• Experimental investigation of polymer induced fouling of heater tubes in the first-ever polymer flood pilot on Alaska North Slope

      Dhaliwal, Anshul; Dandekar, Abhijit; Zhang, Yin; Goering, Douglas J. (2021-08)
      Mineral fouling in heat exchangers has been extensively investigated by researchers in recent times. The oil and gas industry has a long history of fouling issues in production systems as a result of produced fluids treatment. Due to decline in production rates in oilfields new technologies are being developed and field tested in pilots. Polymer flooding is one such technology that involves addition of polymers to injection fluids to enhance oil production. A polymer flood pilot has been set up in the Schrader Bluff viscous oil reservoir at Milne Point field on the Alaska North Slope (ANS). The results from the pilot are encouraging, however a major concern of the operator is the influence of polymer on the production system after breakthrough, especially the fouling in heat exchangers. This study investigates the propensity of polymer fouling on the heater tubes as a function of different variables, with the ultimate goal of determining safe and efficient operating conditions. This work applies a multi-experimental approach to study the severity of polymer-induced fouling in both dynamic and static states of produced fluids as well as studying the stability of polymer solutions at different temperatures. A unique experimental setup was designed and developed in-house to simulate the fouling process on the heating tube. The influence of heating tube skin temperature, tube material, and polymer concentration on fouling tendency was investigated. Each test was run five times with the same tube, and in each run, the freshly prepared synthetic brine and polymer solution was heated from 77°F to 122°F to mimic field-operating conditions. The heating time and fouling amount were recorded for each run. Dynamic Scale Loop (DSL) tests were conducted to study fouling due to polymer at different temperatures (165°F to 350°F) in a dynamic state of fluid flow where the fluids mimic the residence time of fluids in the heat exchanger on the field pilot. Cloud point measurement has also been conducted to find the critical temperature at which the polymer in solution becomes unstable and precipitates out. The morphology and composition of the deposit samples were analyzed by environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM) and X-ray diffraction (XRD), respectively. It was found that the presence of polymer in produced fluids would aggravate the fouling issues on both carbon steel and stainless-steel surfaces at all tested skin temperatures. Only higher skin temperatures of 250°F and 350°F could cause polymer-induced fouling issues on the copper tube surface, and the fouling tendency increased with polymer concentration. At the lower skin temperatures of 165°F, no polymer-induced fouling was identified on the copper tube. A critical temperature that is related to the cloud point of the polymer solution was believed to exist, below which polymer-induced fouling would not occur, and only mineral scale was deposited but above which the polymer would aggravate the fouling issue. The cloud point of the tested polymer solution was determined to be between 220°F and 230°F. In the DSL tests it was found that at higher skin temperatures of 250°F and 350°F tube blocking was observed in the DSL tests whereas the tests at 165°F and 200°F did not show any tube blocking in the same time period. These experiments also manifested the influence of cloud point of the solution as deposit rate increased significantly in both carbon steel and stainless-steel tubes when the skin temperature was higher than the solution cloud point. The results of this study have provided guidance to the operator for the field-operations.