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Society of Petroleum Engineers

SPE 21639

Foamed Gas Lift

M.G. Bernadiner, U. of Michigan
SPE Member

Copyright 1991, Society of Petroleum Engineers, Inc.

This paper was prepared for presentation at the Production Operations Symposium held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, April 7-9, 1991.

This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE Program Committee following review of information contained in an abstract sUb~itted by the author(s). Contents of t~e paper,
as presented, have not been reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the aut~or(s). The .ma~enal, as presen~ed~ does no! necessarily ref!ect
any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its officers, or members. Papers presented at SPE meetings are subject to publication review by Edl!onal Co~mlttees of the Society
of Petroleum Engineers. Permission to copy is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words. lIIustratio~s may not be copied. The abstract should contain conspicuous acknowledgment
of where and by whom the paper is presented. Write Publications Manager, SPE, P.O. Box 833836, Richardson, TX 75083-3836 U.S.A. Telex, 730989 SPEDAL.

ABSTRACT Several regimes, bubble, slug, and annular, are observed in

vertical gas-liquid flow. Each regime is detennined by local
Gas lift, a broadly applied method for producing oil, consists of pressure and the gas flow rate. The bubble regime fonned under
gas injection into production wells to reduce the liquid density in very low gas flow rates is characterized by gas bubbles of small
the wells and increase the liquid inflow. Gas lift technology sizes. As gas flows upward, the pressure decreases and the gas
requires large gas volumes to be injected. If the reservoir pressure flow rate increases. This pressure change causes an increase of a
is depleted, the effectiveness of gas lift is dramatically reduced. bubble size. The following bubble coalescence creates slugs of
To increase effectiveness and to extend gas lift applications to size close to the tubing diameter, forming the slug regime. A
producing oil from depleted reservoirs, a foamed gas lift method subsequent gas flow rate increase or pressure decrease is
has been investigated in laboratory and oilfield experiments. The responsible for slug instability and transformation of the slug flow
method consists offoaming agent injection into a gas-liquid flow. into the annular regime.
A laboratory set-up based on scaling parameters was used to study Many experimental and theoretical investigations of the gas-liquid
the productivity of the gas lift well exploiting the drainage area of structure and gas lift characteristics have been done to detennine
the well. The laboratory experiments were perfonned over a wide parameters of the gas lift wells and to estimate an optimal gas
range of the scaling parameter, describing the reservoir pressure injection rate to maintain well productivity. 1-8 However, the gas
depletion, with and without foaming agent. The results show that lift well productivity decreases due to reservoir pressure depletion.
foamed gas lift would be efficient, especially if the gas lift well To maintain productivity the injected gas flow rate must be
cannot produce without the addition of foaming agent. Analysis increased. If the reservoir pressure is very low, the gas lift
of the gas-liquid flow structure inside a vertical tube displayed the becomes ineffective even under high injection gas flow rates.
conditions of effective application of the foaming agent to improve
gas lift technology. Oilfield experiments analyzed with probability The current paper investigates the application of a foaming agent to
theory corroborated that foamed gas lift is a very effective improve gas lift if the reservoir pressure is very low. The idea of
technological method if the reservoir is depleted foam gas lift is explained by the following. Suppose the initial
liquid column in a well of the depth 1 equals ho and a foaming
INJROPUCTIQN agent is injected into the liquid to create a solution of concentration
C. Assume a gas injected at flow rate Qg creates inside the well a
The gas lift oil production method has seen years of international foam of quality G(Qg, C). If Gxho > 1, a part of the liquid,
use to carry liquids from underground deposits. A basic idea of equaled Aha = Gxho - 1, will come out the well, and the bottom-
gas lift technology is to decrease the flow specific density inside
the wells. The method consists of natural gas or air injection into hole pressure will decrease by Alplg value. This product depends
wells to create a gas-liquid mixture. That decreases the pressure on the gas flow rate, Qg, and the concentration, C,. The effect of
gradient from the point of gas injection to the surface. The lower the foaming agent on the gas lift can be increased by varying Qg
pressure gradient creates the lower bottom hole pressure and, and C. The paper reports results of the experimental and oilfield
higher pressure gradient across the reservoir. The latter increases investigations of the foamed gas lift to increase the well
the liquid inflow. However, as pennanent reservoir pressure productivity.
declines, greater gas volumes are required in order to maintain

The liquid flow rate, Qt, from the reservoir into the gas lift well
depends on the reservoir penneability K and thickness h, the
References and illustrations at end of paper. reservoir pressure Pres, the radius of the external reservoir


Fr Eu = (!3gdt l (6)
boundary RI, liquid viscosity J.l.I, gas lift well diameter d w, and
bottom hole pressure P. According to Dupuit's fonnula the liquid If the well diameter d w is greater then 15 mm (0.6"), it has
inflow yields negligible effect on the vertical gas-liquid flow structure, 2 and Eu
number can be omitted. 4 Considering J.I. parameter is slightly
21tKh(P res - P) variable and omitting it, we can write following functional ratios
QI = J.I.~n(2RI!dJ (1)

QI . = {f(P,.1P, Fr, We, R, q); R 2: 1.....(7)

The bottom hole pressure, P, depends on a surface pressure, P sur,
and the gas-liquid flow structure inside the well. The gas-liquid 21tKhp~1/J.l.lln(2Rl/dJ f(p, .1P, Fr, q); R« 1
flow structure and bottom hole pressure are defined by the
following physical parameters of gas and liquid such as From the above analysis, one can conclude that many scaling
viscosities, J.l.g and J.l.I, densities, Pg and PI. flow rates, Qg and QI, parameters affect the gas-liquid flow. 3,4 However, in the
and an average pressure,Pa , across the well; geometrical experimental conditions all scaling parameters can not be realized
parameters of the well, diameter, d w, and length, I, and interaction simultaneously. The main reason is a limited length of the vertical
between gas and liquid across an interface, described by interfacial tube in laboratory set-ups. (One of the possible laboratory
tension, 0", and characteristic size of the gas bubbles, r. methods, proposed in 1934 by professor Krilov, A.P. is a
separate investigation of each gas lift regime, coordinating
Considering the liquid flow rate as a function of the remaining boundary conditions between the regimes).
parameters we obtain from (1)
21tKh(P res - P sur)
QI = J.I.~(2Rl/dJ f(J.l.i' Pi' P, Qg' I, d"" s, r) (2) A laboratory investigation of gas lift was perfonned using the set-
up shown in Figure I. The apparatus consisted of a vertical glass
i = I, g. tube (9) of 25 rom (I") inner diameter and 2.05 m (6.1") length
connected by tubing with valves (4) and (6) and a resistance (5)
Let us introduce the following dimensionless groups with a tank (7) containing a liquid. The placement of the tank (7)
was varied between the bottom and the top of the vertical tube (9).
The gas flow rate inside the tube (9) was maintained by a gas
J.I. = J.l.I!J.l.g, P = PI/Pg, L = 1/dw, R = r/dw, cylinder (1) with a regulating valve (2). Flow rate was measured
.1Il = (Pres - Psud/Plgl, 2
Fr = ug /gdw , by a gas flowmeter (3). The set-up was designed to investigate
parameters of the gas lift well exploiting the drainage area and
We = O"/.1pgd w, Eu = PafpgUg2 ,.........•.... (3)
estimate the gas lift well productivity under different conditions.
Re = Pgugdw/J.l.g, q=QI!Qg The set-up modeled a liquid inflow from the drainage area to the
gas lift well.
(here Ug = 4Qg/1tdw2 and.1p =PI - Pg). The ratio between the experimental gas flow rate and the gas flow
Transfonn the functional ratio, (2), to dimensionless fonn to .rate in the well follows from Fr number
obtain the following

21tKhp~1/J.l.lln(2Rl/dJ= f(J.I., p,L, R, Fr, We, Re, Eu, q)...(4)

By equating q for the well and for laboratory set-up and
associating q with Fr, one can obtain taking into account (8)
Here the Froude number, Fr, describes the ratio between inertial
and gravitational forces in the vertical flow; the Euler number, Eu, Q/d
5/2 Imod = Q/d 5/2 I
w weU .. ·· ..····.... (9)
represents the ratio of hydrodynamic pressure and inertial force in
the gas flow; the Reynolds number, Re, a ratio of the inertial and .1Il number determines the behavior of the well-reservoir system.
viscous forces, is negligible in the vertical flow; the Weber The experimental analogue of this number is the ratio of the liquid
number, We, characterizes a ratio of the interfacial tension and level value in the tank, hI, and the tube length, H,
buoyancy force. .1Il shows the reservoir pressure depletion. The
gas-liquid regime characterizes R number. If bubble regime takes hl/H = .1Il = (Pres - Psur)/Plgl... (lO)
place, R number is much less than 1 and R does not affect gas lift.
In this case the effect of the interfacial tension, i.e. Weber number,
Let us introduce a value, A., for the resistance and an experimental
also negligible. 2 When the bubble regime transforms to slug
regime and then transition flow followed by consequence of dimensionless liquid flow rate, Qi/A.PlgH. By equating the well
foamed regime and annular regime, R increases. If R ~ 1 the and experimental dimensionless flow rate, and using (9) one
effect of We number increases. A We number decrease due to a obtains
decrease of the interfacial tension causes a division of the gas
bubbles of big sizes into small bubbles. 21tKh(lIH)(dldJ 5/2
Consider now Fr and Eu numbers assuming the gas density is a
A. = J.l. ln(2R tldJ (11)
linear function of pressure (ideal gas)
Equation (11) detenninesthe dependence of the resistance on the
pg =!3P (5) reservoir parameters and set-up characteristics. An additional
requirement of the resistance is a linear dependence of the liquid
The product (prEu) yields flow rate, QI, on the hydrostatic pressure, hi, in the range, 0 < hI


< H. The resistance was designed as an artificial cylindrical different value of hl/H with and without foaming agent in the gas-
porous media of K1 permeability, d1 diameter, and 11 length. The liquid flow are shown in Figure 5,a,b.
A. value of the resistance obtained by Darcy's law yields
If hi/H ::; 0.93 (reservoir pressure close to hydrostatic pressure)
and Qg was less then 100 cc/sec, the stable slug regime took place
in the tube, and application of the foaming agent was almost
ineffective. The effect of the foaming agent on the liquid flow rate
This ratio permits choice of the resistance characteristics, such as was a slight increase just at the gas flow rate over 100 cc/sec.
permeability KI, diameter dl and length 11. In the set-up the Application of the foaming agent significantly increased the liquid
resistance had 25 mm (I") diameter, 13 em (5.1") length, 0.315 flow rate if hl/H «1. In the experiments, the productivity was
porosity, and 530 D permeability determined from (12). Figure 2 zero without the foaming agent application, but was restored when
exhibits a linear dependence of the water flow rate on hi at the foaming agent was added into the liquid. The foaming agent
range 0 < hI < 2 m (0 < hI < 6 feet). addition was more effective in the transition flow from the slug
regime to the developed foamed regime. Maximum effectiveness
LABQRATORY EXPERIMENTS was displayed at the developed foamed regime.
Laboratory gas lift experiments were performed at several values Investigation of the gas-liquid structure in the slug regime with
of hi: 190 em (5.7 feet), 143 em (4.3 feet), 95 em (2.85 feet), and and without foaming agent showed that the foaming agent did not
50 em (1.5 feet), corresponding with the reservoir pressure affect size and vertical velocity of the slugs (Figure 6). An
depletion values of 0.93, 0.7, 0.465, and 0.244, respectively. increase in the gas flow rate was responsible for instability of the
Characteristic curves, Ql versus Qg, were obtained and the slugs and waves were observed on the slug surface. The
pressure drop required to force flow upward along the vertical surfactant in the liquid caused foam films perpendicular to the flow
tube was determined using Figures 2 and 3. Introducing a specific direction. The latter resulted a transformation of the unstable slugs
density, Pm, of the gas-liquid flow, the pressure drop, M>, across into a foam structure and a decrease of the gas-liquid relative
the tube becomes velocity.

Increase of the foaming agent concentration from 0.07 to 0.3 wt %

AP::; Plghl - PmgH (13) did not change the qualitative conclusions. The effectiveness of
the foaming agent was significantly greater at h1/H value less than
The specific density, Pm, depends on the volumetric gas 0.7, shown in Figure 5. Using the dependence of the pressure
saturation, S, inside the tube drop, M>, on the gas flow rate with and without the foaming agent
in Figure 5,a,b and equations (15) one can calculate the gas
Pm::; PI(1 - S) + p gSP/Po (14) saturation, S. Results shown in Figure 7 demonstrate a significant
increase of the gas saturation and, respectively, the liquid column
From (13) and (14) one can obtain a ratio for the gas saturation expansion. The increase in the gas saturation decreases the
specific density of the flow and increases the l?ressure drop a~ro~s
S ::; 1 + AP/PlgH - hl/H (15) the vertical tube. The greater pressure drop Increases the lIqUId
flow rate (Figure 5,b).
The dependence of the gas saturation of the gas-liquid flow inside
the tube on the gas flow rate in Figure 4 exhibits that only the gas OILFIELD EXPERIMENTS
flow rate affects the liquid column expansion. The liquid flow rate
is a function of the ratio between the pressure drop across the tube Oilfield experiments were performed in gas lift wells #1 and #2 in
and the hydrostatic pressure. The pressure drop is determined by the Feodorovskoe oilfield (Siberia, USSR) and in gas lift well #3
the gas flow rate, and the hydrostatic pressure depends on hl/H. in the Ribalskoe oilfield (Ukraine, USSR). The wells had a 2.87"
A visual investigation of the gas-liquid flow structure inside the tubing diameter and 5.75" casing diameter. Parameters such as
tube performed during the experiments gave a relation between the well depth, initial reservoir pressure, reservoir pressure depletion,
water cut of the well production, and volume of gas injected are
liquid flow rate and the gas-liquid flow structure. An increase in
manifested in Table 1. Well data, especially productivity of #1
the gas flow rate to 100 cc/sec caused a sharp increase in the gas
saturation and a decrease in the specific density of the gas-liquid well, were unstable and waved permanently during time. To
flow (Figure 4). This resulted in an intense increase of the liquid determine an average well productivity probability theory methods
flow rate (Figure 3). No bubble regime was observed and the were used for analysis of the current well data. It was found that
slug regime was observed up to 100 cc/sec gas flow rate. At Qg::; well productivity must be measured for five or six hours to get
10% accuracy of the average value. The average well
100 cc/sec the slug regime became instable and waves appeared on
productivities before the foaming agent i~jection, determined
the slug surface. Wave amplitudes increased due to increase of the
during 15 hours of measurement, are shown In Table 2.
gas flow rate over 100 cc/sec, and the slug regime transformed·
into the transition flow. The interval Qg from 100 cc/sec to 200
The foaming agent was injected into the gas flow and came in the
cc/sec corresponded with the transition tlow. The transition flow gas-liquid flow inside the wells through the gas lift valves. The
transformed to the developed foam regime when Qg became foaming agent concentration in the gas-liquid flow was
greater than 200 cc/sec. If hl/H ::; 0.93, correspondmg to the approximately 0.3 wt %. The well productivity with the foaming
reservoir pressure close to hydrostatic, a weak increase of the
agent injected was measured for 57 hours, and the average values
liquid flow rate occurred with the transition flow. At hl/H values
equaled 0.244, liquid flow was possible only in the developed are shown in Table 2. Student's rati09 was employed to compare
foamed regime. The gas flow rate in this case was very high, and the average well productivities with and without the foaming
the liquid flow rate was very low. agent. The results in Table 2 exhibit that application of the
foaming agent made a significant impact only in wells #1 and #3
Foamed gas lift experiments were performed by filling tank with a but had no effect in well #2, where the pressure depletion was
foaming agent aqueous solution, and repeating the experimental much less. These results correspond with the laboratory
procedure described above. The dependence of the liquid flow experiments.
rate and the pressure drop across the tube on the gas flow rate at


Table 1
The laboratory and oilfield experiments have shown that foamed Gas lift well characteristics
gas lift has potential to be an effective method for producing oil
from depleted reservoirs. Well Well !nit res. Reservoir Water Gas volume
depth pressure pressure cut injected
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS # ft psi depletion % scm/day
Special thanks are due to Mrs. Zinaida P. Titova who participated 1 8800 3860 0.74 60 8000
in the laboratory experiments.
2 8000 3500 0.82 57 9600
Grateful thanks are due to Mr. Karsten E. Thompson for his help
in preparing the paper for publication. 3 17000 5076 0.75 42 15000

1. Kirkpatrick, C.V. : "Advances in Gas-Lift Technology," API Table 2

Drilling and Production Practices, 1959 : p.p. 24-60. Average well productivity
2. Mamaev, V.A., Odishariia, G.E., Klapchuk, O.V., Tochigin, Well Without With
A.A., and Semenov, N.E., Gas-liQuid Flow Inside Tubes, foaming agent foaming agent
Nedra, Moscow, 1981 : p. 270 (in Russian). # bbVday bbVday
3. Bernadiner, M.G., Hydrodynamics of Gas lift Wells, VINm, 1 333 436
Moscow, 1987 : p. 80 (in Russian).
2 298 311
4. Brawn, K.E., Gas Lift Theory and Practice, Prentice-Hall,
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1967 : p. 924. 41 91
5. Taitel, Y., Barnea, D., and Dukler, A.E. : "Modeling Flow-
Pattern Transition for Steady Upward Gas-Liquid Flow in
Vertical Tubes," AIChE J., 1980 : v. 26, p.p. 345-354.

6. Fernandes, R.C., Semait, T., and Dukler, A.E. :

"Hydrodynamic Model for Gas-Liquid Flow in Vertical
Tubes," AIChE J., 1986: v. 29, p.p. 981-989.

7. Poettman, F.H., and Carpenter, P.G. : "The Multiphase Flow

of Gas, Oil, and Water through Vertical Flow Strings with
Application to the Design of Gas-Lift Installations," API
Drilling and Production Practices, 1952 : p.p. 257-317.

8'. Ansari, A.M., Sylvester, N.D., Shoham, 0., and Brill, J.P. :
"A Comprehensive Mechanistic Model for Upward Two-
Phase Flow in Wellbores," SPE 20630, presented at the 65
SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, New
Orleans, Louisiana, September, 23-26,1990.

9. Youden, W.J., Statistical Methods for Chemists, John Wiley

& Sons, Inc., New York, 1955: p. 126.

SfE 21639


o h1tH =0.93
9 U D h1tH =0.7
Q) 30

h1 tH

h1 tH

a- .....

200 400 600 800

Figure 1 Qg, cc/sec
Schematic of the laboratory set-up 0.02 , - - - - - - - - - - - - .
1 • gas cylinder; 2 - regulating valve;
3 - gas flowmeter; 4, 6 - valves; 5 - resistance;
7 - tank for liquid; 9 - collected cylinder;
9 - vertical. glass tube.


1:-,. :
0.00 +--r---r-~___r-.__..__........-_I
a 10
o 200 400 600 800
o......-....-....--.-~ Qg, cc/sec
0.00 0.01 0.02
Ii P, MPa Rgure 3
Dependence of water flow rate, 01, and pressure
Figure 2
Characteristic curve of the resistance (5) drop, ~P, on gas flow rate, Og


0.6 .0
D o h1tH =0.93
0.4 IJ)
0 D h1tH =0.7
.. h11H= 0.465
o + h11H = 0.244

0.0 +---r-...--r---r-r--r----r--l
o 200 400 600 800
Qg, cc/sec
Figure 4
Gas saturation,S, vs. gas flow rate, Og.

seE 21639

40 30

CI) 30 (,)
Ul CI)

-0 10
o wilier
• 0.07 wi 'Yo foaming agent solution
0.07 wi 'Yo foaming agent soI..ion
0 0 200 400 600 800
0 200 400 600 800
Qg, cc/sec Qg, cc/sec

0.02 0.015
as 0.010
0: D.
<l 0.01 ::E
0: 0.005

200 400 0.000
0 600 800 200 400 600 800
Qg, cc/sec Qg, cc/sec
h1/H '"' 0.93 h1/H = 0.7

Figure 5,a
Uquidflow rate. QI, and pressure drop. 6P, vs. gas flow rate, Qg. with and withpout foaming agent

SPE 21639

30 -r------------. 12,-----------..
o wafer
• 0.07 wt % loaming agenl solution 10
• 0.3 wt % foaming agent solution
(.) 8


( .)
( .)

" " 2

200 400 600 800

Qq, (:c!sec
o water
• 0.07 wt % loaming agent solution

• 0.3 wt 'Yo foaming agent solution

0.006 - , - - - - - - - - - - - - ,





0.000 +-......~---.r--~ ........__.____...--l
o 200 40(1 600 800
Qg, cc!sec
h1/H = 0.244

Figure S,b
Liquid flow rate, QI. and pressure drop, 6P. vs. gas flow rate. Qg. with and wilhpout foaming agent

SPE 21639

30 I I
1.0 1.0
(,) 20 o I
0.8 0.9


• •
• 0
0.4 0.7
oI ' I ' I ' I ' I ' I
o 20 40
Qg, cc/sec
60 80100
o 21l 0

0.07 WI % foaming agent solutlOll
0.07 WI % foaming agent solution
0.0 0.5
o water, hl/H =0.93
0 200 400 600 800 0 200 400 600 800
• 0.07 WI % foaming agent solution, hl/H = 0.93
A 0.07 WI % foaming agent solution, hl/H = 0.7 Qg, cc/sec Qg, cc/sec
• 0.07 WI % foaming agent solution, hl/H = 0.465 1.0 1.0

co 0.8
60 S

h1/H-0.7 0.9
- 50
40 •• 0
0 water
0 0.07 WI % foaming agent solution
30 • 0
> 0.2
0 0.8 I .,. J 6, i ' i , I
20 i 0 200 400 600 800
o 200 400 600 800
Qg, cc/sec
10 I , Iii I ' I , I ' Qg, cc/sec
o 20 40 60 80100 o water
• 0.07 WI % foaming agent solution
Qg, cc/sec • 0.3 WI % foaming agent solution

Figure6 Figure 7
Slug length and velocity V vs. gas flow rate, Og Gas saturation, S. vs. gas flow rate, ag, with and without foaming agent