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Wellhead maintenance: safeguarding against the unknown

Corrosion & Erosion – Wellhead and tree components are continually subjected to corrosion and erosion – whether it is via the external environment with onshore wellheads being sand blasted by wind and offshore surface wellheads sitting in a corrosive salt-water atmosphere, or via the internal environment with hydrocarbons eroding the internal casing/tubing strings over a period of time. The gradual thinning of the metalwork caused by these corrosive environments will eventually lead to cracks or holes, through which hydrocarbons or gas will leak, causing contamination and further speeding up the deterioration of the wellhead materials.

Whilst it is difficult to determine the structural integrity of the casing strings at any given time, regular pressure monitoring of the well bore and casing annuli makes it possible to identify trends in flow characteristics. Changes in pressure over time could mean a transfer of fluids between annuli and therefore a possible breach. In extreme cases it is possible for the hydrocarbons to breach the outermost casing, in which case immediate action is required to locate the point of breach and patch/repair as necessary prior to locating the leak path from the inner tubing and securing the wellhead structural integrity. This has further complications for onshore wells where for near-surface breaches excavation is required to locate the leak origin. However, if the breach is deep inside the well the only option to the operator is to conduct a full workover.

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