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SPE 120696

Utilization of In-Situ Gas Lift System to Increase Production in Saudi Arabia

Offshore Oil Producers
Phillip Warren, SPE, Sami Logan, SPE, Makki Zubail, SPE, Abdulelah Balto, SPE, and Simeon Perez, SPE,
Saudi Aramco, and Adrian Villarreal, SPE, and Oscar Becerra, SPE, Baker Hughes

Copyright 2009, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the 2009 SPE Middle East Oil & Gas Show and Conference held in the Bahrain International Exhibition Centre, Kingdom of Bahrain, 1518 March 2009.

This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper have not been
reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its
officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is prohibited. Permission to
reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of SPE copyright.

This paper discusses the first Smart in-situ gas lift systems that were installed in three Saudi
Arabia offshore wells. These Smart in-situ gas lift systems have proven to work in an offshore
development environment for production enhancement. Implementation of this technology will
extend the well life by allowing high water cut wells to produce, rather than become inactive,
due to high hydrostatic back pressure in the wellbore. The selection of this system, which
uses reservoir gas cap energy as compared to other artificial lift methods, resulted from
economic considerations and operation simplicity in a non-electrified offshore field.

The primary focus of this paper will be to discuss the first in-situ gas lift equipment, completion
installation procedures, field test results, operation principles utilizing the gas cap energy,
production strategy and well performance using an online monitoring system, and reservoir
management considerations for future installations within the field.

Initially, five conventional in-situ gas lift systems were installed in the field with problematic
downhole sliding sleeve assemblies that required wireline intervention. As a result, Smart in-
situ gas lift systems were recommended to allow auto opening of the downhole gas lift orifice
valves from surface. These Smart systems have proven their durability over conventional
systems, and will extend well life at a relatively higher water cut and maximize reservoir sweep

The Z-field is located in the Arabian Gulf and covers an area of approximately 20 km x 8 km.
The main producing reservoir lies in an anticlinal trap with a northeast-southwest trending axis.
The central part of the accumulation is overlain by a gas cap. As indicated by the cross-
section shown in Fig. 1, the oil column consists of a massive, clean highly permeable (3-5
Darcy) sandstone unit overlain by 1-3 Darcy stringer sands interspersed with shales. The
reservoir consists of sandstones, siltstones and shales with minor limestones and coals
deposited in a complex, fluvial dominated delta system. The overlying gas cap is in direct
communication with the stringer sands on the flanks of the anticline and with the Main sand in
the central dome of the reservoir. Below the oil reservoir lies a strong aquifer that has
maintained reservoir pressure over the past 10 years. The primary drive mechanism for the
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Main sand is from natural aquifer influx with limited support from gas cap expansion. The main
driving mechanisms for the stringer sands is primarily gas cap, fluid and rock expansion, and
moderate aquifer support at the flanks. Historically, all vertical wells have been free-flowing to
the surface without any artificial lift method.

For those wells that cease to flow at high water cut, a drilling program has been undertaken to
convert these vertical wells over to horizontal wells with passive inflow control devices (ICDs).
Horizontal wells were introduced in the early nineties in all Saudi Arabian offshore fields to
sustain production targets. Before 2003, most horizontal wells drilled in the sandstone offshore
reservoirs were completed as cemented and perforated liners completions. After 2003, many
of the new horizontal wells began using ICDs to improve production profile along the horizontal
lateral section. These new completions increase the distance to the oil water contact (OWC),
reduce water coning tendencies, and extend the life of the well. Additionally, for those
recompletions with a low stand-off to the oil water contact and that are located in the central
gas cap dome area, Smart in-situ gas lift technology is available to increase production and
further extend well life.

Conventional gas lift injection from the surface has not been an option as a secondary mode of
recovery in Z-field. The cost to install gas handling and compression facilities for gas injection
is too costly. Also, the lack of adequate power supply in the offshore platforms makes other
technologies, such as electric submersible pumps (ESPs), not an option. Limited power
source for communication equipments such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition
system (SCADA) on each platform is generated from a small set of solar panels.

Smart in-situ gas lift technology represents a cost-effective and viable option to enhance
recovery and extend the life of a high water cut well [1]. This technology, in a non-electrified
offshore environment, has a number of benefits over other artificial lift methods such as low
capital costs. This innovative system uses a simple completion architecture which enables gas
produced from the gas cap to dramatically increasing production for high water cut wells. See
Fig. 2.

Gas Lift Completions

Generation 1: Originally, five conventional in-situ gas lift systems were installed in the field with
downhole sliding sleeve assemblies. These sliding sleeve assemblies required wireline
intervention and were problematic. Moreover, the initial conventional in-situ gas lift systems
were designed for moderate fluid production at high water cut (30% - 50%), but only had two
different gas orifice positions for adjusting gas rates. These two preset gas orifice openings
would work to some extent, but since flow regime and transient fluids are changing with time,
this gas rate limitation adversely impacted production optimization efforts. As a result, the next
generation of gas lift equipment installed was Smart in-situ gas lift systems. These systems
were installed to allow auto opening at multiple opening positions, from the surface, to fine
tune gas injection rates required to sustain production at different reservoir pressure and
saturation conditions. The first vertical well which was completed with in-situ gas lift system
and Sliding Sleeve Door (SSD) to control gas production was able to maintain gross
production rate up to a watercut above 80%. Lack of injection control and large ports of the
SSD resulted in over-injection of gas and removed some flexibility for optimization. In some
instances, only gas was produced. A good gas lift system should be able to lift the fluid
continuously over different operating conditions without rig intervention. With limited gas
orifice settings in the first conventional in-situ gas lift systems, the well performance could not
be adequately optimized.
SPE 120696 3

Generation 2: SMART Gas Lift Completion

After issues originated from actuation of downhole sliding sleeves and rate control, three Smart
systems were evaluated and installed to overcome these issues. The Smart completions have
proven their durability over conventional systems, and will extend well life at a relatively higher
water cut and maximize reservoir sweep efficiency.

The latest generation of hydraulically operated inflow control valve (ICV) can regulate gas
production using various settings, or gas rates. See Figs. 3 and 4. A shifting piston changes
aperature opening of downhole ICV auto gas lift valve. Gas lift rate from the gas cap is varied
from the surface to optimize vertical lift hydraulics. Surface control of downhole injection
volumes allows optimization of the injected gas and maximizes liquid production. A stabilized
surface well test was taken at different aperture openings to create a unique gas lift
performance curve for each well. See Fig. 5.

Completion Design Logic

The new gas lift system was designed to address the vertical lift hydraulic issue of the
increasing water cut creating a higher mixture density. As water saturation increases, mixture
density increases and total fluid production decreases. Since the source of gas is readily
available within the wellbore, a hydraulic sliding sleeve can be opened from the gas cap to
inject gas, lighten the liquid column and increase production.

In the reservoir, the gas cap is at approximately the same pressure as the underlying oil pad.
A completion method was developed to create a differential pressure across the ICV to allow
sufficient gas to be injected during static conditions for unloading the fluid column. By setting
the ICV approximately 500 ft above the oil pad, a 200 psi of differential pressure is created to
kick-off the well from a static condition. As flow increases and flowing bottom-hole pressure
decreases, the differential across the ICV increases. From the surface adjustments are made
in the ICV aperture until production is optimized. The ICV and the preperforated pipe are
wrapped with sand screen to eliminate any possible erosion caused by sand production
associated by the high gas velocity.

Completion Installation Procedures

After drilling a 6-1/8 in. open hole for a 2500 horizontal lateral, an ICD is set with lower
completion with inflatable packers to segment major reservoir compartments. An off-bottom
cement kit was used to cement above the ICD to isolate the gas cap from the lower oil zone
completion. The gas cap was isolated with a set of open-hole packers below the gas zone and
a set of external casing packers above, and within the gas zone screen joints were installed.
Above the gas cap cement was pumped to act as a barrier which was suspended by the set of
external casing packers. After installing the open-hole completion, the Smart auto-gas lift
completion was lined up for deployment. The system consists of a tie-back seal assembly to
sting into the first set of open-hole packers which creates a micro-annulus up to the bottom of
the feed-through production packer. Hanging below the feed-through production packer is the
ICV auto-gas lift valve and above the production packer is a SSD used to displace the top
annulus with completion fluid. Contaminated mud and brine might exist in the annulus across
the gas cap which requires immediate clean-up after well completion to ensure the functionality
of the bottomhole valve. See table 1 for a detailed equipment list used in the Smart
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Field Test Results

The main goal of the test was to prove the operation of the system and the concept of Smart
gas lift systems in the Z-field. Despite that the system was designed to be used when the well
was impaired due to high water cut, a performance test of the system was conducted on this
newly horizontal sidetracked well with a low water cut. This field test was done in order to
accomplish the following objectives:
Demonstrate the concept and determine that the operability of the system is
functioning properly.
Create a model to simulate the well condition and calibrate the model using the
performance test data.
Predict the future operational conditions of the Smart gas lift system under
different water cut scenarios.
Evaluate new design concepts, deployment issues and future installation

To meet these objectives a test procedure was created:

1. Perform a production rate test while the downhole gas injection valve is closed.
2. On same surface flowline choke setting, use a portable surface hydraulic panel to
operate the valve and test the well at different gas opening positions and while allowing
sufficient time for flow to stabilize.
3. Analyze and validate testing results, and draw a conclusive and representative data set.
4. Use testing data as an input in a production model to evaluate the optimum gas
injection rate to identify the appropriate downhole valve settings at different water cuts.

Z-A well, which is equipped with Smart in-situ gas lift equipment, was modeled using nodal
analysis software to evaluate well performance at different ICV orifice sizes when the well was
first completed and produced at relatively low water cuts. Z-A well testing data shows clearly
how the production has increased over 40% when the downhole valve was opened to 1/4
allowing gas from the gas cap to enter through the completion. The second test was done
shortly after the first test with the same surface choke setting. The ICV downhole valve was
hydraulically changed to 1/2" in. from the surface. The additional gas injected resulted in only a
slight production increase which is consistent with the modeling results at such a low water cut.
See Table 2 and Fig. 5. As mentioned earlier, these Smart gas lift systems were installed
during the conversion from a vertical to horizontal well, and were added at that time to avoid
costly rig work once the well has a higher water cut. So producing the well at ICV setting less
than 1/2 in. orifice size can help sustain oil production until the well has a higher water cut in
the future. As the inflow performance of the wells change, a bigger orifice size is mandatory to
allow more gas injection to increase the lifting capacity at relatively high water cut (50% and

Test Procedures
The following test procedures were implemented during the evaluation. Before starting the
test, the well production rate was allowed to stabilize at the current surface choke setting with
the downhole gas lift orifice fully closed. The initial rate test information, flow wellhead
pressure (FWHP), surface choke size, oil rate, Water cut %, and GOR was recorded. The well
was allowed to stabilize at the maximum surface choke opening position in order to ensure the
gas entrance by the auto gas lift valve opening. Once a stabilized rate was obtained with the
downhole gas injection valve fully closed, then the test began as follows:
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1) Open the gas lift orifice to the first setting agreed upon for evaluating. Let the well
stabilize at the new rate and GOR. Record any pressure increase at the wellhead.
Obtain well test report for specific detailed pressure, temperature, and flow rate data.
2) Open the gas lift orifice to the second setting agreed upon of evaluating and let the well
stabilize. Record any pressure increase at wellhead. From well test report obtain
specific detailed pressure, temperature, and flow rate data.
3) Continue the above procedure for all setting positions desired for evaluation.
4) Return the gas lift orifice to the fully closed position and set the surface choke to the
standard operational condition.

Operating Principles Using Gas Cap Energy

The concept of auto gas lift involves using gas that can be produced from the same well and
then used to lift the oil that is produced from the same or different reservoir.

Taking the representation in Fig. 6 as an example, a set of equations has been written to
represent the auto gas lift system performance [2-4]. All these equations have to converge at
the injection point.

From the Oil Reservoir to the Injection Point:

Pinj = P wf ,oil PFriction ,oil PHydrostatic ,oil Equation 1

From the Gas Reservoir to the Injection Point:

Pinj = P wf , gas PFriction, gasannulus PHydrostatic , gasannulus POrifice Equation 2

From Surface to the injection Point

Pinj = WHP + PFriction , gaseouscolumn + PHydrostatic , gaseouscolumn Equation 3

The Pwf,oil and Pwf,gas are related with boundary conditions in form of a function. In fact for each
Pwf,oil there is only one oil rate, and this relationship is know as IPR of the oil reservoir (in this
case Vogel equation was used). Then for each Pwf,gas there is a single gas rate (in this case the
back pressure equations was used).

Pwf ,oil Pwf ,oil


Qoil = Qmax,oil 1 0.2 0.8

Vogel Equation 4
Pe ,oil


Q gas = Qmax, gas 1
wf , gas
Back Pressure Equation 5
e , gas

In this system of equations there are three (03) real unknowns and three (03) equations;
however; due to the fact that the rates related with each Pwf, will affect the pressure loss terms
in all the equation as well as the hydrostatic term in Eq. 3 the system becomes implicit and has
to be solved by a trial and error process. To solve the system an objective function was
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created. The goal of this function was to minimize the difference between Pinj calculated by the
three different equations. Once the difference between them is minimized the system is solved.

Production Strategy and Well Performance

The production strategy for the field includes producing the wells by free flowing to the surface.
For those wells that are in the central area of the field under the gas cap, in-situ gas lift system
can be utilized to increase production at higher water cuts. Currently, all vertical wells that
have high water cuts are being evaluated for horizontal sidetracking using an ICD completion.
This allows the well to increase its stand off to the OWC. And if the well is under the gas cap,
then further evaluation is done to determine if the well should be completed with a Smart in-
situ gas lift system.

Under the current well condition, gas injection is not a good option because the production
gain is too low for the amount of gas to be injected. However, the gas lift equipment was
installed for future needs during a scheduled horizontal sidetrack to avoid costly rig work at a
later date. Many of the wells will begin to produce water within a few years after completion.
At that time, the gas lift system can be used to optimize production in the field. Currently, the
majority of the wells are choked to prevent premature water coning. So extra gas will only
decrease the production or have minimal effects.

The most significant production gains for the gas injection is when the well wont be able to
flow by its own energy. For the Z-field, the well performances are monitored through a SCADA
system. When the well performance drops, then the gas lift valve can be hydraulically
actuated from surface to optimize production without the need for a costly offshore workover

As mentioned earlier, tests were performed to confirm the functionality of the operating valves
at different ICV positions when the well was first completed and tested. Both the production
testing results and production model ouput showed a slight gain when the valve was opened.
Production models showed that more gain can be realized when water production increases.
But the most significant production gains for the gas injection is when the well wont be able to
flow by its own energy. For the Z-field, the well performances are monitored through a SCADA
system. When the well performance drops, then the gas lift valve can be hydraulically
actuated from surface to optimize production without the need for a costly offshore workover
rig. Recent well completions call for installing dual permanent downhole monitoring system
(PDHMS) to monitor downhole pressure and temperature in real time using a SCADA system.
Between testing periods, the gas oil ratio (GOR) or gas injection can be monitored by
calculating vertical hydraulics and measuring bottom and surface flowing wellhead pressure
(FWHP). Since the gradient or the specific gravity of both gas and oil are known, then the gas
injected can be calculated by solving for mixture density with a known water cut. If water
production increases, then the amount of gas injection required can be estimated by the model
until the well is tested again.

Reservoir Management Future Considerations

In general, fieldwide use of gas cap energy to lift dead wells should be done on a limited basis
to avoid depleting the gas cap energy. Also, any major depletion of the gas cap should be
avoided in order to prevent the gas cap from shrinking, thereby causing oil to move into the
gas zone. If the gas cap shrinks, then oil will flow into the gas cap and coat the gas saturated
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sand grains. As a result, reserves will be lost since the residual saturation of oil (Sor) is higher
than the residual saturation of gas (Sgr).

In-situ gas lift systems are a viable option for artificial lift methods in an offshore environment
without adequate power on a limited basis.

The collected data during the test and the simulations shows that the in-situ gas system works
and the concept is valid. The Smart gas lift system will be effective in increasing production
rates for wells at high water cuts.

Smart In-situ gas lift completions eliminate the high capital costs of gas compression facilities
and pipelines, reduce platform load requirements, and eliminate the need to re-size or replace
the conventional gas lift equipment using costly rig work.

The authors wish to thank the management of Saudi Aramco and Baker Hughes for their
support in publishing this paper.

ESP Electric Submersible Pump
FWHP Flow Well Head Pressure
GOR Gas Oil Ratio
ICD Inflow Control Device
ICV Internal Control Valve
IWC Intelligent Well Completion
OWC Oil Water Contact
OH Open Hole
PDHMS Permanent Downhole Monitoring System
Pwf Pressure at the Sand Face
Pe External Boundary Pressure
Qgas Gas Rate
Qoil Oil Rate
SCADA Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition
Sgr Residual Gas Saturation
Sor Residual Oil Saturation
SSD Sliding Sleeve Door
WC Water Cut
WHP Well Head Pressure

1. Vaspar, A., 2006: Auto, Natural or In-situ Gas Lift Systems Explained, paper SPE 104202
presented at the SPE International Oil and Gas Conference and Exhibition, Beijing, China, 5-7
2. Beggs, H.D. and Brill, J.P., 1973: A Study of Two-Phase Flow in Inclined Pipes, J.P.T. (May
1973) 607-17; Trans., AIME, 255.
3. Vogel, J. V., 1968: Inflow Performance Relationships for Solution-Gas Drive Wells, J.P.T. (Jan
1968) 83-92.
4. Back Pressure Test for Natural Gas Wells, Railroad Commission of Texas, State of Texas
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Figure 1: Reservoir cross section Figure 2: In-situ gas lift with ICD screens

Figure 4: Shifting piston changes

Figure 3: Auto gas lift assembly aperature opening of downhole ICV

Figure 5: Gas lift performance curve

Figure 6: Gas lift design

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Length Open-Hole Completion Description

1 ft Bull Plug Vendor

4-1/2 Tubing
40 ft Customer

XXXX ft 4-1/2 Passive inflow control device (ICD) with formation packers Vendor

40 ft 4-1/2 Tubing Customer

3 ft Float collar Vendor

5 ft Landing collar w/ pup joint below Vendor

40 ft 2 Isozone External casing packers 10 ft long Vendor

4 ft PAC valve Vendor

XXX ft 4-1/2 Casing Customer

10 ft 4 1/2 Casing Pup Joint, Customer

Liner Packer and hanger Vendor

30 ft
6 ft 3 1/2 DP Pup Joint Customer
Length Upper Completion Description

10 ft Locator Seal Assembly with Half Mule Shoe Vendor

3 1/2" Tubing
XXXXft Vendor

3 ft 3 Temporary Plug Vendor

40 ft 3 1/2" New Vam Joint Customer

12 ft 3 1/2" ICV Auto-Gas Lift Valve Vendor

10 ft 7" x 3 1/2" Feed-Thru Production Packer Vendor

2 ft 3 1/2" Splice Sub Assembly Vendor

6 ft 3 1/2" New Vam Pup Joint Customer

3 ft 3 1/2" Sliding Sleeve Door Vendor

XXXX ft 4-1/2 New Vam Joint Customer

4 ft Wireline Retrievable SCSSV Vendor

XXX ft 4-1/2 New Vam Joint Customer

X ft Tubing Hanger Customer

Table 1: Detailed Equipment List

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Well Z-A
Gross Water Cut Total GOR WHP Injected Gas Gas Valve
(Bbls/Day) (%) (SCF/STB) (Psi) (MMSCFD)
6670 3.1 600 500 0.0 Close
9375 5.2 1038 586 3.9
9610 5.5 1296 680 6.3

Table 2: Z-A Well Test Data