Economic conditions in the gas and oil industry have necessitated not only reductions in manpower and capital expenditure but also optimization of existing facilities. The approach that appears to offer the most viability for satisfying these needs is system automation. For this reason, technology in gas lift operation has directed its attention toward the development of modular systems that can automate operations at each wellhead and platform. Intelligent controllers can be used 1) with centralized master station direction or 2) as stand-alone products for automating immediate response to preset conditional parameters. In addition to reducing manpower requirements, intelligent controllers will further enhance gas lift operation by helping to increase the efficiency of continuous- flow gas lift operations. In addition, they can be used to automate load shedding that results from lift gas fluctuations. With automated systems, operators can now set up field-wide programs that provide optimum use of available lift gas with minimal manpower; this supports the operational direction encouraged by the economic climate of today's oilfield.

Production rates increase when normal gas lift flow rate set-point control is maintained at each well. In the optimization system described in this paper, the set point changes can be manually entered at the wellhead controller or from a central master station.

The local controllers, in addition to receiving set points from the master station, can intelligently change flow-rate set points in cases in which the line pressure is reduced. Orderly startup and shutdown functions control each gas lift well. These special functions, particular to operating gas lift wells, are designed to preserve the integrity of the downhole equipment. Additional advantages are realized from the more efficient usage of the lift gas and the immediate indication of problems that occur in standard production process equipment.

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