Thermodynamic steam trap, or sub-cool control, in a typical SAGD production is essential to the stability and longevity of the operation. It is commonly achieved through the control of fluid production. The goal of such control is to maintain a steady and healthy liquid production without allowing bypassing of steam from the injector to the producer. Therefore, it is effectively a control of the liquid level above the producer. Unfortunately, it is not practical to monitor this liquid level. A rule of thumb sub-cool estimation of 10°C/m of liquid level is popularized in the industry, however, does not prove to hold in many situations.

This paper presents a study of the dynamics of SAGD production control with a resulting algebraic equation that relates sub-cool, fluid productivity and wellbore draw down to the liquid level above a producer. The main conclusions of this study include:

  • There is no minimum sub-cool value for a pure gravity drainage scenario; however, as the wellbore draw down is considered there is minimum sub-cool value in order to maintain the stability of fluid flow.

  • For a given productivity, the liquid level increases as sub-cool increases or as wellbore draw down decreases.

  • For each set of parameters, there exists a minimum productivity below which SAGD operation would halt.

  • Before the steam chamber reaches the top of the reservoir, the production rate is limited by the vertical distance between the injector and the producer, the larger the distance the higher the production rate can be.

A verification of this analysis was conducted via a series of numerical reservoir simulations. Although limited to 2D, we believe this analysis captures the main physics amid the dynamic complexity of SAGD production control. The resulting algebraic equation can be used for better understanding the dynamics of sub-cool control and determining operation strategies.

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