New ESR sensor may permit online hydrate monitoring

A tough new sensor that can detect hydrates and other substances in real time shows promise for monitoring offshore reservoirs and flowlines, industry sources say.

Offshore staff

HOUSTON -- A tough new sensor that can detect hydrates and other substances in real time shows promise for monitoring offshore reservoirs and flowlines, industry sources say.

Active Spectrum, Inc.'s Micro-ESR sensor is already used to monitor lubricant condition in real time for heavy industry, reducing the need for manual sampling and off-line analysis. The tiny sensor is not much bigger than a hockey puck, and has been proven reliable in harsh conditions typical of industrial applications.

Company president James R. White says the technology can also be applied to the offshore oil and gas industry, where high-pressure, high temperature (HPHT) environments have made real-time sensing in the well a challenge.

The sensor employs electron spin resonance (ESR) technology to measure quantities of potentially worrisome substances in oilfields and flow lines. The ESR technique employs low power (30 Watts) solid state electronics to measure the type and concentration of highly reactive free radicals in a sample.

Hydrates tend to freeze and form solid blocks when exposed to colder temperatures typical of ultra-deep water production. Used in real time, an ESR monitoring system would make it possible to detect the formations and, ideally, to permit early intervention before a problem arises.

Moreover, the sensor is very precise and allows unambiguous results.

"I think it is very significant, especially given the presence of hydrates in the Gulf of Mexico, for example," says John Barratt, president of the Oil & Gas Innovation Center, who organized an event in October where the technology was presented to engineers and strategists within the petroleum industry.

Another application for the offshore industry is to detect asphaltenes, which are present in many types of crude oil and can pose similar flow problems. In this case, the sensor could be installed downhole for real-time monitoring.

There is also interest by refiners for the technology, as it can sense the presence of metals such as vanadium.

"The ultimate goal is to go on-line where you could have constant monitoring down the reservoir or in pipelines," White tellsOffshore.

While a system has yet to be developed to allow real-time monitoring in oilfield applications, a number of companies are already speaking with Active Spectrum to find ways to apply the sensor.

11/13/2008

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