A laboratory methodology has been developed to better simulate calcium naphthenate formation and evaluate chemical inhibition measures. Detailed ongoing field experience data and related samples have been used in support of the lab rig design and protocols. Calcium Naphthenates are becoming more recognized as a major flow assurance issue. When occurring in the field operation, significant quantities (typically in tonnes per day) can be formed and the process operation, chemical controls and monitoring procedures are far from straightforward. The ability to accurately predict calcium naphthenate formation and/or replicate field production conditions in the laboratory has been fraught with difficulties. For example conventional "bottle" or "jar" test procedures suffer from severe limitations relating to poor pH control, inefficient mixing, non representative residence times coupled with relatively indirect assessments often indicating fluid compatibility issues rather than identification of naphthenate deposits.
Recent work examining both current calcium naphthenate problems in existing facilities and the technical requirement to predict the potential for naphthenate deposits in new fields has led to the design and validation of more appropriate laboratory test equipment. This includes new designs of novel dynamic flow systems and modified autoclave approaches which allow the formation of naphthenate deposits, stable emulsions and soap scales to be assessed directly under laboratory conditions using relatively small volumes of reservoir fluids. The designed equipment is shown to overcome the challenges previously associated with the assessment of calcium naphthenate issues, their mitigation and chemical treatment under laboratory conditions.
The ability to simulate naphthenate deposition represents a major step forward in our ability to understand the controlling parameters associated with these complex scales. This paper will describe the novel aspects associated with the laboratory flow rig and other test methods adopted, it will illustrate how the equipment design overcomes the limitations associated with more conventional tests and describe how the results are being used directly to assess the changing naphthenate challenge and its treatment which may be expected throughout a field's lifetime. The composition of solids collected from naphthenate formation tests in the flow rig under different conditions is also presented, thus further validating the effectiveness of the rig design. The paper therefore illustrates how improved equipment design and test protocols can reduce the risks associated with field trials, which have previously been required for optimising treatments against naphthenate deposits.
Although the presence of naphthenic acids in crude oil and their impact on emulsion stability and the formation of sludges, soaps, stabilised emulsions and other production problems have been known for many decades, little direct evidence of calcium naphthenate deposits has been reported until relatively recently. Over the last 10 years the problem of calcium naphthenate deposits has become an increasing problem, especially for fields producing oils which have been subject to biodegradation resulting in relatively low wax contents and high dissolved naphthenic acids. An increasing number of fields especially in areas such as West Africa, the North Sea and Venezuela[1,2,3] have therefore reported problems leading to several literature references over recent years as their formation represents a significant flow assurance issue for several major field developments. Sodium naphthenate sludges have also been observed in Indonesian fields[4–6] in addition to bicarbonate and metal ion stabilised naphthenate sludges.  As the solution to a naphthenate problem is often required urgently and as this is a relatively novel area of research, most work to date has focussed on specific fields and the problems encountered in these fields, although some work has progressed over recent years to consider the generic problem and to rationalise and unravel the relative importance of the various factors involved in this complex reaction system (e.g. amount and type of naphthenic acids present in the oil phase, emulsion stability, interface activity, metal cations (particularly Ca and Na), bicarbonate concentration and pH in the brine phase, water cut and system temperature etc.).[7–9,19]