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Method and system for monitoring the incursion of particulate material into a well casing within hydrocarbon bearing formations including gas hydrates

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Method and system for monitoring the incursion of particulate material into a well casing within hydrocarbon bearing formations including gas hydrates

A method and system for monitoring any incursion of particulate matter from a gas hydrate formation into a well casing used for the production of the gas hydrate and determining the degree of incursion of particulate material within the distal end of the well casing.
Related Terms: Hydrocarbon

Browse recent Schlumberger Technology Corporation patents - Sugar Land, TX, US
USPTO Applicaton #: #20140196885 - Class: 166105 (USPTO) -
Wells > With Eduction Pump Or Plunger

Inventors: Shunetsu Onodera, Hitoshi Sugiyama, Brian W. Cho, Ahmed Al-jubori, Masafumi Fukuhara

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The Patent Description & Claims data below is from USPTO Patent Application 20140196885, Method and system for monitoring the incursion of particulate material into a well casing within hydrocarbon bearing formations including gas hydrates.

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This application is a divisional application of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 13/018325, filed Jan. 31, 2011, which is a division divisional of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/612,494, filed Dec. 19, 2006, which claims the benefit under 35 U.S.C. §119(e) of applicants\' U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/752,118 entitled “Systems and Method for Development of Hydrocarbon Bearing Formations,” filed Dec. 20, 2005, the entire disclosure of this Provisional Application is hereby incorporated by reference as though set forth at length.


This invention is generally related to a method and system for monitoring the incursion of particulate matter into a well casing that is designed for recovering hydrocarbons from subterranean formations. In one useful aspect this invention relates to a method and system for detecting and measuring the buildup or accumulation of sand within a well casing operable for producing methane gas from gas hydrate formations

A gas hydrate is a crystalline solid that is a cage-like lattice of a mechanical intermingling of gas molecules in combination with molecules of water. The name for the parent class of compounds is “clathrates” which comes from the Latin word meaning “to enclose with bars.” The structure is similar to ice but exists at temperatures well above the freezing point of ice. Gas hydrates include carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and several low carbon number hydrocarbons, including methane. One aspect of this invention is the recovery of methane from subterranean methane hydrates.

Methane hydrates are known to exist in large quantities in two types of geologic formations: (1) in permafrost regions where cold temperatures exist in shallow sediments and (2) beneath the ocean floor at water depths greater than 500 meters where high pressures prevail. Large deposits of methane hydrates have been located in the United States in Alaska, the west coast from California to Washington, the east coast in water depths of 800 meters, and in the Gulf of Mexico (other well known areas include, Japan, Canada and Russia).

A U.S. Geological Survey study estimates that in-place gas resources within gas hydrates consist of about 200,000 trillion cubic feet which dwarfs the previously estimated 1,400 trillion cubic feet of conventional recoverable gas reserves in the United States. Worldwide, estimates of the natural gas potential of gas hydrates approach 400 million trillion cubic feet.

Natural gas is an important energy source in the United States. It is estimated that by 2025 natural gas consumption in the United States will be nearly 31 trillion cubic feet. Given the importance and demand for natural gas the development of new cost-effective sources can be a significant benefit for American consumers.

Notwithstanding the obvious advantages and potential of methane hydrates, production of methane from gas hydrates is a challenge for the industry. When trying to extract methane from a gas hydrate the sequestered gas molecules must first be dissociated, in situ, from the hydrate. There are typically three methods known that can be used to create this dissociation.

One method is to heat the gas hydrate formation to liberate the methane molecules. This method is disclosed in United States Patent Application Publication No. US 2006/0032637 entitled “Method for Exploitation of Gas Hydrates” published on Feb. 16, 2006, and of common assignment with the subject application. The disclosure of this publication is incorporated herein by reference as background information with respect to the subject invention.

Another method envisioned for producing methane hydrates is to inject chemicals into the hydrate formation to change the phase behavior of the formation.

A third technique, which is one aspect of the instant invention, is regarded as a depressurization method. This method involves depressurization of a gas hydrate formation and maintaining a relatively constant depressurization on the hydrate formation to allow dissociation and then withdrawing dissociated gas and water through a well casing.

In all of the above mentioned techniques a well casing is used to bring gas and fluids to the surface for separation and processing. Sanding at the distal end of the well casing in methane hydrate production, as well as in conventional oil and gas recovery, will often cause a critical problem. In this, sand can damage completion equipment and in a worst case scenario stop production. Therefore it would be highly desirable to provide a method and system which would be capable of estimating the movement of the sand-fluid interface position within the well casing.



There are four concepts envisioned in the subject disclosure for addressing sanding within a production casing.

One envisioned method and system comprises installation of two pressure sensors, below a submergible pump at the bottom or distal end of a well casing. By measuring the pressure noise variance between the two pressure sensors, such as phase shift or amplitude change, the height of sand entrapped within a well casing can be estimated.

Another method and system utilizes a continuous thermal characteristics measurement device, such as a distributed temperature sensing system (Hot-DTS). This unit may be installed, for example, below the completion string. By measuring the temperature or thermal characteristics of the surrounding material with the temperature sensing device the position of the sand-fluid interface may be estimated.

Further, an acoustic transmitter and receiver may be installed at, for example, the bottom of the completion string. By observing the waveform of the sound generated and received, the distance between the transmitter/receiver and the sand-fluid interface may be estimated.

Still further a vibrator and vibrating bar may be installed, for example, below the completion string. By observing the vibration mode of the bar, the position of the sand-fluid interface may be estimated.


Other features and aspects of the disclosure will become apparent from the following detailed description of some embodiments taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings wherein:

FIG. 1 is a pictorial view of one context or geological region of permafrost in Alaska where gas hydrates are know to exist;

FIG. 2 is a pictorial view of another context or geological region of gas hydrates beneath offshore regions of the United States in water greater than 500 meters;

FIG. 3 is a schematic representation of one technique for producing a methane hydrate that includes a depressurization production system including maintaining a desired level of pressure within a well including returning water into the well from a surface valve system;

FIG. 4 is a schematic representation of one embodiment of the invention that includes two pressure sensors and the use of pressure noise variance between the two sensors to estimate the height of sand within the distal end of a well casing;

FIG. 5 is a schematic representation of another embodiment of the invention that discloses a distributed temperature sensing system for estimating the sand-fluid interface within a well casing;

FIG. 6 is a schematic representation of yet another embodiment of the invention that includes an acoustic transmitter and receiver pair at the bottom of a completion string; and

FIG. 7 is yet another embodiment and discloses a vibrator and vibrating bar installed below the completion string.


Turning now to the drawings wherein like numerals indicate like parts, FIG. 1 discloses a pictorial representation of one operating context of the invention. In this view a band of gas hydrate 10 lies in a rather shallow geologic zone beneath a permafrost layer 12 such as exists in Alaska. Other earth formations 14 and/or aquifer regions 16 can exist beneath the gas hydrate.

In order to recover sequestered methane gas from within the gas hydrate zone one or more wells 18, 20 and/or 22 are drilled through the permafrost 12 and into the gas hydrate zone 10. Usually a casing is cemented within the well and one or more windows are opened directly into the hydrate zone to depressurize irregular regions of the gas hydrate represented by irregular production zones 24, 26, 28 and 30 extending away from distal terminals of the wells. Although a single well is shown drilled from a single derrick illustrated at 18 and 22 it is envisioned that directional drilling as illustrated at derrick 20 and zone 30 will be a more common practice to extend the scope of a drilling operation.

Once one or more wells are drilled, pressure is relieved from the gas hydrate zone around the well and the methane gas and water molecules will separate and enter the wells. The gas can then be separated from the water and allowed to rise to the surface or is pumped to the surface along with water and separated and fed along a pipeline 32 to a compressor station not shown.

An alternative operating context of the invention is illustrated in FIG. 2 where a drillship 40 is shown floating upon the surface 42 of a body of water 44 such the Gulf of Mexico. In this marine environment, pressures in water depths approximately greater that 500 meters have been conducive to the formation again of geologic layers of gas hydrates 46, such as methane hydrates, beneath the seabed 48.

Offshore drilling in water depths of 500 meters or more is now technically possible so that drilling into the offshore gas hydrate formations 46 and cementing a casing into a well hole offshore to form a production strata 50 is another source of production of methane from a gas hydrate formation. Again, directional drilling from a subsea template enables fifty or more wells to be drilled from a single drillship location.

Turning now to FIG. 3, there will be seen one method and system in accordance with one embodiment of the invention. In this, a well hole 60 is drilled through an earth formation 62 and into a previously identified geologic layer of methane hydrate 64. A casing 66 is positioned within the well and cemented around the outer annulus for production. At a selected depth, which may be relatively shallow for drilling through permafrost or deep if offshore, the casing is perforated by one or more windows 68 which establish open communication between the interior of the well casing and a zone of methane hydrate under pressure. This opening of the well casing will relieve pressure on the surrounding methane hydrate and will enable previously sequestered methane gas to dissociate from the lattice structure of water molecules to form a physical mixture of gas and water. The gas and water 70 will then flow into the well casing 66 and rise to a level 72 within the casing consistent with a desired level of pressure within the well casing. In other words, the submersible pump pumps water out of the well creating a lower hydrostatic pressure on the hydrate to dissociate. Once the hydrate dissociates, the water and gas will flow into the wellbore raising the water level which lowers the drawdown pressure which then tends to prevent further dissociation. This is a self limiting process thus the submersible pump is used to pump out the water within the well casing to lower the water level and to maintain the drawdown pressure necessary for continuous dissociation. The pump creates the drawdown pressure. An automated feedback loop maintains a constant drawdown pressure by re-circulating some amount of produced water.

In order to recover methane gas from the mixture, the gas and water mixture is pumped to the surface by an electro submersible pump (ESP) 74 connected to the distal end of a first conduit 76 extending into the well casing 66.

Some downhole pumps require a minimum amount of flow rate to stabilize pump performance, such as an ESP. Some hydrocarbon reservoirs do not have enough production flow, such as in methane hydrate production wells, to efficiently use a full production ESP. Methane hydrate production flow depends on not only formation permeability, but also on the rate or volume of hydrate dissociation. Accordingly, production rate may change from time to time which may require the pump size to be changed. The present invention endeavors to provide methods and systems that generate the minimum flow rate of fluids for the pump by a flow back loop that may be used to return pumped out fluid back into the well casing to be recycled. In this, it is possible to handle a wide range of production rates with only one large capacity downhole pump.

At the surface the gas and water mixture passes through a conventional gas and water separator 78 where methane gas is separated, monitored and delivered to a pipe 80 for collection by a compressor unit. Downstream of the separator/monitor 78 is a valve 82 to control the flow of water out of the system. Prior to reaching valve 82 a branch or second conduit 84 is joined into the first conduit and extends back into the well casing 66. This enables water from the well that has been separated from the mixture at 78 to be reintroduced back into the well casing to maintain at least a minimum level of water 72 within the well casing for efficient operation of the ESP 74.

Control of the volume of water reintroduced into the well casing is provided by a choke valve 86 that is positioned within the second conduit 84 as illustrated in FIG. 3. The position of the choke valve can be regulated by a control line running from the intake of the ESP to the choke valve 86. This enables the system to maintain a constant pressure within the well casing 66 by controlling the volume of water reintroduced into the system.

Depending upon the pressure within the well casing there may be a tendency for the gas and water mixture to solidify within the well casing 66, ESP 74 or first conduit 76. The temperature of water returning to the well casing can be regulated by a temperature control unit 90 connected to the return water or second conduit 84 to minimize this issue.

In addition to collecting methane gas from the separator 78 methane gas is drawn directly from the top of the well casing by a third conduit 92 that passes through a gas production monitor 94 which also delivers gas to a compressor storage system.

Depending on the downhole well casing pressure and the pressure within the ESP 74 the gas and water mixture 70 may tend to re-solidify during a pumping operation within the ESP intake (thus upstream of the ESP), within the ESP 74 itself or downstream of the ESP within the first conduit 76. In order to minimize this tendency a fourth conduit 96 is extended within the casing 66 and is operable to feed a chemical, such as methanol, upstream of the ESP 74, directly into the ESP or downstream of the ESP to minimize reformation of methane hydrate within the system.

In producing methane from a gas hydrate, or other hydrocarbon production such as conventional natural gas or oil reserves, the production hydrocarbon flows from a subterranean formation and into a production well casing to be pumped to the surface for processing.

In such operations particulate material such as sand entrained within hydrocarbon fluid streams can enter access windows in the well casing along with the hydrocarbon for production and settle to the bottom of the well casing. As the volume of sand collects within the casing, efficiency of the production may be compromised, and, accordingly sand management within a production program is at least desirable and sometimes critical to efficient production.

One embodiment of the disclosure for monitoring sand build-up is disclosed in FIG. 4. In this embodiment a well casing 100 is shown cemented within a well drilled into a gas hydrate production zone 102. The casing is fashioned with production windows 104 that are cut or blown through the side wall of the casing to permit ambient hydrocarbons, such as for example dissociated methane gas and water, to enter the well casing.

Sometimes entrained with incoming pressurized hydrocarbons and water is particulate matter such as sand 106. This relatively heavy sand tends to fall by gravity into a lowest portion of the well casing as illustrated in FIG. 4. Depending on the volume of sand that accumulates the sand-fluid interface 108 may reach the level of the well casing windows 104 and at least partially occlude the window openings and thus impair the efficiency of the hydrocarbon recovery.

Although techniques are know to prevent sand from entering the well casing system, over time particulate material can accumulate within the casing. In certain instances it has been desirable to allow sand to enter the casing to enable the sanding tendency in new formations. However, since there is production equipment that can be damaged by sand, as well as decreasing well efficiency, sand production needs to be detected and the level of sand accumulation determined to enable an operator to take preemptive management before the level of sand becomes problematic.

In the FIG. 4 embodiment, a first pressure sensor 110 is positioned at the bottom of a submersible pump 112 and a second pressure sensor or gauge 114 is positioned near the distal end of the well casing. Accordingly, downhole pressure at the submerged pump level and at near the distal end of the well casing is monitored.

In this pressure variance monitoring system of FIG. 4, a ripple, i.e., noise, is generated in the pressure readings. If the pressure reading is stable, the motor speed of the pump 112 is controlled to generate noise in the pressure reading. The sand layer 106 may be considered as a pressure filter, and the pressure response at the bottom sensor 114 is a function of the sand column height Ha when the well casing is vertical. Alternatively, for lateral drilling operations the accumulation of sand and a fluid-sand interface can be at an angle with respect to a vertical orientation The sand column accumulation Ha may be estimated by analyzing the noise waveform variation, such as phase shift or amplitude variation.

Turning now to FIG. 5, a second embodiment of the disclosure is disclosed. In this embodiment, a well casing 120 is shown cemented into a borehole drilled into a hydrocarbon production zone such as a gas hydrate 122. Production windows 124 are cut into the casing to allow the flow of hydrocarbons into the well casing for recovery. As noted above sand 126 can also enter the well casing and collect by gravity at a lowermost location of the casing 120.

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