Engineer, TOTAL, S.A.
Engineer, Schlumberger
J ean-Philippe Roques
, Benoit Balagué
Dominique Dion
, Gregoire Audouin

Copyright 2010, Brazilian Petroleum, Gas and Biofuels Institute - IBP
This Technical Paper was prepared for presentation at the Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2010, held between September, 13-
16, 2010, in Rio de J aneiro. This Technical Paper was selected for presentation by the Technical Committee of the event according to
the information contained in the abstract submitted by the author(s). The contents of the Technical Paper, as presented, were not
reviewed by IBP. 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, nor that of its Members or Representatives.
Authors consent to the publication of this Technical Paper in the Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2010 Proceedings.


Flexible pipes are used in all offshore fields to transport high-pressure and high-temperature fluids while
flexing with variable subsea currents and wave action. The monitoring of flexible pipe integrity is a main concern,
growing more significant as they increase in number and age.
In a flexible pipe, gas from the transported fluids slowly diffuses into the pipe’s annulus, a space located
between two concentric plastic layers where the armors that support the whole structure are also found. The annulus gas
is vented at the surface and flared to prevent a pressure buildup that could burst the pipe’s outer sheath.
The main concern for flexible pipe integrity is the presence of water in the annulus, either due to condensation
or damage to the outer sheath. Seawater, or condensation water in the presence of diffused CO
or H

S, can lead to
excessive corrosion of the armor layers and can significantly reduce the service life of the line (MCS International,
October 2002). It is also possible for oxygen and moisture from the air to enter the annulus if the vent ports are not
equipped with check valves.

Figure 1: Flexible pipe structure.

Currently, the only way to control the water tightness of the pipe’s outer sheath and the quantity of condensed
water in the annulus is to perform vacuum or pressure testing of the annulus (Bondevik, 2004). This operation is
infrequent and costly, and does not allow for continuous monitoring of the pipe. Sometimes, it is complemented by
measuring the rate at which gas exits the vent ports. However, this measurement is sensitive to temperature variations in
Outer Sheath
Tensile Wire
Pressure Layer
Pressure Sheath
Internal Carcass
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the annulus. A change in the rate of gas vent could be due to temperature effects, a change in gas diffusion rates, or
water entry.
To address these issues, TOTAL and Schlumberger have developed the subC-racs riser annulus condition
surveillance system for monitoring flexible pipe integrity, which eliminates the need for vacuum tests. The first step was
to define, together with the operators, the system design requirements. The highest priority was to provide a real-time
alarm in case of rupture of the pipe’s outer sheath. The system had to be adaptable to any existing flexible pipe equipped
with vent ports and simple to install, operate, and maintain. It had to measure the free volume of the annulus, removing
the need for regular annulus testing.
The gas that permeates the riser pressure sheath is depressurized while measuring its pressure, temperature, and
flow rate. Then, as in a well production test, the pressure drawdown and buildup curves are analyzed to give detailed
information about gas diffusion rate, annulus gas-filled volume, and connectivity of annulus and vent ports. A detailed
model of the riser annulus, its environment, and of the subC-racs instrument was used to understand the pressure
transients during the operation of the system. At regular intervals depending on the gas diffusion and riser parameters,
the gas pressure in the annulus is released. Prior to venting the gas, the pressure variations depend on annulus volume,
gas diffusion rate, and temperature variations. During the gas vent, the rate of pressure decrease is governed by annulus
free volume and the connectivity of the annulus from the vent ports to a few meters farther inside the pipe. After the
solenoid valve is closed, the pressure buildup gives an indication of the free volume and of its connectivity farther away
from the vent ports.
A computer acquires pressure and flow rate from the flexible pipe measurement units. The pressure curve is
correlated with riser fluid temperature to provide a correction for the effect of temperature variations in the annulus.
Based on the model, algorithms were developed to calculate separately the annulus free volume, the gas diffusion rate,
and the permeability to gas of the annulus and of the pipe’s vent ports. Then, alarms are derived from the pressure curve
and from deviations in the gas flow rate or volume measurements.
The system was validated in the flow laboratory and on a riser sample before its installation offshore West
Africa. Since the start of the field test in December 2009, results obtained have been within our expectations. We were
able to demonstrate the robustness of the system and the reliability of the software. The free volume measurements are
consistent with measurements obtained from previous annulus tests, and an alarm system has been implemented to allow
operators to monitor the integrity of the risers on a daily basis. It is expected that the introduction of this system will
improve safety and the planning of riser maintenance, and it should also provide reliable information on armor condition
over the life of the flexible pipe.
In this paper we briefly cover the operating principle of the system and focus on the operational experience
attained during the field test in West Africa. Evidence is given on the value of the monitoring solution and its high
sensitivity to production-related events that affect the flexible annulus environment.

1. Introduction

Flexible risers are often selected as an alternative to rigid pipeline, especially in dynamic applications.
However, the main issue with a flexible riser is the monitoring and follow up of the integrity of the line. One of the main
failure modes for flexible risers is the breakage of the armor wires due to corrosion. This corrosion could be due to
condensed water in the annulus, diffusion through the pressure sheath, or a rupture in the outer sheath allowing seawater
At present, assessing the water tightness of the outer sheath and the quantity of condensed water in the annulus
can only be achieved by performing pressure and vacuum tests. These test campaigns are costly operations that provide
only intermittent information about the status of the annulus, and they do not allow for close follow-up of the riser.
TOTAL and Schlumberger have developed new automated technology: the subC-racs system for continuous
assessment of a flexible pipe’s annulus condition and direct detection of damage to the outer sheath - without performing
vacuum or pressure testing of the annulus. This system is able to monitor the free volume of the annulus, and other
parameters related to the annulus environment, by controlling the venting of diffused gases and analysing the pressure
transients when gas is vented. A full description of the system is detailed in OTC paper 20973 (Roques et al., 2010).
The system has been installed in four risers in TOTAL’s Moho field, Congo, since December 2009. All risers,
about 1,000-m long, are connected to the Alima floating production unit (FPU) and are running to the seabed at 700-m
depth with a lazy wave configuration. Risers that have been tested include two 8-in insulated production risers, a 6-in
gas export riser, and a 15-in oil export riser.

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2. Field Test System Description: Hardware and Software

The subC-racs system implementation is described in Figure 2. System hardware consists in one riser unit for
each riser that requires monitoring, a smart junction box, and a dedicated PC running supervisory control and data
acquisition (SCADA) software.

Figure 2: subC-racs system implementation on FPU Alima.

Each riser unit holds instruments to measure pressure, temperature, and flow rate, as well as an interface to the
gas sampling equipment, and solenoid and gas relief valves. The riser units and the smart junction box interfacing them
to the SCADA computer are all located on the FPU deck. This equipment is designed for explosive atmosphere Zone I
use and for deployment in marine environments. For the Moho field test, the subC-racs computer was installed in the
main control room. Afterwards it will be interfaced to the FPU’s integrated control and safety system (ICSS).
RTAC real-time acquisition and control software has various screens that allow the offshore operator to
monitor the status of the risers. An overview screen (Figure 3) displays the principal measurements and calculations for
up to 16 risers, highlighting the measurements that change significantly. For each riser, a single screen (Figure 4)
displays the measurements, the calculated results, their trend versus time, and a summary of alarms and events.

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Figure 3: Overview screen, to monitor up to 16 risers.

Figure 4: Riser screen.

The SCADA software also has other menus and functions for log-in control and the ability to plot data or
results, display alarms and events, or export data to be included in a report.

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3. Data quality control

A main goal of the field test was to assess the quality of the annulus free volume and gas migration rate
computations. The system is intended to work consistently while unattended, so the computations must be robust, with
as few false alarms as possible. Calculations are made every few days, and, if the riser bore and annulus environments
do not change, the results should be very repeatable. However, if the value of annulus free volume or gas migration rate
changes significantly from one gas vent to the next, the subC-racs system must be able to discriminate if this is due to a
riser integrity issue, an equipment failure, or a production-related event.
During the field test period, from December 2009 to J une 2010, some production-related events affected the
riser and annulus environment. For example, from 15 to 25 J une, several changes in production rate in the Bilondo L
riser impacted the annulus temperature and the gas diffusion rate. The corresponding annulus pressure changes,
highlighted in Figure 5, caused a wrong annulus free volume figure to be calculated following the gas vent of J une 22. In
contrast, the quality of the annulus free volume calculated from the J une 28 gas vent data is good.

Figure 5: Annulus pressure of the Bilondo L riser, J une 15 to J uly 5.

To avoid false alarms, a software feature currently under development uses the subC-racs and/or process data
to automatically recognize production stops and flag the next calculations of volume and gas migration rate as being of
low quality. This disables the alarms until the following gas vent.

J une 22
gas vent
J une 28 gas
Flow rate
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4. Interpretation and alarms

The system continuously monitors various parameters indicative of the riser annulus condition, as explained
below and depicted in Table 1:
- The annulus free volume is the most important parameter to monitor since a reduction in its value is an
indication that liquid has entered the annulus. The curve of free volume versus time gives clear information about water
condensation or about the filling up of the annulus due to a leak in the pipe’s outer sheath. A significant decrease in
annulus free volume without an increase in the gas migration rate shows the formation of a plug, such as an
accumulation of condensation water in a sag bend area. The combination of a decrease in annulus-free volume and an
increase in gas migration rate shows water entry.
- The quantity of gas vented gives an average rate of its migration toward the riser’s vent ports. If the free
volume and annulus temperature are constant from one vent to the next, then all the gas vented comes from diffusion
through the pressure vault. In case of a leak in the outer sheath, the gas migration rate increases due to gas pushed out of
the annulus as water comes in. Over time, a gradual change in the gas diffusion rate - but not in riser fluid pressure or
temperature - indicates aging of the pressure vault polymer. Together with gas analysis from samples, this enables the
flexible pipe manufacturer to recalibrate the gas diffusion model.
- The pressure transient analysis allows us to monitor the gas mobility separately at the vent ports and along the
length of the riser. After venting some gas from the annulus, pressure returns slowly to equilibrium, and like in well
testing interpretation, the time constant of the pressure stabilization is representative of gas mobility. Too low gas
mobility deep inside the annulus can indicate the condensation of water vapor. Likewise, an accumulation of corrosion
by-products or water at the vent ports will reduce gas mobility close to the sensors, which is easy to detect.

Table 1. Interpretation of subC-racs system measurements

Annulus Condition Annulus Free Volume Gas Migration Rate

Outer sheath rupture

Slow leak into the annulus

Water condensation

Formation of a water plug
(e.g. in the sag bend)

Change in gas diffusion rate

Alarms are triggered if a breach in the outer sheath is detected, if the gas diffusion rate changes abruptly, or if
the system either leaks or fails to vent.

5. Annulus monitoring process with subC-racs system

As shown during the field test, it is possible to retrofit the subC-racs system on an existing floating production
facility, and, from the time of installation, begin to acquire and interpret new data about the condition of the annulus.
With a new project, the interpretation of subC-racs system data can be enhanced if the riser annulus condition
has been established when the riser is fresh from the factory and verified as early as possible after installation, before gas
diffusion starts. At the time of the factory acceptance test (FAT), the annulus volume, vent port performance, and gas
mobility are usually at their highest. The data recorded during FAT is the standard against which all future data will be
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When there is no gas diffusion, the subC-racs system can be set up to operate on demand. This is done either by
injecting some nitrogen into the annulus, or by extracting with a vacuum pump some of the gas present in the annulus,
changing the annulus pressure by only 100 mbar or less. Operating procedures have been established to make
measurements with the subC-racs system either during the FAT vacuum test at the flexible pipe’s manufacturing plant,
or offshore by injecting a small quantity of nitrogen into the annulus.

Model subC-racs
Select operating
Vacuum test with
Riser manufacturer
subC-racs Operation
Commissioning report
New gas analysis
Biannual report
Real-time display:
Data, status, trends
and alarms
Low pressure
nitrogen test with
Update model
and operating parameters
Every 6

Figure 6: Process for riser annulus monitoring.

The complete process for annulus monitoring with the subC-racs system is depicted in Fig. 6:
- From the riser’s manufacturer data, establish a model of gas movement in the annulus due to venting. This
model is used to estimate the time needed to achieve pressure stabilization during FAT, and to set the subC-racs system
parameters for this test.
- Perform a subC-racs system test as part of the riser FAT. This gives the initial values of annulus volume, vent
port performance, and gas mobility.
- Commission the subC-racs system as early as practical after riser installation. The commissioning includes a
test with nitrogen injection to verify the riser condition after installation, before gas diffusion has started. Update the
model and operating parameters.
- As gas diffuses into the annulus, pressure increases and the gas is vented automatically every few days. At any
time, offshore operators can see the subC-racs system in operation and follow its results on the dedicated computer
display. In case of an alarm, the detailed raw data present on the computer hard drive can be analyzed to pinpoint the
cause of the alarm; and in case of an outer sheath rupture, the data can illuminate the location of the damage.
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- Every 6 months a simple report should be prepared to present the trends of annulus volume, gas diffusion rate,
gas composition, and vent port performance versus time. At that time the model and operating parameters are reviewed
and updated if necessary.

6. Data management

For the field test’s duration, subC-racs system data and results were stored on a dedicated PC. The next
development for the Moho field will be to incorporate the data into the overall monitoring system already in place for
the riser follow up.
The present monitoring system is collecting wave measurements, FPU motion, and riser operating data, i.e.,
pressure, temperature, flow rate, fluid composition, and chemical injection rate. All data is transferred daily from the
FPU to a special Web site where it is stored and analysed by a dedicated engineering company in charge of riser
The engineering company is responsible for collecting and storing the data and providing yearly assessments of
the status of the line, based on the operating data collected.
Data from the subC-racs system will be implemented within this monitoring system and will be transferred
from the subC-racs computer to the ICSS and then forwarded onshore.

7. Conclusion

The field test system has now been operating since December 2009 without issue.
TOTAL E.P. Congo is now preparing for installation of the subC-racs system on the entire riser configuration
operating in the Moho field. Generally, the subC-racs system is becoming the standard equipment to be installed and
used on all new TOTAL field developments where flexible risers are deployed.

8. References

BUNDEVIK, J .V., HAAKONEN, R., LUNDE, S. Annulus testing for condition assessment and monitoring of flexible
pipes. OMAE2004-51431, J une 2004.
MCS International. UKOOA Guidance Note on Monitoring Methods and Integrity Assurance for Unbonded Flexible
Pipe, October 2002.
ROQUES, J -P., BALAGUE, B., DION, D., AUDOUIN, G. Flexible pipe integrity monitoring: A new system to assess
the flexible pipe annulus condition. OTC20973, May 2010.