Project Information

Upstream Ultrasonic Processing for Small Producers: Preventative Maintenance for Paraffin Management in Production Tubing Using Non-Invasive Ultrasonic Technology


Primary Performer
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Richland, WA)

Additional Participants
Falcon Exploration (Wichita, KS)
Baker Hughes (Houston, TX)


Project Objective
The objective of this two-year research and development project is to demonstrate cost savings for small producers associated with adopting preventative maintenance, in lieu of constant remedial maintenance, for oil well production tubes that suffer from frequent paraffin wax plugging. Such production tubes currently require costly wax removal using mechanical methods or injections of hot oil, hot water, steam or chemicals to melt or dissolve the paraffin wax deposits. None of these remedial methods are permanent solutions or preventative measures and repeat treatment is required on a regular basis once a well develops a paraffin problem.

Project Description
Maintaining the temperature of paraffinic crude oil above the wax appearance temperature (a.k.a. cloud point) is an effective method for preventing paraffin wax deposits in production tubing. Downhole resistive heating systems (trace heating) are commercially available to achieve this; however, resistive heating systems expend significant energy heating the production tube and surrounding metal surfaces first and the oil within the production tube last. PNNL has developed and tested a non-invasive ultrasonic liquid processing technology that is installed around the outside of production tubing and takes advantage of the inherent ultrasound-absorptive properties of oil to preferentially heat the oil first, and then the production tubing through thermal equilibration. The ultrasonic technology has the potential to be less costly and more energy efficient than trace heating systems. The goal of this project is to model and test the PNNL ultrasonic system and compare the capital and operating costs with those associated with remedial methods (e.g. hot oil treatments) as well as downhole resistive heating methods. Development and testing of an engineering test unit (prototype) will be performed in an oil well owned by a small producer upon demonstration of cost savings via a preliminary economic analysis based on published data and lab testing.

Potential Impact of the Project
The information generated can be used by small producers in their decisions to adopt preventative maintenance in lieu of constant remedial maintenance for paraffin wax management. The ultrasonic technology may provide small producers with an affordable solution that can result in cost savings and extend the lives of wells producing paraffinic crude oil.

Principal Investigators: Kayte Denslow, Aaron Diaz, Matthew Taubman, Theresa Bergsman and Anne Fix

Project Cost:
DOE share: $752,500
Recipient share: $188,000

Project Duration: 2 years