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OTC 23644

Recirculation Loop Analysis for a Subsea Boosting System

Phaneendra Kondapi and Janardhan Davalath, FMC Technologies, Houston, Texas, USA
Copyright 2012, Offshore Technology Conference
This paper was prepared for presentation at the Offshore Technology Conference held in Houston, Texas, USA, 30 April3 May 2012.

This paper was selected for presentation by an OTC 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 Offshore Technology Conference and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any position of the Offshore Technology Conference, its
officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written consent of the Offshore Technology Conference 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 OTC copyright.

The pump recirculation loop is a key component of the seabed boosting system to ensure successful operation and to enhance
field production. The design requirements, methodology, and summary of results of the flow assurance analysis performed
on a subsea pump recirculation system are summarized in this paper. The analysis includes the sizing of the pump recycle
line and recycle choke valve; detailed thermo-hydraulic modeling of steady state and transient pump operations including
normal, start-up, and shutdown; and the development of the hydrate management plan for the pump recirculation system. The
simulation models developed as part of this analysis are used to assist engineers and operators in evaluating field production
and pump performance operating limits. In addition, they are used to determine pump system operating set points and to
develop/validate operating procedures. Once the pump systems are brought online, these models should be benchmarked
against field operating data and could be used to support surveillance/ monitoring, production optimization, and to avoid/
mitigate potential flow assurance problems.
Purpose of Recycle Loop
The primary purpose of the recycle loop is to allow the pump system to operate within the operators preferred pump
operating window during conditions involving low field production flow rates. The minimum preferred pump flow rates
would be 5500 bpd at 40 Hz (pump speed), 7000 bpd at 50 Hz, and 8800 bpd at 60 Hz, respectively.The secondary purpose
of the recycle loop is to minimize pump discharge temperature, which is limited to 250F. The recycle loop is intended to be
primarily un-insulated to allow heat transfer with ambient seawater.
Steady State Analysis
Modeling Inputs and Assumptions
Inputs used in this study were:
1. Reservoir pressures in the range of 11,000 to 15,000 psi
2. Reservoir productivity index in the range of 0.5 to 2 stb/d/psi
3. Reservoir temperature of 250F Water cut range of 0-20%.
4. Gas volume fraction (GVF) at pump suction of 0 10%
5. The seabed ambient seawater temperature is assumed to be 40F
6. The ambient seawater velocity is assumed to be 0 ft/s
Modeling constraints were:
1. Steady-state individual well production flow of 3000 to 10,000 bpd
2. Minimum allowed flowing bottomhole pressure (FBHP) of 8000 psig
3. Minimum pump suction pressure of 1400 psig
4. Maximum reservoir drawdown rate would be 1000 psi/hr
5. Topsides pressure of 250 psia

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Pump Performance Data:

1. Number of pumps in each pump cartridge are two Electrical Submersible Pumps (ESP)
2. Number of stages in each ESP are 17
3. The operating range for the pump speed is 40 - 62 Hz
4. Rate of each ESP electric motor is 850 hp
5. Based on the pump suppliers guidance, the pump motor efficiencies are 83% at 40 Hz and 90 % at 62 Hz.
6. The four corner points of the pump rate-head operating window are shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Corner Point Locations for Pump Rate-Head Operating Window
Corner Point Location
Bottom Left
Bottom Right
Upper Left
Upper Right

Pump Rate
2000 B/D
30900 B/D
3100 B/D
47900 B/D

Operating Frequency
40 Hz
40 Hz
62 Hz
62 Hz

Modeling Approach
The design parameters for sizing the recycle loop piping are shown in Table 2. The proposed piping would be painted
externally and would not be internally cladded. The bulk of the recycle piping would not be thermally insulated to allow
cooling of the recycle fluid using ambient seawater. Only limited sections of the recycle piping near the pump cartridge
piping tie-in points would be insulated to reduce the hydrate formation risk around these tie-in points.
Table 2: Recycle Loop Piping Design Parameters







Wall Thickness





Specific Heat


The proposed orientation of the recycle piping should be predominantly downward sloping from the recycle choke toward the
tie-in points on the pump cartridge piping. The recycle choke valve sould be located near the midpoint of the recycle line,
which sould also be the highest point on this line. One methanol injection valve sould be located near each side of the recycle
choke. Due to the lower fluid density of methanol in relation to the production fluid, the proposed methanol injection points
should be located at the highest point of the recycle piping to maximize the displacement of uninhibited production fluid
from the recycle line when the recycle choke is closed. In addition, based on the orientation of the recycle piping, the entry of
production fluid into the recycle line sould be minimized when the pump is operating with no recycle flow.

Figure 1: Simplified Diagram of Pump and Recycle System

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Validation of Pump Temperature Rise (Steady-State)

A set of sensitivity cases were evaluated to compare the temperature rise across the pump system during steady-state
operation as predicted by the OLGA model to the corresponding estimate provided by the pump manufacturer. As shown in
Figure 2, the pump temperature rise values from the two sources match reasonably well with each other at varying pump flow
rates and speeds.

Figure 2: Pump temperature rise data vs OLGA model estimates

Various steady-state cases are performed and the expected liquid flow rates for well production, pump recycle, and pump
total fluid streams at the pump suction for each case were reported. The GVF at the pump suction for each case is zero.
Typically, the limiting constraint is the flowing bottomhole pressure and/or pump suction pressure. The pumping
temperatures (at suction, discharge, and recycle) are typically within 250F for each case, indicating the recycle line is
adequately sized.
The required pump speed is within its target operating range (40 to 62 Hz) for each case. The required recycle choke valve
opening setpoint is expressed in terms of % open and based on the valve max Cv of 16.5 for the selected choke valve. The Cv
curve for the recycle choke valve as determined from the flow test performed by the valve vendor is shown in Figure 12. The
modeling results indicated that the selected recycle choke would typically operate within 20% of the valve capacity during
steady state conditions.
The required recycle flow for each case is determined such that the pump would have sufficient total flow to operate within
the preferred operating window. Typically, the design and capacity of a pump would be selected such that the target operating
point would be close to the Best Efficiency Point (BEP) for the selected pump. However, it would not be advisable to
increase the pump recycle flow rate just to move the operating point closer to the BEP for operating cases wherein there
would be insufficient field production flow for the operating point to be close to the BEP. In general, increasing pump recycle
flow would decrease overall efficiency of the pump system. As such, it would make sense to minimize recycle flow to the
extent possible and still allow the operating point to be within the preferred operating window. The minimum recycle flow
would eliminate the presence of dead legs in the recycle line and thereby reduce the risk of hydrate and wax formation inside
the recycle line. For such case, the minimum recycle flow rate would be set such that the recycle line outlet temperature
would remain above the minimum allowed value of 86F.
The stated pump motor horsepower is the total required input to the two pump motors and is within the rated motor capacities
(850 hp for each motor). Finally, the combined pump and motor efficiency was estimated for each case. This value was
determined from the available pump performance and motor design data. For most of the other cases evaluated, comparable
data are not available as the data were based on earlier pump design requirements supplied by the operator, i.e. based on
cases with no pump recycle flow. As such, only a limited set of cases with comparable data is available, i.e. based on similar
fluid type (reservoir fluid and water cut), pump total flow rate, and pump operating speed. As shown in Figure 2, the pump
temperature rise estimated from the OLGA models are generally consistent with available comparable data supplied by the
pump supplier. Setpoints for the pump speed and recycle choke valve should be adjusted as needed in the field to optimize
field production and pump performance based on the actual operating conditions.

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Transient Analysis
Modeling Inputs and Assumptions
The typical pump start-up sequence involving a single production well is presented here. The pump system would operate
initially at 40 Hz upon start-up. The minimum required total pump flow rate would be approximately 5,500 bpd at 40Hz in
order for the pump system to operate within its preferred operating window.
The production tree choke valve would be opened at a rate that would maintain the operators target reservoir drawdown rate
of 1000 psi/hr. Most (if not all) of the pump flow would be recycled initially during pump start-up. The pump recycle choke
valve would be incrementally closed as the production tree choke valve is incrementally opened to increase production flow,
while the pump is maintained within its preferred operating window. The pump speed would be automatically controlled or
adjusted to maintain constant suction pressure during the well production ramp-up.
Modeling Approach
The transient cases were selected to capture the ranges of reservoir boundary conditions and production fluid properties
expected and the types of start-up operations (i.e. cold or warm restart) for which the pump and recycle loop could be
required to operate under transient conditions.
For the cold start-up cases, the production fluid trapped in the subsea system during the shut-in period is assumed to reach the
corresponding ambient environmental temperature prior to initiating the start-up.
For the warm start-up cases, the subsea boosting system would be operating at steady-state conditions prior to a shut-in
period of 1 to 4 hours. The subsea system would cool down, with the trapped production fluid temperatures dropping from
their steady-state values down to the respective values (based on the length of cooldown time and heat loss to ambient
environment) prior to initiating the restart.
The pump recycle choke valve would be preset to the minimum required opening setpoint that would allow the pump system
to operate within its preferred operating window during the initial phase of start-up. The pump bypass valve is assumed
closed. The production ramp-up process continues for each case until its target steady-state condition is reached. The
maximum production flow rate is limited by the minimum allowed flowing bottomhole pressure, minimum allowed pump
suction pressure, and/or maximum allowed pump discharge temperature.
The OLGA models used for the steady-state analysis were adapted for modeling transient operations. For the cold start-up
cases, the temperatures of the fluids trapped in the subsea systems were assumed to reach the ambient environmental
temperatures prior to initiating the start-up. The shut-in condition was modeled in OLGA by simulating each case with the
production tree closed and pump shut off for ~ 200 hours.
The modeling of warm restart cases is similar to that for the cold restart cases. Per the operators operating philosophy, there
would be a 4-hour window of no-touch time after a shutdown, followed by another 4 hours of light-touch time wherein
measures are taken to prevent hydrate formation, i.e. flowline depressurization and methanol treatment of cold spots.
Modeling Results (Cold and Warm Restart)
The modeling results for one of the Cases are presented in this paper. This case involves a cold start-up followed by a
planned shutdown and then a warm restart. The corresponding steady-state modeling results for this case are shown on Table
3. For the cold restart phase, the results are shown in Figures 3 through 6. For the shutdown and warm restart phases, the
results are shown in Figures 7 through 10.
As shown in Figure , the system is shut down until time = 200 hrs, when the cold restart is initiated. The tree choke is slowly
opened to maintain the target reservoir drawdown rate of 1000 psi/hr. The tree choke reaches 100% open (Cv = 80) after
three hours. The recycle choke valve is initially set around Cv = 4 and its setpoint is incrementally decreased as the tree
choke is opened up. The recycle choke reaches the final setpoint after 3 hours. The pump speed is initially set at 40 Hz and
incrementally increases to 50 Hz, which is the steady-state operating pump speed. The resulting trend plots for flow, pressure,
and temperature are shown in Figure 4, Figure 5, and Figure 6 respectively.

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Table 3: Steady-state modeling results


Reservoir Fluid

Actual Liquid Flow Rate, bpd

Pressure, psia

Temperature, F


Water Cut,%


Reservoir P, psia


Reservoir PI, stb/d /psi





Pump Total




Pump Suction


Pump Discharge


Pump !P




Pump Suction


Pump Discharge


Pump !T


Well Fluid at Pump Inlet


Recycle Line Outlet


Pump Speed, Hz


Recycle Choke % Open


Pump Motor Hp


Overall Efficiency, %


Figure 3: Cold Restart Setpoints and Pump Speed

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Figure 4: Cold Restart Pump Flow Trend Plot

Figure 5: Cold Restart Pressure Trend Plot

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Figure 6: Cold Restart Temperature Trend Plot

The cold restart is followed by steady state operation and then a planned shutdown starting at time = 299 hr. As shown in
Figure 7, the pump operating speed is reduced from its steady state value down to 40 Hz over a period of 1 hr. At the same
time, the production tree choke is gradually closed, while the recycle choke setpoint is gradually increased to maintain the
pump operation inside the preferred operating window. The ramp-down is followed by a 4-hr shut-in period and then a warm
The resulting trend plots for flow, pressure, and temperature during the ramp-down, shut-in, and warm restart phases are
shown in Figure 8, Figure 9, and Figure 10 respectively.

Figure 7: Warm Restart Setpoints and Pump Speed

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Figure 8: Warm Restart Pump Flow Trend Plot

Figure 9: Warm Restart Pressure Trend Plot

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Figure 10: Warm Restart Temperature Trend Plot

Hydrate Management Plan

Field-level Approach
A brief summary of the field-level approach on hydrate management is presented in this section. The primary preventive
measures include chemical inhibition, thermal insulation, and operating procedures during system start-up and shutdown.
With respect to chemical inhibition, anti-agglomerate (low dosage hydrate inhibitor) AA-LDHI and methanol will be used.
AA-LDHI will be injected continuously at the production tree during low field production flow (< 6 kbpd per flowline) and
water cut up to 40%, above which methanol would be used. During shutdowns and start-ups, methanol will be injected at the
production tree, manifold, and pump station. AA-LDHI may also be injected at the production tree during unplanned
shutdown when insufficient time is available for flowline displacement using diesel and sufficient well production flow is
available prior to the shutdown.
With respect to thermal insulation, specific subsea equipment and flowpaths, including the production tree and manifold
piping, jumpers, flowlines, and risers are to be thermally insulated to meet their respective cooldown time criteria.
During shutdown, operating strategies include the flushing/ bullheading of equipment and jumpers with methanol as well as
the depressurization of flowlines and riser, followed by displacement with diesel. The following is excerpt summarizing
hydrate mitigation practice with respect to timing and preparing the production system for shutdowns:
0 - 4 hr, No-touch time Time following initiation of a shutdown which allows the operator to assess if shutdown is
necessary. No action is taken by the operator to prepare the system during this period
4 - 8 hours, Light-Touch time Time following the no-touch time where actions required preventing hydrate formation
can allow warm restarts if possible. During this period wells and trees are isolated and if necessary flowlines will be
depressurized. Following depressurization, trees, jumpers, manifold and cold spots on pumps are spot treated with methanol.
Flowlines will be depressurized within ~2 hour period following normal operation.
8 20+ hours, Mitigation time if warm restarts are not possible and flowlines have been depressurized - starting at
conclusion of light touch and ending before the flowlines cool down to hydrate formation conditions. During this period the
flowlines are displaced and pumps will be flushed with methanol.
Hydrate remediation options at the production trees and manifolds include hot stabs, depressurization, and ROV intervention.
Based on the pure-water hydrate curves and based on the maximum shut-in pressure of 12,874 psi, the worst-case hydrate
temperature would be 83F. However, the operator has advised that using 83F as the basis for hydrate temperature would


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not be credible as it would take some time to build up pressure due to well inflow or reservoir constraints. As such, the
resulting hydrate temperatures could be lowered to 49 for the production fluid, based on the normal pump discharge
operating pressure.
Pump-level Approach
With respect to the hydrate management for the pump system, the primary preventive measures are thermal insulation on the
pump cartridge piping and methanol injection during shutdowns/start-ups. During normal pump operations, the production
fluid temperature should be kept above the hydrate temperature.
During a pump shutdown, the available cooldown time in the pump system could be significantly less than 8 hours. For
certain cold spots in the pump system, the available cooldown time could be as little as two hours. As such, methanol
injection schedule at the pump station should be prioritized accordingly vis--vis at other subsea equipment.
Pump Recycle Loop Hydrate Management
It is imperative to maintain sufficient pump recycle flow to ensure that the recycle flowing temperature would stay above
both the hydrate formation temperature and wax appearance temperature (WAT). The WAT would be the limiting criterion
for setting the required minimum pump recycle flow rate.
The recommended minimum pump recycle flowing temperature would be 86F. This could be measured using the
temperature sensor near the outlet of the recycle line piping, i.e. around the suction side of the pump system. A low
temperature alarm should be set to alert operators of the need to increase recycle flow in the event of low recycle flowing
temperature. Based on the modeling results, the expected pump recycle flowing temperature would meet this criterion for all
the steady-state cases evaluated. In particular, for cases involving relatively high field production flow rates, the pump system
could operate within the operators preferred operating window without the use of recycle. However, a minimum pump
recycle flow is recommended to avoid turning the recycle loop into a dead leg, and the required recycle flow is determined to
ensure that the minimum pump recycle flowing temperature would be met.
A sensitivity analysis is also performed to evaluate the impact of incremental changes in the recycle choke opening setpoint
on the recycle flow rate and flowing temperature. Based on the selected valve model, the minimum operating Cv for the
recycle choke would be 0.1. The valve operating Cv would increase by 0.1 as well for every choke step change at the low end
of the valve Cv curve.
In addition, the impact of the ambient seawater velocity on the recycle flowing temperature is also evaluated. The ambient
seawater velocity is conservatively assumed to be 0 ft/s for the purpose of sizing the length of the recycle line to ensure
adequate cooling area available. However, the expected normal range of ambient seawater velocity at the seabed would be 0
ft/s to 2.4 ft/s. Based on a fixed pump recycle flow rate, the flowing temperatures along the recycle line would decrease as the
ambient seawater velocity is increased.
Recycle Choke Setpoints
Upon pump shutdown, the recycle choke opening should be reset to Cv=4, which is the typical setpoint required for pump
restart based on the results of the transient analysis. This setpoint should be programmed into the controls/interlock system.
During start-ups, the bulk of the pump flow would initially be recycled, and the pump would operate at its minimum speed.
The target pump operating point during this period is noted on the operators preferred pump operating window in Figure 11.
The maximum recycle choke opening setpoint limit to be programmed into the controls/interlock system would be Cv=7. As
the recycle choke is oversized, this maximum setpoint would limit the recycle flow and reduce the likelihood of pump and
motor overheating. This maximum setpoint limit is based on the recycle flow rate at 50% above the minimum edge of the
operators preferred pump operating window, as shown by the dashed red line in Figure 11.

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Figure 11: Pump preferred operating window with target and max recycle flow

The recommended start-up and maximum allowed setpoints for the recycle choke valve are highlighted on the recycle choke
Cv curve shown in Figure 12.

Figure 12: Recycle choke Cv curve with setpoint limit (max) and target (start-up)

For the recycle choke Cv of 4, the corresponding choke step = 67, the valve would be 24% open, and the valve travel would
be 54% based on the valve vendor flow test data. Similarly, for the recycle choke Cv of 7, the corresponding choke step = 90,
the valve would be 42% open, and the valve travel would be 72%.
The minimum recycle choke opening setpoint limit to be programmed into the controls/interlock system to prevent an
operator from fully closing the recycle choke would be 1.2% open (Cv of 0.2). In addition, a low recycle outlet temperature
alarm should be set at 86F. Provision should be implemented to allow the production supervisor to override or change this


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Based on the analysis performed, the recommended total length of the 3 ID (4-1/2" OD) pump recycle line would be 157ft.
A total of 21 ft around the tie-in points to the pump cartridge piping would be insulated and the remaining 136 ft of the
recycle line would be un-insulated to provide cooling area and ensure the pump fluid discharge temperature would stay below
250F for the operating range defined in the operators basis of design document.
As shown in Figure 1, the recycle loop will allow the pump cartridge to operate at flow rates below 3 kbpd on transient basis
only, such as during start-up. The recycle loop will support both steady-state and transient operations at pump cartridge flow
rates from 3 up to 9 kbpd. Above 9 kbpd (i.e. based on 60Hz pump speed), recycle would not be required for the pump to
operate inside the operators preferred operating window.
For such cases, a minimum continuous recycle flow would still be recommended to eliminate the presence of dead legs in the
recycle loop and thereby reduce the risk of hydrate and wax formation inside this loop. The minimum recycle flow rate
should be high enough such that the recycle fluid return temperature, i.e. at the pump suction, would remain above 86F.
The minimum available cooldown time for the worst case would be 15 minutes. From a practical standpoint, the operators
would need to start methanol injection into the recycle loop as soon as possible, i.e. zero no-touch time available for recycle
The selected recycle choke valve meets the operating requirements for the cases that were evaluated. The recommended
minimum and maximum recycle choke setpoint limits would be based on Cv of 0.2 and 7, respectively. The recommended
initial setpoint during start-up would be Cv of 4, which should also be automatically set upon a pump shutdown.