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Volume 1 Edition 2 Providing Insight Onsite

Oil & Gas Separator

Real Time Process
By Dan Benson and Paul Hewitt

The separation process is a fundamental

part of all hydrocarbon production.
The ideal for operators is to produce oil
free from gas and water, remove all liquids
from gas, and discharge produced water
that is within environmental limits. Scale Problems
The application of a TRACERCO Produced water can be very rich in salts, allows a quantification of the amount of
Diagnostics Separator Study allows the in fact the dissolved solids content in pro- scale that is building up, allowing timely
detection of process issues in separator and duced water is usually much greater than interventions to be performed by a special-
water treatment systems in real time. Using that of normal sea water. Salts are initially ist cleaning company prior to a complete
data collected, solutions can be found to dissolved in the water present in a reservoir blockage. As scale is more dense than
better control separation and prevent but as conditions change when the water is production fluids, its presence within a pipe
harmful discharge. This article describes produced, the salts may form solids and can be readily detected using a
how this technology can be used to identify deposit as scale. This can reduce pipe TRACERCO Diagnostics Pipe Scan.
problems that occur within separation diameters, plug vessels and equipment that Figure 1 illustrates results from a scan
systems including: in turn can lead to diminished separation used to detect a blockage within a 15.2 cm
efficiency. produced water pipe. Measurements were
Scaling Regular density measurements across taken every 25.4 cm along the blocked line
Oil in water pipe work where scaling may be an issue Continued on page 2
Damage to vessel internals
Blockages in perforated plates TRACERCO Diagnostics Scan

Flow distribution 10

Residence times 9
Amount of Deposit (inches)

Slugging 8

Emulsions 7
Foam 6
Deposit build-up 5

Oil & Gas Separator Optimisation: 1
Real Time Process Characterisation .............1



Keeping Track...............................................4
Figure 1 Results from a scan of a 15.2 cm produced water pipe.

tracercomatthey.com www.tracerco.com 1
The basic requirements of a
Oil & Gas Separator 800 3500

Radiation Intensity (Inlet1 top)

tracer include:
700 3000
(Continued from page 1) Identical behaviour to the Inlet

Radiation Intensity
material under investiga- 500
and a density versus distance tion Gas Outlet 1 & 2 2000
400 Liquid Outlet 1
plot was created. Knowing the Unambiguous detection at 300
Liquid Outlet 2
approximate density of the low concentrations 200 1000
scale and knowing the density No affect on the process 100 500
of material that should have under investigation 0 0
been present within the pipe, Minimal residual concen- 0 400 800 1200
any reduction in signal was due tration in the product. Time (seconds)
to scale build-up. Using this
liquid outlet1 gas outlet1 liquid outlet2 gas outlet2 inlet1 top
data the thickness of scale The criteria can be met by the
could be determined at each use of short-lived radioisotope
position and the blockage accu- Figure 3 Measurement results from a vertical two-phase separator.
tracers and by careful selection
rately located. of the most appropriate tracer
for a particular application. The 70 3500

Radiation Intensity (Inlet1 top)

Fluid Distribution, Residence technology requires a number 60 3000
Times and Equipment Blockage
Radiation Intensity
of sensitive radiation detectors 50
Measurement to be located on the walls as North
40 2000
Specialist radiotracer studies well as the inlet and outlet of East
30 1500
on separators can be used to the vessel under investigation. South
detect problems such as oil in 20 1000
A radiotracer is injected into
water, water in oil, gas the process and if the material 10 500
undercutting, or liquid carryover. flows past a detector position it 0 0
0 50 100 150 200 250 300
It can also detect the affect of will register as a response ver-
blockages in perforated plates, sus time. Analysis of each
Time (seconds)

flow distribution and accurately detector response provides North East South West inlet1 top
measure individual phase information on flow distribu-
residence times. tion and timing allowing flow Figure 4 Measurement of liquid distribution in a vertical separator.
The basic principle of a tracer dynamics within the vessel to
investigation is to label a sub- be determined.
stance or phase and then follow Figure 2 shows the position of information on the shape of the blockage of the plates indicated
it through a system. Looking at detectors during a tracer study injected radiotracer pulse. The by maldistribution. In addition,
tracer studies from a problem on a gravity separator. A gas, next four detectors (D2) are comparing results from detec-
solving point of view, if prob- oil or water radiotracer is positioned as a ring around the tors in one ring along the vessel
lems of fluid transport can be injected upstream of the vessel inlet pipe. By comparing the length with results from other
described in terms of When?, to allow adequate mixing with radiation intensity against time detector rings, information is
Where to?, and How Much?, all phases. The first detector for each of the detectors, flow provided showing how a specific
then they can be solved by (D1) is positioned just after the distribution at the inlet can be phase moves laterally through
means of tracer techniques. injection point and provides studied and maldistribution the vessel. The detectors at the
detected. These also act as a gas outlet (D5) give flow distri-
zero point for residence time bution and vapour residence
within the vessel. The next time in the separator. They also
ring of detectors (D3) is provide information on liquid
Cross Section typically focused around the carry over following liquid
lower parts of the vessel tracer injection. Detectors
D5 outside of any inlet devices. around the oil and water outlets
Gas Outlet Assuming a separator with (D6 & D7) detect residence
inlet cyclones these detectors time of the specific phase, oil
D1 D2
will show any maldistribution in water underflow, water in
Injection Point or gas undercutting from oil overflow as well as gas
D2 within the inlet equipment. undercutting.
More detector rings (D4) Figure 3 shows examples of
may be positioned close to detector responses from a liquid
separator internals such as per- tracer study on a vertical two-
D6 D6 D7 D7
D3 D4 D4 D4 forated plates. Comparing data phase separation vessel. The
from each of these will give
Figure 2 Typical detector positions in a gravity separator. information about partial or full Continued on page 3

tracercomatthey.com www.tracerco.com ................. 2

Figure 5 shows examples of
Oil & Gas Separator scan lines and detector
(Continued from page 2) positions used to check that all
inlet cyclones in a separator are
time between liquid tracer in place. Solid structures
injection and detector response between source and detector Normal Liquid Level 2170 mm Scanning distances from inlet tan-line
at the outlets provides residence attenuate the signal and the Normal Interface Level 1160 mm Line A 2750mm Line D 11750mm
time in the process vessel. Line B 5750mm Line E 21000mm
amount detected gives an Line C 8750mm Line F 22400mm
Additionally, the shape and estimate of how much steel
duration of the signal at the out- there is across the measurement 3000
lets gives information about path. In recording the data, the
mixing in the vessel. Finally, transmitted intensity, expressed
the presence of tracer response in detector count rate is plotted
at the gas outlet detector allows on a logarithmic scale so that Oil Level
measurement of liquid carry the transmission characteristic
over from the vessel. Figure 4 faithfully reflects the density
shows the response from an profile of the scan line. The
inlet detector and four detectors detected intensities provide
positioned at equal distances information about the integrity
around the vessel at the same of the internals. This infor-
elevation. Results reveal uneven mation can be used to explain 1000 Water Level
flow distribution within the ves- separation inefficiencies and
sel with increased tracer and help plan necessary shutdown
hence liquid flow in the western repairs.
quadrant. In addition, the Sand Levels

southern quadrant reveals less Rag Layer (emulsion) and

liquid flow at a lower velocity Deposit Build-Up 0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500 3000 3500 4000 4500 5000
indicating poor distribution or a TRACERCO Diagnostics Radiation Intensity (counts/10 sec)
Line A Line B Line C Line D Line E Line F (After Weir)
potential blockage in this sec- Scanning technology can also Figure 6 Shows interface profiles at various positions in an MP
tion of the vessel. be used to detect deposits and separator vessel.
vapour profiles in pipelines, the
Damage to vessel internals presence and extent of a rag outlet bucket. The technology reduced separation efficiency.
Damage to vessel internals, layer between oil and water can be used very effectively in Neutron scanning technology
especially an inlet device, can and solid deposits in separators. emulsion breaker chemical holds many advantages over
have a serious impact on the Figure 6 shows typical trials to determine the best type infrared with measurement
ability of a vessel to separate interface profiles at different and concentration to use in a being made without the
oil, water and gas. A lateral positions along a particular vessel. In turn, this removal of insulation and is not
TRACERCO Diagnostics separator vessel. The extent of can lead to significant cost affected by external heat
Scan can be used to check the rag layer can be measured by savings as well as reduce the sources on the vessel surface.
mechanical integrity of vessel the gradient of the response environmental impact of excess
internals. If the process is on- change between oil and water. chemical use. Detection of Vapour and Liquid
stream, measurements are Typical results show oil-water Solid build-up in a vessel is Slugging
limited to the vapour space interface quality improvement of importance as any significant Slugging can cause major
above liquids. However, if the as measurements are made reduction in the free volume of upsets and process instabilities
vessel is drained, virtually away from the inlet device a vessel will lead to a reduction resulting in production losses as
anything can be measured. moving towards the weir or in residence time leading to well as an increase in harmful
discharges. In some situations
Top view with the presence of slugging can
Front view Side view damage process equipment. If
examples of scan lines
Source Detector Source slugging is found to be present
within a process system it is
important to understand its
characteristics. This may allow
Liquid Level changes to be made that will
reduce or eliminate its presence
and the detrimental affects on
Detector process hardware.
Figure 5 Cross sections of inlet cyclones in a separator vessel. Examples of source, detector positions and
scan lines are shown. Continued on back page

tracercomatthey.com www.tracerco.com ................. 3

Keeping Track
By Lee Robins, Business Development Manager, Tracerco Billingham, UK
Recently published in World Pipelines October 2008

Companies are fast realising In critical applications where

the importance of fully under- accuracy, reliability and confi-
standing what makes a success- dence are most important, iso-
ful pigging campaign. Tracerco topes have scored particularly
is experiencing an ever-growing well in market studies. The fol-
number of enquiries about its lowing applications are the
flow assurance study and pig most crucial and are more read-
tracking service, as clients ily suitable for isotope tracking:
realise the benefits of optimis- Any application after first
ing their cleaning regimes, and installation, such as flooding,
the peace of mind gained while cleaning and gauging In this
Figure 9 This photograph shows the location of stuck pig due to
tracking critical pipeline pigs. instance, installation may have engineering modification not relayed to pigging contractor.
Tracerco has completed pro- caused the pipeline to buckle,
jects worldwide, including or an engineering defect may present in the pipeline. likely success of any pigging
challenging environments such cause the pig to get stuck and Pipelines that, due to the campaign, have a contingency
as the Arctic Circle and in the any delays will result in higher nature of the product flow- should the pipeline pig become
deep waters of the Gulf of project costs. ing, have the potential for stuck (including accurate loca-
Mexico. Any inspection campaign hydrates to form. This will tion), and monitor the effective-
using intelligent pigs These cause flow blockages and ness of any campaign.
Why pig a pipeline? pigs can be very long, in order restrict the motive force in
Introducing a foreign object to accommodate all of the the pipeline to drive the pig Pig tracking
into any pipeline carries a risk inspection tooling required. through. There are many factors that
of blockage and it is important Thus, they have a higher poten- Concern over a valve and can affect the outcome of a pig-
to understand why pipelines are tial to lodge in the pipeline whether it is fully open to ging campaign and its always
pigged to determine the most while negotiating bends or allow the passage of a pig. good for an operator to know
suitable detection methods. overhang pig trap valves. How accurately a pig needs the location of the pigging tools
Pipeline pigging is carried inside the pipeline.
out for the following reasons:
To clean pipelines before
Isotope tracking has been found to be one of
Choosing a radioisotope
use. the most reliable, accurate and confidence tracking service
To fill lines for hydrostatic giving solutions in critical applications. Isotopes are mainly chosen
testing, dewatering following for critical applications. A
hydrostatic testing, drying small, low powered radioactive
and purging operations. The first pig run - After any to be located. source is attached to the pig
To periodically remove wax, pipeline modification work, as The time in which a pig body prior to being launched,
dirt and water from the debris may remain or an engi- must be able to be located. which sends a constant gamma-
pipeline. neering defect may have For instance, some pipeline ray signal that can be detected
To sweep liquids from gas occurred. modification work can take on the outside of the pipeline.
pipelines. Whenever a pipeline isola- up to a year. Thus, knowing This solution has a number of
To separate products to tion tool is being used and where the pipeline pig is benefits:
reduce the amount of mixing accurate positioning is critical after that time is highly Detection time
between different types of and/or long signal life is advantageous. As an isotope constantly
crude oil or refined products. required to reliably track the The ultimate objective of emits a naturally occurring sig-
To control liquids in a tool after de-isolation. every pig run is to complete the nal, it means that there are no
pipeline, including two task required and return the concerns regarding battery life.
phase pipelines. Other factors that are important
pipeline to its orginal operating So, should an operator be using
To inspect pipelines for when assessing the criticality
condition in the shortest time a plug to isolate a line and the
defects such as dents, buck- of a pig run include:
possible. A stuck pig can have downstream modification work
les or corrosion. Whether a pipeline has ever
extremely costly implications. does not go to plan, there will
To isolate sections of a been inspected before. This
Therefore, it is important to be no concern over having to
pipeline for tie-in or repair is due to an unknown vol-
purposes. ume of deposit that may be determine with confidence the Continued on page 5

tracercomatthey.com www.tracerco.com
................. 4
Keeping Track Can be attached to any type
(Continued from page 4)
of pig or pipeline tool on the
market with no effect on the
locate the pig within a certain performance of the pig. Figure 10 Injection of tracer and detection points.
time period. Therefore, pigs can Batteries used in other tech-
now be launched from subsea nologies can be extremely
launchers, lying dormant for a cumbersome.
number of months prior to use The signal can be detected at
again, using isotopes. This will all times irrespective of
eliminate concern about detection whether the pipeline is sub-
after launch. sea or on land. So, should a
subsea pipeline come
Accurate positioning onshore at a terminal, the
Due to the highly collimated isotope is always detectable.
radiation beam, a pigs location Multiple pigs can be tracked
can be accurately located. Thus, and/or located. Using differ-
in terms of a long tool, it may ences in the amount of radia- Figure 11 Passage of tracer past detector points.
only just fit in a pig receiver. tion emitted or different iso-
Therefore, knowing the exact topes with different signa- stuck due to unknown deposit deposit inventory.
location of the back of the pig tures, each pig can be given amounts. Tracer techniques, sim- Running a flow assurance
will allow an operator to close the a unique identifier. ilar to a barium meal used in study before and after a pig
trap valve with confidence that medical technology, can be used cleaning campaign will allow an
damage will not occur to the Flow assurance studies to determine deposit location. operator to determine the effec-
valve or the intelligent pig. Considering an example, The tracer injection technique tiveness of the pigging run. This
assuming a pig is run in a 24 in. requires the injection of a small has significant benefits:
Reducing component parts pipeline 100 miles long and amount (typically no more than Many intelligent pig runs fail
Whenever systems are consid- removes 0.016 in. of wax materi- 50 ml) of low activity radiotracer due to the cleanliness of the
ered, those with fewer component al from the wall of the pipeline. into the line in the form of a pipeline after cleaning. A
parts are more reliable, so reduc- After 100 miles, a plug approxi- sharp liquid pulse, enabling the flow study will determine
ing the need for batteries by using mately 1450 ft. long would form. fluid velocity between externally whether the line has reached
a naturally occurring signal Therefore, its important to define mounted radiation detector log- an acceptable standard for
increases reliability. how much deposit is located in a gers to be measured to better the intelligent pig run to
Other benefits of using iso- line. Tracercos involvement with than 0.1% accuracy. For a begin, reducing the likeli-
topes for pig tracking include: many pigging campaigns starts known flowrate, a velocity hood of an expensive re-run
The pipe diameter does not well before the launch of the first between points can be derived. of the intelligent pig.
matter. Isotopes can be used pig. Often, clients have applica- However, should deposits be Pig cleaning campaigns can
to track pigs in small umbili- tions where a pipeline pig has encountered, this will cause the be optimised. Reducing runs
cal lines and the largest never been run through a line; or velocity of the tracer pulse to to the minimum necessary
transport lines (i.e., from well conditions have changed increase. Comparing this to the will have the following bene-
several millimeters to several with time, meaning conditions pipeline flowrate for the duration fits: minimise cost by reduc-
metres in diameter). are occurring that can affect the of the test enables the amount of ing the number of times pig-
Thick wall pipelines or flow properties of the pipeline, deposit between successive ging specialists need to visit
weight-coated lines do not such as wax, hydrate, sand or detectors to be calculated. The a platform; limiting the
present a problem for the scale. As part of its Precision tracer used is designed to flow potential for environmental
transmission of the signal. Diagnostics portfolio, Tracerco with the particular material incidents by reducing the
The contents of the line are offers its flow assurance study through the system. Sensitive number of containment
irrelevant to the passage of technique that can be used to radiation detectors are placed on breaks that take place; and
the signal; gas, liquid or mul- ensure the effective flow of oil the outside surface of the pipe an increase in safety as pig-
tiphase. and gas through an oil and gas (detectors are depth rated to ging operations can be attrib-
Can be used for pipe-in-pipe processing facility or pipeline. 3000 m) and detect the unsealed uted to two explosions in the
pig tracking. Other technolo- Many operators are extremely tracer as it passes each specific last decade.
gies are seriously affected by cautious when it comes to detector position. These mea- Pipeline dosing chemicals
this type of application. tackling pipelines that have surements can be used to direct- can be optimised, thus,
never been pigged, as there is the ly measure fluid velocity, having significant cost and
potential for tools to become flowrate, phase distribution and environmental benefits.

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................. 5
Oil & Gas Separator Riser F Riser E
Slugging Survey Riser E & F
(Continued from page 3)

Approximate Density (g/cc)

Figure 7 shows the set-up of a
TRACERCO Diagnostics
Slug Monitoring system. It 0.5
consists of two non-intrusive 0.4
densitometers positioned at a 0.3
known distance apart on pipe 0.2
work. The measurement of den- 0.1
sity change in the pipe over 0
time at each position and analy- 12:45 13:15 13:45 14:15 14:45
sis of the shape of the density
Riser E Riser F
change allows a slug to be fully
characterised with key informa- Figure 8 Slugging trend of two risers E & F.
tion such as velocity, size, and
frequency. In addition, the esti- action can be taken to avoid shown in Figure 8, which shows separation train by essentially
mated arrival time at a separator damage or upset. flow differences between two making the process transparent.
can be calculated so remedial A typical slugging trend is deepwater risers. Ultimately in This approach significantly
this instance, one of the wells eliminates guess work when
feeding Riser E was considered trying to resolve process issues
to be an unstable producer and and allows accurate process
Density Measurement was converted into a water data to be gathered providing
injection well due to its impact information so that engineering
on overall production. decisions on process improve-
ment or repair can be quickly
PRI 116C PRI 116C Conclusion made and implemented. If
A TRACERCO Diagnostics deemed necessary, immediate
Separator Study complements changes to a system can be
Densitometers other diagnostic tools and made with further measure-
techniques available to produc- ments to assess if improve-
tion engineers. The technlogy is ments have resulted.
non-intrusive with results If you wish to find out more
generated on-site. This allows about this technology, please
rapid understanding of fluid contact a representative in your
Figure 7 Typical Slug Monitor Setup. flow and mechanical inte- area or visit our website at
grity within a hydrocarbon www.tracerco.com.

Billingham, UK Milan, Italy Baku, Azerbaijan

Tel +44 (0) 1642 375500 Tel +39 02 90989971 Tel +994 12 5141619
Aberdeen, UK Bergen, Norway Shanghai, China
Tel +44 (0) 1224 592527 Tel +47 55 36 55 40 Tel +86 21 57741234
Rotterdam, The Netherlands Perth, Australia Beijing, China
Tel +31 (0) 10 26 46 510 Tel +61 (0) 8 9480 3718 Tel +86 10 64107324/5
Oldenburg, Germany Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Tel +49 441 36 11 09-0 Tel +603 7957 9821 Tel +971 2 5541672


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Vol 1 Ed 2 Vol 1 Ed 2