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Measurement of
Natural Gas

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At the end of this topic, the student should be
able to
Describe the principles of operation of the orifice
Calculate gas flow rates using data collated from
an orifice meter.
Discuss the factors which affect the operations
of the orifice meter

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4.0 Measurement of Natural Gas

The volume of gas is the fundamental basis for
settlement in most gas-sales transactions. Payments
for royalties and taxes are usually based on
measured volumes. Gas, being a vapor, is not
subject to conventional methods of storage in large
quantities. Therefore, it must be measured
instantaneously as it flows through a pipeline.

A fluid flowing through a line can be measured by

placing a constriction in the line to cause the pressure
of the flowing fluid to drop as it passes the
constriction. This pressure drop is called differential

A direct relationship exists between the rate of flow

and the amount of this pressure drop or differential.

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There are several measuring devices, however the
selection of the measurement method to be used
should be made only after careful analysis of several
factors, including the following:

1. Accuracy desired
2. Expected useful life of the device
3. Range of flow and temperature
4. Maintenance requirements
5. Power availability, if required
6. Cost of operation
7. Initial cost
8. Availability of parts
9. Acceptability by others involved

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The Orifice Meter

The typical orifice meter consists of a thin flat

stainless steel plate about 3/16 in. thickness, with an
accurately machined circular hole that is centered in
a pair of flanges or other plate-holding device in a
straight section of smooth pipe.

Pressure tap connections are provided on the

upstream and downstream sides of the plate so that
the pressure drop or differential pressure may be
measured. This pressure difference and the absolute
pressure in the line at a specified “tap” location are
recorded continuously and are later translated into
rate of flow.

Figure 1 illustrates the flow pattern through an orifice,

how the resulting pressure differential across the
orifice is measured, and the change in static pressure
that occurs.

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Figure 1 also shows that two arrangements of the
taps are commonly used:

(a) flange taps

(b) pipe taps.

For meters using “flange taps” the center of the

upstream pressure tap is placed one inch from the
upstream face of the orifice plate, whereas the center
of the downstream pressure tap is placed one inch
from the downstream face of the orifice plate.

However, for meters using “pipe taps” the upstream

pressure tap is placed two and one-half times the
actual inside pipe diameter from the upstream face of
the orifice plate and the downstream pressure tap is
placed eight times the actual inside pipe diameter
from the downstream face of the orifice plate.

Pipe tap orifice meters are more accurate if the

system is subjected to pressure pulsations. On the
other hand, flange tap orifices are easier to install and
by extension change.

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Primary Element
A complete orifice meter is generally considered to be
composed of two major elements.

The first is the differential pressure-producing device called

the primary element and is composed of the following:

1. The meter tube - a length of special pipe through which

the gas flows.

2. The orifice plate holding and positioning device - an

orifice flange or an orifice fitting installed as an integral
part of the meter tube to hold the orifice plate in a
position perpendicular and concentric to the flow of

3. The orifice plate - a flat circular plate with a centrally

bored, sharp-edged orifice machined to an exact,
predetermined dimension that forms a calibrated
restriction to the flow of gas through the meter tube. It
is also the source of the pressure differential.

4. Pressure taps - precisely located holes through the

pipe walls or orifice plate holder. These allow for the
measuring of the gas pressure on each side of the
orifice plate.
5. Straightening vanes - a device that may be inserted in
the upstream section of the meter tube to reduce
swirling in the gas stream.

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Secondary Element

The secondary element is called the differential

gauge and is the device for measuring the pressures.
It is connected with tubing to the upstream and
downstream pressure taps of the primary element.

One part of the device indicates or records the

difference between the pressures on each side of the
orifice plate, and the other part indicates or records
one of these pressures.

Gauges which record differential and static pressure,

using circular charts with printed scales, are
extensively used. They provide a permanent record.

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4.3 Advantages and Limitations of the Orifice

Advantages of Orifice Meter

The advantages of using an orifice meter are as

* Accuracy
* Ruggedness due to no moving components
 Available in wide range of sizes
 Suitable for most gases & liquids
 Widely established and accepted
 Simplicity
 Availability of standard tables of meter
 Orifice need not be Flow Calibrated

Limitations of Orifice Meter

The limitations of using an orifice meter are as
 Accuracy Deteriorates with Wear & Damage
 Accuracy Affected by Density and Flow Profile
 High Unrecoverable Pressure Drop
 Maintenance is Required
 Installation is Time-Consuming & Expensive

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4.4 Measurement Calculations

Basic Flow Equation

The relationship of rate of flow with the flowing or
static pressure of the gas, as well as the differential
pressure across the orifice is expressed as:

Qh = C1 hw Pf ------ - ---- ---- - - (1)

Qh = rate of gas flow, cu ft/hr at contract base
C1 = orifice flow constant, corrected for operating
and base conditions
hw = differential pressure across orifice, in. of water
Pf = static pressure, psia

The product of the square roots of the differential

pressure and absolute static pressure, hw Pf , is
commonly referred to as the pressure extension.

The orifice flow constant C1 may be defined as the

rate of flow in cubic feet per hour at contract base
conditions when the pressure extension equals unity.

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The orifice flow constant, C1, is obtained by
multiplying a basic orifice flow factor, F b, by various
correcting factors that are determined by the
operating conditions, contract requirements, and
physical nature of the installation, as follows:

C1 = Fb*Fpb*Ftb*Fg*Ftf*Fr*Y* Fpv*Fm*Fl*Fa (2)

Fb = basic orifice flow factor, cu ft/hr
Fpb = contract pressure base
Ftb = contract temperature base
Fg = specific gravity factor
Ftf = flowing temperature factor
Fr = Reynolds number (viscosity) factor
Y = expansion factor
Y1 based on upstream static pressure
Y2 based on the downstream static pressures
Ym’ based on a mean of the upstream and
downstream static pressures
Fpv = supercompressibility factor
Fm = manometer factor for mercury meter
Fl = gauge location factor
Fa = orifice plate expansion factor.

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The derivation of some of these factors is very
complex. Actually, several factors can be determined
only by very extensive tests and experimentation,
from which tables of data have been accumulated so
that a value may be obtained. Tables for these
factors are available and should be referred to for
actual values when making calculations.

There are two sets of tables

 one for flange taps
 one for pipe taps.

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Estimation of C1 Variables

(a) Fb - Basic Orifice Flow Factor

The basic orifice factor, Fb, is obtained from the
attached tables for both flange taps and pipe taps.

(b) Fpb - Contract Pressure Base = Pb (3)

where Pb = the required contract pressure base in


(c) Ftb - Contract Temperature Base = 520 (4)

where Tb = the absolute temperature base

specified by the contract, (oF + 460).

(d) Fg - Specific Gravity Factor = g (5)

where g = the specific gravity of the flowing gas.

(e) Ftf - Flowing Temperature Factor = Tf (6)
where Tf = actual flowing temperature in degrees
absolute, (oF + 460).

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(f) Fr - Reynolds Number (Viscosity) Factor

Fr = 1 (7)
h w pf

where b = f(β)

and  = D (8)

d = orifice ID
D = pipe ID

For pipe taps, it is recommended that  should fall

within the range 0.20 to 0.67.

“b” values for Reynolds Number Factor, F r, is

obtained from the attached tables for both flange taps
and pipe taps.

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(g) Y - Expansion Factor
If the absolute static pressure is taken at the upstream
differential pressure tap, the value of the expansion factor,
Y1, is obtained from the attached tables for both flange taps
and pipe taps.
If the absolute static pressure is taken at the downstream
differential pressure tap, the value of the expansion factor,
Y2, is obtained from the attached tables for both flange taps
and pipe taps.

(h) Fpv - Supercompressibility Factor

Fpv = Z

where Zb = gas deviation factor for contract base

Z = gas deviation factor for operating

If contract base conditions are standard conditions, Zb = 1.

A definite procedure for the calculation of coefficients can

be established to ensure that all such coefficients will be
calculated in the same manner and that, starting with the
same basic data, any two persons using this procedure
will arrive at identical answers for each coefficient.

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Most natural gas streams contain water, and some of
these streams are saturated with water. Errors in gas
measurement may result if the presence of water
vapor in the gas is not properly accounted for.

Measurement error will not usually result if a field-

determined specific gravity is used in the gas
volume computation and if this gravity was
determined on the wet sample.

However, when a specific gravity is calculated from

an analysis of gas, the analysis is customarily
reported on a dry basis and must be converted to a
wet basis before a wet specific gravity can be

Subsequently, once the water content is determined,

the volume of water present in the wet gas stream
may be subtracted to arrive at the dry gas volume.

The errors in volume measurement is usually

insignificant at pressures above 200 psig, but at low
pressures the errors can be substantial.

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Calculate the gas flow rate q in MMscf/D, for the

following conditions:

Pipe ID = 8.071 in.

Pcontract = 15.4 psia
Orifice ID = 4.00 in.
hw = 64 in.
Tf = 800F
Pf = 625 psig
Tcontract = 650F
Patm = 14.5 psia
g = 0.72

Additional Information
a. Based on flange taps and the static pressure
b. Assume Fm, Fl and Fa = 1

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Accuracy of Measurements
Several factors can affect the accuracy of
measurement obtainable with the differential-type
flow instruments. The more common factors can be
categorized as sources of (i) constant errors and (ii)
variable errors. In most cases, corrections can
easily be made mechanically or through adequate

The constant errors include the following:

1. Incorrect information as to the bore of the
orifice plate.
2. Contour of the orifice plate (convex or concave).
3. Dullness of the orifice edge.
4. Thickness of the orifice edge
5. Eccentricity of the orifice bore in relation to the
pipe bore
6. Incorrect information as to the pipe bore
7. Excessive recess between the end of pipe and
the face of orifice plate
8. Excessive pipe roughness.

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The variable errors include the following:
1. Flow disturbances caused by insufficient length of
meter tube or irregularities in the pipe e.g. from
2. Incorrect locations of differential taps in relation
to the orifice plate
3. Pulsating flow
4. Progressive buildup of solids, dirt, and sediment
on the upstream side of the orifice plate
5. Accummulation of liquid in the bottom of a
horizontal run or Liquids in the piping or meter
6. Changes in operating conditions from those used
in the coefficient calculations (i.e., specific
gravity, atmospheric pressure, temperature)
7. Corrosion or deposits in the meter tube
8. Formation of hydrates in meter piping or body
9. Leakage around the orifice plate fittings
10. Wrong range on chart
11. Incorrect time for rotation of chart
12. Excessive friction between pen and chart

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Processing Meter Charts
Charts should first pass through the hands of the operating
location staff and, when necessary, a measurement
specialist who will note on the back of the chart the gravity,
temperature, supercompressibility factor, and any other
information affecting the volume, and will verify the field
data imprinted on the back of the chart.

On the basis of past history or familiarity with conditions at

the meter, the measurement specialist will estimate
volumes when the meter was inoperative because of a
stopped clock, a pen not marking, or freezing.

Many sales contracts include provisions to the effect that if

for any reason, meters are out of service so that the amount
of gas cannot be determined from chart computations, the
gas delivered during the period in which the meter was
inoperative can be determined by one of several methods
including the following:

1. By correcting the error with mathematical calculations

if such error is ascertainable by calibration or test.
Such errors include a wrong-sized orifice plate, a plate
placed in backwards, a differential pen not zeroed, a
static pen not calibrated, and so forth.

2. By estimating the volume by comparison with

deliveries during a period when the meter was
operating properly.

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Orifice Plate
Orifice plates should be inspected to ascertain that

1. the upstream edge is sharp

2. the face of the plate is flat
3. the face of the plate is smooth and without
4. the correct size of the bore, measured by
micrometer, is stamped on the plate
5. no dirt or ice has collected against the
orifice plate.

Orifice Fittings
If the meter tube is equipped with an orifice fitting, the
following observations and operations should be
made -

1. Packed glands must be kept tight

2. The moving parts must be lubricated
3. The plate carrier should be removed for
inspection on a routine schedule
4. Moving parts should be actuated to prevent them
from becoming frozen

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Measurement Problems


Hydrate formation at the orifice, in meter piping, or in

the meter chamber may occur when the temperature
of the wet gas being measured falls below the hydrate

The chart, on which recordings have been made

while the meter was partially frozen, should have a full
explanation written on the face of the chart and
estimated static and differential pressures lines
should be drawn in.

Preventive measures include –

1. elimination of piping leaks

2. installation of line heaters
3. installation of a heated meter house
4. dehydration of gas
5. use of inhibitors
6. enlargement of the meter piping and valves
to ½ inch maximum

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Pulsating Flow

Pulsations in a pipeline originating from a

reciprocating system or some other similar source
consist of sudden changes in both velocity and
pressure of the flowing fluid.

The most common sources of pulsation involved in

gas measurement are -

1. reciprocating compressors.
2. irregular movement of quantities of water or
oil condensate in the line
3. intermitters on wells.

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In order to obtain reliable measurements, it is
necessary to suppress the pulsations. In general,
the following methods are valuable in diminishing
pulsation and its effect on orifice flow measurement:

1. Locating the meter tube in a more favorable

location with regard to the source of pulsation,
such as increasing the distance from the source
of pulsation.
2. Inserting capacity restriction, or specially
designed filters in the line between the source of
pulsation and the meter tube in order to reduce
the amplitude of the pulsation.
3. Operating at differentials as high as is practicable
by replacing the orifice plate in use with an orifice
plate having smaller orifice

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The conditions commonly called slugging refer to a

liquid (water, oil, or condensate) accumulation in a
gas line. In low-pressure lines, the liquid will gather
at a low place in the line and restrict the passage of
gas until enough gas pressure has accumulated to
blow through the liquid. In a high-pressure system,
the liquid will sweep up to and through the orifice.

Both conditions produce erratic recordings and

inaccurate measurement of an un-determinable

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Sour Gas
Freezing and corrosion are two frequent problems in
measuring gas containing hydrogen sulfide.
Corrosion in a closed line free of air and water is
negligible, and most meter corrosion is due to
hydrogen sulfide in the surrounding atmosphere.
Possible remedies include the following changes in
1. Static spring: 316 stainless steel; is generally
2. Differential pen shaft: Teflon bearings that are
unaffected by hydrogen sulfide are used.
Lubrication with a silicone lubricant is helpful.
3. Pen: Self-feeding pens give better service and
are more closely sealed against the atmosphere.
4. Clocks: Vapour-proof clocks are essential. The
rubber seal should be coated with varnish. The
winding stem and chart hub stem should be
coated with grease.
5. Seal Pots: Seal pots are for protection of mercury
in mercury-type meters. Some recommended
sealing fluids are ethylene glycol or glycol-base
antifreeze compound with 40 percent water. An
inhibitor of 4 ml of 25% formaldehyde per gallon
may be added. The orifice factor must be
corrected when sealing fluids are used.

Natural Gas Liquid Measurement

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