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SPE 150495

Worldwide Drill-Stem-Testing Experiences in Heavy and Viscous-Oil

Offshore Environments That Improve Operational Efficiency
Alejandro Salguero, Curtis Wendler, Cidar Mansilla, and Steven Woolsey, Halliburton
Copyright 2011, Society of Petroleum Engineers
This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE Heavy Oil Conference and Exhibition held in Kuwait City, Kuwait, 1214 December 2011.
This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper have not been
reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its
officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is prohibited. Permission to
reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of SPE copyright.

Well testing operations in challenging environments are becoming more common, and as a result, testing technologies have
had to continually improve or develop newer techniques that can meet the more corrosive needs in the new areas. These
testing methods must not only achieve operational efficiency, increase personnel safety and protect the environment, they
must address additional challenges in the new environments where current development is taking place. In spite of the
ongoing improvements, however, there are still scenarios that remain problematic, and one the most challenging continues to
be the production and well testing of heavy-oil reservoirs in sandstones or carbonates. This is particularly true when testing
operations are performed offshore.
Heavy oils normally are defined as those with an API gravity below 20 degrees with very high viscosities, a variable that
is a major factor in determining the flowing capacity of oil through the reservoir, the completion string, and surface facilities.
Pressures and low temperatures can increase the viscosity of the oil to an even higher value, depending on the wellbore
characteristics, geographical area, and the PVT properties of the crude. While most onshore reservoirs are produced using
cold production or steam injection to reduce the viscosity, offshore environments present more difficult scenarios due to the
low temperatures at the sea bed and in the ocean thermo-cline regions which further complicate the typical complexity of all
operations in this type of environment.
Enhanced simplicity and reliability is critical in offshore development because of the increased intervention cost
compared to the cost of onshore cases and the need to maintain environmental safety. Thus, careful initial planning of these
operations remains paramount.
This paper reviews experiences that have occurred while testing heavy-oil reservoirs using a wide range of equipment
configurations and procedures. The authors feel that this information will be extremely valuable for operators and service
personnel who are planning well testing operations offshore.


The normal decline in production of many standard oil basins around the world and the increasing demand for fossil fuels is
driving operators to look for new sources of hydrocarbons. These new sources of hydrocarbons, normally known as nonconventional resources (Figure 1), need new technology to address the difficult environments and increased investment in
order to be commercially attractive.




Figure 1 ! compares oil volume in the various types of developments.

SPE 150495

Heavy oils are considered as non-conventional resources with high proportions of high-molecular-weight compounds. This
hydrocarbon is referred to as heavy, because its density is normally higher than standard oils. It has been defined as any oil
with a gravity lower than 20 API (Figure 2).

Type of Oil





Light Oil







Figure 2 ! Gravity of oil types.

Figure 3 ! Viscosity comparison for common substances.

Heavy oil and bitumens are also characterized by high viscosities, or resistance to flow. This makes the production
difficult, since oils do not flow readily in most of these reservoirs. Additionally, heavy oils are defined as oils whose
viscosity is between 100 cp and 100,000cp (Figure 3) at reservoir temperature. Viscosity is commonly defined as the
resistance to flow of fluids. This affects the following processes:
Fluid mobility in the reservoir (defined as k/ ) where fluid movement will be dependant of reservoir physical
conditions, basically pressure and temperature
Processing and refining oil: Plants must consider the use of viscosity reducers, blending, and heating systems
Production in offshore wells, where the temperature at seabed can reach values as low as 38oF, and may sustain that
temperature for several thousand feet with a resultant increase in viscosity.
Production in unconsolidated reservoirs, because of the necessity for a sand-control system in the well and the need
to overcome the resistance to flow by a highly viscous fluid.
These viscous oils will not flow naturally in most of the cases; as a result, a number of methodologies are typically
employed to assist in the movement of the hydrocarbon to surface:
Thermal production( cyclic steam stimulation, steamflood, steam-assisted gravity drainage) is used to improve fluid
mobility in heavy oil reservoirs, when the conditions are favorable for this method (onshore wells)
Artificial lift methods such as the progressing cavity pumps (PCP) and electro submersible pumps (ESP) are
available for cold, heavy oil production. In addition, jet pumps are used in some cases.
For heavy oil well testing, artificial-lift methods are normally used to evaluate the reservoir as well as to perform the
artificial lift.
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Concepts to Consider When Considering

Testing in Heavy Oil
Fluid Mechanics
Oil viscosity changes dramatically with
temperature; therefore, at lower temperatures, the
viscosity can reach very high values. Although the
best method to determine viscosities is with a
physical pressure volume tester (PVT) analysis,
there are some correlations that can be used to
approximate the preliminary values of viscosity.
Two of those correlations were used to illustrate
the variation of viscosity with temperature and
pressure. Although the shape of the curve will
change for different oil compositions, the behavior
of viscosity as function of pressure and
temperature will follow the same trend; i.e.,
temperature will be the main factor that affects
viscosity (Figure 4).








Figure 4 ! Behavior of viscosity as a function of pressure and

SPE 150495


Temperature (C)








Depth (m)

Depth (m)


Deep Water


Rate 1


Rate 2


Rate 3
0 Rate = 0













Figure 5 ! Differences in Ocean Temperature


Figure 6 ! Temperature Profile changes in static

conditions, decreasing as depth increases.

When fluids have high viscosity, another consequence is that flow behavior will exhibit a yield stress different from zero,
or non-Newtonian behavior similar to the behavior of a Bingham plastic fluid, and therefore, will not follow Darcys law.
Therefore, heavy oils will flow only when the applied pressure gradient exceeds a certain minimum value.



-./0.12&31. )%5+

Deep water
Offshore wells differ physically from onshore
wells due to the influence of the column of
water above the sea bed. For this reason,
deep-water wells will exhibit differences in
pressure trends, because of a reduction in the
stress, since part of the overburden is at ocean
depth (Wendler, C. and Mansilla, C., 2003).
This primarily will affect porosity values and
compaction, especially for sandstones.
Temperature will have a different profile, and
show different zones with different trends, as
shown in Figure 5. (Salguero, A. et al.,
Based in this temperature profile, the
ocean is divided into three vertical zones. The
top, which is the surface layer that depends on
surface temperature, the thermocline zone
where the water temperature drops as the
depth increases, and the last layer is the deepwater layer. Water temperature in this zone
decreases slowly as depth increases. Water
Figure 7 ! shows real data for an offshore well where pressure and
temperature in the deepest parts of the ocean
temperature gauges were set at different depths to measure temperature
averages at about 36F. 90 % of the total
volume of the ocean is found below the
thermocline in the deep ocean. (EhligEconomides, C.A., 2008)
This temperature profile affects oil viscosity in static conditions in a long segment of the completion string from some
meters below the sea bed until several hundreds of meters above it, as represented in Figure 6.

SPE 150495

In flowing conditions, temperature profile will depend of fluid velocity, as well as reservoir temperature and depth below
sea bed. (Figure 7) There is software available that is frequently used to calculate temperature profiles, in order to identify
critical rates, diluent injection depths, and surface temperature.
Well testing
Any offshore operation must consider complex logistics, and also, rig cost per day. When a heavy oil prospect is considered
for testing, detailed planning that includes this logistics complexity and the daily rates must be executed. Experiences testing
heavy oil offshore wells were gained in a number of different countries, and these experiences resulted in a broad range of
best practices and lessons learned being developed. It is clear in considering this experience base that there are no simple,
universal solutions. Some of these cases will be reviewed later (Salguero, A. et al., 2008b).
Surface Equipment : The surface equipment package is a key factor that must be considered when planning a well test,
especially in offshore rigs where physical space is reduced, and there are weight restrictions that must be considered when
accommodating heavy equipment with a large footprint due to deck-loading concerns.
Surface Testing equipment for heavy-oil testing differs from standard equipment, because it has been adapted for thermal
management through viscosity reduction to assure flow improvement. The heat is provided through steam lines in tanks and
some separators as well as through different heat exchangers models. Proper thermal models and calculations can be achieved
by using specialized software for equipment sizing and minimun steam deliverabilty (See Figure 8).




Heated Tank


Oil process

Transport Facilities

Figure 8 ! Flow Chart of Surface Testing Equipment for Heavy Oil

Figure 9 ! Variable Calculations performed with process


Use of diluents or other hydrocarbons with lower API

(such as diesel) can be used to create a blend with less
density and viscosity. A combination of both methods is a
common procedure, and resulting variable calculations are
normally performed using engineering process-type
software (Figure 9).
Chemicals especially designed to reduce viscosity are
also available and are used in some cases.
Multiphase flow meters have proven to be reliable
technology to measure hydrocarbon rates, especially where
standard separators have challenges with high viscosities,
fluid emulsions, and water/oil separation.
In such
operations, its accuracy will depend on the instrument model
and well conditions.
Fluid disposal is a very critical matter since heavy oils
need to align with certain viscosity requirements associated
with highly-effective burners in order to be efficiently
burned. To accommodate these requirements, testing
volumes must be specified during planning. In some cases,
the use of a barge for fluid storage must be considered due to

SPE 150495

the difficulty of burning highly viscous oil. When using a barge for storage, ample planning is required for the removal of the
heavy oil from the barge and its subsequent transport and disposal.
Artificial Lift Methods: Although a number of different artificial lift methods exist and are used in conjunction with well
testing, the one that has been most effective and most readily adaptable to offshore rigs is the electrical submersible pump
(ESP) since its configuration allows it to be adapted to the DST string in several ways, and it can be adapted to almost any
offshore configuration Although ESPs are normally set below an ESP packer for onshore or jack-up well tests, they are run
typically in an encapsulated form above the DST string when employed on floating vessels. The ESP configuration will
depend on the well geometry, expected rates and viscosities expected. The fact that the functional mechanism of these pumps
generates heat makes them a very attractive alternative for pumping highly viscous oil in cold environments. (Figures 10a
and 10b)

Sub Sea Test Tree

BOP can

BOP can
Fluted Hanger

Injection Mandrel (Diesel, Viscosity

Injection Mandrel (Diesel, Viscosity



RD - Circulating Valve

RD - Circulating Valve




Real Time PDG type gauge (oulet)


Electro Sumergible Pump

Real Time ESP gauge (inlet)



Hydraulic /Permanent Packer


Hydraulic /Permanent Packer

Figure 10a " Example of a typical DST Tool


Figure 10b " Example of a DST Tool String

with an ESP.

Subsea Equipment: Some modifications must be made to allow the passage of the electric cable that powers the ESP
through the BOP stack as well as additional lines for realtime data acquisition and/or chemical injection. BOP cans are
normally used for this purpose. Also, all the umbilical lines must be protected at the rotary table and gas diverter depth from
normal rig lateral movement, which could damage or sever them, causing rig time loss, well-test premature termination, or
subsea equipment malfunction.
Downhole Equipment: If an ESP is used for the test, some details must be considered for adapting the DST string to the use
of lines, clamps, and also, the position of the tools in the string (more specifically the testing and circulating valves and how
they are related to the position of the pump). Typical rotationally operated testing packers can not be used, due to the
presence of umbilical cables and hydraulic lines in the string. For the same reason, expansion or slip joints can not be used
with this configuration. The use of standard or large-bore tools will depend on such test requirements as the use of coiled
tubing or high rates (flow assurance). Other common methods used to evaluate heavy-oil wells will be also considered in the
examples section.
Sampling and Data Acquisition: Real-time data acquisition or sampling using wireline tools have been shown to increase
risk due to low fluid viscosity plus presence of paraffins or even solids in some cases. ESPs normally have pressure and
temperature sensors (suction side) for real-time data acquisition; other sensors can be installed in the discharge section using
a PDG-type gauge or any gauge powered with an umbilical line. This facility allows a tester valve to be placed above the
pump and still obtain real-time data below the valve during a shut-in period. The position of downhole samplers to

SPE 150495

Sub sea test tree
Flute hanger
Flute hanger
ATS Repeater
Slip Joints
Gauge Carrier
Drain valve
Gauge Carrier
Lower Surge Valve
Gauge Carrier
ATS Repeater
Mechanical Packer
Gauge Carrier
No -go
Upper Vent
TCP guns
Lower Vent

Sub sea test tree
Flute hanger
Flute hanger

Slip Joints

RD single shot reversing valve

7 DST tools

Well A Heavy-Oil Testing in Deep Water With Standard String
(Figure 11)
Reservoir temperature was close to 130 F.
Objective: Reservoir evaluation, sample (Oil 12 API) in a shallow
unconsolidated sand below the sea bed in a deep-water area (~ 6000 ft of
A 7-in. DST tool string with a mechanical packer had been used on this
job, in order to reduce pressure losses and increase flowing capabilities .
Screen was below the packer (no sand control system). Surface equipment
was designed for heavy-oil handling. Coiled tubing was used to lift oil using
preheated diesel.
The sand control screen collapsed, and sand production formed a slurry
with cold heavy oil in the string, sticking the coiled tubing inside the tubing.
Preheated diesel was pumped through the coiled tubing and worked well as
a lifting method. Single-phase bottomhole samplers were used for fluid
characterization. No umbilical line protector was placed at the rotary table,
causing some hydraulic line damage. Additional heaters and blending lines
were used before burning the oil.

Sub sea tools

characterize produced fluid must be carefully considered, since the wellstream could reach the surface mixed with diluents
used to reduce heavy-oil viscosity.

OMNI cyclable reversing

Drain valve
SELECT testerValve
Gauge Carrier

Jar +Safety Joint

Mechanical Packer 9 5/8
No -go


Figure 11 " DST Tool String used in Well A

Well B
Heavy-oil test using a closed chamber string
This was an unconsolidated sand reservoir without a sand-control
completion. Although the water was not very deep, sea-bed
temperature was low enough to increase viscosity.
Objectives - Reservoir evaluation (Oil 12 API) and single phase and
bulk samples, using a closed chamber system, avoiding the necessity
for a heavy-oil flare.
Standard 5-in. DST tools and a mechanical packer configuration had
been used for this closed-chamber job. As the main requirement, a
wireless real time data acquisition sytem was also used to confirm
proper functioning of the closed-chamber valves and to follow the
test program. Flowing ports were equipped with sand screens.
Pressure drawdown was controlled by injecting Nitrogen into the
chambers, and partial perforating. A junk chamber was used for
initial formation cleaning. (Figure 12)

Figure 12 " DST Tool String used in Well B

Well C
Objectives: Reservoir evaluation of a heavy oil sand in water deeper than 4300 ft using DST string and surface well testing
In this case, a sand-control completion was performed in the open hole prior to the well test. A flapper-type fluid-losscontrol valve was used due to high permeability sand. An ESP encapsulated in 7-in. casing was run with memory gauges
deployed above and below the ESP. 5-in. DST tools were used below the ESP with an additional single-shot circulating
valve above the pump. The operator decide to run the string in two steps, the first one with the DST string and seals to sting
into a seal-bore packer. The string was released when landed in the seal bore. Subsequently, a second run with the ESP was

SPE 150495

landed in the extension joint seal-bore receptacle. This configuration would make it possible to repair or change the pump if
needed, reducing the time required for this operation, since the rest of the tools would be left in the wellbore allowing it to
have a pressure build-up. (Figure 13)


Expansion Joint
RD reversing valve
OMNI Circ. valve
Tester valve
Gauge Carriers
No -go

Figure 13 " DST Tool String used in Well C

Sub Sea

Well D
Objectives: Reservoir evaluation in unconsolidated sand at a very low temperature and in deep water using an horizontal
well. A very detailed operations program, Hazop/Hazid meetings, and quality assurance of all the involved service
companys equipment was organized by the operator to evaluate all the possible causes of failure.
A sand control completion in a horizontal well was performed; the completion included a fluid-loss-control valve. A
large-bore tool string (3.5-in. ID) with an encapsulated pump was run. It should be noted that the entire test tool string and
ESP where set in the horizontal section of the well. The operator decided to run injection mandrels also for diluent and
chemical injection below the sea bed. Cable powered gauges for pressure and temperature real time data acquisition (PDG)
were also installed in the pump. Fluid solidification during the pressure build-up was prevented by circulating oil, while the
tester valve was closed. (Figures 14a, b, and c)
Sea bed tools umbilicals
CI lines

PDG line
ESP Cable
PDG TEC line

Sand Control Equipment

Figure 14a " DST Tool String used in Well D


Casing xx






Figure 14b " DST Tool String used in Well D

showing cables for data acquisition.

SPE 150495








Testing Valve

Figure 14c " Sequence of testing valve operations in Well D.

As demonstrated in this paper, heavy-oil operations are complex and must be carefully planned. Consequently, test designs
will change with reservoir conditions, water depth and well conditions. However, in all cases the following items must be
Wellbore temperature profile must be modelled to evaluate flow assurance and fluid or chemical injection points
Similar procedures must applied for surface equipment to provide enough heat or improve blending operations
Volume to be tested must balance reservoir evaluation goals, and consider blending-fluid volumes, hydrocarbon
storage, and different disposal methods
! Fluid disposal,
! burning
! fluid transference to a tank barge.
Artificial-lift methodology to evaluate the reservoir
Should the artifitial lift system itself be evaluated?
Surface measurement devices for hydrocarbon rates and viscosities
Surface equipment modifications to provide heat, reduce footprint, and isolate heat from personnel and other
Surface measuring instruments, such as multi-phase flow meters, viscosity meters, and mass meters
Injection lines for diluents or chemical viscosity reducers
Evaluate use of coiled tubing, considering all the possible risks
Umbilical lines installation procedures and protective devices, especially in light of potentially unfavorable weather
Position of the pump in relation to the tester valve: the ESP above the Tester will avoid a ram effect when
shutting in the well, but real-time data acquisition during this period would be more difficult to accomplish versus
the opportunity to collect this data when installing the pump below the tester valve.
The authors wish to thank Halliburton TSS and GBTS management for their encouragement and support in the publishing of
this document and for providing all the relevant information.

Ehlig-Economides, C.A. et al;Recipe for Succes in Ultradeep Water Paper SPE 77625 presented at the 2002 SPE, San Antonio , Texas
Conference and Exhibition
Salguero, Alejandro et al; Well-Test planning in deepwater wells in high pressure, high temperature environments The Brazil
experience Paper OTC 18734 presented at OTC, Houston , Texas 2008
Salguero, A. et al.: New Reservoir Testing and Sampling System Reduces Costs and Provides Improved Real-Time Data Acquisition in
Deep Water and Environmentally Sensitive Wells Gulf of Mexico and Brazil Case. Paper OTC 19623 presented at the Offshore
Technology Conference, Houston, Texas, May, 2008

SPE 150495

Wendler, C., and Mansilla, C.; Deep Water Well Testing for Heavy- and Low-Pour-Point Oils Issues, Options, Successful
Methodology: Case Histories Paper OTC 15279, presented at the 2003 otc, Houston, Texas, U.S.A., 58 May 2003.

SI Metric Conversion Factors


x 3.785 412
x 3.048*
x 2.54*
x 6.894 757
x 9.869 233
x 1.589 873
(F - 32)/1.8

E - 03
E - 01
E + 00
E + 00
E - 04
E - 01

= m3
= cm
= kPa
= m3
= m3