Sand production is a common challenge for processing facilities and well test equipment, as solids degrade the mechanical integrity and separation efficiency of surface equipment through erosion, settling, and plugging. Where exclusionary sand control methods fail or do not exist, inclusionary surface handling methods can be used to maintain or increase the total hydrocarbon production. The best approach is to remove sand at the wellhead, which protects all downstream flow lines and equipment. The multiphase (wellhead) desander was developed in the late 1990s as a unit operation to separate solids at wellhead conditions. This technology has been deployed in onshore and offshore production, well cleanup, and well testing operations. In addition to protecting downstream equipment, wellhead desanding enables the easier design and operation of solids-handling systems.

Multiphase desanders were developed from solid-liquid cyclones used in the mining industry. Laboratory and pilot-plant tests conducted in 1994-1995 defined an initial hydraulic model, which was applicable in mixed-phase flow. The liquid-based model was paired with a dense-gas pneumatic cyclone model. The pressure drop and solids removal efficiency of the resulting multiphase model were evaluated at the Wytch Farm producing facility in Dorset, UK in 1995. This approach continues to be refined using field data, and the current mechanistic-empirical model has a high accuracy across the 0-100% gas void fraction range. The hydraulic and pneumatic models are discussed with respect to the pressure drop, solids removal, turndown, and slugging.

Mechanical design improvements, including material selection, construction to API-6A code, and apex-flux balancing, have doubled the multiphase desander operating life while reducing the size and weight by 40%. Design improvements are discussed with respect to the system layout and proper operation. A comparison is made between single and multiple cone vessel designs with respect to the particle size, solids concentration, and fluid partitioning.

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