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An existing compressor, a high-pressure separator or gas from outside sources may provide sufficient pressure for gas injection. If not, then the system design will have to be based on the surface pressure that is available, or additional compression capabilities will have to be built into the system.

LOCATION AND DESIGN OF THE OPERATING VALVE


In a tubing installation, lift gas from the surface enters the production tubing through the operating valve. The operating valve is placed such that the gas injection pressure at the valve depth, minus the pressure differential across the valve, is equal to the flowing production pressure at that depth. Depending on the gas lift GLR, we can place the operating valve at any of several depths. It requires less compression horsepower to inject gas at a high pressure and low rate than it does to inject it at a low pressure and high rate. Thus, a gas lift design operating at a low GLR requires a higher operating pressure and a lower compression horsepower. By selecting the lowest operating GLR, we can minimize the horsepower and gas volume requirements for a given production rate. If the available gas volumes or injection pressures are limited, that limitation should be considered in the design. If, on the other hand, we are constrained only by the physical limit GLR, then our design recommendations will be governed by the above guidelines and by the economics of gas injection. The design of the operating valve depends on the type of operation and any anticipated fluctuation in flow rate, producing GLR and water cut. To provide a constant GLR when there are varying production rates, the operating valve should exhibit the gas throughput characteristics of a throttling valve. The capability to adjust the valve through wireline operations allows modification of the design to accommodate changing conditions. Tubing diameters should be specified to give the lowest operating GLR for the target production rate. This will minimize horsepower requirements, surface operating pressure, and the volume of injected gas.

System Design Example


Consider a well for which we want to establish a production rate of 600 B/D, and for which we have the following information:

Depth: 5600 ft to midpoint of perforations (MPP) Average reservoir pressure = 1750 psi at MPP Target production rate = 600 B/D (32 API oil; 20% water cut) Formation (current) GLR = 180 SCF/Bbl Pwf required for target rate = 914 psi, based on IPR analysis Average reservoir temperature = 147 F Average surface temperature = 65 F Tubing size: 2 3/8 inch OD Required tubing head pressure: 100 psi Assume a pressure differential of 100 psi across the operating valve

DESIGN OBJECTIVE
We want to incorporate this well into an existing gas lift system. The injection line pressure is 800 psi, and the injection pressure available at the wellhead will be 750 psi. Our goal at this stage of the design is to determine (1) the depth of the operating valve and

(2) the required gas injection volume. The operating valve should be placed to minimize the gas injection volumes and compression horsepower requirements. This means that we will want to inject at the maximum available pressure of 750 psi.

DESIGN PROCEDURE
The basic design procedure is adapted from Brown (1980, vol. 2a).

Pressure Traverse
Using an appropriate multi-phase vertical flow correlationin this case, a spreadsheet-generated model based on a modified Hagedorn-Brown correlation (Economides et. al, 1994) and starting at bottom with the 914 psi required to produce 600 B/D at a GLR of 180 SCF/Bbl, we establish the pressure traverse relationship for the current well conditions (Figure 3: Pressure traverse curve for example well, 600 B/D at 180 SCF/Bbl GLR).

Figure 3

In this well, the pressure in the tubing goes to zero before it reaches the surface. In other words, the well cannot produce at the desired rate of 600 B/D under natural flowing conditions. This well is a candidate for gas lift.

Gas Gradient and Operating Valve Depth


Using Equation 4 and the iterative procedure described above, we can generate the gas injection gradient in the casing-tubing annulus (Figure 4: Gas injection gradient for example well, surface injection pressure of 750 psi).

Figure 4

The depth at which the gas injection pressure is equal to the tubing pressure is referred to as the point of balance. It is represented graphically by the intersection of the pressure traverse curve and the gas injection gradient; in this example, the point of balance is at 5372 ft. To account for the 100 psi pressure differential across the operating valve, the valve needs to be set above the point of balance. The setting depth is represented graphically by the intersection of:

the tubing pressure traverse curve for GLR = 180 SCF/Bbl, and a line parallel to the gas gradient curve and separated by 100 psi.

The depth at which these intersect is 4940 ft (Figure 5: Determination of gas injection point for example well). This is the lowest depth at which we can place the operating valve.

Figure 5

Alternatively, we could determine the operating valve depth by generating pressure traverse curves for a set of gas lift GLRs ranging from just above the current 180 SCF/Bbl to the physical limit GLR. For each gas lift GLR, the point of injection would be the depth at which its pressure traverse intersected the curve for the current GLRin other words, where the tubing pressure above the injection point equals the tubing pressure below the injection point In this case, because our design objective is to minimize the gas injection volume and compressor horsepower requirements at a given injection pressure, we are using the gas injection gradient to define the location of the operating valve.

Gas Injection Rate


To determine the gas injection rate, we must find a GLR for which the pressure traverse fits these two endpoints:

The flowing bottomhole pressure at the injection point of 4940 ft The flowing tubing pressure of 100 psi.

Using a spreadsheet-based, trial-and-error calculation, we determine that the optimal GLR is 500 SCF/Bbl (Figure 6: Determination of optimal gas lift GLR for example well) . Thus, the GLR will be 500 SCF/Bbl above the injection point, and 180 SCF/Bbl below the injection point.

Figure 6

From Equation 2, we can now determine the gas injection rate as (qgas)inj = 0.001(500 -180)600 = 192 MCF/D Again, this gas lift installation could have been designed for a higher GLR and a lower injection pressure, in which case the operating valve would have been set at a shallower depth. Selecting a lower GLR, however, fits in with our stated design objective for an established gas injection pressure.

Production Rate Variations


The gas lift valve, located at the injection point, must have a large enough opening to handle the required gas volume at a casing-tubing pressure differential of 100 psi. But what would happen if the flow rate dropped from 600 B/D to 300 B/D? Assuming critical flow conditions, a fixed-size orifice valve would allow the same volume of injection gas to flow for each production rate. Therefore, the GLR at the 300 B/D rate would be too high, resulting in inefficient fluid production. Alternatively, if the production rate was to increase from 600 B/D to 900 B/Dfor example, following a successful well stimulation treatmentthe fixed-size orifice valve would be too small to deliver enough gas to the fluid column. When variable production rates are possible, a gas lift valve must be able to respond to these variations while delivering sufficient gas to provide a constant GLR. Where the inflow performance is expected to change over time, a throttling valve may be used to allow a proportional response to flow rate. If this type of valve is used, it should be dynamically performance-tested before installation, to ensure that that the desired gas flow rates at the various casing and tubing pressures will actually occur. The flow testing of valves is often carried out at the manufacturer's shop under simulated operating conditions. The throttling valve, however, does have certain disadvantages: