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Overview

A review of recent SPE papers related to artificial lift reveals areas of interest and concern in the industry. The subjects included hydraulics; progressing-cavity pumps (PCPs); coiled tubing; viscous oil; electrical submersible pumps (ESPs)gas, abrasion, and failures; slimhole pumping; gas liftsubsea, intermittent, valves, and inflow performance relationship; field studiesselection, and monitoring; beam liftfield monitoring/selection/best practices, downhole separation, pump research, design algorithms, and long stroke. Beam lift, the most common form of artificial lift, is receiving the most attention. ESPs may not be realistically represented because the ESP Roundtable collects many of these papers. Of the subjects highlighted in this feature, beam-pump research that monitors a clear-plastic instrumented downhole-pump model is leading to new insights into pump friction, compression ratio, fillage, and diagnostics. A deepwater gas lift installation uses dynamic modeling to improve design, confidence, and reliability of the expensive production system. ESPs are combined with gas lift in an abrasive environment experiencing slug flow to improve overall system performance. PCP systems are improved by use of hollow-rod systems to eliminate rod-connection failures, reduce tubing wear, allow injection, and increase system reliability. Heat distributed along the tubing for viscous oil production, intelligent control of intermittent gas lift, criteria for changing gas lift to implementation ESPs, and beam lift are additional subjects of particular note. In general, gas interference in beam and ESP systems are of concern. Consideration is being made more often to use pumping systems with gas separation to increase rates in older gas lift fields. Field studies related to failure reduction and best practices will always be of use. Beam pumping is still a focus of operator attention and new developments. JPT

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James F. Lea, SPE, is the current Chair of the Petroleum Engineering Dept. at Texas Tech U. Previously, Lea was with Amoco Production Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for 21 years, working most recently as Team Leader of the Optimization and Artificial-Lift Group. He is a registered professional engineer. Lea received SPEs Production Engineering Award in 1996 and served two terms as an SPE Distinguished Lecturer. He has authored more than 50 papers in the areas of artificial lift and production.

MAY 2001

Hollow-Rod Technology for PCP Systems


Conventional sucker rods are used to drive progressing-cavity-pump (PCP) systems. However, conventional rods were designed to work under alternating tensile stress, not under torsion (shear stress). The use of conventional rods to drive PCP systems has limitations and problems. A PCP requires a high-torque rod to drive the system. A hollow-rod (HR) system was developed that reduces connection failure and tubing wear, increases pumping rates as a result of high torque capacity, and enables injection of chemical corrosion inhibitors or viscosity-reduction fluids down the inside of the HR. Introduction The pump in a PCP system is a highstrength steel helical rotor moving in an elastomeric stator. Pumping is accomplished by the ascending displacement of isolated cavities formed between the rotor and stator. Usually, the rotation driving the pump is transmitted from the surface by a suckerrod string working under torsion, friction, and flex. With increasing pump depths and capacities, the increased workloads led to an increase in the early sucker-rod failure. In many cases, it is not possible to install PCP systems because conventional rods cannot transmit the required torque (from 2035 to 3390 N.m). Sucker-rod connections fail prematurely because of overloading. The bodies fail as a result of combined effects of flex and torsion. Tubing/sucker-rod friction causes excessive wear and early failure.
This article is a synopsis of paper SPE 69558, Hollow Rods: Development of a New Technology for PCP , by D.E. Olmos, Metalmecanica S.A.; H.A. Ernst, J.A. Villasante, and D.H. Johnson, Fudetec; A.F. Ameglio, SPE, Metalmecanica S.A.; and L. Del Pozo, Capsa Diadema, originally presented at the 2001 SPE Latin American and Caribbean Petroleum Engineering Conference, Buenos Aires, 2528 March.

Rotational movement of the suckerrod couplings is eccentric and generates friction when they rub against the tubing. This phenomenon occurs at certain combinations of rotational speed and well depth because of a mass concentration at the couplings and stiffness difference between the rod body and the coupling. HRs and connectors, like those shown in Fig. 1, were developed to reduce these problems and enable injection of dilutors through its interior to aid extraction of heavy and extra-heavy oils, improve injection efficiency, and avoid the use of capillary injection tubes. Design Fig. 2 shows the geometry of the main components of the HR connection. The critical parts include a torque shoulder on the pipe box, a transition zone between the torque shoulder and the thread on the coupling, and the thread ends on the pipe box and couplings. The connection thread has a trapezoidal shape, a differential taper between pin and box components of thread, a conical bore on the coupling, and a reverse-angle torque shoulder. With this connection, the vanishing thread is on the box and the complete thread is on the coupling. The thread profile is similar to that of a tubular premium connection. To obtain interference between coupling and box threads in the vanishing thread area on the pipe box, thread height in the coupling must be equal to or greater than the thread height in the pipe box. This is opposite to that on the tubular premium connection. Tensional Modeling. External loads considered during modeling include transmitted torque, rod-string weight, liquid-column weight, and bending caused by dogleg severity. On the basis of these loads, stresses were calculated at critical points of the connection, the connection at the wellhead and at the bottom of the well. The connection at the bottom of the well does not encounter substantial axial loads while the connection at the

Fig. 1Hollow-rod system (pipe box and coupling).

wellhead is subjected to the weight of the rod string and the fluid. Because the HR connection is subjected to fatigue loads, resultant stresses must be lower than the fatigue limit of the connection material. Sensitivity Analysis. A sensitivity analysis was performed relating stresses with loads and geometry of the connection and threads. In operation, the connection at the bottom of the well is subjected to less torque than the connection at the wellhead. This difference is the result of friction between the rotating column and the tubing. Fatigue-Life Analysis. The model and full-scale testing of prototypes indicate that the torque loads for the fatigue limit of the material are between 950 and 1350 N.m for the 48.4-mm connection and between 1625 and 3250 N.m for the 60.3-mm connection. The fatigue life of the connection is strongly influenced by well conditions such as dogleg severity and fluid corrosion properties. Product design used results from a multiaxial full-scale laboratory test on a connection sample.

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Fig. 2HR connection (central coupling with pipe boxes).

MAY 2001

Backspin. Backspin occurs when the pumping system is stopped. It is produced by the release of energy accumulated in the pumping system. The pumping system accumulates energy as torsional elastic deformation of the rod string and as potential energy of the column of fluid being pumped. The accumulated energy makes the rod string counterrotate. This phenomenon is known as backspin. The result is connection looseness to the point of separation. The most critical compo-

nent of the accumulated energy is that caused by deformation. This energy is released faster than the energy accumulated by the fluid column. Thus, it produces a higher countertorque. The potential energy of the fluid acts on the pump in such a way that the pump behaves like a turbine as long as the column height produces a hydrostatic head higher than the well pressure. This process can take tens of minutes and should be controlled by the brake on the wellhead motor.

Possible solutions include retightening loose connections, then continuing operations; use of adhesives on the connection; or use of pumping motors with speed control that allow a controlled stop of the pumping system. Field Applications Field and laboratory testing is ongoing. Laboratory testing of the following elements is complete. Upset 42-mm HR rated at 2035 N.m torque. Upset 48-mm HR rated at 3390 N.m torque. An injection head to allow fluid injection from the surface (diluents and corrosion inhibitors). Hollow polished rods to allow injection from the surface. Polished-rod clamps and stuffing boxes for the required rod diameters. Field tests on wells pumping extraheavy oil in the Orinoco basin in Venezuela are being analyzed. Diluent injection is through the HR, increasing accuracy of the injection point and simplifying the equipment needed. Conclusions By numerically modeling connections, a suitable HR was designed that can withstand the load conditions of a PCP system. Destruction and fatigue tests confirmed performance. The design includes a group of tubulars with a special external-flush joint having a wide range of torque to drive high-flow PCP systems. Field tests confirmed the performance predicted by numerical models and laboratory tests. The externalflush connection reduces localized flow speeds at the connections reducing pressure drop. Abrasion and erosion from suspended solids are reduced making corrosion inhibitors more effective. A reduction in well failures was achieved. The flush connection reduces the contact between the rods and tubing, thus avoiding frequent tubing failures because of friction wear. Backspin effect is reduced. The higher stiffness of the HR string compared with the conventional-rod string reduces the accumulated elastic deformation during pumping operations. JPT
Please read the full-length paper for additional detail, illustrations, and references. The paper from which the synopsis has been taken has not been peer reviewed.

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MAY 2001

ESP/Automated-Gas-Lift Completions for High-GOR, Thick-Sand Wells


An electrical-submersible-pump (ESP)/automated-gas-lift completion was developed to overcome production challenges encountered in the Stag oil field. The flow from the horizontal section of the wells has a high gas fraction, continuously slugs, and carries large volumes of sand. Also, the reservoir pressure has depleted more rapidly than expected. The completion design allows natural flow through either the tubing or the annulus, ESP lift through the tubing augmented by automated gas lift through the annulus, or conventional compressordriven gas lift through the annulus. Introduction The Stag oil field is in 150 ft of water, 40 miles northwest of Dampier, Australia. Production in excess of 40 million bbl of 19API oil is expected over the next 15 years. The glauconitic-sandstone reservoir is approximately 2,230 ft below sea level and approximately 65 ft thick. Reservoir temperature is 125F and oil viscosity at reservoir conditions is 7 cp. Well productivities range from 5 to 30 bbl/(psi-D). Following initial production in May 1998, it became clear that the field had a larger-than-expected gas cap. Producing gas/oil ratios (GORs) were significantly higher than expected. After 1 year of production, the average reservoir pressure fell from approximately 1,050 psi to approximately 700 psi. Consequently, free-gas fractions in excess of 80% are common at pump suction conditions.
This article is a synopsis of paper SPE 64466, Combined ESP/Automated-Gas-Lift Completions in HighGOR/High-Sand Wells on the Australian Northwest Shelf, by K.J. Aitken, SPE, Apache Energy, and J.C. Allan, SPE, A.D. Brodie, SPE, and J.D. Holmes, SPE, Helix Well Technologies, originally presented at the 2000 SPE Asia Pacific Oil and Gas Conference and Exhibition, Brisbane, Australia, 1618 October.

The high gas fraction, combined with horizontal-section trajectories, causes terrain slugging in the wells. Following the onset of water production in one well, significant sand production began, which stabilized at approximately 0.1 vol% (approximately 870 lbm/1,000 bbl) over a period of several months. Initial ESP Completion Design The initial completion design used a shrouded ESP system, without a gasventing facility. The pump was equipped with special gas-handling stages that precondition the gassy crude oil before it enters the conventional pump stages. The ESPs were in the horizontal sections of the wells. A mechanically actuated fluid-loss valve, which is designed to isolate the reservoir during workovers, also was used in the initial completion design. This valve was in the tailpipe below a deep-set retrievable packer. Chemical injection valves, for demulsifier and scale-inhibitor dosing, were included. Vent-Packer Completion To address the poor well performance, conventional vent-packer high-GOR ESP completions (Fig. 1) were installed. The vent-packer completions used a vortex rotary gas separator upstream of the pump, which separates a proportion of the free gas and exhausts it through the annulus. As a result, less free gas enters the special gas-handling pump stages. Vented packers, with surface-controlled subsurface safety valves (SCSSSVs) were included above the pump to provide downhole isolation of the annulus flow path. The ventpacker completions increased production rates by 15 to 20% compared with the original completion design. Combined ESP/AutomatedGas-Lift Completion The objective of redesigning the completion was to debottleneck the annulus flow path. The design allows natural flow through the annulus when reservoir conditions permit. When the

GOR declines and natural flow is no longer possible, then ESP lift is initiated. The debottlenecked annulus allows the vortex gas separator to operate with greater efficiency. In turn, automated gas lift occurs with liquid production through the annulus as well as the tubing. Debottlenecking was achieved by eliminating the vent packer, its associated SCSSSV and the shallow-set tub, ing-retrievable SCSSSV (TRSCSSSV) from the design. In their place, a TRSCSSSV was installed below the ESP system. As shown in Fig. 2, the valve is below the pump and isolation is provided for the entire system of tubing and annulus. The completion design provides the option to produce the wells in any of the following ways. Natural flow through the tubing, annulus, or both. ESP lift through the tubing with automated gas lift up the annulus. Compressor-driven gas-lift production through the annulus. Well Performance. The combined ESP/automated-gas-lift completions were installed in six of the eight production wells. In one well, a definitive incremental production rate of 1,700 STB/D (60% increase) was achieved. The other wells are either new wells or wells where other remediation measures, such as reperforation, were applied. However, their behavior demonstrates that incremental production of 40 to 80% is the direct result of the improved completion design. In addition, ESP run life has been improved by more than 100%. Completion Reliability Following the increase in water production from 35 to 75% in Well A, significant sand production began, then stabilized at approximately 0.1% after several months. Following a decline in GOR and reservoir pressure, automated gas lift of liquid through the annulus became intermittent. When this happened, sand production also became intermittent.

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Fig. 1Vent-packer completion.

Fig. 2Combined ESP/automated-gas-lift completion.

Remedial sand control of the wells was considered, but was rejected because of the probable significant reduction in productivity if screens were installed inside the preperforated liners. The strategy of managing sand production at surface was adopted. Also, it was necessary to ensure that the completions were protected against abrasion as much as possible. ESP System Reliability. To improve abrasion resistance, zirconium bearings were replaced with silicon carbide bearings and bushings. To distribute the load more effectively, bearings were added for each stage. Harder materials have been specified for diffusers and impellers to improve abrasion resistance. Also, new abrasion-resistant coatings are being evaluated. The number of pump stages has been increased to enable effective operation at a lower operating frequency than was possible with the previous ESP specification. Erosion is proportional to the square of the operating speed; therefore, this is an effective method to minimize abrasion. Mixed-flow-type pumps

were adopted, which are more tolerant of abrasive solids than the radial pumps used previously. Multiphase-Flow Solids-Transport Prediction. Because downhole sand control is not used, and with the large quantities of sand produced, it is important that produced sand does not accumulate in the wellbore. To investigate the movement of sand out of the wellbore, solids transport in horizontal, inclined, and vertical tubing and annular multiphase flow was modeled. A multiphase-flow well-performance model was built and history matched. Sensitivities then were run to predict mixture velocity and fluid property profiles over the range of possible production rates. The threshold mixture velocities, which are required to ensure the varying particle sizes can be transported, then were calculated along the length of the wellbore. The risk of solids deposition in each section of the well was determined by comparing the predicted threshold velocity profiles with the predicted mixture velocity profiles.

Conclusions A combined ESP/automated-gas-lift completion design was developed for wells operating in a very hostile environment. The design has enabled production rates up to 60% higher than could be achieved with a conventional vent-packer design. The design provides the flexibility to naturally flow through the tubing and/or annulus or to conventionally gas lift through the annulus. Software tools were developed to determine well performance where liquid production splits into two streams, and to determine solids transport capability. The abrasion resistance of the ESP system has been upgraded, resulting in an improved run life. In a well where the ESP failed after 3 weeks, the improved system had operated for 9 months at the time the paper was written. JPT
Please read the full-length paper for additional detail, illustrations, and references. The paper from which the synopsis has been taken has not been peer reviewed.

48 MAY 2001

Laboratory-Instrumented Sucker-Rod Pump


To develop a knowledge base of sucker-rod pumps, a clear suckerrod pump was instrumented in the laboratory. An instrumented downhole pump is planned. A key element is measuring the compression-chamber pressurepressure inside the pump barrel. Analyses of the compression-chamber pressure provide a better understanding of events during the time when both valves are closed. Techniques are being developed for real-time diagnosis of fillage and gas locking. Introduction Sucker-rod pumping is the principal method of artificial lift for fields where the reservoir pressure has been depleted. Lifting cost is a major operating expense in these fields and producers strive to operate pumping systems at maximum efficiency with minimum downtime. To validate modeling of the pumping system, calculated results were compared with downhole measurements of rod loads. Still, little understanding exists of pump performance under downhole conditions, particularly the relationship between the pressure of the fluid flowing through the pump and the mechanical loads that develop during the pump stroke. The laboratory pump enabled development of diagnostic techniques where pump performance can be verified visually. Instrumentation of a downhole pump will enable testing at various field conditions. Laboratory Pumping System Experiments were conducted at the artificial-lift facilities of the Petroleum
This article is a synopsis of paper SPE 67268, Laboratory-Instrumented Sucker-Rod Pump, by A.L. Podio, SPE, and J.F. Gomez, SPE, U. of Texas at Austin; A.J. Mansure, SPE, Sandia Natl. Laboratory; and B.J. Williams, SPE, and M.W. Mahoney, SPE, Harbison-Fischer, originally presented at the 2001 SPE Production and Operations Symposium, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 2427 March. 50 MAY 2001

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and Geosystems Engineering Dept. of the U. of Texas at Austin. The pumping unit and the wellhead are standard oilfield components. Clear acrylic pipe was used for the casing/tubing vertical wellbore. The sucker-rod pump is a 1:1 replica of a tubing pump. The working barrel was constructed with Plexiglass to allow visualization of the inner regions. The standing valve was attached to the bottom of the tubing. The steel plunger has a smooth sealing surface. Pressure, load, and position were measured. To study the fluid dynamics in the sucker-rod pump, four pressure transducers were installed at the inlet, inside the barrel, at the discharge of the pump, and in the annular area. The polished rod load was measured with a compression-load cell between the polishedrod clamp and the carrier bar. A video recorder was used to record the dynamics of the valves and fluids in the subsurface pump. Sucker-Rod-Pump Dynamics Many investigations have studied the mechanisms involved in the pumping system. This paper focuses on three aspects: pressure drop through the valves, liquid pump fillage and gas compression, and stuffing-box friction.

Pressure Drop Across Valves. A pressure drop exists across both the standing and traveling valves when fluid flows through the valves. This pressure drop can be used to determine the load applied to the plunger as a result of the pressure difference across the plunger. Also, it can affect gas breakout. During the downstroke, a significant difference is observed between the pressure inside the pump barrel and the discharge pressure. This difference corresponds to the pressure drop through the traveling valve and the internal passage through the plunger. The pressure difference is a maximum during the middle part of the downstroke because this portion of the stroke is where the plunger reaches maximum velocity. During the upstroke, a small pressure difference between the pump intake and the barrel was observed. This pressure difference corresponds to the pressure drop through the standing valve. It is much smaller in magnitude because of the larger flow area when compared with the traveling valve and plunger assembly. The instantaneous velocity of the plunger was obtained by differentiating the position vs. time curve. The quadratic nature of the relationship corroborates the findings of theoretical

Fig. 1Pressure difference between pump barrel and discharge as a function of plunger position during the downstroke.

analysis and indicates that the pressure-drop mechanism is controlled primarily by turbulent flow. Partial Pump Fillage. During these tests, at pumping speeds from 5 to 15 strokes/min, pump fillage was controlled by regulating the fluid rate entering the pump intake until a constant fillage was observed inside the pump barrel. Fillage was varied from a 100% full pump to a totally pumpedoff condition where only gas was entering and leaving the pump barrel. The intake and barrel pressures during the upstroke are nearly identical (i.e., a very low pressure drop through the standing valve when only gas is flowing through it). Fig. 1 shows the difference in pressure across the plunger during the portion of the downstroke before the traveling valve opens. Data are for tests corresponding to different liquid fillage from full-pump to pumped-off conditions. The zero-pressure line corresponds to the point where the pressure inside the pump barrel equals the discharge pressure. The minimum pressure (negative value) for each curve corresponds to the point where the traveling valve opens. Stuffing-Box Friction. A special test was devised to measure the stuffingbox friction. The sheave is rotated manually at the gear reducer in a sequence of equally spaced start/stop cycles. The load variation for each cycle corresponds to the static friction between the polished rod and the stuffing box. This was verified further by repeating the test after removing the stuffing box. Compression-Chamber Pressure At the end of the downstroke, the traveling valve closes when the upward flow through the valve stops. When the traveling valve closes, the pressure inside the compression chamber (space inside the pump barrel between the standing and traveling valves) will be high, equal to pump discharge pressure. The standing valve will not open until the pressure in the compression chamber drops below the pump intake pressure. While both valves are closed, the pressure inside the compression chamber drops because the upward plunger motion expands the compressionchamber volume creating suction.

If no gas is trapped between the standing and traveling valves at the beginning of the upstroke and fluid compressibility is low, then the change in compression-chamber pressure is essentially instantaneous. When gas is trapped between the valves, the change in pressure, assuming dead oil (oil for which no gas breaks out as the pressure drops), can be approximated by gas laws. Pump Efficiency When gas is trapped between the standing and traveling valves at the beginning of the upstroke, the standing valve will not open until the pressure in the compression chamber drops below the pump intake pressure. The well stops pumping when the gas/liquid ratio becomes great enough that the effective stroke length becomes zero (i.e., gas lock). Several factors can lead to poor gas separation in the pump (gas not rising to the top of the compression chamber during the downstroke) and include high liquid viscosity, high gas/liquid volumetric ratio at the pump intake, and high stroking rates. Under such conditions, assuming the gas-trapping space is insignificant, the gas/liquid ratio in the clearance space should approach the intake gas/liquid ratio corrected for compression. The pump must be stroked slow enough to allow the gas that enters the clearance space to rise and pass through the traveling valve during the downstroke. Gas Locking A pump can become gas-locked because of inadequate compression. If, during the upstroke, gas is trapped between the standing and traveling valves and the expansion fails to drop the compression-chamber pressure below the pump-intake pressure, the standing valve will not open and the pump will gas lock. The traveling valve fails to open when the pump discharge pressure does not exceed the hydrostatic pressure in the tubing. If there is sufficient fillage, it is possible to compress the gas sufficiently to raise the compression pump discharge pressure above the hydrostatic pressure causing the traveling valve to open. For steady intake and discharge pressures, as the length of the gas bubble increases with increasing gas/liquid ratio, first the standing valve wont open, then the traveling valve wont

open. The full-length paper details calculations for modeling gas lock. Live-Oil Effects For this discussion it was assumed that the breakout and corresponding dissolving back into solution occurs much faster than the volumetric changes of the pump such that the gas is always in equilibrium with the fluid. In this case, the gas that breaks out during the decompression at the beginning of the upstroke will go back into solution during the compression at the beginning of the downstroke. This does not result in a direct change in gas-bubble length. It may indirectly affect the rising of the gas up to where it will pass through the traveling valve during the downstroke. Gas breakout will affect the liquid entering the pump because the breakout gas occupies space that liquid could occupy. Conclusions A laboratory system was developed that duplicates the operation of a fullscale pumping system. Analysis of initial results indicates that it is possible to quantify the relationship between pressure drop through the valves and the plunger velocity by means of a quadratic relation. It is expected that this relationship can be generalized when additional tests with various liquid viscosities are undertaken. Measurements of the stuffing-box friction in the laboratory equipment suggested that similar measurements could be made in the field and the results of one such test showed that stuffing-box friction can be a significant portion of polishedrod load. In the compression/expansion cycle for full, partially filled, and pumped-off conditions, the compression mechanism behaves in an intermediate mode between isothermal and adiabatic. The gas-locking mechanism can be modeled with pressure data. Pump efficiency can be expressed in terms of the plunger travel and dead space as a function of the gas/liquid volumetric ratio. JPT
Please read the full-length paper for additional detail, illustrations, and references. The paper from which the synopsis has been taken has not been peer reviewed. 51

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MAY 2001

Subsea Gas-Lift Design for the Angola Kuito Development


Stable production with minimal fluctuation in gas/liquid ratio (GLR) is critical when designing gas-lift systems for subsea applications. Subsurface gas-lift equipment must last the life of the well, and the unloading and operating procedures minimize erosion of the gas-lift valve and orifice. Dynamic modeling was used to determine the optimum orifice size for long-term operability over a range of injection rates, water cuts, and productivity indices. Also, the model was used to develop startup procedures that minimize erosional effects on the downhole orifice and help answer questions regarding cyclic-production pressures at the subsea wellhead. Introduction The Kuito field is offshore Cabinda province in Angola. Fig. 1 shows the initial phase of development: a 12-slot subsea production manifold; a remote gas-injection well; crude oil produced to a floating production, storage, and offloading (FPSO) vessel for processing; and a single-point mooring (SPM) system for oil export. Gas lift is used for artificial lift because the solution gas/oil ratio is 200 scf/bbl and zeroflare production is required. Subsea Gas-Lift Design Because the cost of intervention in a subsea well is higher than that of a traditional completion, the subsurface gas-lift equipment must be designed paying special attention to reliability and longevity. Also, the port in the operating valve must be sized on the basis of anticipated production conditions over the life of the well.
This article is a synopsis of paper OTC 11874, Subsea Gas-Lift Design for the Angola Kuito Development, by Shauna G. Noonan, Chevron Petroleum Technology Co.; Kenneth L. Decker, Decker Technology; and Carl E. Mathisen, Cabinda Gulf Oil Co., originally presented at the 2000 Offshore Technology Conference, Houston, 14 May. 52 MAY 2001

Usually, failed equipment or a change in production conditions would be dealt with by use of light intervention methods (i.e., wireline or coiled tubing) to place new equipment in the side-pocket mandrels. Because Kuito intervention cost is high, methods to eliminate possibilities of failure are sought, and operating valves are designed for a wide range of producing conditions. A conventional gasFig. 1Initial development of the Kuito field. lift installation would have several unloading valves. A nitrogen charge is contained Gas-Lift-Port Erosion between the structure of the valve and Erosion occurs when fluid flows the bellows. In many cases, unloading through the valve at high velocity for a valves work as intended; however, the prolonged period of time. Aside from existence of the bellows and the nitro- the abrasive nature of annulus fluids, gen charge present the possibility of the main influence is the differential failure, especially at high gas-injection pressure across the valve. The operator pressure. Either the nitrogen charge in can control this differential pressure by the dome can leak off or the bellows adjusting the gas-injection rate. No literature was found regarding could fracture. Although unloading valves are very testing of gas-lift valves to determine reliable, the possibility of their failure the rate of erosion as a function of difin a subsea completion and the cost of ferential pressure and time. For the intervention motivates designs that Kuito design, the American Petroleum avoid their use. The Kuito develop- Inst. (API) erosional-velocity formula ment has sufficient injection pressure for pipelines was used. This formula to achieve injection at the operating computes a C-value as a function of valve, eliminating the need for unload- velocity and fluid density. For pipelines, the recommended C-value ing valves. The port in the square-edged orifice is less than 125 to avoid erosion. A valve must be sized to operate over a rule of thumb in the gas-lift industry wide range of flowing conditions. Too uses a value of 450 as the maximum large a port allows unstable lifting con- for a conventional orifice without ditions. Too small a port will reduce the hardened material or special metallurproduction rate. Because the orifice gy. It should be noted that the API Cvalve provides the only path to unload value assumes that the liquid is particannulus fluids, special attention must ulate-free, hence the importance of filbe paid to ensure that the orifice port is tering well fluids. not eroded during the unloading process. Therefore, the orifice valve Dynamic vs. Static Modeling must be treated with a surface-harden- Traditional nodal-analysis tools are ing process and the gas-injection rate static steady-state models. The analymust be monitored at the surface dur- sis assumes that the injection rate ing the unloading process. through the surface choke and the

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subsurface orifice are equal and that the GLR throughout the length of the tubing string will be constant. However, this assumption is not assured, and whenever the tubing or annulus pressure changes, the amount of gas injected through the orifice will change. As a result, the GLR in the tubing string will become a function of time and depth. If the injection rate through the orifice is different from that at the surface choke, a transient is initiated in both the annulus and the tubing. In many cases, this transient will attenuate and the system will find a new equilibrium point. However, cases exist where the transient will become unstable. Traditional nodal-analysis tools attempt to use stability criteria to determine transient stability. Usually, these stability criteria are based on empirical evidence and can lead to an incorrect analysis. Dynamic modeling of a gas-lift well can simulate the transient by tracking the amount of gas in the tubing string as a function of time and depth. As the dynamic model moves forward in time, it calculates annulus and tubing pressures, the gas-injection rate at the orifice, and reservoir inflow at each timestep. If the injection rate at the surface is insufficient to maintain continuous injection at the orifice, the dynamic model can simulate the ensuing unstable flowing conditions. As the injection rate increases, instability decreases, and eventually, a stable operating point is reached. Kuito Gas-Lift Design and Operation Analysis The objective was to determine the optimum orifice size and operating strategy to provide stable production throughout the life of the well. Orifice Size. Dynamic-modeling software was used for simulations that varied water cut, reservoir pressure, and productivity index. Each case was run with three port sizes and each port size was simulated at three wellhead pressures. Each simulation determined the approximate gas-injection rate at which the production from the wellbore began to slug and become unstable. Graphs of gas-injection rate at the valve orifice vs. time and produced-fluid volume vs. volume of injected gas were used to estimate the minimum gas-injection rate required

to operate the well in a stable manner. As the water cut increases, the required minimum injection rate increases also. The larger the orifice, the higher the minimum injection rate needed for a stable system. When the minimum gas-injection rates for the various conditions (productivity index, reservoir pressure, water cut) were determined, each port size was evaluated on its performance in the expected 1.5 to 2.5 MMscf/D gasinjection range. Operating Strategy. With the orifice selected, an operating strategy is needed to prevent erosion. The unloading cycle is the most critical because liquids pass through the orifice at high velocities. This cycle occurs during the initial startup of the well and after a workover. It also occurs during a normal operational shut-in, even though the orifice used at Kuito has a check valve. Check valves are not pressure seals, and thereby allow fluid leakage into the annulus if the tubing pressure becomes greater than the annulus pressure. Dynamic-modeling software was used to develop an unloading sequence to reduce the risk of erosion. Initially, Kuito wells flow naturally. When the tubing pressure at the orifice drops below that in the annulus, the workover fluid passes through at very high velocities, resulting in unacceptable C-values for a period of time. The velocity of this fluid would be difficult to control during the well startup and poses an erosion risk. The decision was made to circulate the workover fluid out of the wellbore and replace it with diesel at the end of the well completion. Simulations predicted that the diesel would remain in the annulus until displaced by injecting gas. Fluctuating Wellhead Pressure. Slugging in the risers caused pressure fluctuations at the wellhead. Riser-system modeling predicted possible wellhead pressure cycles of 30 psi, which is relatively small. Nevertheless, the dynamic gas-lift model was used to simulate 200-psi cycles at the wellhead to ensure that the system could continue to produce without problems. Results The Kuito wells were completed with single-point gas injection by use of 0.3125-in.-diameter square-edged ori-

fices made of hardened materials. The orifices have a moveable check piston to keep the valves in a closed position until a preset differential pressure is applied. This mechanism enables an annular pressure test. Dynamic modeling enabled a close working relationship between the downhole-completion and facilityoperation personnel during the initial design phase of this project. The model was very effective in demonstrating to both parties how various components, both downhole and surface, affect the wells operation. Conclusions Normally, static-analysis tools are sufficient to analyze the performance of a typical gas-lift well. However, for subsea gas-lift completions, the dynamicmodeling tool can accurately predict unstable flowing conditions and specify an unloading scenario that will avoid erosion at the operating valve. Dynamic modeling is required to investigate transient performance in a well or, in the case of a new well, to minimize the probability of transient behavior. A certain amount of differential pressure should be maintained to minimize sensitivity to changing production pressure. On the basis of industry experience with subsea completions, the differential pressure should be 150 to 200 psi. When a large port starts to erode, the differential pressure is reduced, making the system very sensitive to fluctuations in production pressure. Pressure fluctuations at the wellhead caused by slugging in the production lines can be controlled by increasing the gas-lift injection rate. Because the check valve in the orifice is not expected to function effectively after several unloading cycles, it was recommended to maintain pressure on the annulus to prevent fluid leakage when the well is shut in. The development of surfacecontrolled gas-lift valves should simplify and reduce the time required to optimize orifice-size determination. JPT
Please read the full-length paper for additional detail, illustrations, and references. The paper from which the synopsis has been taken has not been peer reviewed. Copyright 2000 Offshore Technology Conference. 53

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MAY 2001