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Encapsulated Scale Inhibitor Treatment


Scale formation and deposition (CaCO3) in production facilities is a problem encountered in the Ghawar Field in Saudi Arabia. The scale deposition causes production loss and safety hazards. Downhole scale inhibitor squeeze treatments have proven successful in controlling this scale accumulation. However, weak producers (low oil rate and high water cut wells) could not be squeezed due to the difficulty anticipated in re-starting production from these wells because of the high volume of water normally needed to squeeze the inhibitor into the formation. Starting in 1994, an alternative method (the encapsulated inhibitor treatment) was tried for selected weak wells.

This paper presents the design of the encapsulated inhibitor treatment, treatment procedure, a field case history with scale inspection results, economical analysis of this treatment versus the regular downhole treatment and the future plans. To-date, more than ten treatments have been performed in Saudi Arabia. Regular visual inspection of selected wells revealed no scale accumulation up to 24 months after the treatment. Current plans are to treat more wells for further evaluation.


Calcium carbonate CaCO3 scale is the most common scale encountered in the Ghawar field production wells. Its deposition in surface and subsurface equipment causes loss in oil production and major operational problems. The scale control program was started in the Ghawar Field in 1986, and since then, conventional scale inhibitor squeeze treatments have been successful in controlling scale accumulations. Saudi Aramco field experience has shown that weak oil producers, especially high water cut wells (WC >70%), when treated using a conventional scale inhibitor squeeze, require several reviving attempts before the wells can be put back on production and in some cases the wells might remain dead. This is mainly due to the hydrostatic head created by the large treatment fluid volumes normally pumped during a conventional treatment where the inhibitor is squeezed into the formation to a predetermined radius.

In 1994, a new scale inhibitor treatment "Encapsulated Inhibitor Treatment" was introduced to Saudi Aramco. The main advantage of this treatment is the placement of the treatment fluids in the rathole rather than squeezing it into the formation. Therefore, the encapsulated scale inhibitor treatment is suitable for the weak wet oil producers with high water cut. To-date, more than ten wells in the Ghawar Field and an offshore field have been treated with the encapsulated inhibitor, without any difficulty in bringing the wells back on production. Some of these wells are being closely monitored for rescaling by performing regular visual inspections. To date none of these treated wells have shown scale redeposition after up to two years following the treatment of the first well.


An alternative scale inhibition method using encapsulated scale inhibitor has been successfully used to control calcium carbonate scaling in the Ghawar Field oil wells of Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia. Field tests indicate that the Ghawar Field requires a low threshold scale inhibitor concentration for scale mitigation. The encapsulated phosphonate scale inhibitor treatment procedure is thus ideally suitable for scale control in such fields. Since 1994, a total of 89 wells have been treated with this procedure. After more than five years of treatment, there has been no reappearance of scale deposit on the treated wells except for two instances of scaling. Low treatment cost and the resulting long treatment life have provided an excellent incentive to treat more wet producers using the encapsulated scale inhibitor treatment method instead of treatment by conventional scale inhibitor squeezes. An additional benefit is realized from this encapsulated inhibitor method when treating marginal high water cut wells and wells located in low pressure areas by ensuring that the wells sustain flow after the treatments without the need for extensive livening work.

This paper presents the results of a field case study where calcium carbonate scaling was controlled using the encapsulated scale inhibitor treatment procedure. Treatment design, job procedure, inhibitor return monitoring, economic analysis and comparison with conventional squeeze treatments as well as future applications are presented.


Calcium carbonate is the most commonly encountered scale in the Ghawar Field of Saudi Arabia. Due to the presence of high reservoir pressure (>2700 psi) with reservoir fluid containing 5-20% dissolved acidic gases (CO 2 and H 2 S), there is no CaCO 3 scaling problem in the reservoir and at the bottom-hole of the tubing. However, as the fluid moves up the production tubing, the

dissolved gases flash out of the brine as pressure is reduced. The loss of CO 2 results in an increase in fluid pH. This shifts the thermodynamic balance, and results in the brine being supersaturated with respect to CaCO 3 . By the time the nucleation and kinetics of crystal growth favor the scale formation, the brine has reached the top 1000 feet and higher of the production tubing. The CaCO 3 scale formation is represented by the equation:

Ca 2+ +2HCO 3 - CaCO 3 +H 2 O+CO 2

Calcium carbonate scale formation has resulted in production loss and severe field operational problems in the Ghawar Field oil producers. Since 1987, conventional scale inhibitor squeeze treatments have been used to control this scaling problem. All wet producers in the Ghawar Field require scale inhibitor treatments to avoid production loss as well as expensive scale removal from the producing tubing string, wellhead, manifold and flow-lines. Initial squeeze treatment costs were very high due to high pumping cost, particularly since a large number of wells had to be treated. An alternative scale inhibition method was therefore sought to reduce the treatment costs. The first trial of an encapsulated scale inhibitor treatment was performed in 1994 with encouraging results. Consequently, more wells were treated using the encapsulated scale inhibitor method in 1997 and subsequent years.


After monitoring residual inhibitor levels of the squeezed wells, it was recognized that a low threshold scale inhibitor concentration or MIC (minimum inhibitory concentration) requirement existed for the Ghawar Field.

ABSTRACT The Cerro Dragon field in Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina produces 42,000 m3/day (264,000 bbl/day) of oil and 590,000 m3/day (3.7 million bbl /day water) in 9 different districts. The field contains 3950 producing wells with more than 1000 ESP wells being treated for mostly scale and some for corrosion. Due to a high bottom hole temperature 120°C (~250°F) and moderate calcium levels, many wells have a tendency for downhole calcium carbonate formation. More than 1000 wells are treated for scale/corrosion and to minimize the complexity of logistics and cost factors, the preferred control method is via the use of an innovative technology of a micro- encapsulated product. This product is applied downhole via batch treatments where it slowly dissolves offering long term scale or corrosion protection. This paper will describe the chemical management system that reviewed such factors as: statistical interpretation of the results, laboratory methodologies for screening the products, software simulations to calculate (a) the amount of

encapsulated materials to be used per well, (b) the frequency of treatment, (c) the economic analysis of this methodology. This paper will also describe the iterative improvement process in comparing field results with the calculated theoretical values. INTRODUCTION The Cerro Dragón is the main producing oil field in Argentina. From the point of view of the production engineer, the challenge of maintaining the integrity and flow assurance of these wells is not

in the severity of the problems, but rather the complexity of the operation and

the logistics of treatments. There are 3950 producing wells dispersed over an area of 4000 km2 (1500 mi2) For many years there has been the need for corrosion inhibitors and scale inhibitors technologies that would control the problems of integrity and flow assurance in the producing wells. The treatments needed to be both efficient and low logistics costs associated with the chemical applications. Faced with these challenges, scale inhibitors, corrosion inhibitors and biocides were developed as microencapsulated materials and had to meet the following criteria: reach bottom hole, release slowly and be efficient in controlling the different problems.


This paper describes the development and testing of a solid, encapsulated scale inhibitor for use in fracturing treatments. Data from laboratory and field tests are reported. Laboratory testing with a continuous flow apparatus has yielded inhibitor release rates under dynamic conditions. The inhibitor was tested to determine the minimum inhibitor concentration required to inhibit the formation of CaCO3, CaSO4, and BaSO4 scales in brine. Laboratory data were used to determine the parameters of a mathematical model to predict the long- term release rate of the inhibitor. Data from a treated well are compared with predictions of the model.

Release-rate testing in a continuous-flow apparatus shows that an encapsulated solid derivative of a phosphonate inhibitor has a sustained release profile. Temperature (100 to 225 F) and brine strength have a small effect on the release-rate profile. Coating the solid derivative makes it compatible with metal-crosslinked fracturing fluids. The coating has a short-term effect on the release-rate profile. The composition of the solid derivative has the greatest effect on its long-term release-rate profile.

A comparison between the mathematical model proposed to describe the long-

term release rate of the inhibitor and actual data collected from a treated well shows a large discrepancy, likely because most of the inhibitor is not in contact with the water being produced from this well.


A variety of scale inhibitors are available for use in oilfield applications,

including polyphosphate phosphate ester, phosphonate polyacrylic acid, and polyacrylic acid derivative inhibitors. Most of these inhibitors are available as liquids and can be applied by continuous addition or in squeeze treatments. Polyphosphate inhibitors appear to be one of the few types available in a solid form that can be combined with a hydraulic stimulation treatment. A solid inhibitor that can be applied in conjunction with a fracturing treatment allows two treatments to be combined, saving the operator time and possibly expense.

The objective of this paper is to describe our work in developing and testing a solid scale inhibitor for use in fracturing treatments for wells with BHSTs up to 225 F. Several inhibitors were screened before three candidates were chosen. These three inhibitors were tested to determine (1) their effectiveness to inhibit commonly occurring oilfield scales and (2) their release-rate profiles in continuous flow-release experiments.

A mathematical model was used to describe the release-rate profiles and to

predict the long-term behavior. Compatibility testing showed that solid derivatives of these inhibitors interfered with metal-crosslinked fracturing fluids. To abate this interference, a semipermeable membrane was used to coat the solid derivatives. The following data is presented for the solid derivative chosen for field testing:

- effect of the coating on a release-rate profile

- effect of brine strength on a release-rate profile

- minimum effective dosage of inhibitor required to inhibit scale formation for calcite, gypsum, and barite scales

Results for one field trial are reported and compared to the mathematical model.


Equipment. The test system used to determine the release rate of inhibitors is

shown in Fig. 1. The system consists of an isolated reservoir of brine that supplies the test column. The reservoir is made from Ampcoloy , and all tubing

in the system consists of stainless steel or nylon tubing. Several 12-in. columns

of 0.75-in. OD stainless tubing were used for testing. Nitrogen was used to maintain the system pressure at approximately 200 psi.