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Slug Flow Optimizer: Process and Pipeline Continuous integration Prof. Dr. Nour
El-Emam*; Prof. Dr. Mostafa Awad** ; Dr. Abu zied ahmed* ; Dr. Tarek Aboul-Fotouh*
;Eng. Mohamed Elhagar , *Al –Azhar University **Suez Canal University Slug flow is one
of the most common flow pattern encountered in field operations for horizontal and
near-horizontal pipelines. Slug flow can pose serious problems to the designer and
operator of multiphase flow systems.

Large and fluctuating rates of gas and liquid can severely reduce the production and in
the worst case shut down or damage topside equipment like separator vessels and
compressors. The formation of liquid slugs can be caused by a variety of mechanisms
and divided according to that to hydrodynamic slug, severe slugging, pigging slugs,
Startup slug and slugging produced by transient effects &rate change.

Handling unstable flow is important for most oil and gas production units, there is no
one slug elimination and control techniques that can be used for all two-phase slug flow
problem; however, some methods are more general, such as the slug catcher.
Conversely, other methods are simple, like fixed topside choking. Depend on the
integration between production separator performance and pipeline performance new
slug flow optimizer technique is proposed, this technique depend on installing of level
control valve at the inlet of production separator, this integrated system was tested
successfully by Olga software models developed for actual oil and gas fields at offshore
and inshore in Egypt, North Sea, Colombia, Prudhoe Bay field of Alaska, Saudi Arabian,
West Africa.

Olga models had been used to evaluate efficiency, advantage and disadvantage for slug
flow optimizer in overcome slug flow problems. From this study we can conclude that
slug flow optimizer can control slug flow problems on a wide range of operating
conditions with very low-cost compared to others slug elimination and control
techniques.

Keywords: Multiphase Phase Flow; Slug Flow, Severe Slugging, Slug Problem, Slug
Mitigation, Slug Prevention, Slug Flow Optimizer, Process and Pipeline Integration
Introduction Transporting multiphase flow is a complicated task for the oil and gas
industry. Slug flow is the most common flow pattern encountered in field operations for
horizontal and near-horizontal pipelines (1).

Usually, it is an unfavorable flow pattern due to its unsteady nature, intermittency and
high-pressure drop. Slug flow can cause serious problems to the designer and operator
of two-phase flow systems. Minimizing the consequences these slugs imply is therefore
an important task in the oil industry.

There are many techniques for control slug flow, some methods are more general, such
as the slug catcher. conversely, other methods are simple, like fixed topside choking. A
more recently adopted way of avoiding these slugs is to use control methods. using
automated control methods is a superior solution to design changes and changes of
operational conditions (2).

The manipulated variable is the choke-valve size, while several physical measurements
can be used as controlled variables. 1- Slug phenomena When liquid and gas are
flowing together in a pipeline, the liquid can form slugs that are divided by gas pockets.
The formation of liquid slugs can be caused by a variety of mechanisms (3,4): 1.1
Hydrodynamic Slug 1.2 Severe slugging 1.3 Pigging slugs 1.4

Startup and blow-down 1.5 Slugging Produced by Transient Effects &Rate Change 2-
Problems related to slugging Problems that can be caused by slugging are: Liquid
overflow, separator: The liquid level rises faster than the separator can purge the liquid.

High pressure, separator: Large amounts of gas can give high pressure in a small
vessel/separator, and shutdown due to overpressure(5) . Overload on gas compressors:
Downstream components, like a compressor, might require steady gas flow rate. Slug
flow typically gives an oscillating gas flow rate, with very high rates at times (5).

Rupture due to sudden opening of valves (water hammer) :Slugs can create large
pressure impacts, especially passing through valves or bends this can eventually lead to
rupture and can cause severe damage to the process equipment. Pigging Problems: A
pig sweeps liquid in front, and can bring large amounts of liquid into the slug catcher or
separator, depending on the pipeline geometry and the pig velocity.

Fatigue caused by repeating impact : Repetitive slugs can cause mechanical failure at a
significantly lower impact than the maximum mechanical load. High frictional pressure
drop: The slug flow regime has a high frictional pressure loss compared to the other
flow regimes. 3- Slug mitigation and prevention To control slug flow in the early design,
it is possible to influence on both the pipeline sizing and the layout.

However, at a later stage of the design phase there are fewer solutions to choose
between. Slug handling methods can be summarized as following: 3.1 Conventional
anti-slug solutions Fixed topside choking (6,7) can be used to prevent severe slugging
by choking the flow at the top of the riser. The use of choking method has been
suggested by Schmidt(7) Increasing the flow line pressure(7,8).

The operating envelope that gives slug-flow decreases with increasing pressure and
does not exist above a certain pressure. Increasing the flow velocity, by increasing
production or reducing the pipeline size. S. T Sagatun observe (9) that Routing more
wells or increasing the production rate from existing wells are also beneficial when
severe riser slugging is experienced.

Riser base gas lift (10) is a common technique to avoid slugging by continually lifting
liquid out of the riser, preventing the build-up of liquid and subsequent seal to the gas
flow. Gas lift in the wells can also be used to prevent slugging in the flow lines and riser.
Gas-Lift and Choking Combination (5): combining choking and gas lift will require a
lower degree of choking and smaller gas volumes to eliminate the severe slugging and
smaller gas volumes to eliminate the severe slugging.

Shell slug suppression system (S3): The slug suppression system (S3) (11,12) developed
by Shell(Figure1) separating the fluids into a gas and liquid stream, controlling the liquid
level in the separator by throttling the liquid stream and controlling the total volumetric
flow rate by throttling the gas stream. _ Fig1. Shell slug suppression system (S3).
Modified flow line layout and/or riser base geometry to avoid a dip.

Pigging/sphering can be used to avoid hydrodynamic and/or severe slugging in


gas-condensate lines by removing liquid accumulated in the line before slugging
becomes a problem. Subsea Separation Seafloor separation becomes one of the
methods that can potentially solve the severe slugging problems associated with
deep-water production. Self-gas lifting: The idea is to connect the riser to the downward
inclined segment of the pipeline with a small diameter conduit (See Figure 2).

The by-pass pipe will transfer the gas from he downward inclined segment to the riser.
Figure 2 : Proposed elimination method Slug Catchers: it is a special case of a two-phase
gas-liquid separator that is designed to handle large gas capacities and liquid slugs on a
regular basis.. There are numerous slug catcher designs.

Figure 3a is a schematic of a two-phase horizontal Pipe-finger Type slug catcher &


Figure 3b is a schematic Vessel Type Slug-catcher _ _ Figure 3a Pipe-finger Type
Slug-catcher Figure 3b Vessel Type Slug-catcher 3.2 Automatic Control anti-slug
solutions Automatic Control methods (feed forward control, slug choking, active
feedback control) (7,13) , characterized by the use of pipeline information to adjust
available degrees of freedom (pipeline chokes, pressure) to reduce or eliminate the
effect of slugs in the downstream separation and compression unit.

Figure 4 shows a typical application of an active feedback control approach on a


production flow line /pipeline system, and illustrates how the system uses pressure and
temperature measurements (PT & TT) at the pipeline inlet and outlet to adjust the choke
valve. If the pipeline flow measurements (FT) are also available, these can be used to
adjust the nominal operating point and tuning parameters of the controller.

_ Figure 4. Typical configuration of feedback control technique in flowline /riser systems.


Several slug control structures have been proposed and tested experimentally. Fig 5a
and Fig 5b show the control scheme proposed by Morten Godhavn , Mehrdad P. Fard
(14) ___ __ One of the first industrial implementations of a slug controller known to the
public was an implementation in connection with the Dunbar pipeline (Courbot, 1996)
(15) This is a 16" multiphase pipeline connecting the Dunbar field with the Alwyn
platform at the British side of the North Sea.

The slug flow was suppressed using the choke-valve as the manipulated variable to
control the riser base pressure Figure 6 . however, it is criticized that the setpoint
pressure for the riser base has been set so high. This makes it easier to stabilize the flow,
and limits the production through-put. _ Fig.6 Preventing slug flow by control of riser
base pressure Dhulesia et al.

(1997) describe an implementation of an acoustic slug- detection system using feed


forward control. The idea is that this system will detect the slugs and some of the
characteristics of the slugs (slug length, slug velocity and fuid density) approximately 2
minutes before they arrive at the 1st stage separator. It is then up to the operators to
handle the information, and to take appropriate action.

This method is realized using accelerometer sensors that measure the vibrations in the
pipeline which are realized by the slugs. The vibration frequency generated during the
slug period differs from the vibration frequency caused by the gas. Using two
measurements along the pipeline, which is at least 20 meters apart, is enough for
determine slug length and velocity.

Determination of the density needs extra equipment. (16) ABB Corporate Research in
cooperation with Scandpower AS (17) develops active feedback control to overcome
slug flow problem and tested it at Hod-Valhall 13-km-long multi-phase pipeline, and
also simulations were performed with the pipeline code OLGA2000. Fig. 7 show ABB
active feedback control Olsen.

(2006) show that the use of top-side measurements to stabilize the flow is indeed
possible, and that further work is needed on this(18) . Einar Hauge (2007) controlling the
riser base pressure with a slow primary loop controlling the valve opening (with integral
action). Several gain scheduling controllers were designed and tested on OLGA
model(19). Esmaeil (2013) tested four nonlinear control solutions.

The study includes mathematical modeling, analysis, OLGA simulations and


experimental work. subsea pressure measurements were found to be the best controlled
variables for an anti-slug control and the top-side valve is used as the manipulated
variable. Esmaeil also considered two alternative locations for chock valve.

It was found that a subsea choke valve close to the riser base has the same operability
as the top-side choke valve, while a well-head valve is not suitable for anti-slug control.
(22) Espen Storkaas (20) shown that riser slugging in pipelines can be stabilized with
simple control systems, but the type and location of the measured input to the
controller is critical.

Heidi Sivertsen(21) comparing between different controllers and found that the tuning
of the controllers has a large influence on the results of sever slug control, Esmaeil
(2013), indicated that existing anti-slug control systems are often not operating in
practice because of robustness problems; the closed-loop system becomes unstable
after some time, for example because of inflow disturbances or plant changes.

The operators turn off the controller and instead use manual choking when the control
system becomes unstable. (22) - Slug Flow Optimizer Technique The main idea for Slug
Flow Optimizer will be the continuous integration between pipeline performance and
separator performance to handle slug flow and using pipeline as a buffer for slug flow,
the advantage with this method is that the accumulation of slugs can be prevented with
little or no new equipment which offered a cost effective solution, and at the same time
operate at boundary conditions which would normally cause slug flow.

Slug flow optimizer technique depends on installing of level control valve at the inlet of
production separator, this integrated system was tested by Olga software models
developed for actual oil and gas fields at offshore and inshore in Egypt, North Sea,
Colombia, Prudhoe Bay field of Alaska, Saudi Arabian and West Africa. In slug flow
optimizer the PID controllers was tuning in each case based on pipeline flow
characteristic and operating condition of separator.

And to control the back pressure in the pipeline the minimum output signal of control
valve was adjusted in range of .05 based in each case operating condition to prevent
control valve from completely close and increase pipeline back pressure which can lead
to complete shut down in case of long slug flow duration. Olga models had been used
to evaluate efficiency, advantage and disadvantage for slug flow optimizer in overcome
slug flow problems.

Case No.1 : 8 inch Offshore Pipeline in Egypt Slug flow data collected from 8 Inch
inclined offshore Pipeline from Taiwla wellhead Platform to the Production separator at
WP-A Platform (Egypt). The distance from Taiwla wellhead Platform to the WP-A
Platform 10.07 Km (Fig.8). , Oil flow rates ranged from 823 to 129 STB/D.

And GOR ranged from 1250 SCf / STB to 800 SCf / STB S.N _FLP
psi _Sep.
psig _BFPD _BS&W
% _GOR
scf/d _Flow Regime _ _1 _180 _90 _823 _43 _1244 _Slug Flow _ _2 _180 _90 _127 _50
_1968 _Slug Flow _ _ _ 4.1.1 Case No.1.1 _ Fig.9 Separator level with and without feed
control valve _ Fig.10 Relative open of Feed control valve & Separator level _ Fig.11
Pipeline backpressure with and without feed control valve 4.1.2 Case No.1.2 _ Fig.12
Separator level with and without feed control valve _ Fig.13 Relative open of Feed
control valve & Separator level _ Fig.14 Pipeline backpressure with and without feed
control valve Case No.2

: North Sea Field The second case is from the CONOCOPHILLIPS-operated North Sea
asset (23). The line is a 3-phase, 18-inch ID oil flow line, running 3.7 km from a wellhead
platform to a central processing platform. The line drops approximately 6.0 m over the
last 3 km before flowing up a 130 m long riser (Fig.15). In operation, the pipeline
exhibits severe riser slugging & hydrodynamic slugging.

This slugging has posed severe challenges for separation and water handling on the
platform. _ Fig.16 Separator level with and without feed control valve _ Fig.17 Relative
open of Feed control valve & Separator level _ Fig.18 Pipeline backpressure with and
without feed control valve Cusiana oilfield - Colombia The Cusiana oilfield, containing
1.6

billion barrels of 35° API oil, is located in the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes mountains,
in Colombia. Current production rates are of the order of 180,000 bpd, with a GOR of
1400-2000 scf/bbl and little water (24) , The wells are connected to a central processing
Facility (CPF) via a complex network of multiphase flowlines. range in diameter from 8 to
20”, and in length frorn 0.4 to 12.5 miles(Fig.19).

At the end of the flowline network is a manifold system connecting to two finger type
slug catchers, The two slug catchers feed four parallel, nominally 40,000 bpd, processing
trains. _ Fig.20 Topography of 20” line from T-Q To CPF Line _Id Inch _Oil BPD _GOR
Scf/bbl _Water Cut % _Flow regime _Sep. length (M) _Sep. ID(M) _Operating level _ _T-Q
_20 _26000 _1400 _.05 % _Slugging _11 _3.5 _2 _ _ _ Fig.21 Separator level with and
without feed control valve _ Fig.22 Pipeline backpressure with and without feed control
valve _ Fig.23 Relative open of Feed control valve & Separator level Prudhoe Bay field of
Alaska Id Inch _Oil BPD _GOR Scf/bbl _Water Cut % _Flow regime _Sep. L(M) _Sep.

ID (M) _Operating level _ _16 _64986 _804 _.0 % _Slugging _10.7 _3.5 _2 _ _The flow rates,
inlet and outlet pressures, and temperatures were measured in the Prudhoe Bay field of
Alaska Slug flow 3-mile-long flow lines & 16-in diameter line (Fig.24). Gamma
densitometers were used to monitor flow pattern and to determine mixture densities
and slug characteristics(25). _ Fig.24 Separator level with and without feed control valve
_ Fig.25 Pipeline backpressure with and without feed control valve _ Fig.26 Relative open
of Feed control valve & Separator level Saudi Arabian oilfield Complex multiphase
pipeline network in a Saudi Arabian oilfield (Fig.27).

The oilfield pipelines pass across a hilly terrain with sand dunes rising up to 200 meters,
transporting wet crude from wells located on sabkhas (flat terrain) to Gas Oil Separation
Plant (GOSP)(26). T/L / Sabkha _Distance from Plant (Km.) _Total Rate BOD _ _S-98 _17
_5000 _ _S-94 _15 _35000 _ _S-91 _12 _17000 _ _S-85 _9 _19000 _ _ Id _Oil flow rate bpd
_GOR Scf/bbl _Water Cut % _Flow regime _Separator length (M) _Separator Diameter
(M) _Operating level _ _16” x 2.8 Km & 20” x 14.6 Km _76000 _760 _4% _Slugging _10.5
_3 _1.5 _ _ _ Fig.29 Separator level with and without feed control valve _ Fig.30 Pipeline
backpressure with and without feed control valve _ Fig.31 Relative open of Feed control
valve & Separator level Conclusion The slug flow optimizer can success in control slug
flow problem in most of flow condition except in condition where the pipeline operation
at or near it’s maximum capacity.

The slug flow optimizer has the following advantage in compered to other slug flow
techniques The cost of this techniques is neglected in compered with other techniques,
the cost of 6” control valve is in range of Twelve thousand US dollars compered to more
than six hundred thousand US dollars for 300 bbl slug catcher skid package. The
operating and installing cost is neglected Can be installed by hot taping techniques later
in any stage of production filed life without any disturbance for production or needing
to production shutdown.

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