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Quantification of Factors

Affecting Emulsion Stability


In a large Saudi Arabian field, water- the shutdown of processing equip- crude oils, and solids on emulsion sta-
/oil-emulsion problems increased dra- ment in the GOSP. Usually, the prob- bility. The primary focus of the study
matically during the 1990’s. Water- lem is worse during the winter’s low was to analyze emulsion stabilizers
/oil-separation problems increased ambient temperatures. and provide recommendations for
incidents of shorting in the separator, Problems in the Berri field are caused cost-effective treatment of emulsions
tripping of equipment, and increased by increased water production and (optimize demulsifier costs and pre-
demulsifier usage. In a comprehen- demulsifier costs, lower temperatures vent GOSP upsets).
sive study, watercut, temperature, in the winter, and poor-quality oil and
shear, asphaltene content, demulsifi- water leaving the GOSP. Producing Experiments
er dosage, and mixing of different from seven reservoirs, viscosities range Several sets of laboratory emulsion
crude oils were quantified with a new from 2 to more than 10 cp (at 72ºF) experiments were conducted. The first
water-/oil-separation index developed and oil gravities range from 28 to set involved characterizations of well-
to measure emulsion stability. The 40°API. The n-pentane asphaltene con- head emulsion samples. The second
results showed a strong correlation of tent varies from 0.2 to more than 7% set was conducted to characterize
asphaltene content in the crude oil and water cut for producing wells Berri oils by use of SARA analysis. A
with the water-/oil-separation index, ranges from zero (dry wells) to more comprehensive third series of experi-

Production Operations
or emulsion tightness. than 70%. During an emulsion upset, ments investigated various factors and
the possibility exists of water carry- their influence on emulsion stability.
Introduction over to the dehydrator and desalter and The full-length paper details the
Crude oil is seldom produced alone. production of nonspecification crude experiments and results.
Often, it is commingled with water oil. Demulsifier use and equipment-
that creates many problems during oil upset frequency have increased during Conclusions
production. Formation water may be the last few years. A clear link between asphaltenes and
produced as free water (i.e., water that A major emulsion problem is relat- emulsion tightness was demonstrated.
settles out fairly rapidly) or in the form ed to the recent increase in water pro- The higher the amount of asphaltenes
of emulsions. An emulsion is a disper- duction. Fig. 2 shows water-cut data in the crude oil, the tighter the emul-
sion of water droplets in oil. Some since 1980 and anticipated increases sion. Asphaltenes have a stabilizing
emulsions are difficult to treat and to 2010. Water cuts have increased effect on emulsions, which causes
cause operational problems, such as from zero in 1980 to approximately very tight emulsions. All commercial
tripping of equipment in gas-/oil-sepa- 35% in 1996 and are anticipated to demulsifiers tested were able to
ration plants (GOSP’s) and large pres- increase further. Higher operating resolve and separate the emulsions.
sure drops in flow lines. These emul- costs result from increased demulsifi- Emulsion resolution was more com-
sions must be treated to remove dis- er use, with concentrations as high as plete and faster with increasing
persed water and associated inorganic 9 to 18 ppm because of frequent plant demulsifier concentrations.
salts to meet specifications for trans- instabilities. Demulsifier concentra- A cationic surfactant was found to
portation, storage, and export and to tion and, therefore, operating cost, be very effective in breaking emulsions
reduce corrosion and catalyst poison- drops during summer months, with compared with other demulsifiers.
ing in downstream processing. Fig. 1 higher fluid temperatures. The best results were observed when
shows a schematic of the GOSP. Work was initiated to investigate the cationic surfactant was used as an
Emulsion problems in GOSP’s causes of emulsion, with the follow- additive to the GOSP demulsifier. The
require an increased use of demulsifi- ing objectives. cationic surfactant acts as a wetting
er, can result in production of non- • Characterize emulsions from pro- agent and alters the wetting character-
specification crude oil, and can force ducing wells in terms of stability. istics of asphaltenes and solids, there-
• Characterize crude oil from differ- by enhancing demulsification.
This article is a synopsis of paper SPE ent reservoirs in terms of its emulsifi- Temperature has a strong effect on
56641, “Quantification of Various cation tendencies. emulsion stability. Emulsion tightness
Factors Affecting Emulsion Stability: • Find root causes of emulsion for- increases with decreasing temperature.
Water Cut, Temperature, Shear, Asphal- mation and provide recommendations Therefore, emulsion problems and
tene Content, Demulsifier Dosage, and for effective mitigation. demulsifier consumption should
Mixing Different Crudes,” Sunil Characterize emulsions according increase during winter months.
Kokal, SPE, and Jamal Al-Juraid, to basic sediment and water; satu- Shearing has undesirable effects on
Saudi Aramco, originally presented at rates/aromatics/resins/asphaltenes emulsion stability. Keeping all other
the 1999 SPE Annual Technical (SARA) analysis; and the effects of factors constant, an increase in shear
Conference and Exhibition, Houston, demulsifiers, additives, temperature, (e.g., choking a well) results in a
3–6 October. shear, water cut, mixing of different tighter emulsion. High shear results in

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MARCH 2000
Production Operations

Fig. 1—Schematic of Berri GOSP’s. HPPT=high-pressure production trap, IPPT=intermediate-pressure production trap,
WOSEP=water/oil separator, and LP=low pressure.

smaller-sized water droplets that are emulsion problems are likely to 2 years to find the most-cost-
more difficult to separate. As a result, increase. Inorganic scales (calcium car- effective demulsifier.
emulsion viscosity decreases with bonate) were observed in the emul- • Shear effects on emulsions should
increasing shear. sions, which suggests that scales are be minimized by reducing excessive
Generally, high-water-cut wells show key in emulsion stabilization. choking, thereby reducing turbulence
relatively looser emulsions with and mixing.
increasing water cuts [i.e., emulsion Recommendations • Because asphaltenes stabilize emul-
stability decreases (but not significant- • Field optimization of demulsifier sions, mixing of asphaltenic oil with
ly)]. Mixing asphaltenic oils with other injection should be an ongoing task as other oils will create emulsion prob-
crude oils increases emulsion stability. conditions change over time. The lems. If mixing is inevitable, appropri-
As the percentage of asphaltenic oil authors recommend bottle and field ate steps for breaking the tight emul-
increases in the Berri field production, testing of new demulsifiers every 1 to sions should be considered.
• Asphaltene precipitation should be
avoided because it causes tight (sta-
ble) emulsions.
• Fine solids can stabilize emulsions.
Therefore, efforts should be made to
reduce solids contamination during
production. These solids include
asphaltenes, inorganic scales, and corro-
sion products. For asphaltenes, a cation-
ic surfactant can be added to demulsi-
fiers. For inorganic scales, all wet wells
should be treated with a scale inhibitor.
For corrosion products, corrosion
inhibitor should be added. Scraping of
production lines, the current practice,
should continue. JPT

Please read the full-length paper for


additional detail, illustrations, and ref-
erences. The paper from which the syn-
Fig. 2—Past and anticipated water cut in the Berri field. opsis has been taken has not been
peer reviewed.

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MARCH 2000