Paraffin and asphaltene problems can significantly reduce well profitability, causing troublesome operational issues, damaging formations, and decreasing production. Although often mentioned together, paraffin and asphaltene are distinctly different in their composition and behavior and different remediation solutions are required. In comparison, asphaltene deposition and removal is much more problematic than paraffin deposition and removal. The most common asphaltene removal techniques use xylene or xylene mixtures, which typically have limited effectiveness in addition to undesirable health, safety, and environmental characteristics.

This paper describes laboratory investigation of alternative solvent systems for removal of asphaltene deposits. Theoretical solvency parameter comparison based upon methods developed by Hildebrand and Hansen allowed solvents and cosolvents to be screened. The problem of formation wettability was addressed through the use of water-wetting surfactants. Finally, it was discovered that the primary solvent and cosolvent(s) could be dispersed in water yielding a water/aromatic solvent mixture that would not only effectively dissolve and disperse asphaltene, but also leave the formation in a water-wet state to delay production decline.

The new water-based asphaltene removal system was first applied in southern Europe in 2005. Since then, the system has been optimized for broader global operations whilst maintaining the favorable HS&E characteristics of the initial development. The system is unique as it provides a high-flashpoint water/solvent mixture with solvency power often greater than xylene and the additional benefit of leaving the formation strongly water-wet.

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