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Tech 101

Artificial Lift: Focus on Hydraulic

Submersible Pumps
Abhishek Bhatia and Scott A.L. McAllister, ClydeUnion Pumps

Artificial lift is a technique used to

provide energy to the formation
fluids in a production well when the
pressure of the formation is not high
enough for hydrocarbons to flow up
the tubing string at an economic rate.
Several types of artificial lift can be
used to increase the production rate
and maximize hydrocarbon recovery.
The major artificial lift technologies
are beam pumping/sucker rod pumps Fig. 1—Hydraulic submersible pump.
(rod lift), progressive cavity pumps, Courtesy of ClydeUnion Pumps.
hydraulic submersible pumps, electric
submersible pumps, and gas lift.
Hydraulic submersible pumps (HSPs)
(Fig.1) are hydraulic turbine-driven
downhole pumps that were developed
as an alternative to the more commonly
used electric motor-driven submersible environments such as subsea wells, profiles through the use of a high-
(centrifugal or progressive cavity) pumps faced with increasing demand for ever- integrity engineered pumping solution.
(ESPs). ESPs are used extensively in oil depleting resources, and the challenges
lift applications—particularly offshore. associated with oil and gas production in How Does an HSP Work?
These pumps can experience failures increasingly difficult locations, there is a A turbine-driven HSP is powered by
attributable to the following: strong drive to maximize hydrocarbon pressurised power fluid supplied
• Exceeding the limits they were recovery and lower operating costs from pumps on the surface. The high-
designed to operate within through improvements in well pump pressure power fluid flows down a
• Electrical insulation failure in the technology. HSP technology has dedicated supply flowline and enters the
wet well environment demonstrated a step change in pump tree at a controlled pressure and flow
• Sub-optimal field practices mean time to failure (MTTF), validated rate. In the most common “open loop”
• Overheating of the downhole through more than 13 years of subsea configuration, the power fluid enters the
electric motor field operating experience. This presents HSP through the well annulus and de-
Particularly in the case of a viable alternative for operators can pressurises through the multistage, axial
high operating-expense (OPEX) consider to help improve their OPEX flow turbine, providing the drive to the
pump end to boost the pressure of the
formation fluids, (Fig. 2). The produced
Abhishek Bhatia, a mechanical engineer at SPX, is primarily fluid at pump discharge subsequently
responsible for assessing hydraulic submersible pumps’ commingles with the exhausted turbine
(HSPs’) appropriateness in different applications by engaging power fluid and flows up through the
early with endusers or field development consultants. production tubing, flowline, and riser
His current role also includes carrying out detailed hydraulic to the surface facilities. At this point, the
studies, well modeling, selecting optimum HSP configuration power fluid is then separated, filtered,
during pre-FEED and FEED stages, and mechanical design. In and recirculated back into the HSP power
his previous role, he was involved with the design and fluid supply and water disposal system.
packaging of surface pumps, typically used for water injection, crude export, and Another option is to supply power fluid
seawater-lift applications. He holds a BEng (Hons.) degree in aero-mechanical in a “closed loop,” where the power fluid
engineering from the University of Strathclyde and an MSc degree in design of rotating does not commingle with the formation
machines from the Cranfield University. fluids. Although this is a more complex

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Tech 101

completion design, with two concentric

Power fluid pump
annuli required for the independent
supply and return of power fluid, it Cyclone
minimizes the load on the primary oil/
water separation facilities.

HSP Differentiators Power fluid supply

An HSP differs from other artificial lift
Separator system
technologies due to a number of factors:
Wide Operating Envelope—The
power fluid supply not only drives Produced fluid
the turbine but provides a hydrostatic
pressure feed to the radial and axial Commingled return fluid Control choke valve
bearing system, meaning that the
inherently variable speed rotor is well
supported under all operating conditions
including gassy, sandy, or viscous fluids.
High Speed and Compact
Turbine exhaust Turbine
Assembly—The turbine design and Pump discharge
bearing support systems enable
operation at super synchronous speeds Pump
(typically 5,000 to 10,000 rpm). These
operating speeds are significantly
greater than those of a comparable
ESP, thus providing a greatly reduced Reservoir flow
pump stage bundle length, resulting in a
compact, easily deployed assembly.
Elimination of Traditional Failure
Modes—Rather than relying on full
isolation of the drive section from the
well fluids through the use of mechanical
seals and protectors, the power fluid Fig. 2—Hydraulic submersible pump principle of operation. Courtesy of
used to drive the turbine provides a ClydeUnion Pumps.
positive, outward clean flush to the pump
end bearing system and is a key life- more so if there is an emulsion-forming pump suction gas-liquid separators and
enhancing feature. In addition, an HSP tendency that could significantly increase variable-speed controllers to minimize
is assembled on a single, high-precision fluid gross viscosity. With an “open gas ingestion and avoid gas locking and
shaft, eliminating the need for motor- loop” power fluid supply configuration, overheating of the motor.
pump coupling at the well site. formation fluids with high viscosity Recent developments have seen the
Advanced Materials of are commingled with the power incorporation of special helico-axial
Construction—Components consisting fluid to achieve a water-continuous or mixed-flow impellers to increase
of high-end materials maximize an HSP’s dispersion downstream of the HSP, the maximum gas void fraction before
operational life. Such materials include which subsequently reduces associated gas locking occurs. However, despite
super duplex stainless steels, ceramics, friction losses. these advances, today’s extensive use
and nickel/cobalt alloys that, over Multiphase Pumping—Producing of horizontal wells that can generate
extended time periods, provide excellent oil wells often encounter multiphase sluggy multiphase flow regimes
resistance to erosive and abrasive wear, mixtures, either by design or continues to threaten the availability
corrosion, and sour service. unintentionally, as free gas is often co- and reliability of downhole motor-
An HSP provides benefits for produced. The presence of free gas driven machines.
the production of formation fluids, at pump suction can adversely affect In contrast, in addition to having
particularly in challenging applications the hydraulic performance of pumps, helico-axial design multiphase impellers,
such as: which are generally designed to handle an HSP’s constant power turbine drive
Heavy Oil Applications—Viscosity incompressible fluids. provides an inherently variable speed
management is a major flow assurance Methods of handling gassy fluid operating capability when it encounters
challenge associated with heavy oils, streams have traditionally included variable-density fluids within the pump

175 filters/cyclones, and high-pressure
pumping systems.
150 Conventional, high-reliability pumps
125 are used at the surface to generate
pressurized drive fluid, and operational
% Design head

100 control is effected by a combination of

HSP Envelope variable speed pump drive motorsand
75 Typical conventional individual well tuning by use of choke
pump envelope
50 valves locally at the tree. Typically, a
single-power water pump will be installed
25 in order to drive up to four HSPs. The use
0 of readily serviceable, conventional water
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 processing systems as a motive source
% Design flow thus provides an opportunity for improved
lift system functionality, availability,
Fig. 3—HSP operating envelope. Courtesy of ClydeUnion Pumps. and reliability.

Field Applications
end. For a given power input, the rotor Similarly, heated power fluid can The simplicity and flexibility of an HSP
will speed up and gas compression be utilized to artificially increase has been instrumental in its application
efficiency will improve in response to the temperature of the commingled to a broad range of artificial lift duties,
increased gas void fraction. produced fluid to guard against including onshore and offshore
In addition, even when faced with gelling in fluids with low wax- applications, multiphase pumping
a 100% gas slug event, the interstage appearance temperatures. of heavy oil, aquifer lift, and seabed
hydrostatic bearings and thrust- The functionality of the open loop (mudline) boosting, as well as on
balancing arrangement are continuously HSP power fluid system provides thermal production applications, such
fed with power fluid, which increases the the capability to circulate out as steam-assisted gravity drainage.
liquids-to-gas ratio through the pump hydrocarbons from all flow paths In recent times, multiphase HSPs have
whilst still supporting the rotor in the above pump setting depth, thus been successfully applied to subsea, wet
radial and axial direction. mitigating against cold fluid legs that tree production of gassy, heavy oil in
Wax, Scale, and Corrosion could cause re-start issues. Chevron’s Captain field in the UK
Management—Wellbore chemical North Sea. The subsea area of this field
treatments are often required during System Requirements has been exclusively produced using HSP
production to overcome problems The design and arrangement of the technology, with the pumps having
encountered with waxing, scaling, or power fluid system is almost as important achieved an MTTF of over 11 years and a
corrosion. In these scenarios, chemicals as the design of an HSP itself—to ensure 170-year cumulative operational time.
must to be injected into the production that consistently high-quality drive Field data indicate the successful
fluid path via dedicated flowlines. With fluid is delivered to the machine. An operation of an HSP on suction gas void
HSP, such inhibitors can be added HSP can make use of many of the water fractions in excess of 70%, illustrating
through power fluid supply at the processing elements commonly found in the excellent gas handling capability
surface facility. oilfield facilities, including separators, achieved by the combination of helico-
axial impeller design and turbine drive.
The HSP bearing system provides a
Scott McAllister is a mechanical engineer at SPX, wide operating range which enables the
responsible for engineering design of high-power well to be produced without distressing
downhole and subsea pumping systems within the the pump. Fig. 3 shows the range of
engineered solutions team at ClydeUnion Pumps, part of HSP operating points for a single pump
SPX. Since joining the company in 2008, he has completed achieved on a typical well.
engineering development work, ranging from conceptual For thermal production operations,
design through to the definition of detailed design scopes. the HSP has been designed and qualified
McAllister attends offshore production and drilling facilities to operate at fluid temperatures of up
to to 220°C in standard trim. Higher-
supervise the installation of hydraulic submersible pumps. He holds a BEng (Hons.) temperature applications can be
degree in product design engineering from the University of Glasgow and the accommodated through changes to
Glasgow School of Art and an MSc degee in mechanical engineering (design) from sealing element materials. TWA
Glasgow Caledonian University.

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