the water vapor contained in the wet natural gas must be dissipated into the dried natural gas.

(T»

1 If the glycol contactor is properly designed (see chapter 6) this temperature rise will not effect dehydration efficiency. However, transmission temperatures will increase.

5 6

TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

HYDRAULIC DRIVEN COOLIMG FANS As electricity is normally not available in remote locations, the use of hydraulic powered fans is not uncommon. Normally, a cir­ culating hydraulic oil pump is powered by a belt drive from an en­ gine driving a compressor. The pressurized oil flows to an hydraulic motor which is used to rotate the fan blades, Any reduction in the discharge pressure of the circulating hydraulic oil pump will reduce the fan's speed. Other than reduced engine speed, increased clear­ ance between the pump's impeller and wear ring due to erosion, is the usual cause of a decrease in hydraulic oil pressure.

ENGINE COOLING WATER The finned tube bundle used to dissipate engine heat is nor­ mally placed in the same structure as the gas cooling bundle. Hence, troubleshooting engine cooling problems are similar to those difficul­ ties encountered in gas cooling; with two exceptions:

• On start-up, you may find that it is impossible to adequately cool the circulating engine water. One 4000 horsepower recip­ rocating machine that I was attempting to bring on-line re­ peatedly tripped-off due to high engine water temperature. I was at the point of concluding that there was something rad­ ically wrong with the water circulation through the cooler, when a more experienced operator corrected the problem. By opening the vent on the header box shown in figure 5—3, he re­ stored the air cooler's heat exchange capacity. The tube bundle had become "vapor bound"; air was trapped in the header box and the upper rows of tubes. This trapped air prevented the cir­ culation of hot engine water through the majority of the tube bundle.

• Increased impeller tip to wear ring clearance inside the engine cooling water circulation pump can cause high engine water outlet temperatures. Lower than normal pump discharge pressures, accompanied by a low air cooler water outlet temp­ erature, is indicative of this type of pump defficiency.

TURBOCHARGER DISCHARGE COOLERS A turbocharger is nothing more than a small, single stage, cen­ trifugal air compressor powered by the engine exhaust gas. If a re­ ciprocating engine is limited by the power cylinder exhaust temper­ ature (as most are), reducing the turbocharger discharge tempera­ ture by after-cooling will expand the engine's horsepower rating. This can be accomplished by passing the turbocharger discharge (i.e. compressed combustion air) through a shell and tube cooler. Lack of

PROCESS COOLING IN REMOTE LOCATIONS

57

cooling water circulation, through the tubes, as indicated by a high water outlet temperature, is one common difficulty. A high water inlet temperature is a sign of a problem with the air cooler used to remove the heat picked-up by the cooling water circulating through the turbocharger after-cooler. Note that the shell side pressure drop for the compressed air should be only a few inches of water. A high air pressure drop through the turbocharger discharge after-cooler will reduce a reciprocating engine's horsepower output.

Section

Troubleshooting At The Dehydration & Compression Station

"Even so-called 'complex questions' are not complex but rather a composite of simple questions. If you break it down, it becomes a series of simple questions; you solve one at a time, and then you put them together" Paul Treen, Inventor of the Automobile Thermostat, and the Bicycle Kickstand.

6

GLYCOL DEHYDRATION

Natural gas transported through common carrier pipelines must meet a moisture specification of 7 pounds of water per MMscf. Gas is usually dried to meet this requirement by scrubbing with a concentrated glycol solution. Figure 6-1 shows a standard glycol contactor tower, regenerator, and pump. Gas flows into the bottom of this tower where entrained water and naphtha drop out and are withdrawn under level control. The upflowing gas is contacted with the circulating glycol and dried. The glycol is pressured from the contractor to the regenerator, where it is heate d to it s boiling point to drive off water . Typically, 100 pounds of circulating glycol absorbs 3—4 pounds of water. After cool­ ing, the reboiled glycol is pumped back to the contractor tower. On the surface it would not seem possible that much could go awry with such a simple system. But, of course, the experienced pro­ cess operator knows that it is only a matter of time for anything that can go wrong to go wrong. As a case in point, consider the op­ eration of the glycol circulating pump. This ingenious positive displacement pump is driven by ex­ panding gas withdrawn along with the wet glycol, from the contac­ tor tower (see Figure 6-1). The speed of this pump is set by a small valve that controls the amount of expanding gas emitted into the pump. An operator judges the amount of glycol circulation based on the audible strokes made by the pumps internals. The quicker the strokes, the greater the glycol circulation. But suppose the pump has developed mechanical problems that reduce the volume of glycol normally pumped per stroke? Or perhaps the pump internals have deteriorated to the point that

59

60 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

GLYCOL DEHYDRATION

61

glycol circulation has stopped. Since glycol drying units are not nor­ mally equipped with flow meters on the circulating glycol, how can the process operator of the troubleshooting engineer recognize the problem.

GLYCOL PUMP DEFICIENCIES Our company's natural gas dehydration station was located in

a picturesque section of the desert just south of El Gringo, Texas.

I arrived there one evening to consult on excessive moisture prob­

lems in our gas shipments. The dehydration station consisted of six drying towers, each served by a dedicated glycol reboiler and pump. For the past two weeks the combined effluent gas from these six towers had become progressively wetter. Finally, the owner of the pipeline who received our gas drew the line: either we dried our gas to the 7 Ib/MMscf specification within two days, or we would have our connection to the pipeline blocked in. I had no idea which of the six parallel con­ tactor towers was not drying the gas.

INDICATIONS OF REDUCED GLYCOL CIRCULATION The first oddity I noticed was the noise from the vents as­ sociated with the individual reboilers. As Figure 6-1 shows, the ex­ panding gas, used to drive the glycol pumps is also used as fuel to reboil the glycol. The excess gas not burned in the reboiler is vented under pressure control to the atmosphere. When the efficiency of the glycol pump is reduced due to mechanical problems, two factors act to increase excess gas venting:

• The reboiler firing rate drops because less glycol must be re­ heated.

• The amount of gas flowing from the tower to the glycol pump increases because there is less glycol liquid to restrict the flow of gas.

Hence, the net result of a reduction in glycol circulation rate due to reduced pumping efficiency is increased venting of excess nat­ ural gas. Of the six vents (one for each reboiler), only one was blow­ ing hard. I also observed that the main burner on this particular re­ boiler was rarely on. Note: Temperature control on glycol reboilers works hke your home heater—either full on or full off. Lack of firing on a glycol reboiler—that is, low reboiler heat duty—is another in­ dication of a low glycol circulation rate. The usual cause of glycol pump failure is deterioration of the O ring seals. Next morning, I requested that the suspect pump be

62 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

overhauled.

While this work proceeded, I continued my

investiga­

tion.

GLYCOL REGENERATION TEMPERATURE The gas exiting the top of the contactor in Figure 6-1 can be assumed to be in equilibrium with the reboiled—i.e., dry—glycol. The higher the glycol reboiler temperature, the dryer the glycol. The dryer the glycol, the dryer the treated natural gas. For most of the year in El Gringo, critical control of the glycol reboiler temperature gas was not vital. Relatively cool ambient temperatures maintained the top temperature of the contactor towers below 110°F. But now, in mid-July, this temperature was peaking at 122°F every afternoon. I checked my gas purification data book 1 and calculated that, for the 1,020 psig operating perssure of the contactors, it should be possible to meet the required moisture specification. My calculations were based on a reboiler temperature at 375°F. For triethylene glycol, which is the work horse of the gas drying industry, the maximum recommended reboiler temperature to prevent thermal degradation of the glycol is 400°F. The six El Graingo dehydrator reboilers were all set to hold 375°F. But by checking the actual reboiler temper­ atures with a calibrated thermometer, I determined that one of the reboilers was actually operating at 350°F as opposed to 375°F. This reduced temperature was sufficient to greatly increase the water concentration of the "dry" glycol, so that the moisture content of gas treated with this glycol stream was doubled. A simple recalibration of the reboiler temperature controller rectified this problem. Incidentally, operating a triethylene glycol re­ boiler at 375°F-400°F does not necessarily result in a noticeable in­ crease in glycol degradation. The trick is to keep the glycol filters in good repair. Dirty glycol fouls the reboiler heat-transfer tube. This in turn causes hot spots on the heat-transfer surface, which ac­ celerates thermal decomposition.

LEAKING FEED-EFFLUENT EXCHANGER The hot glycol from the reboiler is cooled by heat exchange with the wet glycol from the contactor. This heat transfer typically takes place in a double-pipe or plate-type exchanger. On one of the double-pipe heat exchangers, I noticed that the reboiled glycol was being cooled to a rather low temperature. I suspected that this could be an indication of a leaking feed-effluent exchanger. That is, cooler (120°F) wet glycol might be leaking into warmer (165°F) dry glycol. To verify my suspicions, I blocked in the dry glycol at the reboiler and at the suction to the pump. The appearance of a steady stream of liquid at an intervening bleeder confirmed that the feed-effluent

GLYCOL DEHYDRATION

63

exchanger was leaking, hi effect, wet glycol was bypassing the re­ boiler and flowing straight back to the contactor tower. After fixing the leak, this reboiler and the units that had suf­ fered from an inefficient pump and a faulty temperature controller were put back on-line. The treated natural gas was checked and found to meet pipeline moisture specifications.

FURTHER IMPROVEMENTS As a follow-up to the above .problem, several other modifica­ tions were made to the El Gringo operation. To extend the life of the glycol pumps' O-ring seals, an aerial cooler, constructed from a section of finned-tube piping, reduced the dry glycol temperature by 20°F. Pumping the cooler glycol halved the amount of maintenance required on the glycol pump. The composition of the glycol was also altered. A 50-50% mix­ ture of tetraethylene-triethylene glycol was substituted for the 100% triethylene glycol. This mixed glycol, while equally as effective for drying as its predecessor, is quite a bit cheaper than 100% triethylene glycol. 2 More important, it can be reboiled at a higher temperature to improve gas drying without encountering thermal decomposition. 3 Not e tha t usin g pur e tetraethylen e glycol, whil e ef­ fective in a process sense, is much more costly than triethylene glycol.

FLOODING DEHYDRATOR TOWERS

The field supervisor's first indication of a flooded contactor tower is usually a report of excessive glycol loss. A check of a low- point bleeder on the gas pipeline downstream of the tower will show glycol. After refilling the glycol reboiler, the level in the reboiler gauge glass noticeably decreases after a few hours. This is a further indication of flooding. Of course, a dehydration system loosing glycol this fast cannot dry natural gas on a continuous basis. One simple explanation of such glycol losses is a leaking dry gas to dry glycol heat exchanger (Figure 6-2). Note that the glycol pressure in this heat exchanger will be slightly higher than the gas pressure. To check for leakage, shu t off and block in th e glycol pump, block in the dry glycol at the contactor tower, and open an intervening bleeder between the pump and the tower. If gas does not blow out of the bleeder, the exchanger is not leaking.

FOULING VS FLOODING A distillation column can flood due to dry damage, undersized liquid downcomers, high liquid level in the bottom of the tower, foul-

64 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

ing, or excessive vapor velocity. Only the latter two difficulties are commonly encountered in natural gas conditioning. The trouble- shooter should first check for flooding due to excessive vapor ve­ locities. The following correlation may be used for trayed columns 2 feet or more in diameter with a standard 2—foot tray spacing:

where

All. scfd

=

2.48/ z \ s g

Pa

Ta

\ 1/2 D S

/

Z

compressibility, typically 0.9 for most

Tower inside diameter, ft

sg

natural gas drying operations Specific gravity of gas relative to air; an 18

Pa

molecular weight gas has a specific gravity of 0.62 Absolute pressure, psia

Ta

Absolute temperature (°F + 460)

D

All. scfd

Maximum volume of gas that can be dried before glycol losses become excessive, ft 3 /day at atmospheric pressure and 60°F

DRY GLYCOL

FROM REBOILER

2psig

,^370° F

250°F

-70 psig

I60°F-

psig-

-75 psig

1/050 psig-

DRY GLYCOL

FROM CONTACTOR

— TO WET GLYCOL FLASH DRUM

, GLYCOL HEAT EXCHANGER

■120° F

GLYCOL-DRIVEN

PUMP

•(,000 psig

WET GLYCOL

FROM CONTACTOR

Figur e 6—2

A leakin g exchange r permit s wet glycol t o bypas s th e reboiler .

GLYCOL DEHYDRATION

65

This equation is not intended for design purposes; rather it is based on field observations for towers exhibiting noticeable but tol- lerable glycol looses. These towers had been in service for some time and had been exposed to a moderate amount of fouling. If the actual volume of gas exceeds the allowable volume as calculated above, you may be confident that an intolerable glycol loss is due to an ex­ cessive vapor velocity. Note that for sizing a new contactor tower, a coefficient of 2.0 in the above equation would be suitable.

PLUGGED TRAYS Drying towers in natural gas service can become rapidly fouled with drilling mud or formation and frac sand. The sand appears in the wellhead gas when the rate of gas production becomes excessive, and the sand is thus sucked out of the formation and into the well's tubing. Drilling mud is found in natural gas for two reasons:

1. A new well is not properly circulated and flowed-back to clear the drilling mud out of the production tubing prior to commis­ sioning.

2. During the drilling operation, excessive mud pressures are accidentally applied to the well, and the drilling mud is thus inadvertently forced into the producing formation. Some of this mud must eventually reappear in the downhole production tubing.

Not infrequently, a dehydrator loses its ability to dry gas from a field in which a new well has been put on-line. When this occurs, the culprit is invariably drilling mud plugging the contactor inter­ nals. For remote locations, one procedure that has proved to work is as follows:

1. A large water truck equipped with a pump to deliver about 50 psig, is sent to the site.

2. The dehydrator tower is blocked in and depressured. Both the tower inlet and outlet are disconnected from the gas piping. A special flange attachment, designed to mate up with a hose connection, is installed on the gas outlet line.

3. A two-inch hose from the discharge of the truck's pump is con­ nected to the dehydrator tower gas outlet line.

4. The pump is started and adjusted so that the pressure at the top of the tower—i.e., the water inlet—is about 5 psig. It is important not to apply too great a pressure because the trays could collapse.

5. Once the water draining from the bottom of the contactor tower

6 6

TROUBLESHOOTING NATCIRAL GAS PROCESSING

appears clear, switch the water inlet to the bottom gas inlet. Over-flow the tower until the water is again clear. The water overflow rate must be substantially higher than the normal glycol circulation rate to obtain enough liquid traffic to effec­ tively wash the trays.

Why, you might ask, it is necessary to initially wash a badly fouled tower from the top, down? A tray plugged with mud will se­ verely restrict the flow of water. The resulting pressure drop may be sustained by the tray when it is pressed down onto the tray sup­ port ring when applied from the bottom of the tray. In more accessible locations, it is a good practice to acidize a contactor tower after water washing. Acidizing consists of circulat­ ing an inhibited hydrochloric acid solution (typically 5% HCI) to the bottom of the tower with an acid truck. This is an effective method to clean contactors without promoting channeling of the gas flow through the trays. Acidizing is especially effective when iron scale deposits make up a portion of the fouling deposits. Including the acid disposal expense, acidizing a drying tower can cost between $20,000-50,000. When hydrocarbon deposits consisting largely of polymers formed in the glycol reboiler are the major fouling compo­ nent, a caustic wash, as opposed to acidizing, is in order. In the caustic washing procedure, a degreaser is also employed. A more elaborate, but thorough, procedure is summarized in Table 6-1.

TABLE 6-1

CHEMICAL CLEANING A DEHYDRATOR CONTACTOR

1. Circulate a solution of 9% sulfamic acid plus 1% citric acid plus 6% degreaser in hot water.

2. Circualte a 5% soda ash solution dissolved in water.

3. Circulate a 1% solution of whichever glycol is being employed.

4. Drain down and refill with concentrated glycol to normal liquid

level.

After G.R. Daviet et al., "Switch to MDEA Raises Capacity." Hydrocarbon Processing, May, 1984.

BLOWN SEAL A sudden surge in gas flow, or a sudden loss in glycol circulation can cause a serious reduction in dehydration efficiency. This happens because the glycol liquid seal on the dehydration contactor tower's trays is lost. When this occurs, and gas starts flowing up the down- comers shown in figure 6—1. In effect, gas is now by-passing the efficient

GLYCOL DEHYDRATION

67

contacting that takes place on the tray deck. The glycol cannot refill the downcomer pipes and displace the up flowing gas until the end of the downcomer pipe is resealed (i.e. submerged) in the glycol on the tray decks. Once unsealed, it is necessary to slow down, or even stop, the gas flow to the contactor to permit the downcomer pipes to refill with glycol. A blown seal in a glycol dehydration contactor is also indicated by glycol carry-over into the effluent gas stream. Depending on the configeration of the glycol reboiler, a low liquid level will be observed in either the gas-wet glycol separator or the dry glycol surge compart­ ment of the reboiler. To re-establish the glycol seal on one six bubble cap tray dehyd­ ration tower, I observed an operator block in the gas flow to the tower and then continue normal glycol circulation for thirty minutes before re-establishing natural gas flow.

DEHYDRATION CAPACITY VS TEMPERATURE

Three process requirements must be met for gas to be dried in a standard glycol dehydration unit:

1. The gas velocity through the contactor tower must not be great enough to entrain glycol into the dried gas. Theoretically, the entrainment of glycol does not interfere with drying. In practice, the continuous loss of glycol will knock a drying plant off-line as the unit's inventory of glycol disappears. Incidentally, it is not possible to measure the water content of gas containing a glycol mist.

2. The glycol pump must have the capacity to circulate enough glycol to absorb the water vapor contained in the natural gas. Of course, hotter gas can contain more water vapor. Increasing the gas temperature from 80°F to 100°F may double its water content.

3. The glycol reboiler must have a sufficient heat-duty capacity to regenerate the glycol at a high enough temperature to adequately dehydrate the gas.

As the temperature of the gas flowing through a

contactor tower rises, its capacity will decrease as follows:

dehydration

C 2 =

C 1 f

%

+ 460

V 2

\ T 2 + 460 J

where

C 2

Cj

=

=

Contactor capacity at temperature T 2 , °F

Contactor capacity at temperature T lf "F

6 8

TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

If a tower temperature increases from 80°F to 120 C F, a tower's capacity will decrease by barely 3V2%. On the other hand, the amount of glycol circulation may or may not greatly increase as the gas inlet temperature rises. Figure 6-3 clarifies this point. A large booster compressor is serving a con­ centrated gas field. The gas produced from the wells enters the com­ pressor's suction scrubber at a temperature independent of seasonal fluctuations. However, the aerial cooler on the compressor's dis­ charge cools the gas to 80° in the winter versus 120°F in the sum­ mer. Question: How much more glycol circulation is required to dry the gas? The requisite data to perform the calculation are given in Figure 6-^4.

SUCTION

SCRUBBER

SATURATED

GAS

FROM

WELLS

70 0

, PSig

70

Q

F

I5CTF

-e 1,030

psig

COMPRESSOR

DRY

AERIAL

COOLER

VWW

OfO

GASr -

DRY GLYCOLy-

WET

GLYCOLr-

80

T

F-WINTER

I20°F -SUMMER

/^\

,000

psig

CONTACTOR

uu

v^

Figur e 6—3

Superheate d

ga s require s les s glyco l circulatio n tha n saturate d

gas.

GLYCOL DEHYDRATION

69

At first glance, it would appear that three or four times as much glycol circulation is required. But remember that the 120°F compressed gas is not saturated with water vapor; it is really superheated. The compressed gas will have the same water content until it is cooled by the aerial cooler to below its dewpoint, in this

case 79°F. If a contactor tower with 10—15 trays were employed, there would likely be no effect at all on glycol circulation require­ ment. For the typical 6-tray contactor, industry correlations indicate that an additional 10-30% of glycol circulation is needed; that is, far less that the 300—400% required if the gas were saturated with

water at the compressor

Suppose, however, that the gas coming out of the ground is hot, perhaps 110°F. This gas, after compression and cooling to 1,000 psig and 120°F, would be saturated with moisture. Then, during winter operation, when the gas is cooled to 80°F, only one-third as much glycol circulation would be required as in the summertime. The con­ densed water corresponding to the difference in water content of 110°F, 700 psig gas vs 80°F, 1,000 psig gas would drop out in the bottom section of the contactor tower.

discharge

temperature. 4

t

CD

LJ

-z.

o

o

cc

UJ

I

160

140

120

100

80

60

401

20[

Figur e 6—4

6 0

70

SATURATED

8<>

9(5

lOO"

GAS TEMPEPATURE^F

Th e wate r conten t of saturate d gas .

HO"

rfo

70 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

INCREASING GLYCOL CIRCULATION The minimum circulation rate for a glycol dehydration contac­ tor is determined by the temperature and pressure of the natural gas at the station inlet. Locating a compressor upstream of the de­ hydration tower does not particularly change the required glycol cir­ culation rate. I have observed on several occassions that once the glycol circulation rate fell below two gallons of glycol per pound of absorbed water, the moisture content of the dried gas would sub­ stantially increase the amount of water in a natural gas stream (making the proper assumption that the gas is saturated at the sta­ tion inlet) may be calculated from Figure 6-4.

In one instance, I was troubleshooting a glycol contactor that was drying gas to only 8.5 lbs. of water per million SCF. I calculated th e glycol rat e and determine d tha t only 1.5 gallons of glycol per pound of water was being circulated. When I asked the station operator to increase the circulation rate, he reported that the gas driven glycol pump was already running with it's speed control valves wide open and hence there was no way he could increase the pump's speed beyond it's current 27 strokes per minute.

rectify

changes (refer to Figure

To

this

defficiency,

6-1):

I made the following operating

• The heat exchangers downstream of the net glycol side of the gas driven glycol pump were by-passed.

• More significantly, the pressure in the wet glycol flash drum was reduced from 80 psig to 30 psig. (Note that one cannot reduce the pressure in this drum below that required to provide adequate fuel gas pressure to the reboiler burner.)

The above steps reduced the back-pressure against the expend­ ing gas used to drive the glycol pump. The pump speed increased from 27 to 36 strokes per minute and the glycol circulation rate rose to two gallons per pound of water absorbed. Concurrently, the dried gas moisture level dropped to it's required pipeline specification of 7.0 pounds of water per million SCF.

GLYCOL CIRCULATION VS TRAY CAPACITY If a 300% increase of glycol circulation is truly needed due to hotter saturated gas, will not this increased liquid rate affect the contactor's tray capacity? After all, in distillation column design, liquid flow rate over the tray weir is an important correlating parameter. A glycol drying operation uses very small liquid rates in com­ parison to a distillation column. A typical 6—foot diameter drying

GLYCOL DEHYDRATION

71

tower may use 15 gpm of glycol flow, whereas a distillation tower of the same size may have 300 gpm of liquid flowing across its trays. Doubling or halving the glycol circulation rate does not appreciably affect the depth of liquid on the trays, and hence, it does not alter the trays' capacity. In simplest terms, a drying tower cannot be made to flood by speeding up the glycol circulation pump unless the glycol downcomers are partially plugged.

TRAY DESIGN To accommodate low liquid rates, trays of the design pictured in Figure 6-5 are widely used in drying towers. The depth of liquid on the tray deck is such that the slots in the bubble caps are sub­ merged. This forces the upflowing vapors to bubble up through the glycol. The depth of liquid on the tray is maintained by the height that the dual downcomer pipes protrude above the tray floor. The edges of these pipes are the equivalent of the straight outlet weir used on conventional distillation trays; the main difference is that there is very little height of liquid over the weir in glycol service due to the extremely low liquid rates.

Figure 6—5 A bubble cap tray with pipe downcomers (courtesy Smith Industries).

72 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

Valve trays are used in leiu of bubble-cap trays in some drying columns. Valve trays are less expensive than bubble-cap trays and generally exhibit about 10% more capacity. In a practical sense, these advantages are outweighed by the superior turndown ratio of bubble-cap trays. I once had an occasion to run a field test on two drying towers operating in parallel. Both towers had the same number of trays. The bubble-cap trayed column dried its natural gas

feed to 7.5 lb H 2 0/MMscf at a flow rate varying from 70-95% of de­

tray column produced 9.8 lb H 2 0/MMscf at 65% of

sign. The valve

design capacity and 8.4 lb H 2 0/MMscf at 90% of its design gas flow rate. I attribute this improved performance of the valve tray to re­ duced glycol leakage through the valves as the gas flow is increased. By contrast, a bubble-cap tray deck is leakproof.

CONVERTING TO PARALLEL DEHYDRATOR OPERATION

A large dehydration station was servicing an area of declining pro­

duction. As gas flow was reduced, both the gas field and dehydration glycol contactor pressures spiraled down. After five years of opera­ tion, the contactor pressure and flow had declined from an initial 1050 psig and 335 MM SCFD respectively to 650 psig and 195 MM SCFD. Due to the location of a large number of wellhead compres­ sors, the summertime gas inlet temperature to the glycol contactor towers would peak in the late afternoons at 125°F. At 650 psig and 125°F inlet temperature, the gas could not be dried to pipeline specifications. The operating supervisor noted that reducing the gas flow and increasing the glycol flow to individual towers did not im­ prove the situation. Increasing the glycol reboiler temperature from 390°F to 420°F made a positive reduction in the moisture content of the dried gas. Unfortunately, the 420°F reboiler tempreature caused excessive rates of glycol degradation and consequent plugging of the glycol filters.

One day the operating supervisor noted that one of the five towers that operated in parallel was producing pipeline specification dried gas. This tower was equipped with eight bubble cap trays; whereas the other four towers had only four trays. The evidence all indicated that the dehydration operation was limited by equilibrium considerations and not by gas through-put rates. Based on these observations, the operating supervisor decided

to re-arrange the contactors in a series configeration. This revised

flow scheme is shown in Figure 6-6. Each of the two, four bubble- cap tray towers were paired-off, so that the natural gas flowed through eight bubble-cap trays. The circulating glycol was left to op­ erate in parallel on each pair of towers. This permitted the gas to

GLYCOL DEHYDRATION

73

contact dry glycol twice while transversing the paired towers.

The result of this modification was to reduce the moisture con­

tent

of the dried gas from nine pounds to six pounds of water per

MM

SCFD, without any reduction in drying capacity.

WET

GLYCOL

J L

T

TO

DRY

GLYCOL

CONDENSATE

TANKS

ORY

GAS

I-

H-

J

L

T

DRY

GLYCOL

WET

Figur e 6—6

GAS

Retrofitting for serie s operatio n t o enhanc e drying.

WET

GLYpOL

7 4

TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

THE CRITICAL VARIABLE—REBOILER TEMPERATURE Even if gas is superheated so that it does not contain any more moisture than a colder stream, it is much harder to dry. On one

tower that was drying gas to 10 lb H 2 0/MMscf, I tried to improve

dryin g b y doublin g th e

fect was nil. Only when I raised the glycol reboiler regeneration temperature by 10°F did the moisture content of the tower effluent gas diminish. It is all a matter of top tray equilibrium. That is, the moisture content of the dried gas cannot be any lower than the par­ tial pressure of water in the glycol leaving the reboiler. The temperature at which this equilibrium limit applies is the mixed temperature of the dried glycol and the wet gas plus the heat of condensation of the moisture removed with the glycol. Note that in this calculation of the temperature of the gas is typically 25 times more significant than the temperature of the glycol. As a rule of thumb, the glycol reboiler temperatures should be increased by 10°F for every 5°F increase in the equilibrium top tray temperature of the contactor tower. Therefore, if you are drying gas from the discharge of an aerial cooler, you must raise your reboiler temperature by 10°F when the ambient temperature rises by 5°F to maintain a constant moisture specification in your dried gas. And remember, this is true regardless of the water content or flow rate of the wet gas. The capacity of a contactor tower drying natural gas is not sig­ nificantly reduced durin g hot weather , If, as th e weathe r gets warmer, an operator neglects to increase the glycol circulation rate, it may appear to him that he must cut the tower's gas rate to main­ tain on-spec gas. Or he may run out of the reboiler heat duty re­ quired to heat the glycol sufficiently in hotter weather and also at­ tribute this deficiency to excessive tower throughput. The fact of the matter is, however, that given sufficient glycol circulation of the proper moisture content, a contactor will properly dry natural gas until the trays in the tower flood.

glycol rat e an d halvin g th e ga s rate . Th e ef­

OVERHEATING GLYCOL

The

maximum

recommended

glycol reboiling are:

temperatures

for

Diethylene

340°F

Triethylene

400°F

Tetraethylene

430°F

continuous

Exceeding these temperatures is a self-defeating process. The glycol will begin to degrade. In this state it tends to foam in the contactor

GLYCOL DEHYDRATION

75

and cause premature flooding. A black, viscous glycol solution indi­ cates that heavy hydrocarbons are carrying over in the gas to the contactor. A sweet, burnt-sugar smell, accompanied by a low pH and

a dark but still transparent solution, signals that thermal degrada­

tion is occurring in the reboiler. 5 Salt laydown on the reboiler heater surface also produces the sweet smell indicative of glycol degrada­ tion.

The best way to improve drying when limited by the contactor

top tray equilibrium is to use stripping gas in the reboiler. This is

a patented process (U.S. Patent No. 4,179,328) and involves the in­

jection of natural gas into the boiling liquid phase of the glycol re­ boiler. A horizontal sparger pipe is used to distribute the stripping gas, which reduces the partial pressure of steam in the reboiler and

hence results in a drier glycol. The moisture content of the dried gas

reduced by several lb H 2 0/MMscf using stripper gas. Several

scf per gallon of glycol circulated is a typical stripping gas rate. Un­

vented off th e reboiler to th e at­

mosphere and lost. Figure 6-7 shows an alternate design for injecting stripping gas into a glycol reboiler. A mini-stripping tower is welded onto the back end of the over-flow baffle inside the reboiler. The "tower" con­ sists of a box packed with one foot of 1/2" ceramic berl saddles. The required cross-sectional area of the box is calculated as if it was a packed column. A support grid is attached to the bottom of the box, the reboiled glycol pours into the box across the over-flow baffle. The entire assembly may be purchased as a retrofit kit from Smith In­ dustries. Field tests have shown that stripping gas injected into a glycol reboiler, fitted with this type of facility, produces drier glycol than adding stripping gas through the sparger pipe described above.

can be

fortunately, all of th e striper gas

is

LOBE OIL IN GLYCOL

An operator once asked me to inspect his dehydrator to deter­

normal

mine the cause of excessive moisture in dried gas. All the

parameters checked out

O.K.:

• Reboiler temperature high enough to regenerate the glycol.

• Adequate glycol circulation.

• Stripping gas on.

• Contactor temperature and pressure adequate to achieve proper dehydration. What could the problem be? I asked the operator, a quick wit-

ted fellow called Little Red, if he was experiencing unusual glycol losses. Sometimes severe flooding and carry-over of glycol into the

dried gas will cause an increase in the gas moisture's

content.

7 6

TROUBLESHOOTING NATCIRAL GAS PROCESSING

"Not only are we not losing any glycol", he responded, "but we actually seem to be gaining. I've noticed that my liquid level in the surge compartment at the end of the glycol reboiler (see Figure 6-8) has come up recently." My first thought on hearing his comment was that a large quantity of compressor lube oil had leaked into the gas stream and commingled with the circulating glycol accumulated in the reboiler. I checked the amount of oil in the reboiler sight glass and noted an inch or two of brownish oil floating atop the glycol. "There doesn't appear to be much oil in the reboiler," I ob­ served; "but to be safe, let's open up the skimming valve (see Figure 6-8) an d drai n off th e oil tha t is there. "

GLYCOL

FROM

REBOILER

600 G/H>

STRIPPING

GAS

1300 SCFH

GLYCOL TO

COOLER

*1

CVJ

*

_H

I" BERL

SADDLES

T

VENT

T 0

< REBOILER

l'/2"

-|5j 3 /IS" HOLES

Figur e 6—7

External giycol strippe r reduce s moistur e in drie d ga s by two pounds of water per MM SCF.

Q_j

_J_i

/uJ(o

O O

GLYCOL DEHYDRATION

7 7

o

"o

u

_>,

o

.2

I

<v a.

M

ja en

CO

a>

CO

3

£0

CO

I

f

I

78 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

After expressing his dissatisfaction with an activity that was transparently a waste of time, Little Red complied. To our mutual surprise, several barrels of a dirty, heavy, hydrocarbon liquid was removed. "Mr. Lieberman", asked Little Red, "I don't understand this at all. The volume of oil we have drained from the glycol surge com­ partment is greater then the volume of the entire compartment— even if it was full! But it wasn't full. The liquid level in the sight glass was below the internal baffle. And even now, after we have drained so much oil, there is still a liquid level in the sight glass. Where did all this oil come from?" "Pump a few barrels of glycol back into the reboiler and I'll draw a picture explaining what happened," I answered. Figure 6-8 is a reproduction of the sketch I made.

To understand this drawing, you need to understand that the level in the sight glass is hot necessarily representative of the level in the reboiler's surge compartment. If the density of the liquid in the sight glass is greater than the density of liquid inside the surge compartment, the liquid level observed in the sight glass will be less than the actual liquid level in the reboiler's surge compartment. (Recall how a two-phase manometer functions). As the hot oil inside the surge compartment had a lower density than the cooler glycol in the sight glass, the liquid level inside the reboiler was actually above the internal baffle. Apparently, a thick layer of lube oil had backed-up over this baffle and covered the boiling layer of glycol on the upstream side of the baffle. It was this layer of oil that Little

Red ha d drained off into th e now steaming barrels. Because of

location of the level taps, the contents of the sight glass (i.e. the ratio of oil to glycol) was not representative of the contents of fluid in the surge compartment.

"So what I thought was an accumulation of glycol in the re­ boiler was really just compressor lube oil picked up by the natural gas," concluded Little Red. "1 suppose the dryer gas we now see is a result of better generation of glycol in the reboiler because the boiling glycol is no longer covered with the heavy oil." "I suspect that's part of the answer. But more to the point, you were likely pumping a mixture of glycol and lube oil back to the contactor. You were really circulating less glycol than you had cal­ culated based on the glycol pump's speed; hence the wet gas." Then what happened to those barrels of glycol that we lost," asked Little Red?

th e

caused the contactor to

foam, and liquid glycol was carried over into the natural gas prod­

uct," I concluded.

"That's

easy; the heavy

hydrocarbon

GLYCOL DEHYDRATION

79

A FINAL WORD In summary, the essence of troubleshooting glycol dehydrators depends on differentiating between capacity and equilibrium prob­ lems. The glycol reboiler temperature and the pressure and gas inlet temperature to the contactor largely control drying equilibrium. The glycol pump, gas rate (on an actual volumetric basis), and the phys­ ical condition of the tower's trays determine the drying system's ca­ pacity limits.

REFERENCES

1. Kohl and Riesenfield's Gas Purification is an excellent data

source for most types of glycol (Houston: Gulf Publishing, 1974)

2. R.J. Verritt, Manager, Glycol Product, KMCO Inc., Crosby, Texas, private communication to N. Lieberman, January 25

1984.

3. Silvano Grosso, "Glycol Choice for Gas Dehydration Merits

Close Study," Oil and Gas Journal, February 13, 1978, pp 107-

111.

4. Smith Industries Inc., Equipment Manual, "Section E: De­ hydrators," Houston, Texas.

5. P.D. Hall et al., "Analytical Techniques Can Pinpoint

Glycol

Problems," Oil and Gas Journal, September 24, 1979, pp. 176-

188.

RECIPROCATING COMPRESSORS

81

7

RECIPROCATING COMPRESSORS

Sitting in the courtroom in New York, I had been napping for several hours, while the drone of litigation provided a soothing lul- labye. Attired in my three-piece suit, I was being compensated quite handsomely as an expert consultant in a gas transportation dispute. Suddenly, my reverie was broken. My client, the operator of a large gas transmission company sat down next to me. "What are you doing here," he said. iE We have problems in El Gringo, Texas and you're fooling around in New York." "But you told me to be here today," I argued. "That has nothing to do with it. We have compression problems in El Gringo. I want you down there as soon as possible.

"I'll be there on Wednesday," I

offered.

"No," my client glared at me. "I want you there today. Leave immediately!" Hopin g for a reprieve , I pleaded , "Bu t 111 rui n m y ne w Italia n shoes. I've only got this suit I'm wearing and there aren't any flights from Kennedy International to the El Gringo Ranchers Co-Op Air­

port." Eight hours later, bathed in the blackness of a humid Texas night, I re-materialized at the compressor station south of El Gringo. "At least I'm the best dressed engineer in Hogg County," I decided. It quickly became apparent why my client was upset. The inlet pressure to the El Gringo compression station had increased from 785 psig to 835 psig, while the transported gas rate had dropped from 100 mm scfd to 90 mm scfd. The pressure downstream of the station held constant at 1085 psig. All this had transpired within a period of two weeks.

80

EVALUATING LOST COMPRESSION HORSEPOWER The first step in troubleshooting reciprocating compressors is to quantify the extent of the problem. How much compression work has actually been lost? An approximate rule of thumb is:

where

 

n

=

P

2

=

P

x

=

Ti

=

HP

=

HP

=

n-

& - 1 Pi

520

MMSCFofgas

Discharge pressure, psia

Suction pressure, psia Suction temperature (460 + °F), *R A number proportional to compression work

Inserting the data from the El Gringo operation in the above equation I found:

H P

(current) =

90 (1100/850 - 1) .520/ 520

=

2JL9

HP

(two weeks ago)

=

100 (1100/800 - 1). 520/520

=37.5

(Note that the station inlet temperature had remained con­

stant at

60°F)

No wonder my client had chased me out of that courtroom in New York: useful compression work had dropped by 28% in just two weeks! The next step in my investigation was to decide if the lost com­ pression work was due to an engine deficiency or a compressor prob­ lem. To ascertain that a gas engine driver is not limiting compres­ sion work, the following questions should all be answered in the affirmative:

• Are all engine exhaust gas temperatures running below maxium?

• Is the compressor running at its rated speed?

• Is the fuel gas manifold pressure below maximum? (At a constant speed, the engines torque is linearly proportioned to the fuel gas manifold pressure.)

• Are all unloader pockets closed?

For the El Gringo station, the answer to the above questions was yes. Hence, it was not the gas engine's fault that I was ruining my expensive Italian shoes. Next, I checked the unloader pockets. An unloader is a mechanical devise used to reduce the capacity of a compression cyl-

82 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

inder, without reducing the compressor's efficiency. Figure 7—1 illus­ trates the function of an unloading pocket. By increasing the clear­ ance between the piston and the cylinder head, the volume of the gas compressed per stroke is reduced. As the engine was not limit­ ing, and we were trying to move maximum gas, all the unloader pockets were closed.

UNLOADER FAILURE Most large transmission compressors are equipped with pneumatically operated, automated unloaders. A mal-functioning un­ loader remains in an open position and thus reduces the capacity of the compressor. To identify this problem, proceed as follows:

• Set the compressor to run at a constant speed.

• Close the suspect unloader pocket and note the effect on the engine's fuel gas manifold pressure.

• If the fuel gas manifold pressure did not increase, the unloader pocket did not really close, and it is probably broken.

Using this technique, I discovered that one end of the compres­ sor's two, double acting cylinders had a defective unloader. This fail­ ure reduced the capacity of the effected cylinder end by 40% and hence reduced the compressor's capacity by 10%. I had now accounted for 10% of the 28% missing horsepower I was searching for. My jacket, vest and tie were secure; but my slacks and dress shirt were well splattered with lube oil. And so, in my well-lubricated attire, I proceeded to take a temperature survey across the cylinders.

COMPRESSION WORK VS. TEMPERATURE RISE A handy rule of thumb to retain for compression troubleshooting

ADJUSTABLE

UNLOADING

POCKET

DISCHARGE

CYLINDER

EAD

PISTON

Figur e 7—1

SUCTION

An unloadin g pocke t reduce s engin e loa d an d volumetri c capacity .

RECIPROCATING COMPRESSORS

8 3

jobs is that the theoretical temperature increase of gas due to com­ pression is linearly proportional to compression horsepower. An ex­ tremely useful application of this rule of thumb is the following ap­ proximation:

where

T 3 - Tj

~

(P 2 / Pi

- 1)

T x , T 2

=

Suction and Discharge temperature, °F

Pi, P2

=

Suction and Discharge pressure, psia.

It is not too much to say that this relationship is the most im­ portant concept in this book in that it is the most useful. Note that the anticipated temperature rise is independent of compressor speed, unloader configuration or gas volume; it is only a function of the compression ratio—and of course compression inefficiency. While Figure 7—2 can be used to calculate the theoretical temperature in­ crease for compressing natural gas, I used the concept in a more di­ rect manner at El Gringo. Table 7-1 shows that the temperature rise for the individual cylinder compression varied from 28°F for the No. 1 cylinder crank end to 42°F for the No. 2 cylinder crank end. The key point of this table is that compression efficiency varies inversely with tempera­ ture rise. As both the suction and discharge pressures were the same for all cylinder ends, the only reason for the variable temperature rise were different efficiencies of compression. Since the work per­ formed by the piston at each cylinder end was about the same, (ex­ cept for No. 2 cylinder head end, which had the bad unloader) the observed temperature increases were inversely proportional to the

TABLE 7-1

DISCHARGE TEMPERATURES OF A TWO-CYLINDER, DOUBLE ACTING RECIPROCATING COMPRESSOR

 

Suction

Discharge

Temp.

Relative

Compression

End

Temp

°F

Temp

°F

Rise. °F

Efficiency

No. 1 cylinder crank end

60

88

28

100%

No. 1 cylinder head end No. 2 cylinder

60

95

35

75%

crank end No. 2 cylinder

60

102

42

67%

head end

60

90

30

93%

84 TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

gas flows. This means that if the No. 1 cylinder crank end was mov­ ing 30 MM scfd of gas, then the No. 2 cylinder crank end was mov­ ing only 20 MM scfd and the No. 1 cylinder head end was moving 23 MM scfd.

CYLINDER TEMPERATURE MEASUREMENT TECHNIQUE It is not necessary to measure the absolute discharge temper­ ature from each cylinder. If individual thermowells are not availa­ ble, one can still use the above technique to determine the relative compression efficiency of individual cylinder ends. A contact ther­ mocouple may be used to measure the surface temperature of the compressor discharge valve. It is the relative temperature rise of the compressed gas that is of interest to us. To approximate the actual gas temperature from a surface metal temperature, a rough rule of thumb is:

T 2

=

T m

+

.1

(T g

-

T a )

where

T 2

T m

T a

=

Gas temperature

=

Valve cap surface temperature

=

Ambient air temperature

corresponding to the exces­

sive discharge temperature from the No. 2 cylinder crank end at El gringo, could have been due to a variety of problems:

The compressor valve inefficiency,

• Late compressor discharge valve closure

• Leaking piston rings

RISE F

7 5

Figur e 7—2

COMPRESSION

RATIO

Theoretica l temperatur e rise du e t o compression .

RECIPROCATING COMPRESSORS

85

• Suction compressor valve leaking

• Late suction valve closure

• Discharge valve leaking

• High valve losses due to excessive flow

possibilities

dawn, the chief mechanic appeared. "You know of course, Sehor En­ gineer, that we switched compressor valves last week. The new high efficiency valves we installed are designed to reduce compressor fuel consumption," said the chief mechanic. This was a bit of unpleasant news. I responded to this develop­ ment by requesting that a local contractor perform a Beta Scan sur­ vey of the compression cylinders. A Beta Scan (other common trade names are MIT, SEL, DECA, Enthalpy) is a Pressure-Volume Dia­ gram describing the actual compressor cylinder end performance. The pressure inside the cylinder is plotted against the piston posi­ tion. A piston position of 2ero percent corresponds to the piston pos­ ition closest to the cylinder heat. A perfect Pressure-Volume Dia­ gram is shown in Figure 7-3. If the sketch looks familiar, you were probably an "A" student in thermodynamics; Figure 7-3 is the famous Carnot Cycle. Figure 7-4 shows Beta Scan for several maladies

As

I

pondered

these

in

the

reddening

light

of

A = SUCTION VALVE OPENS

B « PISTON REVERSES DIRECTION

C -

D - END OF STROKE

DISCHARGE VALVE OPENS

\

DISCHARGE

F -DISCHARGE PRES.

CYLINDER

INTERNAL

N\/^WORK /

PRESSURE

/y\ R

/ A E

£

SUCTION

^o

-SUCTION

PRES.

Figur e 7—3

CYLINDER VOLUME OR

PISTON

POSITION

Camo t cycle for a reciprocatin g compressor .

8 6

TROUBLESHOOTING NATCIRAL GAS PROCESSING

effecting compressor valves. Why guess about performance when it is possible to determine precisely what is transpiring inside the cylinder? The Beta Scan plot obtained from the No. 2 cylinder crank end is shown in Figure 7-5. This plot clearly shows that the new valve installed in this cylinder end was experiencing an abnormal 25-30% loss in compression work.

INTERPRETING BETA SCANS The area encompassed by the Beta Scan plot is proportional to the compression work performed by the piston. Unfortunately, not all of this work is of use in moving gas down a pipeline. For in­ stance, the top horizontal line shown in Figure 7-5 is the compres­ sor discharge pressure. The area of the plot above this line is wasted compression work caused by:

• Pulsation in the discharge line

• Discharge valve opening too slowly

• Excessive resistance to flow of gas through the discharge valve

The bottom horizontal line in Figure 7-5 is the compressor suc­ tion pressure. Area below this line also represents wasted compres­ sion work due to the same problems listed above; except of course only the suction valves are involved. The peaks and valleys indi­ cated on the compression and expansion cycles are due to valve leak­ age and again represent wasted work. There should be no gas flow into or out of the cylinder during the expansion or compression cy­ cles. If both the discharge and suction valves did not leak, the lines

VALVE SPRINGS TOO TIGHT

VAU/ E SPRINGS TOO WEAK

RECIPROCATING COMPRESSORS

8 7

on the Beta Scan plot representing the expansion and compression steps would resemble those of the Carnot Cycle; that is, smooth curves. Drawing a curved line tangent to the peaks and valleys of the expansion and compression steps inside the Beta Scan quantifies the extent of wasted horsepower due to valve leakage during these steps. The shaded area shown in Figure 7-5 is then the sum of the compression work wasted due to valve inefficiencies and piping pul­ satio n problems . To thi s lost work mus t b e added th e detrimenta l ef­ fects of piston ring leakage.

GOING HOME The chief mechanic was astonished when I instructed him to put the old compressor valves back into service. "Senior Engineer," he gasped, "You do not impress us with your fancy clothes. If everyone was like you, we would still be living in caves." Regardless, the old compressor valves were installed in the machine. The Chief Mechanic argued that he could eliminate the peaks shown on the suction portion of the cycle in Figure 7—5 by changing to weaker springs on the suction valves. Also, he felt that discharge valve plates with a larger open area would minimize the horsepower lost during the discharge cycle. All he wanted was a few days to purchase the new springs and valve plates. He was probably

SHADED

COMPRESSOR

AREAS

REPRESENTS

INEFFICIENCY

1085 PSIG

 

CYLINDER

CYLINDER

PRESSURE

INTERNAL

PRESSURE

 

8 3 5

PSIG

 

PISTON

POSITION

IN

CYLINDER

PISTON

POSITION

Figur e 7—4

Bet a Sca n plot s are a powerful troubleshootin g tool .

Figure 7—5

Beta Sca n plot for El Gringo pipeline compressor , cylinder

#2 .

8 8

TROUBLESHOOTING NATURAL GAS PROCESSING

right. But the old compressor valves were dropped back into the cy­ linder valve ports; the defective unloader valves were repaired; and the machine was put back on-Une. A new Beta Scan was obtained which showed compressor valve losses had dropped from 25-30% to about 10%. I was pleased to report that evening to my client that the situ­ ation at the El Gringo station had been restored. "Never mind that," he responded, "you're supposed to be in New York in the morning. And make sure you're dressed decently for a change," he concluded.

REDUCING VALVE LOSSES One cost effective means of reducing compression valve losses and enhancing compressor efficiency is to replace valve plates with thermoplastic valve plates equipped with additional flow ports (i.e. openings in the plates for gas passage). Modifying valve plates in this manner will reduce horsepower valve losses due to the frictional pressure drop. While modifications of this type will save energy and enhance capacity, they are appropriate only in those cases where in­ creased valve losses are related to increased gas flow. In my experi­ ence, large inefficiencies in reciprocating compressors are most often related to increased compression ratios and not to gas flow rates. Compression leaks through worn piston rings and leaky valves are enchanced at higher compression ratios. Often, an unexplainable temperature rise across a compressor cylinder end, as reflected in a hot discharge valve cap, will moderate to a normal temperature rise, when the compression ratio is only moderately reduced. For exam­ ple, for one machine equipped with plastic poppet valves (i.e. com­ pressor cylinder valves designed for high capacity; but low compres­ sion ratios), valve losses as measured by a Beta Scan were reduced from 25% to 10% when the compression ratio was reduced from 1.42 to 1.28, even though the gas volume moved through the compressor increased by over 50%. Reciprocating compressors may be limited by a third factor (in addition to engine horsepower availability and cylinder volumetric efficiency) which is called rod loading. The piece of hardware that connects the piston to the crankshaft components is called the piston rod.

ROD LOADING

compressor

operation is rod breakage. A piston rod is not designed with the same philosophy as a bridge: Once the manufacturer's designated rod loading is exceeded, the rod will likely fail. Rod loading is cal­

culated as follows:

One

frequent

cause of downtime

in reciprocating

where

Ap

Aj.

P d

P s

RECIPROCATING COMPRESSORS

Rod Loading = Ap • P d -

(A p -

Ar) • P s

8 9

Piston area, square

inches

=

Rod area , squar e inches

=

Discharge pressure, psig

=

Suction pressure, psig

Thus, regardless of the horsepower load or speed, there is a maximum presure increase that a reciprocating compressor can tolerate. While this is simple enough, there is a dangerous com­ plicating factor. The discharge pressure to be used in the above cal­ culation is not the discharge line pressure; it is the peak pressure developed inside the cylinder (i.e. behind the discharge valve). As can be seen from the Beta Scan plot depicted in Figure 7-5, this peak pressure may be drastically higher than the discharge line pressure. Both pulsation problems and inadequate valve lift, or valve speed, raise the cylinder's internal peak discharge pressure. For example, a piston rod failure on one compressor was precipitated when weak valve plate springs were replaced with stronger springs requiring a greater valve plate pressure differential to open.