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POL

Petroleum Open Learning

Oil Treatment
(Dehydration)
Part of the
Petroleum Processing Technology Series

OPITO
THE OIL & GAS ACADEMY

POL
Petroleum Open Learning

Oil Treatment
(Dehydration)
Part of the
Petroleum Processing Technology Series

OPITO
THE OIL & GAS ACADEMY

Petroleum Open Learning

Oil Treatment (Dehydration)


(Part of the Petroleum Processing Technology Series)

Contents

Page

Training Targets

Introduction

Section 1 Emulsions Their Nature and Occurrence

What is an emulsion?
The Creation of an Emulsion
Emulsion Stabiltiy
Emulsions and the Problem of Salt

Section 2 Principles of Emulsion Treating


The Application of Heat

The Application of Electricity

The Application of Chemicals

Demulsifier Selection

Demulsifier Bottle Test

Equipment

Test Procedure

Main Test

Injection of Chemicals

Water Washing

Settling

14

Visual Cues
training targets for you to
achieve by the end of the unit
test yourself questions to see
how much you understand

check yourself answers to let


you see if you have been thinking along the right lines

activities for you to apply your


new knowledge

summaries for you to recap


on the major steps in your
progress

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Contents (contd)
Section 3 Dehydration Systems and Equipment

Settling Tanks




32

Wash Tanks
Free Water Knockout
Heater Treaters
Electrostatic Treaters
Desalting

Section 4 A Typical Dehydration System




Pages

Separation of Free Water Knockout


Crude and Emulsion Heating
Electrostatic Dehydrators
Dilution Water System

Check Yourself Answers

Visual Cues
training targets for you to
achieve by the end of the unit
test yourself questions to see
how much you understand

45

58

check yourself answers to let


you see if you have been thinking along the right lines

activities for you to apply your


new knowledge

summaries for you to recap


on the major steps in your
progress

Petroleum Open Learning

Training Targets
When you have completed this unit on Oil Treatment (Dehydration), you will be able to :

Explain what constitutes an emulsion.

Describe how an emulsion is formed.

Explain how residual water in oil can cause problems with salt content.

Explain the basic principles of emulsion treating.

List the basic properties of a demulsifier.


Explain how a bottle test, used in demulsifier selection, is carried out.

Explain how demulsifying chemicals are injected into a dehydration process.

Describe the construction and operation of wash tanks and free water knockouts.

Describe the construction and operation of heater treaters and electrostatic treaters.

Explain the layout and flow through a typical dehydration plant.

Tick the box when you have met each target

Oil Treatment (Dehydration)

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Introduction

Water is produced together with oil from most oil


fields. This water, which may make up a very large
percentage of the total production from a field, can
cause considerable problems. These problems
include.
Corrosion - The produced water is very salty. If
this water is allowed to remain in the oil it could
cause corrosion damage to pipes, vessels and
other equipment

(Another unit in the Petroleum Processing


Technology Series covers produced water treatment
in detail.)
I said that water is separated from the oil at the
first opportunity. But how is this done ? If you
have completed previous units in this series you
will be aware of the primary separation facilities in a
production processing plant. Lets look briefly at the
system to refresh your memory.

The total production from an oil field flows from the


wells to the separation system. The function of this
system is to separate the production into its individual
phases of oil, gas and water. The process is carried
out in large vessels - the separators. A typical 3 phase
separator is shown in the diagram below.

Scaling - Salts are initially dissolved in the


water present in a reservoir. As conditions
change when this water is produced these salts
may be precipitated as solids and deposited as
scale. This in turn can reduce pipe diameters,
plug vessels and equipment and lead to lost
production
Transportation - The oil will be transported
from the field by pipeline or tanker. Either way,
water in the oil will cause problems. Water in
the pipeline leaves less room for oil and results
in loss of pipeline efficiency. Water being sent
to a refinery can cause serious upsets in the
distillation process. Tankers will not accept a
cargo which contains more than a very small
percentage of water
In order to minimise the problems I have just
described, the water is separated from the oil at the
earliest opportunity. This separated water is then
treated before being disposed of.

Typical 3 phase separator

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The vessel is called a 3 phase separator because it


separates the total flow stream into the three separate
streams of oil, water and gas. A 2 phase vessel would
only separate the stream into the liquid and gas
streams.
I dont intend to go through the construction and
operation of a separator at this point (another unit on
oil and gas separation is available from Petroleum
Open Learning). For the time being just look at the
bottom left hand side of the vessel.
This part of the separator is the liquid accumulation
section. The oil, water and gas stream has entered
the vessel at the inlet and been deflected at the
inlet deflector. The gas has passed towards the gas
outlet via straightening vanes and mist extractor, and
the liquids have fallen into the liquid / accumulation
section.
This is where the separation of oil and water takes
place. But how does it occur? The water and oil
separate due to a difference in their densities.
Providing the oil and water stay in the vessel for a
sufficient period of time the bulk of the water can be
separated from the oil. This water is the produced
water which has now to be disposed of.

This all seems fairly straightforward. However, there


is a potential problem at this point. In order for this
separation to occur the water must exist as free
water. In other words, the water must be present as a
body of water. Or, if the water is present as droplets,
these must be large enough to fall through the oil and
accumulate as a water layer. Unfortunately, some
water may be present in the Oil as very small droplets.
These droplets are dispersed throughout the oil and
form an emulsion which can be very stable. Further
treatment is then required on the oil to break down the
emulsion and separate the oil and water from each
other.
This is what this unit is all about - the treatment
of oil to remove the final amounts of water after
primary separation. The treatment is often called Oil
Dehydration.
I have divided the unit into four sections as follows:
Section 1 covers emulsions. In this section we will
look at the nature of emulsions, how and why they
form and what affects emulsion stability
In Section 2 we will look at the basic principles of
emulsion treatment
In Section 3 we will examine the construction and
operation of equipment used in emulsion treatment
or oil dehydration
Finally in Section 4 I will take you through a typical
dehydration system

Oil Treatment (Dehydration)

Section 1 Emulsions Their Nature and Occurrence


What is an Emulsion ?
Oil and water do not mix. This is an old saying
which is often quoted. In fact this is the basis of oil
and water separation. If we were to shake up some
oil and some water in a bottle and then let it stand
the following would happen; the water would sink
to the bottom of the bottle and the oil would float on
top. When two liquids are not capable of being mixed
we say that they are immiscible.

The dispersed water droplets are known as


the internal or discontinuous phase. The
oil surrounding the droplets is the external or
continuous phase.
When I defined an emulsion I said that a third
substance is present in the mixture. This is a
substance which separates the internal phase from
the continuous phase and vice versa. It is known as
an emulsifying agent.

However, oil and water can be made to mix under


certain circumstances. This occurs when one of the
liquids is dispersed as fine droplets throughout the
other and is stabilised.

So, for an emulsion to form, there must be three


components present. ie.

water - which is the internal phase

Having said that, we could define an emulsion as


follows:

oil- which is the continuous phase

an emulsifying agent

An emulsion is a mixture of two liquids which


are usually immiscible. One of these liquids is
dispersed throughout the other as small droplets
and is stabilised by a third substance called an
emulsifying agent.
In oilfield emulsions the two immiscible liquids are
oil and water. Either one could be dispersed in the
other. The most common, however, is the situation
where the water is dispersed in the oil. This is known
as a water in oil emulsion. Occasionally an oil in
water, or reverse emulsion will form but these are
much rarer. In this unit we will concentrate on the
more common one.

In addition to the three components being present,


they must be agitated for the emulsion to form.
The individual components in themselves would
never form an emulsion unless there was sufficient
agitation to disperse the water through the oil.
However, no amount of agitation will form an
emulsion without the liquids being immiscible and an
emulsifying agent being present. This being so, lets
look at the formation of an emulsion.

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The Creation of an Emulsion


The two liquids, oil and water, if they are in a pure
state could not form an emulsion. You could agitate
the two liquids for ever, creating droplets of water in
the oil, but as soon as the agitation is stopped the
two would separate from each other. The reason for
this is that the liquids are not compatible. When they
are placed together in the same container they try to
find a condition which will give the least contact area
between themselves.
The shape which has the least surface area for a
given volume is a sphere. So, a droplet of water
within a body of oil will assume a spherical shape.
This will ensure the minimum contact area between
itself and the surrounding oil. In addition, the droplet
will try to make itself as small as possible. This
also will reduce the contact area. But what has
the smallest surface area, a lot of small droplets
or a single droplet with the same volume as the
combined volume of the small droplets? Try the
following Test Yourself question which will show you.

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Test Yourself 1.1


A sphere with a diameter of 15 mm has a
volume of 1767 mm3. Five smaller spheres
each having a diameter of 8.77 mm have
the same volume in total. Determine what
has the smallest surface area, the single
droplet or the five smaller droplets.
The formula for the surface area of a
sphere is d2

You will find the correct answer in Check


Yourself 1.1 on Page 58.

From the answer to the question, you can see that


the surface area of the larger droplets is smaller than
the sum of the surface areas of the combined smaller
droplets. We have already said that the water will try
to find a condition giving the least contact area. The
tendency is for all the droplets of water in an oil water
mixture to join together to form one body of water.
What I have just said might indicate that we are
unlikely to have a problem with emulsions. However,
this is where the emulsifying agent, or emulsifier,
comes into the picture. This substance is essential to
the creation of an emulsion.
A well known example of an emulsion which you
would find in the kitchen, is mayonnaise. The
basic ingredients for making mayonnaise are
vegetable oil and vinegar. If these two liquids are
whisked together they tend to mix. But, as soon as
the whisking is stopped, the oil and vinegar would
immediately separate. If eggs are slowly added
during the Whisking however, the mixture soon
takes on the familiar thick creamy appearance of
mayonnaise an emulsion.
In this case the emulsion is formed from two
immiscible liquids vegetable oil and vinegar, then
subjecting them to violent agitation whisking
in the presence of an emulsifying agent eggs.

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Emulsifying agents are always present in crude


oils produced from the reservoir. They include the
following substances.


asphaltines a term given to a variety


of compounds containing sulphur,
nitrogen, oxygen, etc

resins

organic acids

metallic salts

silts

clays and many others

These agents are known as surface active agents,


which means that they tend to alter the nature of
the interface between the water droplets and the oil.
The emulsifier, which is present in the oil, migrates
to the interface and concentrates there. Emulsifiers
are fairly neutral as far as an affinity for oil or water
is concerned. They neither like nor dislike the two
liquids. They tend to form a barrier between the
water droplets and the surrounding oil. They form a
type of skin round each droplet which prevents them
from joining together. It is useful to imagine each
water droplet being wrapped in a substance rather
like clingfilm. Since the emulsifiers are moving
around in the oil, they tend to carry the surrounded
water droplets with them and keep the droplets
floating in the oil.

So, in the oilfield we have all the conditions


necessary for the creation of an emulsion. The two
immiscible liquids, the presence of an emulsifying
agent but what about agitation? The very process
of producing reservoir fluids ensures that there is
agitation. Imagine the fluids flowing up the well
tubings, through chokes, via flowlines and headers
into processing equipment. That certainly agitates
the fluids.

Emulsion Stability
The stability of an emulsion is a measure of its
resistance to being broken down into the separate
components of oil and water. We can refer to an
emulsion as being tight (difficult to break) or loose
(more easy to break). Whether the emulsion is tight
or loose depends on a number of factors and we
can look at some of these now.

Amount of water present - As the quantity of


water present in the mixture increases, more
and more agitation is required to completely
emulsify it. If complete emulsification occurs
however, there will be a greater number of
water droplets present in a given volume.
Therefore, there will be a greater number of
collisions between the droplets, which gives
them a better chance of uniting, and then
separating from the oil. By and large, water
in oil emulsions with a high water content
tend to form less stable emulsions.

O
 il viscosity In a thick viscous oil, water
droplets cannot move around very easily.
This means that there will be less chance of
the droplets meeting each other. Even if the
droplets which form during emulsification are
relatively large, they will not be able to sink
through the oil and separate out. Therefore
the oil will be able to hold the water droplets
in suspension more easily.

Emulsifying agent The type of emulsifier


will dramatically affect the stability of the
emulsion. However, an emulsifier which
creates a stable emulsion in one situation
could form a very loose emulsion under
different circumstances. There are so many
variables in the conditions under which an
emulsion is produced, that it is impossible
to state which agent creates the most stable
emulsion.


Age
of the emulsion - When the water and
oil are first mixed together the emulsifying
agent is evenly distributed throughout
the oil. It takes time for the ernulslfier to
migrate to the interface between the oil and
the water droplets. So initially the emulsion
is relatively unstable. As time goes on and
the migration proceeds, the film is formed
around the water droplets. With increasing
time the film becomes thicker and tougher
making it more difficult for the droplets
to combine. This results in a more stable
emulsion.

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Size of water droplets - In general the size of


the dispersed water droplets is a measure of
its stability. If the agitation is such that very
small droplets are produced, the emulsion
will tend to be tight.

Now try the following Test Yourself question before


we go on to discuss the problems of salt in crude oil.

Test Yourself 1.2

Figure 1.1 shows the difference between a tight and


loose emulsion with respect to their droplet size.

Are the following statements True or False ?


a.

Mayonnaise is an example of an unstable emulsion.

b.

If a mixture of oil and water is violently agitated a tight emulsion will form.

c.

If, after agitation of oil and water in the presence of an emulsifying agent
small droplets of water are produced, the resulting emulsion will tend to be
a tight emulsion.

TRUE

FALSE

d. Emulsifiers are surface active agents which migrate to the interface


between oil and water and form a barrier between the droplets and the
surrounding oil.

You will find the correct answers in Check Yourself 1.2 on page 58
Figure 1.1

10

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Emulsions and the Problem of Salt


The water of the internal phase of an emulsion is
invariably salt water, The salt content or salinity of
the water is expressed in ppm NaCI. This means
parts per million sodium chloride which is common
salt. This salinity can vary from field to field but could
be as much as 200 000 ppm.
Refineries cannot accept oil which has a high salt
content as the salt breaks down during the refining
process and causes considerable problems. Severe
corrosion, scaling and fouling of equipment and
pipework are just some of the undesirable effects of
salt in refinery operations.
The saltwater is removed as far as possible before
the crude oil gets as far as a refinery. Of course
this unit is all about the breaking down of emulsions
and the removal of the water. However, no matter
how efficient the dehydration process is, there will
usually be a very small amount of residual water in
the oil. This is expressed as the amount of base
sediment and water ( BS&W ) as a percentage of
the total liquids. This residual water will vary with the
efficiency of the dehydration equipment but could
range from 0.1 to 0.3% BS&W.

The amount of salt in oil is usually quoted at a


refinery in units of pounds per thousand barrels
( PTB ). A limit of salt in crude of 50 PTB may be
established by the refinery, and any salt content
above this would be unacceptable.
If we know the salinity of the residual water and the
percentage BS&W we can determine the salt content
of the crude in PTB. The graph illustrated in Figure
1.2 can be used to determine salt in oil content, if
the residual water percentage is just 0.1%.

Figure 1.2 Salt in oil when 0.1% water remains

Since the residual water is the salt carrier, the actual


amount of salt being transported in the crude oil will
depend on the salinity of the water and the amount
remaining after dehydration.

11

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Using Figure 1.2 try the following Test Yourself


question on salt contents.

Test Yourself 1.3


 fter dehydration, 0.1 % water remains in a
A
certain crude oil, and the salinity of this water
is 140 000 ppm NaCl. Would this crude be
acceptable to a refinery whose upper limit for
salt in crude is 50 PTB ?
Would the refinery accept the crude if the water
salinity is 100 000 ppm NaCI ?

You will find the correct answers in


Check Yourself 1.3 on Page 58.
You can see from the answer to the Test Yourself that
even with an efficient dehydration system it may be
necessary to reduce the salinity of the residual water
in crude in order to be able to export it for sale. In
Section 3 we will look at ways of doing this.

12

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Summary of Section 1
In this section we have been looking at emulsions in general, what they are and
how they are formed. I defined an emulsion as a mixture of two normally immiscible
liquids in which one of the liquids is dispersed throughout the other as small droplets.
It is stabilised by an emulsifying agent. I pointed out that in a water in oil emulsion
the water is the internal phase and the oil is the continuous phase. You saw that in
addition to the two immiscible liquids and an emulsifying agent being present, the
mixture must also be agitated for an emulsion to form.
We then went on to look at the way in which an emulsion is formed and I gave
an example of mayonnaise as a well known emulsion. In this case eggs form the
emulsifying agent. You saw what types of substances form emulsifying agents in the
oilfield and how the agitation occurs when reservoir fluids are produced.
We considered the difference between a tight and a loose emulsion and the various
factors which affect its stability.
Finally we looked at the problems of salt in crude oil. You saw that even if the residual
amount of water in oil is reduced to very low percentages, if the salinity of that water is
very high then there could be problems with the total amount of salt in the oil.

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Oil Treatment (Dehydration)

Petroleum Open Learning

Section 2 Principles of Emulsion Treating


In theory, if an emulsion was allowed to remain in
a vessel for an unlimited period of time it would
eventually separate into oil and water. The droplets
of water would fall through the oil and form a layer of
water at the bottom of the vessel. In fact the settling
process is the basis of all emulsion treating systems.
The time required for this to happen we could call the
settling time. Unfortunately in petroleum producing
operations we just do not have this time, so, in order
to separate the two liquids in an emulsion and allow
them to settle, we must assist the process.
Lets start by having a look at a physical law regarding
the speed at which a suspended particle would fall
through a continuous medium. It can be described
by an equation known as Stokes equation. This is
written as :
V=
2 g r 2 ( d 2- d 1)
9N
Where :

V
g
r
d1
d2
N

=

=
=
=
=
=

velocity
gravitational constant
radius of particle
density of continuous medium
density of particle
viscosity of continuous medium

Dont worry about this equation if your maths are a


bit rusty, this is the last you will see of it. However
what it means is, that to increase the speed of settling we must do one of two things. We must either
increase the value of the factors on the top line of
the equation, or decrease the value of the factor on
the bottom line. How can we do this?
Lets examine each of these factors in turn.

F
 irstly g the gravitational constant. This, as
its name states, is a constant and we can
do nothing at all about this
S
 econdly r which is the radius of the particle,
in our case the water particle. We could try
to increase the radius of the particles by
causing the droplets to join together thus
increasing their size and hence their radius

The expression ( d 2 - d 1 ) represents the


difference in density between the water and
the oil. We could try to increase this

F
 inally N is the viscosity of the oil. To increase the speed of settling, this must be
reduced. We could certainly try to do that

It would appear therefore that our emulsion treating


problem can be overcome if we can achieve the
following :
1.

Decrease the viscosity of the oil

2. Increase the difference in density between


the water and the oil
3. Cause the water droplets to join together
and form larger droplets
There is in fact a fourth factor we could add to this
list time. If it were possible we could try to increase
the settling time available.
Before we move on from here try the activity on the
next page.

14

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Activity
This is simply an activity to get you thinking
about ways to decrease the viscosity of a
liquid.
Imagine working in the kitchen and having to
mix some treacle with dry ingredients in order
to prepare a particular dish. If you took the
treacle straight out of the tin it might prove
difficult to stir - it is thick or very viscous. What
could you do to make the treacle thinner?
One thing you might think about doing is to
warm up the treacle in a pan on the stove.
As the treacle gets hotter it will start to flow
more easily. It gets thinner or its viscosity is
reduced.

From what you have just been thinking about,


it would appear that item one on our list can be
achieved by heating the emulsion, so lets consider
this now.

The Application of Heat


In fact heating the emulsion can assist not only in
item one in our list but in items two and three also.
You have already seen that increasing the
temperature of the oil reduces its viscosity. This
allows the water droplets to sink more rapidly
through the oil.
As the temperature is increased the difference in
density between the water and the oil also increases.
This occurs up to a temperature of about 8OC.
After that the effect of heat on density difference
diminishes.

In view of all this, most emulsion treating plants


use heat. You should note however, that heating
causes some vaporisation of the lighter components
of the oil. If this is not contained, a reduction in
gravity with a corresponding reduction in volume
will occur. This of course means loss in revenue.
Also, as the temperature is increased, the likelihood
of maintenance problems occurring in the plant
and equipment will increase. This being so,
other methods are used to assist the application
of a reasonable amount of heat in the treatment
process.
We can now go on to look at some of these other
methods.

Finally, heating the emulsion promotes the


combining together or coalescing of the droplets. It
does this in two ways. Firstly, having a hot emulsion
means that the water droplets move around much
more freely and collide with each other far more
frequently. If these collisions are forceful enough,
the film surrounding the droplets can be ruptured and
they will coalesce. Secondly, as the water droplets
are heated they will expand. This will stretch the
surrounding films and make them weaker enabling
them to be ruptured more readily.

15

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The Application of Electricity


The application of electricity in emulsion treating is an attempt to promote
coalescence of the water droplets. Lets have a look at how this works. Before
we do this, try the following activity.

Activity

All you need to perform this activity is a plastic ball point pen a piece
of woollen cloth and a source of running water e.g. the kitchen tap.

R
 un the water from the tap as a small, thin continuous stream. Make
sure that the stream is not breaking up into droplets.

H
 old the blunt end of the pen against the stream of running water.
Observe what happens to the stream.

N
 ow rub the end of the pen against the piece of woollen cloth a few
times. (The blunt end of the pen not the metal ball point end).

H
 old the end of the pen close to the stream of running water again
and observe what happens.

16

Petroleum Open Learning

What you should have noticed during the activity you


have just performed is the following; the first time
that you held the pen against the stream nothing
happened. The second time however, after rubbing
the pen against the wool, the stream of water bent
towards the pen.

Normally the dipoles are arranged randomly within


the molecules as shown in Figure 2.2.

Obviously some force acts between the pen and


the water after the pen has been rubbed. It is in
fact an electrostatic force. It occurs because in
rubbing the pen against the wool you charge the
pen electrically.
But how does that attract the water? The answer to
this lies in the way that the water itself behaves.
The water droplets in the emulsion are made up of
molecules which themselves are neutrally charged
electrically. However within the molecules is an
arrangement of charges which is known as an
electric dipole. This has a positive and a negative
end and is shown very simply in Figure 2.1.

Figure 2.1 : Electric Dipole

Figure 2.3 : Water Modules Attracted to the


Positively Charged Pen
Figure 2.2 : Electric Dipoles in Water Molecules
Randomly Arranged

The phenomenon we have just been looking at can


be used in the problem of treating emulsions.

When the charged pen is placed near to the water


stream the molecules line up with their negative
ends being attracted towards the positively charged
end of the pen. We can say that they become
polarised. This has the effect of pulling the water
towards the pen. Figure 2.3 shows this.

If the emulsion is passed through an electric field


between two electrodes, the water droplets are
polarised. They are then stretched due to the polar
attractions which weakens the surrounding film.
They are also attracted towards one or other of the
electrodes and tend to speed towards it. Because of
the weakened film and the greater collision force as
they hurtle through the oil, the droplets unite more
readily to form the larger droplets necessary for
faster settling.

17

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Although the application of heat and the application of electricity are both commonly used in
dehydration they are rarely used by themselves. In order to assist in the process or to speed
it up, chemicals are invariably injected into the emulsion. We can look at this now but before
we do, try the following Test Yourself question.

Test Yourself 2.1


Are the following statements true or false? If they are false give the reasons why.
a)

The speed at which a suspended particle would fall through a continuous


medium is described by Stokes equation.

b)

D
 ecreasing the difference in density between water and oil in an emulsion
would assist in allowing the water to settle during treating.

c)

Increasing the temperature of oil reduces its viscosity.

d)

Electric dipoles in water molecules are normally arranged with their negative
ends all pointing in the same direction.

TRUE

FALSE

REASON

e) If an emulsion is passed through an electric field between two electrodes the


water droplets are polarised. This causes them to be stretched due to polar
attractions which weakens the surrounding film.

You will find the correct answers in Check Yourself 2.1 on Page 59.

18

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The Application of Chemicals


The addition of a chemical to the emulsion helps to
cause coalescence of the water droplets. It does this
by breaking the film surrounding the water droplets.
Before it can do this it has to get to the interface
between oil and water droplets. It then has to gather
sufficient droplets together prior to coalescence.
This gathering together is called flocculation. In
addition to the above it must be able to remove any
solid particles from the interface and carry them
away with the separated water. Chemicals which
are able to do this are called demulsifiers.
We could say therefore, that good demulsifiers have
four basic properties:

 hey are strongly attracted to the water / oil


T
interface

They cause flocculation of the water droplets


They help to rupture the film surrounding the
droplets, promoting coalescence

 hey cause solid particles to be attracted to


T
the water so that they can be removed with
the water

Demulsifiers are in fact very similar to the emulsifying


agents which cause the emulsion to form in the first
place. They are surface - active chemicals which,
when added to the emulsion, diffuse rapidly to the
interface. Once there, they attempt to neutralise the
effect of the emulsifying agent.
Having arrived at the interface, the demulsifier
gathers together droplets of water by the action
of flocculation. The demulsifier, which is now
concentrated on a droplet, has a strong attraction
for other water droplets in the same condition. The
droplets tend to join up rather like a bunch of grapes.
If they collide with sufficient force the skin may be
ruptured and coalescence takes place. Sometimes
however they just nestle together and further action
is needed for coalescence.
The next action of the demulsifier is to attack the
films surrounding the droplets if they are still intact.
It does this by causing eruptions at the interface
which consequently ruptures the film. With no film
to prevent coalescence, the water tries to find a
condition giving the least contact area with the
oil. The water droplets, which are close together
because of the flocculation, unite and form larger
and larger droplets.
The action of flocculation and coalescence is
illustrated in Figure 2.4.

Figure 2.4

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You saw in Section One that emulsifiers can contain


solid particles such as sand, silt and clays etc. They
may come from the reservoir or be residues from
the drilling mud and so on. These particles help
to increase the stability of the emulsion and must
be removed if successful demulsification is to be
achieved. The demulsifier does this by wetting the
particles. At this point I will say a little more about
wetting and wettability.
Adhesion is the property by which particles of a given
substance stick together. Liquids will stick to some
solid substances more than others. For example, if
you were to dip a glass rod in a beaker of water and
then remove it, the rod would be wet. If however
you do the same thing in a beaker of mercury, when
you remove the rod no mercury would be clinging
to the rod. This shows that some water is more
adhesive to the glass than to water itself. Mercury
however sticks to itself rather than the glass. We
could say that the glass is water wettable but not
mercury wettable. If you coated the glass rod with a
greasy substance however, the glass rod would not
be wet by water. Figure 2.5 shows this in a simple
diagram.

Figure 2.5
The demulsifer makes the particles water wet. it
has one end which is strongly attracted to the solild
particle and forms a coating on the particle. The other
end is strongly attracted to the water and will carry
the particle in the water. This means that when the
water droplets coalesce and sink, the soild particles
will be carried out of the oil and can be disposed of
with the water.

You can deduce from all this that the demulsifier has
several jobs to do. It would be almost impossible to
find a single chemical which could accomplish all
these actions. Therefore, Demulifiers are cocktails
of chemicals which are blended to give the best
possible results for the type of emulsion being
treated.

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Demulsifler Selection
Just as there are many different types of crude oil
there can be many different types of emulsions
formed. To obtain optimum dehydration the most
effective demulsifier for each type of emulsion must
be selected. What is effective in one field may not
work in another. In fact, the addition of the wrong
type of demulsifier could aggravate the situation
and cause the emulsion to become more stable.
The selection of the demulsifier depends on a
number of factors, including:

The type of crude oil produced

The nature and composition of the produced


water

The type of dehydration process

The point of chemical injection

The temperature

Whether other chemicals will be used which


may react with the demulsifier
The above list is not exhaustive but it serves to
show just how difficult the choice of demulsifier can
be. Service companies who specialise in supplying
oilfield chemicals produce a range of demulsifiers
for the different situations encountered. Even so a
considerable amount of work must be done in the
field to ensure that the correct choice is made.

When all the details regarding the type of crude


and the nature of the produced water is known, the
search for the most effective demulsifier can be
narrowed down. A number of demulsifiers from a
suppliers range would be chosen and subjected to
field tests. The most common type of test carried
out is known as the bottle test.

When carrying out the test several points must


be adhered to regarding the sample of emulsion.
These are :

Demulsifier Bottle Test

the sample must be truly representative of


the total production

the sample must be tested as soon as


possible. Ageing of the emulsion sample
could affect its reaction to the treatment

The bottle test is used to help to determine which


chemical can most effectively treat an emulsion from
a given field. The results of the test can also indicate
the optimum amount of demulsifier to be added, i.e,
the ratio of chemical to emulsion. Adding too much
can be as bad as adding too little.
The basic procedure for carrying out the test
involves taking a representative sample of the
emulsion to be treated from a point in the process
plant. The sample is placed in a calibrated bottle
and a specified amount of demulsifiers added. The
sample is agitated, allowed to stand whilst settling
takes place and separation of water is observed
and measured. After a time, a sample from the oil
layer above the water is taken. This is processed
in a centrifuge so that any emulsion, water and
solids remaining in the oil can be determined. Lets
expand this procedure and go through the basics of
a bottle test.

the sample must be free of any demulsifier



chemical

Equipment
The following list of equipment needed for the test
is fairly straightforward, however I have given a
brief description of the items which you may not be
completely familiar with.

12 Calibrated bottles. These are similar


to medicine bottles with graduations
marked in millilitres (ml)

A 100 ml pipette. A glass instrument with


which accurate amounts of emulsion can
be taken

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Micro pipettes calibrated in 0.001 ml


divisions. Used for dispensing the
demulsifying chemical in very small but
accurately known quantities

Graduated glass syringes of 50 and 100 ml

A water bath with thermostatic control

A centrifuge with calibrated centrifuge tubes.


This is a machine which spins a number of
tubes at a very high speed. The centrifugal
force causes the samples in the tubes to
separate into oil and water

An agitator. This is capable of agitating


the samples of emulsion in the calibrated
bottles. (Sometimes in the field the bottles
are shaken by hand.)

In addition to the equipment I have just listed,


demulsifier chemical and solvents are required. The
demulsifier is usually used in testing in a diluted form
called a solution. A typical 5% solution would be
prepared by mixing 1 ml of concentrated demulsifier
with 19 ml of demulsifying solvent.

Test Procedure

Record the total water content. This gives


a figure which can be used to compare the
demulsifying chemicals under test

A representative sample of the emulsion to be


treated is taken in a suitable container capable of
holding at least 2 Iitres.

Main Test

Before conducting the main test, the total amount of


water and emulsion in the oil must be determined.
This is done in the following manner:

With the total amount of water and emulsion in the


sample known, the main test can be carried out as
follows :

Fill the centrifuge tubes with a solvent such


as xylene up to the 50% level then top up
to 100% with the emulsion

Agitate the tubes to mix the contents


thoroughly

Centrifuge the tubes for 10 minutes

Note the emulsion and free water content

Add a few droplets of a slugging


compound (this is a chemical which does
not over treat the emulsion and cause the
formation of a stable emulsion even if
excessive amounts of it are used)

Agitate to mix and heat in the water bath


for 10 minutes at 60C

Centrifuge again for 10 minutes. This


should totally break the emulsion. If not,
repeat adding more slugging compound

Fill the calibrated bottles with 100ml of


sample
Label the bottles with details of type of
demulsifier and amounts used
Heat the bottles in the water bath to the
same temperature as that of the demulsifier
injection point in the field
Add the demulsifying chemicals in exact
amounts using the micro pipette
Screw the tops on the bottles and ensure
there is no leakage
Agitate the bottles either by hand or using an
agitator, for a period of time which relates to
the intensity of agitation in the field

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After agitation, immediately place the bottles


in the water bath where the temperature
has been adjusted to that of the settling
temperature in the field

The amount of chemical added in a treating system


is usually quoted in parts per million ( ppm ). This
means the volume of chemical used per million
volumes of emulsion throughput.

Record the start of the settling time and allow


the samples to settle

In fact the treatment dosage is determined before


doing the main test to determine the most suitable
demulsifier.

Record the amount of separated water and


emulsion at regular intervals
From the results, select the best performing
samples
From the best samples, remove the oil from
just above the interface using a syringe.
Leave an equal amount of oil above the oil
water interface in each sample
With this oil conduct a centrifuge test, which I
described earlier, to determine the amount of
residual water in the oil if any
From this test the best performing chemical can
be determined to treat the particular emulsion
problem.
Of course we not only want to know which type of
demulsifier works best for a particular emulsion but
also, what is the optimum dosage.

If we use a demulsifier which is known to be


reasonably effective, then the test which I have just
described is carried out using different amounts of
the same demulsifier instead of different chemicals.
This time 6 bottles would be used. Knowing a typical
dosing ratio, the bottles would have chemicals
added at 0.5, 0.75, 1, 1.5, 2, and 4 times this
amount. From the results of the test the optimum
dosage is determined, and this figure is used for
further testing.
The bottle test will then indicate which demulsifying
chemical is going to be best for our particular
dehydration problem and what the optimum dosage
rate will be.
I now want to look at the actual injection of the
demulsifier into the process stream. However, before
doing so, try the following Test Yourself question.

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Test Yourself 2.2


The steps taken in carrying out a bottle test are listed below in the wrong order.
List the steps in the correct order starting with :
a.

Fill the calibrated bottles with 100 ml of sample.

b.

Add the demulsifying chemicals in exact amounts using the micropipette.

c. Agitate the bottles for a period of time which relates to


the intensity of agitation in the field.
d. Label the bottles with details of type of demulsifier and amounts used.
e. Heat the bottles in the water bath to the same temperature as that of the
demulsifier injection point in the field.
f.

Record the amount of separated water and emulsion at regular intervals.

g.

From the results select the best performing samples.

h.

Record the start of the settling time and allow the samples to settle.

i.

Screw the tops on the bottles and ensure there is no leakage.

j.
After agitating immediately place the bottles in the water bath where the temperature
has been adjusted to that of the settling temperature in the field.
You will find the correct answers in Cheak Yourself 2.2 on page 59.

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Injection of Chemicals
Where is the best place to introduce the demulsifier
into the emulsion ? The answer to this question
is that there is no single best chemical injection
location. Each process system must be carefully
evaluated to determine the most effective point
of injection. We can look at a typical system and
identify some possibilities.

Activity
The following drawing Figure 2.6, is a simplified
layout of a typical production process. Study
the drawing for a few minutes and mark on it
the points where you think we could inject the
demulsifying chemical.

Figure 2.6

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The drawing shows the flow of fluids from the reservoir through
the separators. In such a system there are several locations
which seem to be suitable as chemical injection points. I would
suggest the following :

Down hole in each individual well


At the surface into each flowline

Into the main header

Into the separators

Lets consider each of these locations.


In general the chemical should be introduced as far upstream as
possible. Doing this ensures that there is a minimum of time for
the emulsifying agent to create and stabilise an emulsion. It also
means that the demulsifier has maximum time to do its work. The
turbulence as the fluids flow up the wellbore through the surface
valves and pipework ensures the dispersal of the chemical.
Having said that, it would appear that injection downhole is the
most effective location. Many wells are equipped with facilities for
chemical injection. The most common method would be to have
a chemical injection valve installed in a side pocket mandrel in
the tubing string.
Figure 2.7 shows part of a simplified well completion drawing
with a chemical injection valve in a side pocket mandrel.
Figure 2.7

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The mandrel is a piece of tubing with a bulbous side


to it. A small tube, the pocket, is incorporated into this.
The chemical injection valve sits in this pocket. You
can see from the figure that a small line is fed to the
side pocket mandrel down the tubing / casing annulus
from the surface. Chemical being pumped down this
line is contained between the two seals which straddle
the inlet port in the pocket.
The valve itself looks like the one shown in Figure 2.8.
The chemical enters the valve through the inlet
port and is pressurised against the valve and seat.
The valve is being held on its seat by a spring. At a
predetermined pressure the valve will open allowing
the chemical to flow round the valves internal pathways
and out through the outlet port and into the well tubing.
Pumping the chemical under pressure through such
an injector ensures that it sprays into the produced
fluids and is thoroughly mixed downhole.
Although downhole injection is certainly carried out
in many locations it does present certain problems.
Each well has to be completed in such a way that
chemical injection valves can be installed in the tubing
string. This adds to the cost of the well completion and
introduces extra possibilities for mechanical failure
in the well. Maintaining the many injectors is time
consuming and costly.
Figure 2.8

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A more practical solution then, may be to inject the


chemical at the surface into each wells flowline
near the wellhead. There would be less time for the
demulsifier to work and more time for stabilisation
than downhole but the costs would be less.
Injecting the chemical into the main header
ensures that it is introduced continuously into
the total production. It could be a relatively low
cost installation having a single injection point as
opposed to multipoint injection downhole or in the
flowlines. However there will be less agitation and
less time for the chemical to work.
If chemical is injected at the surface into the flowlines
or the header, it will be injected via an injection
quill. This is designed to ensure that mixing is as
complete as possible between the chemical and the
emulsion. Figure 2.9 shows a simple injection quill
arrangement.
A non-return valve fitted in the injection line will
prevent back flow and protect the line from well
fluids.
Injecting the demulsifier into the separators is rarely
considered. By the time the fluids reach this point
there is very little time left for the chemical to work
effectively. The fluid flow through the vessel is much
less turbulent thus the chemical is less effectively
dispersed. The emulsion has also had more time to
stabilise.

The actual point is often a compromise which depends on the type of operation. Sometimes a few
wells would be treated downhole or at the flowline
with additional injection at a single point in the main
header. The character of each wells production
must be determined so that the wells which contribute most to the emulsion problem can be selected
for downhole treatment.

Before we finish this section on the principles of


emulsion treating we should consider two other
points, i.e. settling and water washing. Lets look at
water washing first.

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Water Washing

Settling

This process is a mechanical means of reducing the water content of a destabilised emulsion. In such a
system the emulsion is introduced to, or made to pass through, a large body of water. As it does so, each
water droplet in the emulsion may be absorbed by contact with this large volume. This is referred to as
water washing. For most effective absorption, the wash water should be exactly the same water as the
droplets. In fact the wash water is often free water which has already been removed from the emulsion. In
a water washing facility the emulsion flows under a baffle in the treating vessel thus ensuring that it passes
through the wash water. Figure 2.10 illustrates this.

I have already said that settling is common to all


types of treatment of emulsions. At the beginning of
this section I said that if an emulsion could be left for
a sufficient length of time the water droplets would
sink and form a water layer at the bottom of any
vessel. So, in addition to heat, electricity, addition of
chemicals and water washing, there must be some
time allowed for the water to form a layer from where
it can be drained separately from the oil.
We have covered quite a lot in this section but before
I summarise for you, try the following Test Yourself
question.

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Test Yourself 2.3


Read through the following statements and fill in the missing word / words from the list given below :
a.

Heating oil tends to reduce its

b.

The speed at which a suspended particle would fall through a continuous medium can be described by

c.

An electric dipole has a

and a

d. If an emulsion is passed through an electric field between two


e.

When water droplets gather together we could say that

f. A demulsifier helps to remove solid particles from the emulsion by


g.

A chemical injection valve could be situated in a side

h.

An injection

equation.

end.
. the water droplets become
occurs.
the particles.
mandrel in the tubing string.

is designed to ensure that mixing is as complete as possible between the chemical and emulsion.

LIST OF WORDS
POLARISED, QUILL, NEGATIVE, ELECTRODES, HEADER, VISCOSITY, STOKES, WETTING,
POSITIVE, ELECTROSTATIC, BOTTLE TEST, FLOCCULATION, POCKET.
You will find the correct answers in Check Yourself 2.3 on Page 59.

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Summary of Section 2
In this section I have taken you through the
principles of emulsion treating in a logical
manner. We started by having a look at Stokes
equation which is written as :
V=

2g r2 ( d2 - d1 )
9N

We saw from the equation that to increase the


speed of settling of droplets of water through a
continuous medium we must do three things :
1. decrease the viscosity of the oil
2. increase the density difference between
the water and the oil
3. cause the water droplets to coalesce and
form larger droplets.
We saw that heating the oil helps to decrease
its viscosity and also increase the density
difference between the oil and water.

We further saw that the application of electricity can


help in promoting coalescence of the water droplets. It
does this by polarising the droplets. This has the effect
of weakening the surrounding film and causing them
to be attracted towards the electrodes. Because of the
weakened film and the collisions which occur as the
droplets move rapidly through the oil, the droplets unite
and form the larger droplets necessary for faster settling.
We then moved on to look at the application of
chemicals which help to promote coalescence. These
demulsifying chemicals are surface active chemicals
which have four basic properties. They :

are strongly attracted to an oil / water interface

cause flocculation of the water droplets


help to rupture the film surrounding the water
droplets

cause solid particles to be attracted to the water


so that they can be removed along with the water

You saw that there are many different types of


demulsifiers available and careful selection of the
best one must be made for a particular emulsion
treating application. I described for you the bottle
test which is used to help determine which
demulsifier can most effectively treat a given
emulsion. From there we moved on to look at the
injection of the chemical. We saw that there are
several options for injection points. These could
be downhole, in the well flowlines,in the header
or in the vessels. We looked at the advantages
and disadvantages of each of these.
To end the section we had a brief look at water
washing and settling. In water washing the
emulsion is made to pass through a large body
of water which absorbs the water droplets from
the oil. Time for settling as I have mentioned
on several occasions is necessary for any oil
dehydration process, but speeding up the settling
time is what most of this unit has been about.

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Oil Treatment (Dehydration)

Section 3 Dehydration Systems and Equipment


Having looked at the basic principles of treating
emulsions lets now go on to the practical application
of these principles in the field. The dehydration
equipment will rarely use just one of the principles
covered in the last section, but will use a combination
of them. We can look at several types of treating
vessels. I intend to start with some rather basic
equipment and follow on with some which is slightly
more complicated.

At least three tanks would be used. In operation, one


of the tanks would be in the process of being filled, and
one would be settling. The third, having had the settled
water drained off, would be having its clean oil pumped
to a tanker or a refinery. Figure 3.1 shows a simplified
version of such a system.

Petroleum Open Learning

Note that there is provision for injecting chemical on


the offshore platform and also into the pipeline before
the tankfarm.

Settling Tanks
All treating systems involve settling.
In some situations a simple settling
tank used in conjunction with chemical
injection could be all that is necessary.
In this case the tank must be big enough
to allow sufficient retention time for the
water droplets to sink to the bottom.
A typical example of such a system is a
tank farm at a shore terminal. Here the
total production from an offshore field is
transported via a subsea pipeline to very
large tanks at the terminal. Although the
tanks are principally used for storage,
because of the amount of time that the oil
remains in the vessels, settling can take place.

Figure 3.1

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Wash Tanks

Inside the main body of the tank a water layer is


maintained. This is the wash water. The spreader is
designed so that the emulsion exits as several small
streams which rise independently through the wash
water. As these small streams rise, a certain amount
of de-emulsifying takes place as the water droplets
in the emulsion contact the large body of water. The
clean oil will continue to rise whilst the water droplets
remain in the wash water.

A wash tank is more likely to be found on older land


installations than offshore and can only be used with
relatively low throughputs. It is basically a settling
tank with a few refinements. Although you may not
come across one of these vessels, it is worth having
a look at its construction and operation as it uses
some basic principles of emulsion treating. A typical
wash tank is shown in Figure 3.2. Look at this now
and identify the various components.

Any emulsion which has not broken down during its


passage through the water will form a layer on top of
the water. Clean oil will form a further layer on top of
the emulsion. Further breakdown of the emulsion will
take place within the layer on top of the water. This
layer will remain in the vessel for a relatively long
time so a certain amount of settling will take place.
Water will sink into the water layer with oil rising to
join the oil layer.

The emulsion to be treated enters the unit through


the inlet line and passes to a larger diameter pipe,
the conductor. This vertical pipe may be mounted
either inside the vessel as shown in the drawing, or
outside. Gas may be liberated from the emulsion at
this point. The conductor acts as a vertical separator
within the wash tank. Any gas is taken from the top
of the conductor and passes through an equalising
line into the top of the wash tank. This equalises
pressure between the conductor and the main
body of the tank. The gas-free emulsion then flows
down the conductor and is spread out through the
water layer at the bottom of the tank. A spreader
arrangement at the bottom of the conductor helps to
do this.

The wash water level in the tank is maintained by a


level control valve in the water outlet line.
In the system we have just looked at, the breaking
down of the emulsion is achieved in two parts :

Figure 3.2

water washing

settling

A variation of these principles can be found in the


type of vessel known as the Free Water Knockout
which we will look at now.

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Free Water Knockouts


Strictly speaking, free water is produced water which will settle out of the oil within five minutes if the fluids are at rest. As such it is
not part of the emulsion and can be removed by gravity separation in a simple separator. It is important that this free water is removed
before the emulsion is further treated in a system such as the heater treater which we will look at shortly. A free water knockout drum,
as illustrated in Figure 3.3, will do this.

Figure 3.3 Free Water Knockout Drum

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This vessel is basically a horizontal 3 phase separator. The incoming fluids impinge on an inlet diverter
where initial separation of gas from liquids takes
place. The liquids fall to the bottom of the vessel
and the diverter ensures that they pass through a
water layer which is maintained in the vessel. Thus
the liquids are water washed. The separated free
water plus any water which has been washed out of
the emulsion settles into the water layer. The level
of the water layer is maintained by an interface level
controller, operating a level control valve in the water
outlet line. The oil and emulsion flows over a weir into
the oil accumulation section from where it is taken
under level control to the emulsion treating facility.
The treating facilities we have just been looking at
are fairly simple systems. We can now go on to look
at something a little more complicated. Before we do,
try the following Test Yourself question.

Test Yourself 3.1


The following terms apply to a wash tank, a free water knockout drum, both of these or neither.
Mark with a which.

Terms

Wash Tank

Free Water
Knockout Drum

Both

Neither

Inlet diverter
Gas Equaliser
Spreader
Water Layer
Weir
Conductor Pipe
Injection Quill
Water Level Control Valve
You will find the correct answer in Check Yourself 3.1 on Page 60.

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Heater Treaters
We can now move on to a treatment facility which
uses the application of heat to assist in the process.
The heat may be applied prior to treating the
emulsion in a simple wash tank. In this case the
heating could be carried out in a heat exchanger
similar to the one shown in Figure 3.4.

This heat exchanger is of the shell and tube type.


In our case the medium to be heated, the emulsion,
flows through the shell as shown. The heating
medium flows through the tubes. This could be hot oil
which has been heated using waste heat from power
generation turbine exhausts.
Although the application of heat via an external
heating source which I have just described is
perfectly feasible, it is more common to incorporate
this into a vessel called a heater treater.

This vessel can include a number of elements such


as :

separation section

heating elements

oil surge section

mist extractor

coalescing section

spreader

oil collector

There are a number of different styles of heater


treaters so I will describe just one which is typical.
It is a horizontal vessel which looks rather like
a separator. Its internal features however are
completely different. Look at Figure 3.5 on the next
page, which shows the internals of a horizontal
heater treater vessel. Identify the internal features
of the treater then we will follow the flow through the
vessel.

Figure 3.4: Shell / Tube Heat Exchanger

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Figure 3.5 Heater Treater Vessel

Figure 3.6 Mist Extractor

Flow, which is a mixture of oil, some gas, emulsion and free water enters the separation section of the treater,
where initial separation takes place. Any gas in the fluids is flashed off at this point and flows to the gas outlet
line. Before leaving the vessel the gas passes through a mist extractor. This is a device which ensures that
any small droplets of liquid which may have been retained in the gas stream are removed. A common type
of mist extractor is in the form of a knitted wire mesh. The droplets of liquid impinge on the mesh, form larger
droplets then fall into the liquid below. Figure 3.6 shows a simplified version of a mist extractor.

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The liquids fall down into the bottom of the separation


section and are deflected round the heating element
whilst doing so. Free water is separated here and
the water accumulates as a layer at the bottom of
the vessel. The water layer forms a water wash
section which helps to remove unstabilised water
from the emulsion. An interface between water and
oil / emulsion is maintained by an interface level
controller. This operates a level control valve in the
free water outlet line.
The oil and emulsion then rise past the heating
element where the temperature is increased to the
optimum treating temperature. The heating element
may be simply a tube coil through which heating fluid
is being circulated. On some land locations a directly
fired heating system may be used.
The heated oil and emulsion then flows over a
weir into the oil surge chamber. From here it flows
through a spreader arrangement into the coalescing
section of the vessel. The coalescing section is kept
completely full of liquid. Unlike the separators which
you are probably familiar with, the oil outlet is at the
top of the vessel rather than at the bottom.

As the heated fluids rise the water droplets coalesce


and when they become large enough they fall
through the rising continuous phase. The water
droplets accumulate at the bottom of the section and
form another water layer. The height of this layer is
maintained by a further interface level controller. This
operates a level control valve in the water outlet line
from the coalescing section.
The liquid which reaches the top of the vessel is
treated oil, which should be free from any water
or emulsion. This is taken from the treater via a
collector pipe and flows to the next part of the
production process system.
You saw in Section 2 that passing the emulsion
through an electric field can help in the coalescence
of water droplets. We can now see how this is done
in practice.

The spreader ensures that the flow is distributed


evenly throughout the length of the section. If this
were not used the liquid flow could channel towards
the outlet and reduce the efficiency of the treater.

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Electrostatic Treaters
Electrostatic treaters are very similar in construction
to the heater treater we have just been looking at.
The main difference is that they incorporate high
voltage AC and / or DC electrostatic field in the
coalescing section. Figure 3.7 illustrates a typical
electrostatic treater. Study this for a while and note
the differences between this and the heater treater.

Figure 3.7 Electrostatic Treater Vessel

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In this vessel you will notice that the major difference


between it and the heater treater is the pair of
electrodes in the electric coalescing section.
The initial flow through the vessel is the same as
that described earlier. However when the heated
emulsion rises through the coalescing section it
has to pass through the electric field created by the
electrodes. As it does so, the water droplets are
given an electric charge. The polarised droplets are
attracted to one or other of the electrodes and race
towards it. As they move rapidly through the emulsion
they collide with each other. The polarisation also
weakens the film around the droplets so that as they
collide they readily coalesce. When the droplets are
large enough they sink to the bottom of the vessel
forming a water layer. The oil / water interface level
is controlled by a level controller, operating a level
control valve in the water outlet line.
The electrical system in an electrostatic treater
consists of a transformer and the two electrodes
which are suspended one above the other in the
coalescing section. In some types of electrostatic
treater the distance between the electrodes can
be adjusted. This allows the voltage to be varied to
meet the requirements of the specific emulsion being
treated.

Damage to the electrical system could occur if the


level in the vessel were to go low enough to uncover
the electrodes. To prevent this happening a low level
shut down switch is incorporated into the emergency
shutdown system for the vessel.

Desalting
As I pointed out in Section 1, crude oil which is
contaminated with salt is unacceptable to a refinery.
In production systems where salt in oil is a problem,
something must be done to desalt the oil. Often the
dehydration process of chemical injection coupled
with heater treaters and / or electrostatic treaters will
be sufficient to accomplish the desalting. In some
cases however, it may be necessary to inject fresh
water into the emulsion. This will dissolve the salt so
that it can be removed together with the water in a
treating vessel.
The desalting system which I have used to illustrate
such a process, utilises a pre-heater, a fresh water
storage tank, a fresh water injection pump and an
electrostatic desalter/dehydrator. It is the type of
system commonly found at a terminal where a fired
pre-heater is used.
Look at Figure 3.8 on the next page, which shows
this system as a simple block diagram.

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Figure 3.8 : Desalting System

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The salt - contaminated oil passes firstly through


the heater where the temperature is raised to the
optimum treating temperature. The heater itself is
called an indirect heater. This is because the heat
from the burning fuel is not transferred directly to the
oil. It is transferred indirectly through a water bath in
the body of the vessel to the oil being heated as it
passes through tubes in the heater body.
Figure 3.9 shows such a heater.

The heater itself consists of the following items.

heater shell

firebox with burner


flow tubes
The heat is generated by burning fuel gas or oil in
a burner. The hot flue gases flow through fire tubes
and are exhausted through the stack. This flow of hot
gases heats up a body of water contained in the shell
of the heater. The water in turn heats up the oil which
is flowing through the flow tube bundle.
Figure 3.9 : Pre-heater

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After being heated the oil flows towards the


dehydrator. In this case it is an electrostatic
dehydrator which operates in the manner described
earlier in this section. Before it gets to the dehydrator,
fresh water is mixed with the oil. The fresh water is
pumped from a storage tank to a spray injector in the
flowline. The salt in the oil is thus diluted by this fresh
water which mixes with the very salty emulsion water.
The dilution water plus the emulsion water is finally
removed in the dehydrator and led off for disposal.
The oil leaving this vessel should be clean in terms of
salt content and water.
This completes Section 3, but before I summarise
what we have looked at in this section try the
following Test Yourself question.

Test Yourself 3.2


The following pieces of equipment could be found in a wash tank, a heater treater, an electrostatic
treater or all of them. Fill in the boxes with a to show which piece of equipment goes where.
Equipment

Wash Tank

Heater Treater

Electroststic Treater

Mist Extractor
Spreader
Equalising Line
Weir
Electrodes
Conductor Pipe
Heating Element
Transformer
You will find the correct answers in Check Yourself 3.2 on Page 61.

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Summary of Section 3
We began this section by considering some basic equipment used for treating emulsions. Firstly, I pointed out that a simple settling tank could be used,
and illustrated this by showing you a tank farm system.
We then looked at facilities used to wash an emulsion. The simple wash tank was explained in detail and you saw that the breaking of the emulsion
is achieved in two parts i.e. water washing and settling. I also showed you a variation of the wash tank which is used to remove any free water prior to
emulsion treating. The vessel doing this is called a free water knockout drum.
Heater treaters vessels came next and we
looked at a typical treater vessel containing the
following elements :

separation section

heating elements

oil surge section

mist extractor

coalescing section

spreader

oil collector

You saw how the treater vessel uses these elements


to break down the emulsion so that the water can be
removed leaving clean oil.

Finally we saw that fresh water maybe injected into


an emulsion to reduce the amount of residual salt in
a produced oil stream.

We similarly went through the operation of an


electrostatic emulsion treater vessel. You saw that in
operation it is very similar to the heater treater vessel.
The essential difference is the inclusion of a pair
of electrodes. These, when connected to a power
supply, create an electric field. The water droplets
passing through this field are polarised which causes
them to speed towards the electrodes, colliding as
they do so. The polarisation also weakens the film
surrounding the droplets so that when they collide
they coalesce more readily and sink to the water
layer.

In the next section we are going to combine some


of these treatment systems and look at an overall
dehydration process.

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Oil Treatment (Dehydration)

Section 4 A Typical Dehydration System


In this final section we are going to look at a complete
dehydration and desalting system.
The system I will use as an illustration includes two
separators and a free water knockout (FWKO) drum
for initial separation. From the FWKO drum the crude
and emulsion is pumped via a pre-heater through
a water bath heater and two stages of dehydration
to storage. As a means of reducing the residual
salt content, water is injected prior to dehydration.
This system is typical and does not represent any
particular system.

Petroleum Open Learning

On the next page, I have included a simple block


diagram to show the system in its entirety. Study this
for a while and familiarise yourself with the equipment
used and the flow paths through the system.
We will now follow the flow through the system in
more detail. Lets consider the process, section by
section.

The function of this system is to :

Separate free water from the incoming well


stream

Treat the remaining emulsion and reduce the


residual water content to an acceptably low
level

Reduce the residual salt content to within the


limits set by the purchaser

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Figure 4.1 : Typical Dehydration System

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Separation and Free Water Knockout


Look at Figure 4.2 which shows this part of the system. It is a straightforward separation process. The reservoir fluids which are
a mixture of oil, gas, free water and emulsion, flow to the first vessel in the system, the first stage separator. This is a 3 phase
separator which in our system is operating at a pressure of 10 barg.
The first chemical injection point is into the line entering the first stage separator. Demulsifier is injected here to give it as much
time as possible to take effect before the emulsion reaches the electrostatic dehydrators.

Figure 4.2 : Typical Separation and Free Water Knockout System

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In the first stage separator, the free water is


separated and forms a water layer at the bottom
with oil floating on top. The level of the interface
between the two is maintained by an interface level
controller (LC 01) which controls the interface level
control valve (LCV 01) in the water outlet line. This
water flows to the FWKO drum where it is used
as wash water. The oil plus emulsion flows to the
second stage separator under the control of the
level controller (LC 02) operating LCV 02 in the oil
outlet line. The separated gas is taken from the top
of the vessel through pressure control valve (PCV
01) operated by pressure controller (PC 01) which
maintains the correct pressure in the vessel.
The second stage separator is a 2 phase vessel. It
is operating at a pressure of 3.5 barg maintained by
a pressure controller (PC 02) and a pressure control
valve (PCV 02).

The inlet flow into the FWKO drum consists of the


liquids from the second stage separator plus the water
which has been removed in the first stage separator.
It may seem strange removing water from the liquid
stream then recombining them at a later stage.
You will remember the reason for doing this if you
think back to our discussion on free water knockout
facilities in Section 3. To make sure that you can recall
the process try the following Test Yourself question.

Once again the interface level in the FWKO drum


is controlled by an interface controller (LC 04)
operating LCV 04. The water which is removed in
this vessel consists of the water removed in the
first stage vessel plus any further free water which
has been washed out of the emulsion. This water is
routed to a produced water clean up facility prior to
disposal.

Test Yourself 4.1


Without referring to the notes make a sketch of a simple free water knockout drum

Being a 2 phase vessel this separator has no oil


water interface control. All the liquids leave the vessel
via the oil outlet and flow to the FWKO drum. The
liquid level in the separator is maintained by the level
controller (LC 03) operating LCV 03 in the liquid
outlet line.

You will find the correct answer in Check Yourself 4.1 on page 62

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The pressure in the vessel is maintained just above


atmospheric by PCV 03 operated by PC 03.
The oil level in the vessel is maintained by a control
valve which is located downstream of the feed pump
to the heater section. This is operated by LC 05. We
will look at this shortly.
We can now move on to the next part of the plant
which includes the heaters. Before we do so
however, read through the last few paragraphs and
make sure that you understand the flow through the
separation section.

Crude and Emulsion Heating


You will remember that heating an emulsion helps to
enhance the dehydration process. In this section of
the plant the liquids are heated in two stages, first in
a shell and tube heater then in a water bath heater.
Figure 4.3 shows this small section.

Picking up the flow from the FWKO drum you will


see that there is further provision for the injection of
demulsifier into the flowline upstream of the crude
pump. This ensures good mixing as the crude and
emulsion flow through the pump. Downstream of the
pump is the control valve LCV 05. This valve controls
the oil level in the FWKO drum via LC 05.

Figure 4,3 Typical Crude and Emulsion Heating System

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The pump transports the crude onwards through the


pre-heater. This heater is of the shell and tube type
which we looked at in Section 3. The heating medium
is the treated crude which comes from the second
stage of the dehydration plant. Using this crude as
a heating medium means that energy is recovered
which would otherwise have been wasted.
From the pre-heater the crude flows through the
water bath heater. Gas from the plant is used as fuel
to fire the heater.
The temperature inside the heater is controlled by a
temperature controller (TC 01) which regulates the
fuel supply through TCV 01.
A safety shutdown system also protects the heater
if there should be a flame failure at the burner.
This stops supply of fuel gas, ensuring that there is
no dangerous build up of gas escaping from unlit
burners.
We can now look at the dehydrators themselves,
but before we do, try the following Test Yourself
question.

Test Yourself 4.2


I have listed the items of equipment and injection points in the initial flow path of our typical
dehydration system. These items are in the wrong order. Place them in the correct order, starting with inlet.
a)

Inlet

b)

1st stage separator

c)

Injection of water from 1st stage separator

d) Second demulsifier injection point


e)

FWKO drum

f)

Crude pump

g)

2nd stage separator

h)

Water bath heater

i)

LCV for FWKO drum oil level

j)

Pre heater

k)

Dehydrators

You will find the correct answers in Check Yourself 4.2 on Page 62.

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Electrostatic
Dehydrators
The crude enters this part of the process
from the water bath heater. Identify this
point on the drawing of this part of the
system in Figure 4.4.
The first thing you will see as you
trace the flow is an injection point for
water. This water is the reject water
from the second stage dehydrator.
It is injected at this point to help reduce
the salinity of the incoming water in the
emulsion and to water wash the emulsion.
Although the water used here is itself salty,
it is less saline than the incoming water.
The water is injected through nozzles
which ensure that it enters the main flow
as fine droplets. These droplets must
then combine with the water in the
emulsion which requires some form
of agitation. A mixing valve takes care
of this. The valve is a differential pressure
control valve (DPCV 01). Its controller
(DPC 01) maintains a pressure droplet
across the valve and this, together with
the plug and seat profile of the valve itself, provides
the necessary surface and energy for the agitation to
take place.
Figure 4.4 : Electrostatic Dehydrators

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After mixing, the flow of liquids enters the first stage


electrostatic dehydrator. This dehydrator works in
almost the same way as the one we looked at in
Section 3. The essential difference is that no heating
element is included in the dehydrator itself.
The heating of the emulsion is done prior
to the treater as we have just seen.
The flow at this point becomes
more complex so we will divide
it up and follow the flows of
oil / emulsion and water
separately. Lets start with the
oil / emulsion.
These liquids enter the
dehydrator and follow a
similar flow path to the one
described in Section 3.
The instrumentation on the
vessel can be quite complex
but we can look at some of
the more important instruments.
To minimise the complexity of
Figure 4.4 we can look at this in
isolation in Figure 4.5.

Figure 4.5 : Electrostatic Dehydrator

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Look first to the right hand side of the vessel. There


you will see LG 01. This is a sight glass which gives
a visual indication of the interface level between
water and emulsion. An interface level controller
(LC 06) controls the water level through its control
valve (LCV 06) which is situated downstream of the
dilution water heater. Alarms are incorporated into
the interface level control instrumentation. These
are designated level alarm high and level alarm low
(LAH &LAL) and will warn the operator if the level is
reaching potentially serious points. Separate level
switches (LSHH &LSLL) are tied into the shut down
system of the plant. If the interface level should reach
the set points of these instruments a shut down will
automatically be activated.
Because it would be dangerous if the oil level
dropped and uncovered the electrodes in this section
of the dehydrator, further level instrumentation
protects against this. A level transmitter in this section
activates an electrical power shut down if the oil
level drops below a pre determined minimum. This is
shown on the drawing as (LT 01).

We can now go back to Figure 4.4 again and


continue to trace the flow. The oil / emulsion from the
first stage dehydrator passes to the second stage
vessel. Before entering this vessel more water is
injected into the stream. This water is dilution water
which is often supplied from specially drilled water
wells. The heated dilution water is injected through
nozzles again, and a second mixing valve (DPCV 02)
controlled by DPC 02 ensures correct agitation. The
second stage electrostatic dehydrator works in the
same manner as the first. It is also protected by the
same type of instrumentation.
The hot treated crude from this dehydrator, prior to
being routed to storage, flows through the preheater
where it acts as the heating medium to raise the
temperature of the crude before it enters the main
water bath heater.

The dilution water is heated in the heater and then


joins the oil entering the second stage dehydrator.
The reject water from this vessel is recycled to the
first stage dehydrator where it helps to dilute the
incoming water. It is pumped by the recycle pump
through level control valve (LCV 07) which together
with level controller (LC 07) maintains the water level
in the second stage dehydrator.
We have only one small section to look at now, the
dilution water system. Before we go on to this, try the
following Test Yourself question.

Tracing the water flows through Figure 4.4 we begin


with the reject water from the first stage dehydrator.
This water flows firstly through the dilution water
heater where it acts as the heating medium for the
water from the wells. After passing through the level
control valve (LCV 06), the water is routed to a
produced water clean up facility prior to disposal.

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Test Yourself 4.3


Complete the following sentences with an appropriate word or phrase.
a)

Upstream of the 1st stage dehydrator there is an injection point for reject water which comes from the

b)

The injection water and water in the emulsion require agitation. This is taken care of by a mixing
valve which is a

c)

Dilution water is passed through a

valve.
before joining the oil entering the 2nd stage

dehydrator.
d)

It would be dangerous if the oil level dropped and uncovered the


in the dehydrator.

e)

The dilution water heater uses

from the
as its heating medium.

You will find the correct answers in Check Yourself 4.3 on Page 63.

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Dilution Water System


Look at the final drawing in Section 4 Figure 4.6
which shows the dilution water system.

In this system the dilution water is obtained from


specially drilled water wells. In some areas where
fresh water sources are scarce, slightly salty brackish
water could be used.

The water is produced from the wells to a storage


tank. It is pumped using submersible pumps which
are driven by an electric motor. The level in the tank
is maintained by the on / off operation of the water
well pumps using level switches (LSH 02 & LSL 02).

Figure 4.6 : Dilution Water System

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From the tank the water is pumped by the dilution


water pump to the second stage dehydrator.
Upstream of the pump, there is provision for injecting
chemicals. Scale inhibitor is added to the water
to prevent scale building up in the pipework and
vessels. An oxygen scavenger is also injected to
reduce the dissolved oxygen content of the water and
reduce its corrosiveness.

Test Yourself 4.4


Without referring to Figure 4.1 sketch a block diagram, illustrating the
typical dehydration system which we have just studied.

The ratio of dilution water to crude / emulsion


throughput is carefully controlled. A typical figure
could be 1 : 20. The actual amount of dilution water
added is controlled by a flow control valve (FCV 01).
This is regulated by a flow controller (FC 01) taking
its signal from a flow transmitter.
Before being injected into the feed to the second
stage dehydrator, the dilution water is heated. This is
done in a shell and tube type heat exchanger which
uses the produced water as its heating medium.
This completes this unit on dehydration of crude
oil. Before I summarise Section 4, try the last Test
Yourself question.

You will find the correct answer in Check Yourself 4.4 on Page 64.

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Summary of Section 4
In this section I have taken you through a typical dehydration and desalting plant. It is an entirely hypothetical plant which is not intended to
represent any existing installation. It has simply been used to illustrate the principles which we discussed in the preceding sections.
In this plant we saw that the initial separation of water was accomplished using a three stage separation process. The first stage removed free
water which was used as wash water in the third stage or free water knockout. All the water removed in the FWKO drum was taken to a produced
water clean up facility prior to disposal.
The crude oil and remaining emulsion was then heated in a pre-heater and a water bath heater before entering the first stage of a two stage
dehydration and desalting process. These vessels were electrostatic units. Prior to the first stage the reject water from the second stage was
added to the feed. This helped to dilute the salt content of the produced water. The reject water from the first stage was combined with the water
from the FWKO drum and sent to disposal via the produced water clean up facility.
Before entering the second stage dehydrator, dilution water was added to the feed. This water can be obtained from water wells and heated by the
reject stream from the first stage in a heat exchanger located upstream of the injection point.
In the second stage dehydrator, the crude stream was finally treated to achieve the correct specification. The treated crude was then used as a
heating medium in the pre-heater prior to being sent to storage facilities from where it would be transported to the purchaser.

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Check Yourself Answers

Check Yourself 1.1

Check Yourself 1.2

Using the formula

a.
False Mayonnaise once formed is very
stable and is difficult to break down.

surface area =

d2

the S.A. of a single droplet is


152 = 707 mm2
the S.A. of each small droplet is
8.77 = 241.6 mm
2

b.

False An emulsifying agent is also required.

c.

True.

d.

True.

Petroleum Open Learning

Check Yourself 1.3


If the salinity of water is 140 000 ppm and 0.1% water
remains in the oil, from the graph (Figure 1.2) the
equivalent salt would be 57 PTB. Therefore it would
not be acceptable. If the water salinity was reduced
to 100 000 ppm the equivalent salt would be 39 PTB.
This would fall in the acceptable range.

total of 5 small droplets is


5 x 241.6 = 1208 mm2
single droplet has smaller surface area.

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Check Yourself 2.1

Check Yourself 2.3

a)

True

a.

Heating oil tends to reduce its VISCOSITY.

b)

False, we need to increase the density


difference

b.

The speed at which a suspended particle would fall through a continuous medium can be
described by STOKES equation.

c)

True

c.

An electric dipole has a POSITIVE and a NEGATIVE end.

d)

False, they are arranged randomly

e)

True

d. If an emulsion is passed through an electric field between two ELECTRODES the water
droplets become POLARISED.

Check Yourself 2.2


The correct order is :

e.

When water droplets gather together we could say that FLOCCULATION occurs.

f. A demulsifier helps to remove solid particles from the emulsion by WETTING the particles.
g.

A chemical injection valve could be situated in a side POCKET mandrel in the tubing string.

h.

An injection QUILL is designed to ensure that mixing is as complete as possible between


the chemical and emulsion.

a, d, e, b, i, c, j, h, f, g

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Check Yourself 3.1


Your answer should look like the following:
Terms

Wash Tank

Inlet Diverter

Free Water
Knockout Drum

Spreader

Water Layer

Weir

4
4

Injection Quill
Water Level Control Valve

Niether

Gas Equaliser

Conductor Pipe

Both

4
4

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Check Yourself 3.2


Your answer should look like the following:
Equipment

Wash Tank

Mist Extractor
Spreader

Equalising Line

Weir

Heater Treater

Electrostatic Treater

Electrodes
Conductor Pipe
Heating Element
Transformer

4
4
4

4
4

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Check Yourself 4.1

Check Yourself 4.2

Your sketch should look similar to Figure 3.3,


which is reproduced below.

a, b, g, c, e, d, f, i, j, h, k

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Check Yourself 4.3


a)

Upstream of the 1st stage dehydrator there is an injection point for reject water which comes from

the 2nd STAGE DEHYDRATOR.

b)

The injection water and water in the emulsion require agitation, This is taken care of by a mixing

valve which is a DIFFERENTIAL PRESSURE CONTROL valve.

c)

Dilution water is passed through a HEATER before joining the oil entering the 2nd stage

dehydrator.

d)

It would be dangerous if the oil level dropped and uncovered the ELECTRODES

in the dehydrator.

e)

The dilution water heater uses WATER from the 1st STAGE DEHYDRATOR as its heating

medium.

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Check Yourself 4.4


Your answer should
look like the following.

64