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Wax problems in production

Many crudes contain dissolved waxes that can precipitate and deposit under the appropriate environmental conditions.
These can build up in production equipment and pipelines, potentially restricting flow (reducing volume produced) and
creating other problems. This page discusses how to anticipate, prevent, and remediate wax problems in production.
1 Waxes in crude oil
2 Phenomenology
3 Coping with waxes
o 3.1 Paraffin deposition models
4 Preention!inhi"ition
o 4.1 Crystal modifiers
o 4.2 #ispersants
$ %emoal of deposits
& %eferences
' (oteworthy papers in )nePetro
* )nline multimedia
+ ,xternal lin-s
1. /ee also
Waxes in crude oil
Paraffin wax produced from crude oil consists primarily of long chain, saturated hydrocarbons (linear alanes! n"paraffins)
with carbon chain lengths of #$% to #&'(, having individual melting points from )* to &*+#. This wax material is referred
to as ,macrocrystalline wax.- .aphthenic hydrocarbons (#$% to #/0) also deposit wax, which is referred to as
,microcrystalline wax.- Macrocrystalline waxes lead to paraffin problems in production and transport operations1
microcrystalline waxes contribute the most to tan"bottom sludges.
Fig. 1 shows the generic molecular structures of n"
paraffins, iso"paraffins, and naphthenes. The n"heptane structure is an example of a ,normal- paraffin1 4"methyloctane is
an ,iso- paraffin and n"butylcyclopentane is a naphthene. These specific n"paraffins and naphthenes are too small to
crystalli5e as wax deposits (i.e., outside the carbon"number range specified above). The drawings illustrate the type of
structures involved.

Fig. 1Structures of hydrocarbon classes involved in wax deposition.

6axes isolated from crudes can contain various amounts of all classes7 n"paraffins, naphthenes, and iso"paraffins. 8or
example, waxes derived from several 9ene5uelan crudes
showed n "paraffin!(cyclo ( iso paraffin) ratios ranging from
$.4% to *.4/. The iso"paraffins of the 4"methyloctane type (Fig. 1) are more liely to be included in a wax deposit than the
more highly branched alanes.
: ,clean waxy crude- is defined as a crude oil that consists of only hydrocarbons and wax as the heavy organic
constituents. ,;egular waxy crudes- contain other heavy organics in addition to the waxes (e.g., asphaltenes and resins).
These heavy organics have interactions with the crude, which can either prevent wax"crystal formation or enhance it.
More information on the characteristics of waxes in crude oil can be found in :sphaltenes and waxes.
:s the temperature of the crude drops below a critical level and!or as the low"molecular"weight hydrocarbons vapori5e,
the dissolved waxes begin to form insoluble crystals. The deposition process involves two distinct stages7 nucleation and
growth. .ucleation is the forming of paraffin clusters of a critical si5e (,nuclei-) that are stable in the hydrocarbon fluid.
This insoluble wax itself tends to disperse in the crude.
6ax deposition onto the production system (,growth-) generally requires a ,nucleating agent,- such as asphaltenes and
inorganic solids. The wax deposits vary in consistency from a soft mush to a hard, brittle material. Paraffin deposits will be
harder, if longer"chain n"paraffins are present. Paraffin deposits can also contain7
8ine sand
>igh"molecular"weight waxes tend to deposit in the higher"temperature sections of a well, while lower"molecular"weight
fractions tend to deposit in lower"temperature regions. Prior to solidification, the solid wax crystals in the liquid oil change
the flow properties from a .ewtonian low viscosity fluid to a very"complex"flow behavior gel with a yield stress.
Coping with waxes
The primary chemical parameter to establish is the critical temperature at which these wax nuclei form?the wax
appearance temperature (6:T). The 6:T (or ,cloud point-) is highly specific to each crude. The 6:T value is a function
@il composition
#ooling rate during measurement
Paraffin concentration
Molecular mass of paraffin molecules
@ccurrence of nucleating materials such as asphaltenes, formation fines, and corrosion products
6ater!oil ratio
=hear environment
=ee 6ax precipitation for additional information.
: variety of experimental methods have been used to obtain this number. :mong these are7
Aifferential scanning calorimetry (A=#) " measures the heat released by wax crystalli5ation
#ross polari5ation microscopy (#PM) " exploits the fact that insoluble wax crystals rotate polari5ed light, but liquid
hydrocarbons do not
8ilter plugging (8P) " measures the increase in differential pressure across a filter, which can be attributed to wax"
crystal formation
8ourier transform infrared energy scattering (8TB;) " detects the cloud point by measuring the increase in energy
scattering associated with wax solidification
Cach of these techniques has its advantages and disadvantages. : comparison!review of these methods is found in
Monger"Mc#lure, et al.
Bn testing, cloud points, measured by each of the four methods, agreed with the average value of
all methods within / to '+8.
@f more importance, is how well laboratory"measured cloud points anticipate 6:Ts found in the field. Measured cloud"
point data should only match field results for wells producing at low shear (high shear rates tend to delay the deposition of
waxes). :nother inherent problem is that the cloud"point measurement sees the precipitation of the most insoluble
paraffin, not the mass of lower"molecular"weight paraffins that might contribute the maDor amount of wax deposit.
.evertheless, #PM measurements have been found to correlate well with the temperature at field deposition, more so
than optical techniques that required a greater mass of wax to register a signal.
: maDor problem in correlating these
measurements and simulations with field experience is the acquisition of good field data.
Bllustrative of the state of the art
in interpreting these measurements is that closer agreement is found between stoc"tan oil measurements and field
experience, even though it is live oil that is being produced.
:n alternative to the measurement of cloud point is its prediction from compositional data bythermodynamic models.
These models can predict cloud point as the temperature at which the first infinitesimal amount of wax appears, as well as
predicting that mass of wax precipitating out of solution that, from experience, corresponds to field deposition.
that use detailed n"paraffin composition input data, as obtained from high"pressure gas chromatography, generally
outperform models based on less specific information lie compositions to #&( 2the numbers are more generally available
in the routine pressure!volume!temperature (P9T) reports3.
Paraffin deposition models
<iven the cloud point, what is the propensity for wax precipitation during the production and, in particular, the pipelining
and processing of the crudeE This is the regime of ,paraffin deposition models.- These are engineering simulators used to
predict wax buildup in flowing systems,
taing into account such parameters as7
>eat transfer
Phase behavior of the crude
8low regime
6ax deposition inetics
=hear rate
6all conditions (roughness, coatings, scale)
Produced"water!oil ratio
=ee also Models for wax deposition in pipelines.
:s with other solids"depositing problems, prevention can be more cost effective than removal. @ne ey to wax"deposition
prevention is heat. Clectric heaters can be employed to raise the crude oil temperature as it enters the wellbore. The
limitations are the maintenance costs of the heating system and the availability of electrical power. :s with hydrates,
maintaining a sufficiently high production level may also eep the upper"wellbore temperature above the 6:T. Bn addition,
high flow rates tend to minimi5e wax adherence to metal surfaces because of the shearing action of the flowing fluid.
Bnsulated pipelines are also an alternative to minimi5e, if not eliminate, the problem, but the cost can be prohibitive for
long pipelines.
6ax deposition can be prevented, delayed, or minimi5ed by the use of dispersants or crystal modifiers. :s
with asphaltenes, paraffin"wax characteristics vary from well to well. #hemicals that are effective in one system are not
always successful in others, even for wells within the same reservoir. ,8or this reason it is of fundamental importance to
establish a good correlation between oil composition and paraffin inhibitors efficiency, leading to an adequate product
selection for each particular case, avoiding extremely expensive and inefficient Ftrial"and"errorG procedures.-
Crystal modifiers
Paraffin"crystal modifiers are chemicals that interact with the growing crude"oil waxes by cocrystalli5ing with the native
paraffin waxes in the crude oil that is being treated. These interactions result in the deformation of the crystal morphology
of the crude"oil wax. @nce deformed, these crystals cannot undergo the normal series of aggregation steps. Types of
paraffin"crystal modifiers include7
Maleic acid esters
Polymeric acrylate and methacrylate esters
Cthylene vinyl acetate polymers and copolymers
Aispersants act to eep the wax nuclei from agglomerating. Aispersants are generally surfactants and may also eep the
pipe surface water wet, minimi5ing the tendency of the wax to adhere. =ome water production is required, of course. >igh
levels of water alone may maintain the system in a water"wet state. :s with scale prevention, a smooth surface tends to
decrease wax adherence. >owever, the operational problem is to maintain such a surface for an extended period of time.
9arious forms of erosion are highly detrimental.
@bviously, these inhibitors must be delivered into the crude oil at temperatures above the 6:T. This need not cause a
problem for surface equipment, but it could cause a problem for wellbore treatment, if the bottomhole temperatures are
Removal of deposits
;emoval of wax deposits within a wellbore is accomplished by7
#hemical dissolution
Melting?the use of hot oil, hot water, or steam
@f these, the use of hot oil has been the most popular, normally pumped down the casing and up the tubular. Bt is
intended that the high temperature of the liquid phase heat and melt the wax, which then dissolves in the oil phase. Hsing
the bottom"up delivery approach, hot oil first reaches those waxes most difficult to melt. The higher in the tubular the hot
oil proceeds, the lower its temperature becomes, thereby reducing its wax"carrying capacity. >ot oiling can cause
permeability damage, if the fluid containing the melted wax enters the formation.
>ot water, hot"water!surfactant combinations, and steam are alternatives to hot oiling. Plain hot"water treatments do not
provide the solvency required to remove the wax, hence the use of surfactants to disperse the wax. The advantage of
water is its greater heat capacity.
#hemical generation of heat has also been proposed as a method of melting wax deposits. @ne field"tested scheme uses
the thermochemical process of reacting two specific nitrogen salt solutions, acidic ammonium chloride and sodium nitrite1
an orgainc solvent is included to eep the wax in solution after the system has cooled.
9arious aromatic solvents can be used to dissolve the wax. These are generally not heated, relying solely on the solvency
properties of the fluid. :s with asphaltene dissolution, o"xylene has been one of the more effective solvents for waxes.
Ierosene and diesel tend to be poor solvents. >owever, as with asphaltenes dissolution, one solvent does not necessarily
wor equally well on all wax deposits1 an example of solvent screening procedures is given in 8erworn, et al.
Pigging is the primary mechanical method of removing wax buildup from the internal walls of pipelines. The pig cuts the
wax from the pipe walls1 a bypass can be set with a variable"flow pass, allowing the pig to prevent wax buildup in front.
Pig si5ing can vary, and multiple pig runs with pigs of increasing si5e can be used. 8or subsea pigging, a looped flowline
is required or a subsea pig launcher for a single flowline. The maDor uncertainty in this operation is the wax hardness as it
is formed in the pipeline.
#oiled tubing with the appropriate cutters at the end also can be used for wax removal?the drawbac for pipeline
cleaning being the limited reach of the coiled tubing. 8or wellbore cleaning this is obviously less of a problem.
$. J


<arcia, M.#., #arbognani, K., Hrbina, :. et al. $LL%. #orrelation Metween @il #omposition and Paraffin
Bnhibitors :ctivity. Presented at the =PC :nnual Technical #onference and Cxhibition, .ew @rleans, 4&N/*
=eptember. =PC")L4**"M=.http7!!dx.doi.org!$*.4$$%!)L4**"M=.
2. J

:llen, T. and ;oberts, :. $L%4. Paraffins and :sphaltenes. Bn Production Operations, 4. Tulsa, @lahoma7
@il and <as #onsultants Bntl. Bnc.
/. J

>ammami, :. and ;aines, M.:. $LL&. Paraffin Aeposition 8rom #rude @ils7 #omparison of Kaboratory
;esults to 8ield Aata. Presented at the =PC :nnual Technical #onference and Cxhibition, =an :ntonio, Texas,
H=:, 'N% @ctober. =PC"/%&&0"M=.http7!!dx.doi.org!$*.4$$%!/%&&0"M=.
). J

Monger"Mc#lure, T.<., Tacett, O.C., and Merrill, K.=. $LL&. Aeep=tar #omparisons of #loud Point
Measurement P Paraffin Prediction Methods. Presented at the =PC :nnual Technical #onference and Cxhibition,
=an :ntonio, Texas, H=:, 'N% @ctober. =PC"/%&&)"M=. http7!!dx.doi.org!$*.4$$%!/%&&)"M=.
'. J #alange, =., ;uffier"Meray, 9., and Mehar, C. $LL&. @nset #rystalli5ation Temperature and Aeposit :mount for
6axy #rudes7 Cxperimental Aetermination and Thermodynamic Modelling. Presented at the Bnternational
=ymposium on @ilfield #hemistry, >ouston, $%N4$ 8ebruary. =PC"/&4/L"M=. http7!!dx.doi.org!$*.4$$%!/&4/L"
0. J Mrill, O. $LL&. Cxperimental Bnvestigation of Paraffin Aeposition Prediction in =ingle"Phase and Multiphase
8lowlines and 6ellbores. Proc., BM# HI #onference, :berdeen.
&. J Ihalil, #..., ;ocha, ..@., and =ilva, C.M. $LL&. Aetection of 8ormation Aamage :ssociated to Paraffin in
;eservoirs of the ;ecQncavo Maiano. Presented at the Bnternational =ymposium on @ilfield #hemistry, >ouston,
$%N4$ 8ebruary. =PC"/&4/%"M=. http7!!dx.doi.org!$*.4$$%!/&4/%"M=.
%. J 8erworn, I., >ammami, :., and Cllis, >.7 R#ontrol of 6ax Aeposition7 :n Cxperimental Bnvestigation of #rystal
Morphology and an Cvaluation of 9arious #hemical =olvents,R paper =PC /&4)* presented at the $LL&
Bnternational =ymposium on @ilfield #hemistry, >ouston, $%N4$ 8ebruary.
Noteworthy papers in OnePetro
Hse this section to list papers in @nePetro that a reader who wants to learn more should definitely read
Online multimedia
Oamaluddin, :bul. 4*$/. 8low :ssurance N Managing 8low Aynamics and Production
#hemistry. http7!!eo4.commpartners.com!users!spe!session.phpEidS$$''/
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