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Cable Insulation

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By admin 5 March 2017

As per API RP11S5, cable insulation isolates the electrical potential between conductors and
other conducting materials. Insulation also minimizes leakage current from the conductors.

Insulation selection depends on many factors


mainly related to produced fluids properties and
well behavior; such as: gas type and
concentration, well environment, gas to oil ratio,
pressure cycling, exposure to downhole
chemicals…

There are two classes of cable insulation


materials used in oil and gas industry:

Thermoplastics (like polypropylene)


Thermoset compounds (like EPDM)

Thermoplastic:
Thermoplastics are polymeric materials that will soften or flow at elevated temperature but will
harden when cooled (reversible process). Examples of thermoplastic materials are
polypropylene, polyethylene, polyvinyl fluoride, polyvinylidene fluoride and polyamides.

Advantages:
Polypropylene is relatively inexpensive insulation material useable in low-temperature
environments. It is useful in the temperature range -10 C / 14 F to 96 C / 205 F. This
temperature range is estimated for ideal conditions where there is neither chemical exposure
nor applied mechanical forces.

Limitations:

Cable with propylene insulation should not be handled when temperatures are less than -10 C
/ 14 F. Risk of insulation cracking if bending is applied at lower temperature.

There are several detrimental well conditions which are known to affect polypropylene:

Premature cracking is initiated by the presence of carbon dioxide (CO2).


External forces, such as cable clamps, applied on a cable operating near the upper
temperature limit leads to premature deformation.
Propylene is susceptible to accelerate aging from contact with copper material. To
overcome this issue, most manufacturers applied a tiny coating to isolate the copper
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from polypropylene.
Polypropylene allows gas to migrate between the conductor and insulation. For
application where this would be a problem, a conductor / insulation gas blocking material
must be applied.

Thermoset:
Thermosets are polymeric materials modified through a chemical reaction and became
permanently shaped when cured. It is irreversibly cross-linked and cannot be remolded.
Typical thermoset materials includes EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer) and EPM;
styrene butadiene rubber (SBR); and cross-linked polyethelene (XLPE).

Advantages:
For ESP cable, EPDM is the most commonly used thermoset material. This due to its better
resistance to CO2 environment and its resistance to many type of well treatments. Also, EPDM
is able to retain a good flexibility at extremely low temperature (-40 C / – 40 F). Furthermore,
EPDM materials are generally preferred in higher temperature oil well applications.

Limitations:

EPDM materials swell in oil; this issue can be reduced by proper formulation. Also, EPDM is
highly dependent on outer constraining coverings to retain its integrity.

Composite insolation system:


Some cables use a composite insulation system composed of basic and auxiliary insulation,
where films or thinly extruded material are used as the auxiliary insulation.

Films: are generally thin tapes of materials which are applied directly over the
conductor. Films are suitable for high temperature (up to 232 C / 450 F), and their most
common applications are motor lead extension (MLE) and motor winding insulation.
Their major limitation is their extremely high cost.
Extruded Auxiliary Insulation: several materials are extruded as auxiliary insulation
directly over the conductor or over the insulation to provide added dielectric strength and
chemical resistance. The material is less susceptible to damage from penetration of well
fluids than the EPDM covering. Therefore, it provides greater protection and may extend
the life of the cable. Thermoplastic polyvinylidene fluoride (PVF) and ethylene chloro-
tetra-fluoro-ethylene (ECTFE) are used for temperatures up to 149 C / 300 F, and
fluorinated ethylene propylene (FEP) is used for temperatures up to 204 C /400 F.

Reference:

API Recommended Practice 11S5 (RP 11S) – First edition, February 1, 1993.

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