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3.2.6.

3 Pumps for gassy wells

As already discussed, the valves of the sucker-rod pump operate properly only if an
incompressible liquid occupies the barrel space. In this case, during the upstroke the
standing valve opens as soon as the plunger starts its upstroke while on the downstroke the
traveling valve opens as soon as the plunger starts to move down. Under these conditions
the full stroke length of the plunger is utilized for liquid production. The situation changes
dramatically when gassy fluids are pumped because Of the compressibility of the fluid that
gets into the barrel. The operation of the valves will not follow the required behavior and
their opening and closing will be delayed, resulting in lost plunger stroke length and in
reduced pumping rates. A detailed description of the operation of sucker-rod pumps
handling gassy fluids follows.

3.2.6.3.1 The effects of compression ratio

When the upstroke starts, the gasliquid mixture contained in the space between the
standing and traveling valves is at the hydrostatic pressure of the liquid column in the
tubing. This pressure equals the discharge pressure of the pump that keeps the standing
valve in the closed position. The plunger begins its upward movement with a closed
traveling valve so the physical volume available for the gasliquid mixture increases.
This, in turn, creates the expansion of the mixture and a gradual reduction Of pressure
below the rising plunger. The standing valve, being a simple check valve, can open only
when the pressure above it drops below the pump intake pressure available from the
wellbore. Since the expansion Of the mixture takes up part Of the plunger's upstroke, the
delayed opening ofthe standing valve reduces considerably the stroke length available for
the barrel to fill up with liquids. The plunger's effective stroke length, as well as its liquid
output, is decreased.

During the downstroke, the operation of a pump producing gassy fluids is very similar to
the behavior just described. As the downstroke StartS, the standing Valve closes but the
traveling Valve remains closed as long as the gasliquid mixture in the barrel is
compressed to a pressure sufficient to overcome the liquid column pressure above it.
Compression Of the gasliquid mixture occurs while the plunger moves downward and
the fraction of the stroke required for this to happen reduces the effective plunger stroke
length and the pumping rate.

In the worst scenario, single-phase gas occupies the barrel space and the valves of the pump
do not open at all, the pump's only action is the compression and expansion Of this gas;
the pump is gas locked. NO liquid reaches the surface and the energy efficiency Of the
pumping system goes down to zero. Since this is a highly undesirable kind Of operation, in
the following we investigate the behavior of sucker-rod pumps when pumping gassy fluids
and the ways of avoiding gas-locked situations.

Figure 3.37 shows the conditions at the start and at the end of the upstroke in a gas-locked
pump where both the traveling and standing valves stay closed for most of the length of the
plunger's stroke.
At the start of the upstroke gas pressure below the plunger equals the pump discharge
pressure, Pd, and the volume available is the so-called unswept volume or dead space, in
the pump. At the top Of the stroke the pressure is assumed to drop to the pump intake
pressure, PIP, so that the standing Valve can open. The expanded volume of the gas is the
sum of the unswept volume and the swept volume; this latter is identical to pump
displacement. Assuming an isothermal change, the relationship between gas volume and
pressure is according to the formula p V = const. and, using the parameters just described,
we receive the following expression:
The formula can be modified to:

The ratio of pressures on the left-hand side of the formula must be corrected because they
act on difTerent surfaces due to the bevel on the traveling valve's seat. The correction,
based on the appropriate seat diameters (see Fig. 3.38), is:

The final formula becomes, after substituting this in Eq. (3.2):


where:

VSR = valve seat area ratio,

The formula expresses the conditions under which gas lock can be prevented; if the two
sides of the expression match, then at the end of the upstroke the pressure in the barrel
decreases to the pump intake pressure and the standing valve can open. Exactly the same
formula can be derived for the plunger's downstroke when the pump compresses the gas in
the barrel to the discharge pressure that opens the traveling valve. In general, the left-hand
side of Eq. (3.4) represents the required compression ratio for the actual pumping
conditions and the right-hand side represents the available compression ratio from the pump
used. Gas locking is prevented when the compression ratio of the pump is equal to or
greater than the required ratio; then the pump can even operate with gas being pumped
only.

Let's investigare the different terms figuring in Eq. (3.4) and their ranges in usual sucker-
rod pumps [26]. The pump's compression ratio, CR, as shown in ELI. (3.2), is a function Of
the pump's swept and un-swept volumes. The swept volume, Vsw, equals the barrel volume
corresponding to the plunger stroke length (see Fig. 3.37). The unswept volume, also called
the dead space, 011 the Other hand, may have the following components:

Spaces in traveling and standing valve cages. Manufacturers usually do not publish
these data, but cages Of different designs can have widely varying dead spaces.

Dead spaee due to improper selection Of the Valve rod's length. The ideal length for
the Valve rod is found when the distance between the traveling and standing valves
during assembly is about 1/2 in at the bottom position Of the plunger.

Inherent dead spaces in the barrel of different pump types. Thin-wall rod pumps
have the least amount of dead space; heavy-wall rod pumps have much more
because they need the use of extension couplings. Tubing pumps are the worst
because Of their larger diameters and the standing Valve puller attached to the
bottom Of the plunger.

The plunger's internal volume is part Of the dead space if the traveling valve is
located at the top of the plunger.

Additional dead space caused by improper spacing of the plunger. The plunger must
be spaced so that rods are run in the well until the plunger tags on the standing
valve; then it must be raisedjust to remove the tag.

According to its definition (Eq. 3.2) the compression ratio, CR, depends on the pump
displacement (the swept volume) as well: the greater the displacement for the same dead
space, the greater the value of CR. This is clearly seen in Fig. 3.39, where CRs of different
types of pumps are given for various plunger stroke lengths; longer strokes represent
greater pump displacements and, consequently, higher compression ratios. The relatively
poor performance of tubing pumps can also be observed.
Finally, the valve seat area ratio, VSR, represents the effect of beveling of the traveling
valve seat. Although manufacturers seldom publish this piece Of data, the use Of an
average value Of VSR = 1.16 is recommended [61].

Checking gas-lock conditions is accomplished by using Eq. (3.4) and following the
calculatio steps given here:

1. Based on the type and size ofthe pump, find the dead space in the pump at ideal pump
spacing, and the Valve seat area ratio, VSR.

2. Correct the dead space for actual (usually greater than ideal) spacing.

3. Find the pump displacement and calculate the pump's compression ratio, CR.

4. Calculate pump intake and discharge pressures. PIP is found from the annular liquid level
in the casing; Pd is equal to tubing head pressure plus the hydrostatic column pressure of
the produced liquid at pump setting depth.

5. Using PIP or Pd a known variable, solve Eq. (3.4) for the Other variable. Compare the
calculated value to the actual value found in step 4.

6. Gas lock is possible if PIPcalculatcd > PIPactua1 or Pd calculated < Pd actual.

EXAMPLE 3.2: DETERMINE WHETHER A 1.75 IN RWA PUMP SET AT 4,500 FT


WITH A STROKE LENGTH OF 120 IN CAN WORK WITHOUT GAS LOCKING IF
THE FLUID LEVEL ABOVE THE PUMP IS 300 FT. LIQUID GRADIENT IN THE
TUBING AND IN THE ANNULUS IS 0.35 PSI/FT, TUBING HEAD PRESSURE IS 150
PSI. ASSUME TWO DIFFERENT SPACINGS OF THE PLUNGER AT 1 IN AND 5 IN

Solution

The pump's dead space was found as 9 cu in, and the average valve seat area ratio of
VSR=1.16 is used. Additional dead space for the different spacings is found from the pump
size.

For the first casc the pump discharge pressure is pa = 105 x 26.3/1.16 = 2,380 psi, which is
greater than the actual discharge pressure (1,725 psi), so the pump does not get gas locked
because it Can compress even gas.
For the second case pd = 105 x 14.7/1.16 = 1,330 psi, which is less than the actual
discharge pressure (1,725 psi), so the pump will become gas locked if a great amount of gas
gets into the barrel.

3.2.6.3.2 Conclusions

Based on the previous discussions on compression ratios in sucker-rod pumps, several


recommendations may be given to prevent gas lock situations when producing wells with
higher gas rates. As will be seen, all proposed measures aim at maximizing the compression
ratio Of the pump by reducing the amount Of total dead space in the pump.

Try to use thin-walled rod pumps with longer strokes.


Use plungers with traveling valves situated at the bottom of the plunger.

Reduce the spacing of the plunger to I in.

Anchoring the tubing string is recommended because it allows proper spacing of the
pump.

Use valve cages with a minimum of dead space.

Avoid the use of double valve arrangements because they increase the size of the
dead space.

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