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1st National Iranian Drilling Industry Congress.

Cathodic Protection of Oil and Gas Well Casings


Pejman Malekinejad Technical Inspection Engineer, Iranian Central Oil Fields Company East Oil and Gas Production Company. Saeed Alavi QC Manager, Moshanir Company, Iran.

Abstract : This article discusses the use of CP (cathodic protection) for the cost effective control of external well casing corrosion. CP is an important tool because maintaining casing integrity is essential to oil and gas production, water and gas injection, and gas storage fields. When a leak develops, production (or injection) usually ceases until the leak is repaired or a liner is installed. When corrosion is severe, the casing can collapse and the well may have to be abandoned, which can result in lost reserves. CP can be utilized in maintaining casing integrity caused by external corrosion, thereby reducing operating costs and maximizing total production and profits. Key Words: CP (Cathodic Protection), Casing, Ground Bed, Current Density. 1. Background : Cathodic protection has been employed in the oil and gas industry for use on well casings since the late forties. The use of CP on well casings is preceded by its application to pipelines. Because of its success and because it is the only technique that can be used to mitigate corrosion after the well is in place, CP is now an accepted procedure in the oil field. 2. CP of Well Casings versus Pipelines : CP of well casings differs from pipelines in the following ways [1]: 1. The pipe is vertical to the surface rather than parallel. 3. Pipe-to-soil potential measurements can only be made at the end from which the current is drained. Potentials cannot be directly measured along the outside surface of the casing. 4. Well casings are connected by threaded collars rather than welded connections, which may increase the resistance of the metallic path. 5. Soil/formation changes with length/depth. 6. Well casings are typically installed without an organic coating on the OD (outside diameter), although most have a partial cement coating. 7. Long lengths of the production casing are shielded from CP by surface and intermediate casing strings. 3. Up to How much CP of Well Casings is Applied? :

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Oil and gas well casing cathodic protection is widely used all over the world. For example table 1 shows earliest well casing CP installations (which date from the 1950's) and some of the largest field wide CP systems in the United States done by Chevron company. The list does not include more than 800 onshore wells with CP located in Canada.
Table 1: Chevron Operated Oil Fields with Well Casing Cathodic Protection Field Name SACROC Elk Hills East Texas Baxterville Kettleman Hills Pittsburg Taft Raleigh Coalinga Heidelberg Location TX CA TX MS CA TX CA MS CA MS Date Installed 1979 1963 1970 1960 1958 1988 1965 1961 1965 1984 # Anode Beds 750 650 132 125 75 36 30 26 25 18 # Wells 1560 2000 225 270 200 45 30 26 60 24

The number of wells that have been placed under CP is impressive, but includes only a small fraction of the total number of wells operated by the company. The majority of these systems were installed after well casing leaks became a significant problem. 4. Limitations : While CP is a great tool for corrosion control of well casings, there are limitations to its effectiveness. In some cases it simply may not be practical to get protection to the bottom of deep well casings. [2] 5. Exposed External Surfaces : CP can mitigate corrosion only on the exposed external surfaces of a well casing. A conventional CP system has no effect, positive or negative, on the internal surfaces of the well casing or any production equipment inside the well casing. Because of space restrictions, it is not practical to install a long anode (or series of anodes) that is capable of protecting the inside of the well casing. CP is only effective on those external surfaces of the casing strings which are in direct contact with the environment. Conductor pipe, surface casing, and intermediate casing will shield the areas of the production casing string contained within it. Figure 1 illustrates a typical well completion diagram and the areas on the casing that receive protection [1]. 6. Well Densitym :

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Well density (or spacing) limits how far the anode bed can be placed from the subject well without interfering with neighboring wells. Ideal anode bed placement would be the half way point between equally spaced wells. The farther the anode bed is placed from the subject well, the deeper the well can be protected and the more even its current distribution. Figure 2 is a plot of the equal potential lines radiating out from a anode bed. It demonstrates that a well placed farther from an anode bed will receive more uniform potentials and therefore more uniform protection.
Figure1: Typical Well Casing Completion Diagram

Figure2: Equal Potential Lines

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Figure3: Current Density versus Anode Bed Distance

7. Varying Earth Resistances :

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Current will always take every available path in proportion to the resistance of the path. Variation in earth resistances can complicate the current flow and the distribution of current to the well casing. At deeper depths, high resistance formations can limit the amount of ionic current flow to the casing. 8. Temperature : The current requirement of steel increases with increasing temperature. To make matters worse, attenuation in the well casing reduces the current density with depth (i.e. the areas of the casing which receive the least protection need it the most). 9. Well Logs : Well logs [3,4] are essential to a complete CP study because: 1. Casing leaks must be identified as to the cause and location. 2. Effectiveness of the CP system must be evaluated. 3. Downhole resistivities are needed for modeling. Casing inspection logs are a vital part of a CP study because it would do little to install a CP system on a field that had experienced only internal corrosion or corrosion behind a surface casing string. Significant space is devoted to well logs because they are the only tools which reveals the present condition of the well. All casing inspection logs require that the rods and tubing be removed from the well. It is also good practice to make a bit and scraper run before any logs are run in a well. The extra tubing trip will remove scale, paraffin, corrosion by-product, and allow any accumulated fill to be washed out. It is important that the scraper tool have sharp blades and strong springs. Because of the cost of well preparation, the best opportunity to run a casing inspection log is during casing repair workovers. This approach not only provides data for the CP project, but gives the production engineer an idea of where to look for the leak with his squeeze packer. The inspection log may also indicate that the casing is in such bad condition that repair by cement squeeze is futile and a liner is required. Casing inspection tools utilize one of four technologies: 1. Electromagnetic 2. Mechanical 3. Acoustic 4. Optical In addition, two other types of logs are important in well casing CP: 1. Resistivity 2. Casing Potential Profile [5] A well logging company representative will be quick to point out that each has its advantages and to perform a thorough job more than one tool will be needed. While this is true, it can be argued that a single log will provide enough information for the CP project. If only one log is run, a combination DC induction (flux leakage/eddy current) log should be selected. The flux leakage/eddy current log is most adept at identifying pitting corrosion and can discriminate between internal and external defects [1]. 10. Current Requirements :

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During CP system design and after its installation, one of the most important questions is how much current to apply. Until a field is energized and wells are logged, there are no easy answers to this question. This section describes how to establish a current requirement value [1]. 11. Rules-of-Thumb : There are two rules-of-thumb that circulate in the well casing CP community. The first is a current density based on the surface area of the well casing. A value of 2 mA/ft2 is used to calculate the current required to protect all steel not covered by a cement coating. A value of 0.1 mA/ft2 is used to estimate the amount of current to protect steel covered by cement. A second rule-of-thumb for estimating a current requirement assumes that the sizes of well casings are roughly the same and that 1 amp of current should be adequate for each 1000 feet of well depth. Both of these estimating tools break down in actual use because current is not evenly applied to the well casing. In some cases current may never reach the deeper sections of the casing. Use these rules-of-thumb for quick ballpark estimates, but do not consider the answer to be final [6]. 12. Mathematical Modeling : There are three mathematical models currently in use for calculating well casing current requirements. The first is a model by Schremp-Newton. The technique is a modification of the Pope attenuation model used for pipelines. The SchrempNewton model requires only some wellhead potential measurements collected from a specific well already under CP. This is a useful technique for single wells that have minimal interference effects. It is the preferred procedure for calculating downhole potentials for various currents on an actual well casing. A second mathematical modeling technique is an electrical transmission model developed by Dabkowski. Resistivities at various depths and well patterns are required for input. Dabkowski's model allows the effects of many different resistivity layers to be evaluated. It also can evaluate interference effects of multiple anode beds and wells. The third technique is the BEM (boundary element model). This model is currently in use to evaluate current requirements and potentials on complex structures, such as offshore platforms. Because of difficulty in setting up input files with layered resistivities, convergence problems, and their CPU intensive nature, BEMs are not commonly used to evaluate well casing CP [7]. Some computer models capable of running on an IBM or compatible are available for specific applications.

13. Suggested Well Casing Current Requirements : Table 2 has been prepared in part from Chevron company experience and in part from calculations made from Dabkowski's model. It is suggested that this table be utilized as the initial starting point for estimating well casing current requirements. To find a suggested current requirement simply look up the value given at the intersection of the well depth and well spacing. Table 2 assumes seven inch casing and partial primary cement coverage. Numbers were calculated from Dabkowski's

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model using hypothetical field data. For casings deeper than 10,000 ft. or those that fall into the NR category do not expect to get protection all the way to the bottom. To facilitate complete CP coverage, an organic coating should be strongly considered for use on new well casings that are to be drilled to a depth over 10,000 ft. or on wells that are tightly spaced. The greatest cost benefit can be achieved by coating the OD of the surface casing, because the highest current density is near the surface.

Table2: Suggested Well Casing Current Requirements

Well Spacing Well Depth


2,000 ft 4,000 ft 6,000 ft 8,000 ft 10,000 ft 12,000 ft

Single Well Current (amps)


1.0 3.0 5.5 7.0 10.0 12.0

160 Acre Current (amps)


1.5 3.5 6.0 8.0 12.0 13.0

80 Acre Current (amps)


2.0 4.0 7.0 9.0 13.0 NR

40 Acre Current (amps)


2.5 5.0 10.0 11.0 NR NR

20 Acre Current (amps)


3.0 5.5 13.0 NR NR NR

To facilitate complete CP coverage, an organic coating should be strongly considered for use on new well casings that are to be drilled to a depth over 10,000 ft. or on wells that are tightly spaced. The greatest cost benefit can be achieved by coating the OD of the surface casing, because the highest current density is near the surface. 14. Anode Bed Design : Anode bed design is the same as that for cathodic protection of pipelines. Only the unique considerations for well casing systems will be covered in this article.

15. Type of System : Well casings will require an impressed current system to provide enough current unless they are very shallow (1,000 feet or less) or externally coated. Areas with low surface soil resistivity and ample well spacing are suitable for shallow surface anode beds. Fields with high surface soil resistivity, close well spacing, and-or dry climates make the use of deep anode beds more attractive. Despite a high installation cost, a deep anode bed is the most desirable design because it:

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1. Reduces interference on the well casings by placing anodes in lower resistivity soil. 2. Reduces interference on pipelines and other surface facilities by placing the anodes farther away. 3. Has minimal space requirements. 4. Is not subject to wet/dry conditions. 16. Rectifiers : Of the two conventional types of rectifier stacks (silicon diode and selenium) the silicon diode or bridge provides the best power conversion efficiency and least expensive replacement. New high efficiency solid state switching type rectifiers are now available. Maintenance history should be examined to confirm unit reliability. The technology that offers the most promise is the pulsed rectifier. Pulsed rectifiers generate spikes of high current output many times per second. Chevron data shows that polarization is actually slower, but the final polarized potential is much more negative. Manufacturers claim that pulse technology uses four times less total current output and allows the anode bed to be downsized by a comparable amount. Pulsed rectifiers have been around for a number of years, but were not very cost effective. A pulsed rectifier should be considered for deep or closely spaced well casings or where reducing the anode bed size will provide a significant cost savings. 17. Well Completion Enhancements : There are two major completion related items that can enhance the performance of a well casing CP system. The first is to make the negative lead connection at the bottom of the well and run a lead wire to the surface (usually not practical). The second is to externally coat as much of the casing as possible. Cathodic protection has a very strong symbiotic relationship with coatings, both organic and inorganic. This is because coatings reduce the effective surface area of steel exposed to the environment. There are three compelling reasons to coat a well casing: 1. To ensure adequate protection to the total casing depth 2. To reduce the current requirement 3. To minimize interference Coating well casings that are to be drilled in closely spaced clusters, onshore or offshore, may be the only method that will allow protection to depth [1]. 18. Improved Primary Cement Jobs : The simplest thing that can be done to improve current distribution is to insist on a complete coverage cement job. Cement will decrease the current requirement by a factor of 20 over bare steel. Figure 4 is a CPP log of a well that contains a DV tool installed to improve cement coverage. Notice how flat the slope of the curve is in the areas covered by cement and how steep the slope is in the areas not cemented.

Figure 4: CPP Log of a Well with Improved Cement Coverage

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19. Factory Applied Organic Coatings : A factory applied organic coating is the most untraditional, yet effective method available to improve the effectiveness of well casing CP. Current density and interference are greatly reduced thereby allowing protection to be extended to the bottom of the casing. A FBE (fusion bonded epoxy coating) can reduce current densities on the order of ten times lower than a cement coating and 200 times lower than required for bare steel. There are four documented installations of well casings that were externally coated before installation. In 1960, United Fuel Gas of West Virginia drilled 10 wells to 2500 feet. The lower 900 feet of casing were externally coated. The wells were pulled after 18 months and the coating examined. All of the coatings were field applied by hand, yet two of the epoxy systems retained an amazing 95% coating integrity [8]. In 1970, Pacific Gas and Electric drilled 60 closely spaced gas storage wells to 5,400 feet. The casing was coated to depth with coal tar epoxy. Cathodic protection current requirements have averaged 0.5 amps/well indicating a 95% to 98% effective coating system. No leaks have been experienced in an area where leak history with bare casings is significant [8]. During the early 1980's, Sun completed nine of its 11,500 foot wells with FBE coated casing. Two of the casings were pulled due to non related operational problems and the coating was examined. Other than a few scuffs, the FBE coating was found to be in excellent condition. In 1981, two Aramco wells were installed with FBE coated surface and intermediate casing to a depth of 4300 feet. The current requirement was reduced over six times that of similar wells with bare casing strings. Two additional wells in a closely spaced drilling island were installed with coated surface casings to a depth of 4,800 feet. Results from the study showed that the closely spaced wells were protected with less than 10% of the current required for a similar bare steel casing despite: 1. The production casing (4,800 ft to 6,150 ft) being run bare. 2. The collars were bare. 3. No effort was made to repair coating damage sustained during transport or handling [8].

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External coating has not caught on as a standard operating practice in the oilfield, but is no longer an experimental technique. These case histories have shown that an externally coated well casing with a good epoxy system such as FBE makes good operating sense, especially in congested areas, deep wells, or corrosive areas. In the last 20 years the standard industry practice has been to apply an external organic coating to all new pipelines. 20. Conclusion : A well casing CP installation can be summarized as follows: 1. Identify the candidate wells. a. Search well files. b. Record date and depth of leak (and other related well data). c. Use open hole logs to correlate leaks with specific geologic formations. d. Create a cumulative leak plot and estimate current/future repair cost. e. Verify cause of leaks with inspection logs. 2. Determine casing current requirement. a. Use table 2 or Dabkowski's model. b. Install a pilot anode bed and energize. c. Use Schremp-Newton's model to adjust current on test wells. d. Log test wells 90 to 180 days after final adjustment. 3. Design and install the field-wide system. a. Determine the anode bed type and depth. b. Decide on the number of wells per anode bed. c. Calculate the number of anodes and amount of backfill. d. Estimate the total installed cost and run economic justification. e. Establish a time table and begin system installation. 4. Monitor and adjust the system. a. Energize anode beds and adjust to design current density. b. Check for interference on foreign wells and pipelines. c. Optionally run a CPP log to determine effects from the field wide system. d. Establish a monitoring, adjustment, and maintenance program. 21. Acknowledgement : The head of technical inspection and corrosion department in East Oil and Gas Production Company, Mr. Javad Mostowfi is gratefully acknowledged for his technical and financial assistance in this project.

22. References : 1. Corrosion Prevention Manual, Chevron Research and Technology Company, Richmond, CA, December 1997. 1. Application of Cathodic Protection for Well Casings, RP-01-86, National Association of Corrosion Engineers. 2. Casing Evaluation Services, Western Atlas International, Atlas Wireline Services Catalog, 2004.

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3. Corrosion Evaluation, Schlumberger Product Catalog, January 2005. 4. Instruments for In-Place Evaluation of Internal and External Corrosion in Casing and Tubing, 1C190, National Association of Corrosion Engineers2003. 5. Hamberg, A. Well Casing Cathodic Protection Current Requirement Tests, COFRC, Report TM88000494, April 2006. 6. Townley, D. Well Casing Cathodic Protection: Modeling, Interference, and Protection Criteria, COFRC, Report TM86001548, November 2005. 7. Orton, M.D., Hamberg, A., and Smith, S.N. Cathodic Protection of Coated Well Casing, Corrosion 2005, Paper 66, San Francisco, CA.

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