Flow assurance involves a cost-effective approach to produce and transport fluids from the reservoir to a processing facility. During production and transportation of crude oil, knowledge of fluid properties and operating conditions is critical to preventing formation and deposition of undesired solids (e.g. hydrates, wax, asphaltenes, and scales). In cases of extreme temperatures and pressures, it is possible that methane gas hydrates crystallize or asphaltenes precipitate in the pipeline. If not properly controlled, the hydrate crystals, asphaltene, or wax particles may precipitate and agglomerate to the point of plugging the pipeline. Removal of a hydrate or asphaltene plug in a subsea pipeline can be very expensive and dangerous.
Flow assurance challenges are further mounting due to the transition from conventional oil reserves to mature oil fields. As oil fields mature, water fraction increases. In some cases, operators inject water in mature oil fields to enhance oil recovery. Water-in-crude-oil emulsions further complicate flow assurance strategies. The presence of formation or injection water along with calcium carbonate can lead to scaling under certain conditions. Calcium carbonate scaling can block the pipeline and foul production equipment further making mature oil fields less profitable. Most of the commercially available hydrate inhibitors anti-agglomerants become less effective as water cut increases. Eventually the emulsion needs to be broken to separate oil and water. Breaking emulsions via physical or chemical methods can be very costly, especially for heavy oil emulsions that contain emulsion-stabilizing solids such as asphaltenes.
Therefore, it is critical to study and develop cost-effective flow assurance strategies to take control of solids and emulsions to minimize economic risks over the life of an oil field.