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IBP1281_12 WELLHEAD COMPRESSION Joe Harrington 1, Daniel R. Vazquez 2, Denis R.


Copyright 2012, Brazilian Petroleum, Gas and Biofuels Institute - IBP
This Technical Paper was prepared for presentation at the Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2012, held between September, 1720, 2012, in Rio de Janeiro. This Technical Paper was selected for presentation by the Technical Committee of the event according to the information contained in the final paper submitted by the author(s). The organizers are not supposed to translate or correct the submitted papers. The material as it is presented, does not necessarily represent Brazilian Petroleum, Gas and Biofuels Institute’ opinion, or that of its Members or Representatives. Authors consent to the publication of this Technical Paper in the Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2012 Proceedings.

Over time, all wells experience a natural decline in oil and gas production. In gas wells, the major problems are liquid loading and low downhole differential pressures which negatively impact total gas production. As a form of artificial lift, wellhead compressors help reduce the tubing pressure resulting in gas velocities above the critical velocity needed to surface water, oil and condensate regaining lost production and increasing recoverable reserves. Best results come from reservoirs with high porosity, high permeability, high initial flow rates, low decline rates and high total cumulative production. In oil wells, excessive annulus gas pressure tends to inhibit both oil and gas production. Wellhead compression packages can provide a cost effective solution to these problems by reducing the system pressure in the tubing or annulus, allowing for an immediate increase in production rates. Wells furthest from the gathering compressor typically benefit the most from wellhead compression due to system pressure drops. Downstream compressors also benefit from higher suction pressures reducing overall compression horsepower requirements. Special care must be taken in selecting the best equipment for these applications. The successful implementation of wellhead compression from an economical standpoint hinges on the testing, installation and operation of the equipment. Key challenges and suggested equipment features designed to combat those challenges and successful case histories throughout Latin America are discussed below.

1. Overview of Wellhead Compression
In this section we will discuss the production cycle of a natural gas well and how wellhead compression fits into the overall equation. 1.1. Flow Characteristics in Reservoir Formations Throughout the life of a natural gas well many changes occur which result in necessity to adjust production techniques to sustain maximum output. Key to this change is the general increase in liquids production and decrease in gas production. The increase in liquids production results in accumulation of liquid in the wellbore resulting in inconsistent and declining gas flow rates. There are several types of multiphase flows that have been identified during a well’s life cycle. Figure 1 indicates the characteristics of these flows. It is possible for one or more of these types to be present at any given time.


______________________________ BBA, President - SERTCO INDUSTRIES, INC. 2 Electrical Engineer, Business Development Manager – HOERBIGER LATIN AMERICA 3 Chemical Engineer, General Manager –HOERBIGER do BRAZIL

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Figure 1. Types of multiphase flows Once the well has moved passed its annular cycle shown above, installation of wellhead compression greatly reduces the liquid loading effects and extends the overall lifecycle of the well. 1.2. Liquid Loading Liquid loading occurs when the velocity of the gas in the well drops below the critical velocity point, thus not allowing liquids to be carried to the surface with the gas. Those liquids then accumulate in the bottom of the well and eventually, if left untreated can slow or even stop gas production altogether. Other problems caused by liquid loading include erratic, slugging flow and decreased production. Introducing wellhead compression at the first sign of liquid loading can help control or eliminate this issue by decreasing downhole pressure caused by these liquids which allows the gas to pass through and up to the surface. Over time, these liquids will surface with the gas, increasing gas production back to pre-liquid loading levels. 1.3. Enhanced Oil Recovery Wellhead compression also serves an important role in reclaiming lost production in wells that produce both oil and gas commercially. Excess gas pressure in the annulus reduces the inflow rate decreasing the amount of oil available to be pumped to the surface. The installation of a wellhead compressor reduces the resistance in the annulus allowing additional inflow of both gas and oil into the annulus. The additional gas surfaces through the annulus while the additional oil moves from the annulus to the tubing, surfacing with the help of a beam pump or ESP. Pump speeds and strokes often must be adjusted to accommodate the increase flow. Increased pump fill rates can also reduce pump failures, maintenance requirements and increase efficiency. The incremental increase in production of both oil and gas can be from a few percent to many multiples of current flow based on application dynamics. Figure 2. below depicts the effects of wellhead compression on annulus pressure, fluid level and production rates.


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Figure 2. Wellhead compression installation in annulus for enhanced oil recovery 1.4. Well IPR & OFR Relationship Curves Expected gas production rates can be predicted with a systems nodal analysis. This analysis is most easily demonstrated with an Inflow Performance Relationship (IPR) and Outflow Relationship (OFR) curves where the corresponding intersection point indicates the flow rate. Figure 3. below indicates a typical IPR curve and how wellhead compression modifies the OFR curve resulting in increased production.

Figure 3. Nodal Analysis: IPR curve (Inflow Performance Relationship) 1.5. The Life of a Well As gas and oil wells mature their flow rates decline. Wellhead compression, if utilized correctly, can not only increase the current level of production, but also help extend the life of most wells. Once the reservoir has lost much of its drive, some form or combination of forms of artificial lift are necessary to sustain production. In gas wells, compression is the most logical and typically the most economical method for removing liquids that results in increased production, prolonged well life and increased recoverable reserves. Figure 4. indicates how liquid loading 3

Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2012 can accelerate the decline in flow beyond the natural rate and result in dramatic production loss. Installing a wellhead compressor returns the well to the critical flow rate eliminating the effects of liquid loading.

Figure 4. Typical well life cycle

2. Wellhead Compression Package Requirements
Selecting the most appropriate wellhead compression equipment for each application is a difficult task. Because all wells possess different characteristics, a single compressor package cannot be applied to all. Equipment standardization is a key component to successful utilization of wellhead compression from both the end user and provider's perspective. An ideal compressor would demonstrate versatility in both flow rate and pressure range, have low installation and operational costs while providing safety, reliability and user friendliness. A combination of all of these characteristics is a must for a cost-effective, successful program implementation. Suction and discharge pressures and flow are required to properly size and configure wellhead compression equipment. A single compressor package will not meet the needs of all wells. However, using standard equipment components can greatly reduce maintenance costs. The most cost-effective, successful compressor package would demonstrate versatility in both flow rate and pressure range, have low installation and operational costs while providing reliability and user-friendly operation. 2.1. Flexible Operating Range Compressor sizing is an ongoing challenge facing producers and equipment providers alike. As a well matures, flow rates and pressures decline, requiring changes in compressor package staging, operational philosophy and horsepower. Each of these changes result in additional costs and lost production. A wellhead compressor designed to operate over a wide range of both flow and pressure conditions helps minimize these costs and maximize uptime. Suggested key equipment features include multiple capacity control methods such as RPM variation, on-board recycle system and cylinder unloading capacity. Wellhead compressor packages with these features are able to continuously adapt to changing conditions to maximize uninterrupted service life. When the equipment is finally outside the efficient working parameters, similar characteristics for the smaller replacement equipment should be considered key in the equipment selection process. Figure 5. below shows three different wellhead compressor models with identical safety, operational and convenience features with flow capacities ranging from 3 E3m3/D to 60 E3m3/D. 4

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Figure 5. Wellhead compressors from 200 HP - 50 HP for a wide range of applications 2.2. Mobility The ability to install the equipment without the use of specialized lifting equipment and ground preparation can greatly reduce the time and effort associated with a well testing program. Compressor packages outfitted with trailers allow for fast hook-up with little or no site preparation. Connecting to the well using high pressure hoses eliminates the need for additional pipe construction and improves test efficiency. Mobile wellhead compression significantly reduces the scope of work typically associated with testing. Features equally important as mobility for well testing improve compressor package flexibility for differing and fluctuating well conditions. Suction control valves, speed control, cylinder unloading and low suction pressure recycle systems prevent temperature problems when flow rates are unstable. Additionally, compressors with high compression ratio capabilities reduce reconfiguration requirements and increase acceptable operating parameters. Figure 6. depicts a mobile wellhead compressor installation currently operating in the Neuquén Basin of Argentina.

Figure 6. Wellhead compressor for testing with trailer and hose connections 5

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2.3. Liquid Processing Capabilities Liquid processing is another challenge of a wellhead compressor package. Unlike compressor applications further downstream, typically no upstream scrubbing is provided and the unchecked liquids must be processed with the onboard scrubbing system—especially true in the testing phase. Liquid slugs are very common and can shutdown the compressor two or more times per day. To ensure uninterrupted service, a key requirement is an automated system that manages varying amounts of liquid by actuating the suction valve to allow the liquid to discharge. When high levels of liquids are sensed in the inlet scrubber a signal is sent to the suction control valve to close immediately preventing additional fluids from entering the system allowing adequate time to process the captured liquids. Additional pressure management functions are necessary to manage the compressor functions while the inlet connection is blocked. Liquid management systems that can re-inject produced liquids into the discharge gas stream eliminate the need for local collection and disposal. A special scrubber and blowcase arrangement is a field tested and proven system capable of managing large volumes of liquids in both steady state and slugs without disrupting gas flow. A coalescing scrubber designed for extreme cases can also be incorporated for applications with high levels of particulates including salt and sand.

3. Wellhead Compression in Latin America
In the last four years over 165 wellhead compressors have been successfully installed throughout Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru with great success in increasing both gas and oil production in mature wells. The technology and experiences with wellhead compression installed in the United States have been shared with the Latin American producers through cooperation and learning. The case studies provided below from Argentina are typical of the production enhancement experienced throughout the Latin American region. 3.1. Neuquén – Argentina: Figures 7 & 8 indicate gas and liquid condensate production levels before and after the installation of wellhead compression. Gas production increased from approximately 20 E3m3/D to 43 E3m3/D and condensate production increased from 1 to 2 m3/D.

Figure 7. Natural Gas production wellhead compressor installed 31-07-2010.

Figure 8. Water and condensate production wellhead compressor installed 31-07-2010. 6

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3.2. Neuquén – Argentina: Figure 9. & Figure 10. indicate gas and liquid condensate production levels before and after the installation of wellhead compression. Gas production increased from approximately 7 E3m3/D to 30 E3m3/D and condensate production increased from 0 to 3.5 m3/D.

Figure 9. Gas production wellhead compressor installed 30-09-2010.

Figure 10. Water and condensate production before and after compression 3.3. Comodoro Rivadavia – Argentina: Yacimiento El Cóndor Figure 11. shows the effects of liquid loading when production rates drop below the critical rate. In this case the wellhead compressor is functioning normal in Section 1. The compressor stopped and an immediate reduction in flow is observed in Section 2. After only two days of reduced production liquids start to build up in the well bore and production nearly ceases completely in Section 3. Section 4 shows the re-start of the compressor and the return to flow above the critical level which again starts to surface the liquids. After the well bore clean-out phase of operation the well once again returns to optimal flow as indicated in Section 5. Without the aid of wellhead compression the well nearly ceases all gas production and over time could log off completely.


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Figure 11. Observed effects of liquid loading on flow rates 3.3. Tierra del Fuego– Argentina: Cañadón Piedras As described in Section 1.3 above, enhanced oil recovery is an important function of wellhead compression resulting in increased oil and gas production and recoverable reserves. Figure 12. depicts an application in Tierra del Fuego with sizeable a revenue increase after the installation of one 120 HP wellhead compressor. In this application the annulus of four wells were joined together and compressed. Combined oil production on the four wells prior to the compressor installation averaged 20 m3/D. After installation oil production rose 210% to 62 m3/d and combined gas production increased an additional 20 E3m3/D

Figure 12. Enhanced oil recovery application in Tierra del Fuego

4. References
LEA, J. F., NICKENS, H. V., WELLS M. R. What is Liquid Loading? In: Gas Well Deliquification, Gulf Professional Publishing, p. 2-5, 2008.