The Challenges in Processing Heavy Oil
- Wally John Georgie (Maxoil Solutions) | Patrick Colin Smith (Maxoil Solutions)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- SPE Heavy Oil Conference Canada, 12-14 June, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
- Publication Date
- Document Type
- Conference Paper
- 2012. Society of Petroleum Engineers
- 5.6.4 Drillstem/Well Testing, 5.4.10 Microbial Methods, 4.1.4 Gas Processing, 4.3.1 Hydrates, 4.1.2 Separation and Treating, 1.6 Drilling Operations, 5.1.1 Exploration, Development, Structural Geology, 4.2 Pipelines, Flowlines and Risers, 6.1.5 Human Resources, Competence and Training, 1.8 Formation Damage, 5.3.9 Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage, 3.1.2 Electric Submersible Pumps, 4.3.4 Scale, 4.5 Offshore Facilities and Subsea Systems, 5.3.2 Multiphase Flow, 3.1 Artificial Lift Systems, 5.8.5 Oil Sand, Oil Shale, Bitumen, 2.4.3 Sand/Solids Control, 4.3 Flow Assurance, 4.1.5 Processing Equipment, 5.2 Reservoir Fluid Dynamics, 5.8.4 Shale Oil, 5.2 Fluid Characterization, 4.1.9 Heavy Oil Upgrading, 4.3.3 Aspaltenes, 4.2.3 Materials and Corrosion, 5.2.2 Fluid Modeling, Equations of State, 3.2.6 Produced Water Management, 5.2.1 Phase Behavior and PVT Measurements, 4.5.3 Floating Production Systems
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There are numerous flow assurance and processing challenges associated with the production of heavy oil. These challenges are generally addressed in the early stage of the development and include; sizing of separators, internal design of the vessels, the process vessel configuration and the optimum means of handling solids and water. A critical aspect of the design is the accuracy and the reliability of the fluid characterization data. Numerous operators can attest to the difficulties in processing heavy oil and many make attempts to minimize the impact of these issues in the design stage. However, there are critical factors associated with produced fluid characterization data that are regularly either overlooked or misinterpreted. It is the importance of this data reliability and accurate interpretation that is the subject of this paper.
The high viscosity and low gravity of heavy oil is usually the principle concern of the design team in addressing process components and operational practices. However, there are numerous horror stories associated with flow assurance issues that should have been taken into consideration during detailed design. The impact of asphaltenes, paraffin, naphthenates, inorganic scale deposition and emulsion stability are a few of the more common challenges that can, and should, be addressed prior to detailed design. The impact of these constituents on processing and operations can make or break the economics of the development, particularly when taking into account the long-term OPEX associated with chemical treatment cost if these constituents are not adequately addressed.
In addition, brown field development of heavy oil and the subsequent processing through an existing infrastructure will create other challenges, especially if the existing production infrastructure is designed to handle mid and high API gravity crude.
By following some fairly rigorous, but necessary, guidelines on data accumulation and interpretation most if not all of these problems can adequately be addressed during detailed design and the development of operating procedures.
Therefore a holistic approach in assessing the design of these facilities will be crucial to maintaining a low CAPEX and OPEX for processing heavy oil effectively. This paper aims to outline the different aspects associated with these challenges and will cover design, operation, monitoring and, where relevant, upgrades and retrofit issues.
Different terminologies are used in different regions. High viscosity oil and heavy oil can mean different type of oil. However within the context of this paper heavy oil is referred to for oil with API gravity of less 23. Heavy and extra heavy oil are crude oils which are so viscous that they will not flow easily or process easily. Such oils have undergone major changes due to geological processes in oil reservoirs and carrier beds from source rocks, such as biodegradation and water washing, which tend to selectively remove lighter hydrocarbons, as well as convert other hydrocarbons to new compounds, such as organic acids1. The common characteristic properties of these oils are high specific gravity/density, in some high Total Acid Numbers (TANs), low hydrogen to carbon ratios, with high carbon residues and high asphaltenes, sulfur, heavy metals and nitrogen contents.
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