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ESP Data Analysis to Enhance Electrical Submersible Pump Run Life at

Saudi Arabian Fields
Hashim Al-Sadah, Saudi Aramco

Copyright 2014, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE Middle East Artificial Lift Conference and Exhibition held in Manama, Bahrain, 26 27 November 2014.

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
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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
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More than 450 Electrical Submersible Pumps (ESP) have been installed in Saudi Arabias Northern Area
fields. Saudi Arabias producing wells are characterized by high reservoir pressures, high production rates,
H2S and low to mid-level water cuts. The produced reservoir formations are both carbonate and sandstone.
ESPs are not only installed in low production wells but also in naturally flowing high rate wells where the
ESP is left idle until incremental flow rate is needed at a later date.
This paper will highlight the major issues encountered with the utilization of ESP operations, together
with the technical developments applied to realize longer ESP run-life objectives. Also presented are the
field observations and analyses from troubleshooting, ESP pulls, and Dismantle Inspection and Failure
Analysis (DIFA) procedures, implemented to enhance ESP run life. This data is combined to redefine the
ESP design philosophies on a field-by-field basis. The technical enhancements made were to improve ESP
performance in H2S, scale forming and corrosive environments.
The focus will be on case histories to discuss what was implemented and the methodologies that were
used to overcome specific challenges encountered with the use of ESPs. The analysis will be an overview
of more than 130 ESP failures from the period 2006 to 2013. During this time, more than 70 DIFA
procedures were conducted and many recommendations were implemented, resulting in enhanced ESP
run life for these fields. Based on the DIFA results, most failures were attributed to three main causes;
damaged or burned Motor Lead Extension (MLE), burned motor and damaged penetrator. These three
main causes of ESP failure will be the focal point for the case studies.
The application of ESPs in the oil fields of Saudi Arabia will increase significantly as these fields mature
and the supporting reservoir pressures start to decline. This paper will take a look at the ESP performance
in an offshore field in Saudi Arabia. This field is characterized by having low bottom-hole pressure, high
hydrogen sulfide and corrosive environment. As the field matured, having the wells flow naturally was not
possible. Consequently, a means to artificially lift the fluid is required to produce the wells. The artificial
lift method was chosen after being compared with other artificial lift methods such as gas lift. ESP systems
are more advantageous because they require less space than gas lift offshore facilities. This subsequently
reduces construction costs. Also, since the field is being supported by a strong water drive, water
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Figure 1Root cause of ESP failures

production is unavoidable. Therefore, gas lift would be insufficient to provide the required lift power for
production of these wells. Also, the reservoir fluid is highly under saturated and has very low GOR values,
making the ESP application more suitable to the field. The only disadvantage of the ESP method is that
it requires a higher intervention cost when failures occur, due to workover rig requirements.
To be able to continuously produce and maintain the required oil production rates, these ESP systems
need to be reliable. A downside of using this form of Artificial Lift is the requirement for a workover rig
to replace defective units. Therefore a long average runtime is essential to limit deferred production loss
and control workover cost. Deferred production loss due to rig mobilization can be significant for offshore
locations where rig mobilization can take a long time. The financial impact of the high cost for offshore
workover rigs can be softened greatly by the increase in ESP average runtime. This study will be an
overview of more than 130 ESP failures from the periods of 2006 to 2013. The most common reasons for
ESP failures encountered in this field can be seen in Fig-1 of these failure types. The three most common
causes include:
Burnt Motor (28%)
Damaged Cable/MLE (27%)
Damaged Penetrator (24%)
Of the three case studies presented in this paper, the three most common causes were mentioned. Each
case will provide a history of the failed ESP, the final results of the Dismantle Inspection and Failure
Analysis (DIFA), along with the root cause of failure.

Case Studies
Well #1: MLE Damage
This ESP ran for 1,157 days (3.2 years) and was in the well for 1,457 days (4 years). This was the first
ESP installed in this well. The preliminary cause of failure of this ESP shows a ground fault and electrical
arching resulting in a burn in the Motor Lead Extension (MLE) as seen in Fig-2. The rest of the system
was still good.
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Figure 2Two burns on MLE was found during the analysis of well#1ESP failure

During the DIFA, two burns were noted on the MLE. One burn was highlighted on the pull report with
the location directly below the packer connector. A second burn, also in the MLE, was located at the
Pothead/MLE connection. The most vulnerable part of the motor would be the thrust bearing located in
the top of the motor. This is also the location of the MLE to pothead burn. It is thought that the high
temperature at the top of the motor degraded the MLE EPDM insulation over time to the point of
failure/grounded ESP. This is supported by the observation of the blistered painting found in the same
area. The electrical short of the lower burn most likely caused the second burn at the packer penetrator
to MLE connection, due to the high current draw due to the downhole electrical short.
The majority of failed ESPs have been in the MLE. The MLE insulation is made up of an EPDM
compound protected from heat and H2S attack by a lead sheath. Gradual degradation of EPDM insulation
with time and temperature is a natural process for EPDM compounds. Where few DIFAs have shown
mechanical wear or shaft seizure, the ESP may continue to operate for many additional years with an
improved electrical insulation system. The proposal was to install MLEs with additional insulation (5KV
vs. previously used 4KV) and a higher temperature rating that will extend the life of ESPs, which typically
fail due to MLE insulation degradation.
Well #2: Damaged Motor
The ESP ran for 12 days (Infant Mortality) and was in the well (operable) for 17 days. This is the third
ESP installed in this well. The previous two installations ran for 101 and 1,195 days. The causes of failure
of the two previous runs were attributed to motor burn and MLE burn, respectively. As for the subjected
ESP system, the preliminary cause of failure was found to be that the motor was burned due to ingress
of reservoir fluid, as seen in Fig-3.
The root cause of failure was found to be an error made during ESP installation by the ESP field service
vendor. Due to the short run life of this ESP, a methodical and comprehensive evaluation consisting of
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Figure 3Water ingression in the bottom protector and motor base

28 separate tests on the unit determined that water (reservoir fluid) entered the motor from one of two
possible entry points:
1. Ingress of water in the bottom protector (seal section) and then motor due to the wrong drain and
fill plug during installation by the field technician. There is no way to determine if the wrong plugs
were used as the fill and drain plugs must be changed out, upon pulling of the unit and prior to
shipment of the ESP for DIFA inspection. The Pull report did not indicate the wrong plug was
2. Ingress of water into the motor and protector, at the protector to motor flange, due to inadequate
torque of the connection bolts. There is no way to determine if the bolts had inadequate torque due
to the need to separate (bolt removal) the protector and motor, prior to shipment of the ESP for
DIFA inspection.
Both possible water entry points would result from field service error during motor preparation and
installation while on the rig floor.
Human error has and will continue to be a source of ESP failures. Contractor field service error can
come from experienced as well as recently trained technicians due to the high stress environments of
working offshore (weather, lack of sleep, rig time pressure, communication difficulties, work space
limitations, etc.). To mitigate this source of failure, it is recommended to adopt an ESP program that
minimizes the complexity (number of procedural steps) and time it takes for an ESP to be installed. It is
recommended that the installation procedures should be minimized on the rig floor and the components
installed back in the workshop, whenever possible.
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Figure 4 Burn signs throughout the packer penetrator found on Well#3

The two possible root cause failures identified for this 12-day run would be avoided with the system
provided by the vendor where the motor and protector are integrated and installed as one component. The
simplicity of this system will reduce safety risks, infant mortalities, and rig/installation costs. This system
was implemented in the field, starting in 2008.
Well #3: Packer Penetrator
The ESP ran for 294 days and was in the well (operable) for 326 days. This is the second ESP installed
in this well. The preliminary cause of failure was found to be that the packer penetrator was burned.
The root cause of failure was found to be a burnt packer penetrator due to decompression as seen
in Fig-4. The failure resulted from the effects of decompression on the penetrator (female) boots. The
expansion/contraction of the boots allowed the intrusion of well fluids, causing the electrical fault. During
the failure event, the gauge data was frozen. Therefore, there is no captured data of the failure and
suspected decompression. While no foreign material was present during the DIFA, the presence of a
collapsed intake screen strongly indicates that the intake was plugged during operation. The failure
location (at the end of the penetrator tube) indicated that well fluids entered into the back side of the
female boot. When the pressure was quickly released, the boot was thought to expand to a point where
it no longer made contact with the penetrator tubing. This allowed well fluids to enter underneath.
It was recommended that well cleanup practices during workover need to be implemented. The vendor
continues to look at improved packer penetrator systems in an effort to improve reliability during
decompression events. Tests for rapid decompression were performed in the vendor laboratory, which
compared the existing female boots to the new tighter tolerance boots. Housed in a pressure vessel with
pressure and temperature (as well as utilizing a rocking mechanism) and a mixture of 80% water, 20% #2
grade diesel and a mixture of CO2 and N2 (5% of the weight of diesel used). An industry standard
decompression rate of 50 psi/min was used.
Well #4: Scale Removal
This ESP system has seen three failures since the production started, and the current installation became
stuck due to scale. The Dismantle Inspection and Failure Analysis (DIFA) and laboratory testing of
samples taken from the pump stages of the previous failures confirmed the presence of predominantly
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Figure 5debris found during the DIFA of well#4

calcium carbonate scale as seen in fig-5. The impellers and diffusers of the ESP pump were discovered
to be totally blocked with solid precipitation, which was the cause of frequent trips of the pump and the
decreasing production rate. Therefore, it was suspected that the stuck pump will be attributed to scale
formation inside the unit. A treatment was designed to dissolve the scale build-up without adversely
affecting the tubular and downhole equipment. The main component of this treatment fluid is a chelating
agent-based scale dissolver. After the treatment, to avoid the reoccurrence of pump failure, studies were
done of the formation water associated with the crude stream. Information was gathered on scaling indices
and thermodynamics of the scale precipitation tendency. The results indicated that scale inhibitors, such
as Polyacrylic acid (PAA) or Polyphosphinocarboxylic acid (PPCA), bullheaded into the formation, might
be used to control scale in this well in the future.
The goal of this project was to remove the scale accumulation, regain operation of the stuck ESP, and
realize a return to the original production level. As a result, a costly workover operation was avoided and
the life of the ESP was increased, without affecting or compromising the completion. The treatment for
this well was carried out by bullheading the chemical recipe through the wellhead, and ultimately led to
this success story.

Technical Improvements
Saudi Aramco has been making continuous technical improvements to increase ESP run lives and
decrease failure rates.
Severe Service MLE
The high concentration of H2S contributed to the MLE failures. Significant technical upgrades were made
to the type of MLE used to enhance its reliability. The upgraded severe service MLE was installed with
an H2S resistant sealing block along with a heavier lead barrier. The EPDM rubber insulation layer was
replaced by PEEK insulation; a heavier lead barrier cable. One major upside of PEEK insulations over
EPDM is that it can withstand service temperatures of 250 C compared to 150 C for EPDM rubbers. So
far, 58 severe service MLEs have been installed since January 2012. A total of 10 ESPs of the installed
severe service equipment have failed and none have been attributed to a damaged MLE. In addition, seven
of the failed ESPs outperformed the run life of the previously installed conventional system.
Soft ESP Shutdown
VSD soft shutdowns were implemented to prevent ESP failures caused by abrupt power shut offs.
Utilizing this method the VSD takes 20 seconds to come to a full stop as opposed to the milliseconds
found in the practice of shutting down by cutting the power. This minimizes any mechanical or electrical
shocks that might take place as a result of hard shutdowns. This procedure was first implemented in 2013.
As a result, no ESP failures were seen after total field shutdowns, compared to six failures after field
shutdown in 2012.
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Figure 6 Hard VSD shutdowns vs. Soft shutdown

Stuck Shaft
New procedures were implemented in 2013 to resolve ESP stuck shaft issues without the need for a
workover. Whenever the shaft becomes stuck, the practice is to perform an acid and scale through the
ESP, for those wells with a history of scale. So far, two scale treatments have been performed through
the pump section of an ESP that freed the stuck shaft and eliminated the need for a workover rig.
Besides scale, other conditions that could cause this problem include: foreign materials, wax or as-
phaltene. To avoid this issue, proper well clean up was implemented by the workover rig post-replacement
of the ESP. Also, continuous chemical treatment of scale inhibitors and xylene was used to treat the well
and avoid material formation.
TCA Bleed-off
Rapid Tubing Casing Annulus (TCA) bleed-off results in rapid pressure decompression of the cable and
wellhead penetrator. This is caused by initially pumping high volumes of fluid rapidly, which causes a
sudden decrease in the pressure. In some cases, this phenomenon led to sudden premature failure of the
electrical system. To avoid the failure, new procedures were implemented to properly manage the TCA
pressure and to avoid the rapid decrease, and to maintain the TCA pressure at acceptable levels.
Despite the ESP failures that were encountered, ESPs still prove to be the best artificial lift method to
achieve the desired production rates in this specific field. Continuous technical improvements will be
required to continuously extend ESP run times. The problems identified were found to be related to
varying causes, such as well conditions, installation error, and material reliability. By resolving these
issues and implementing best practice procedures, the run life of ESPs will continue to improve.

CO2 Carbon Dioxide Gas
DIFA Dismantle Inspection and Failure Analysis
EPDM Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer (M-class) rubber
ESP Electrical Submersible Pump
GOR Produced Gas Oil Ratio, scf/stb
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H2S Hydrogen Sulfide gas

MLE Motor Lead Extension
N2 Nitrogen gas
PAA Polyacrylic Acid
PEEK Polyether Ether Ketone
PPCA Polyphosphinocarboxylic Acid
TCA Tubing Casing Annulus
VSD Variable Speed Drive

Al Zahrani, A. R., Al Shinaiber, F. A., Al Omairen, K. I., Nuriakhmetov, R., & Gurmen, M. N. (2013,
May 19). Utilizing Chelating Agent System Fluid to Remove Scale Buildup from Stuck ESP Shaft in
Offshore Saudi Arabia. Society of Petroleum Engineers. doi:10.2118/168093-MS
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Figure 7Average Run Life of Failed ESPs from 2005 to 2013

Figure 8 Average Run Life of All Failed & Running ESPs from 2005 to 2013
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Figure 9 The Mean Time Between Failures from 2005 to 2013