Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Oil and Condensate Removal

In order to process and transport associated dissolved natural gas, it must be separated from the oil in which it is dissolved. This separation of natural gas from oil is most often done using equipment installed at or near the wellhead.
The actual process used to separate oil from natural gas, as well as the equipment that is used, can vary widely. Although dry pipeline quality natural gas is virtually identical across different geographic areas, raw natural gas from different regions may have different compositions and separation requirements. In many instances, natural gas is dissolved in oil underground primarily due to the pressure that the formation is under. When this natural gas and oil is produced, it is possible that it will separate on its own, simply due to decreased pressure; much like opening a can of soda pop allows the release of dissolved carbon dioxide. In these cases, separation of oil and gas is relatively easy, and the two hydrocarbons are sent separate ways for further processing. The most basic type of separator is known as a conventional separator. It consists of a simple closed tank, where the force of gravity serves to separate the heavier liquids like oil, and the lighter gases, like natural gas.
In certain instances, however, specialized equipment is necessary to separate oil and natural gas. An example of this type of equipment is the Low-Temperature Separator (LTX). This is most often used for wells producing high pressure gas along with light crude oil or condensate. These separators use pressure differentials to cool the wet natural gas and separate the oil and condensate. Wet gas enters the separator, being cooled slightly by a heat exchanger. The gas then travels through a high pressure liquid 'knockout', which serves to remove any liquids into a low-temperature separator. The gas then flows into this low-temperature separator through a choke mechanism, which expands the gas as it enters the separator. This rapid expansion of the gas allows for the lowering of the temperature in the separator. After liquid removal, the dry gas then travels back through the heat exchanger and is warmed by the incoming wet gas. By varying the pressure of the gas in various sections of the separator, it is possible to vary the temperature, which causes the oil and some water to be condensed out of the wet gas stream. This basic pressure-temperature relationship can work in reverse as well, to extract gas from a liquid oil stream.

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