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Paper No.



Erosion-Corrosion Failures in Wellhead Chokes

Gladys Navas Instituto Universitario de Tecnologa Dr. Federico Rivero Palacio (IUTFRP). Km. 8, Carretera Panamericana. Municipio Libertador, Caracas 1040 Venezuela Ioana Cristina Grigorescu1 Universidad Simon Bolivar, Sartenejas, Baruta, Caracas 1080. Venezuela

ABSTRACT The surface morphology and chemistry of two chokes for oil and gas condensate, which failed by leakage, were related to the flow pattern and material degradation mechanisms. In the choke for oil production, severe circumferential channeling develops near the screw connection between the nozzle and choke body, due to fluid leakage through the thread in imperfect contact. One of the channeling branches crossed the case wall producing leakage, this trajectory being enhanced by defects in the girth weld, inappropriately placed near the thread. Downstream, CO2 induced corrosion becomes the governing damage mechanism, being promoted by an almost stagnant back-flow in the annular gap between the nozzle and the choke body. In the second case, the corrosive fluid induces intense erosion-corrosion downstream the nozzle; the abnormal flow pattern is the consequence of the prior fracture of the nozzle. Toward the valve outlet, the damage turns into uniform CO2 corrosion, which is the typical degradation mode of the choke body. Both failures were enhanced by the inappropriate location of girth weld in the zones where the most intense erosion-corrosion damage occurs. Key words: corrosion- erosion, channeling wear, wellhead chokes, failures, gas wells

INTRODUCTION Chokes in oil and gas wellheads are valves which reduce the flow and, correspondingly, the fluid pressure to values sustainable by the surface pipeline. In some wellheads configurations, the choke, deviates the flow at 90. Chocking-back the well to relatively low production rates tends to decrease the sand content in the flow, and implicitly, the erosion intensity. However, the risk of erosion-corrosion damage persists in those cases where choking leads to an important increase of flow velocity. This risk is higher if, additionally, the hydrocarbon fluid contains corrosive agents and remnant fine sands, even in low concentration. In such cases, the service life for choke valves may decrease from 1 - 3 years to very short time intervals, in extreme cases even as low as few days [1].

Present address: Technip USA, Inc., 11700 Katy Freeway, Houston, TX 77079 USA,

2011 by NACE International. Requests for permission to publish this manuscript in any form, in part or in whole, must be in writing to NACE International, Publications Division, 1440 South Creek Drive, Houston, Texas 77084. The material presented and the views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author(s) and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association.

The main component of the choke (nozzle or reducer) is the most vulnerable to erosion, being typically made of a sintered WC-Co insert in a steel housing. Other wear resistant advanced materials, such as hard coatings, tough ceramics (e.g. partially stabilized zirconia) and polycrystalline diamond have been tested to increase the life-time of the choke nozzle [2 -4]. The case or body of the choke may be either a single cast piece or forged sections that are girth welded; material grade and manufacturing method depends upon the required mechanical resistance and fluid corrosiveness. Flow induced damage is not expected to be intense in the choke body, except cavitation downstream the reducer which, however, is unlikely to occur under normal operating conditions [5]. Other less common damages morphologies and associated mechanisms were observed in choke bodies of oil and gas wellheads in the eastern Venezuela production fields. Two case histories are further exposed to exemplify these damage mechanisms. . EXPERIMENTAL PROCEDURE The typical failure analysis routine was followed: i) Information and sample recovery in the field; ii) Chemical and microstructural characterization of the material; iii) Surface damage analysis by visual inspection, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX). For both studies, the choke body was cross sectioned on the symmetry plan, and then samples were extracted for microstructural and SEM-EDX analysis.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION Failure of an oil production fixed choke A fixed choke has a simple structure, schematically illustrated in the Figure 1. The nozzle is thread assembled to the body and can be replaced to modify the inner diameter and, accordingly, the well production rate.
Nozzle Elbow



Cap / Sensor

Flanged Ends

Figure 1. Scheme of fixed choke.

The analyzed choke had been in service for six months in a wellhead handling an oil flow which main characteristics are shown in the Table 1. The choke is type PS1-1EE for standard sour service, per API 6A [6] and it is constituted by a nozzle with a sintered WC-Co insert and a body made of low alloy carbon steel AISI 8620. The choke body is built with three segments, the elbow section and the two flanged ends, jointed by girth welds. Table 1. Flow parameters in the oil-production wellhead Parameter Oil production Associated gas Choke inlet pressure Choke outlet pressure Water cut CO2 molar content Value 800 BPD 35 MMcf 3054 psig 1100 psig 1% 1.4 %

In the oil production field there are 15 similar chokes, which life time is about one year each. At the end of the life time, the internal thread is worn out, decoupling the nozzle from the body. The analyzed valve failed prematurely, at half lifetime, due to a leak trough the wall of the choke body. The failed body of the choke was supplied for failure analysis, while the nozzle was retained, with the aim of being replaced in operation, since no important damage could be visually detected in this component. Material Although the parent material of the choke body meets the chemical composition of the AISI 8620 steel, its microstructure is deficient. Porous sized between 20 and 30 m are frequent and phase distribution is not homogenous. Bands rich in large ferrite grains alternate with pearlite bands containing Widmanstaetten ferrite zones (Figures 2 and 3). Such non homogeneous banded microstructure was reported in forged AISI 8620 steel, being caused by manganese micro-segregation during solidification, which stabilizes austenite and reduces carbon activity in austenite. During posterior forging, the dendrites with segregated manganese are reoriented by plastic deformation, thus creating the ferrite and pearlite rich bands [7]. The banded microstructure appears in the end segments (Figure 2) and in the elbow material (Figure 3), proving that all body sections are manufactured by a forging process with insufficient quality. The girth weld showed a sound uniform microstructure (Figure 3). Damage mechanism The visual inspection showed that the damage concentrates around the annular gap between the nozzle and the choke-case, in the outlet duct of the choke body (Figure 4). In this space there is an almost stagnant backflow of part of the fluid leaving the nozzle. Besides, the fluid coming from the inlet side, turbulent due to the impact against the perpendicular wall of the elbow, tends to leak through the screw connection, which is imperfectly sealed. The flow pattern of the two interfered flows is reproduced by the damaged surface morphology (Figures 4 and 5). The maximum thinning of the wall occurs near the thread (Figure 5) and it is probably produced by a channeling effect of the fluid which leaks through the screw connection and it is accelerated due to the small size of the gap between the thread sides in imperfect contact. This irregular flow produces

intense erosion-corrosion, undermining deep channels, fairly oriented in a helical way. It is worth noticing that the severe channeling damage coincides with the heat affected zone (HAZ) of the weld girth (Figure 5 b), which resistance to mechanical and/or chemical attack uses to be lower with respect to the base metal. As the channels become wider, the velocity of the flow decreases, producing a less intensive damage in the adjacent zone. However, in the shallower groves of this area, the damage mechanism is still erosion controlled, producing a macro-relief similar to the one in the channeling zone but more attenuated (Figure 5a).

Figure 2. Microstructure of an end segment of the choke body. Optical micrographs, 3% Nital etching.

Figure 3. Weld microstructure. Optical micrographs, 3%. Nital etching. a) Cross section trough weld and base material; b)Base material in the elbow segment. The measurements of Brinell hardness in the non homogeneous parent material of the choke body gave scattered values, between 183 and 221 BHN; the hardness was almost uniform in the weld (257 BHN) and in the heat affected zone (226 - 232 BHN). Corrosion contribution to the material degradation is revealed in the SEM micrographs of the severely damaged surface. As illustrated in the Figure 6.a, corrosion deposits were found on the eroded area.

They are mainly iron oxides and contain low amounts of Ca and Si, probably a mixture of oxides and iron carbonates produced by CO2 induced corrosion. At higher magnification, zones of apparently pure erosion can be seen, with the micro-relief oriented in the flow direction (Figure 6.b). However, pits can be observed within erosion marks, either pre-existent pores, opened by the material removal on the surface, or produced by the etching action of the fluid (Figure 6.c).

Figure 4. Cross section of the choke body on the symmetry plan. The outlet side is horizontal.


(a) (b) Figure 5. Damaged surface near the thread. a) Front view; b) Side view. The weld is marked with dotted line. Beyond this zone, the corrosion turns into the governing damage mechanisms and it is induced by the almost stagnate back-flow in the annular gap between the nozzle and the choke body. The SEM micrographs in the middle of the outlet duct make the uniform corrosion evident (Figure 7). The pits are dense and uniformly distributed (Figure 7.a) and develop around sub-micron precipitates (Figure 7. b). Few erosion marks are grooved on the corroded surface by solid particles with random trajectories (Figure 7.a). The corrosion attack is enhanced by the deficient microstructure of the material,

promoting potential differences between the ferrite rich and poor bands, as well as between the precipitates and surrounding matrix.

Figure 6. SEM micrographs of the severely damaged surface.

Figure 7: SEM micrographs in the middle of the outlet side of the choke box.

The observed failure morphology allows the identification of the normal degradation mode and the enhancing factors that reduced at half the life time of the choke. Since the same flow pattern develops in the outlet duct of all chokes, the channeling in the threaded zone is expected to appear systematically, leading to the decoupling of the nozzle from the choke body; this is the main reason for the choke to be replaced with a new one, as it was reported in the oil production field. However, channeling is a process that initiate and develop randomly and, in the present case, the channeling groves were oriented toward the zone downstream the thread, which remained almost unaffected until the failure occurred. One of the channeling branches penetrated the case wall producing leakage, this path being enhanced by the lower resistance to erosion-corrosion in the HAZ of the girth weld. A poor choke design with inappropriate position of the girth weld along with a deficient microstructure of the material weakening its resistance to corrosion, are considered the factors that adversely affected the performance of the choke body. There is a relatively high probability of such failure to be recurrent, whenever the channeling would be randomly driven toward the bottom of the screw assembly, thus coinciding with the weld. Therefore, modifying the chocke design and avoiding exposure of the girth weld to the insert outlet along with materials quality improvements would reduce the risk of body wall perforation. However, a more radical solution is required to change the damage pattern into a more uniform; to this end, modifying the flow parameters and/or choke design is necessary. Failure of an adjustable choke on a well producing gas condensate The well where the failed choke operated is producing a liquid mixture of natural gas condensate and water, as shown in the Table 2. The choke has operated normally for about two years and it failed by a leakage trough the choke body wall, near the girth weld joining the outlet side with the elbow section (Figure 8). While dismounting the choke, the nozzle was found to be broken, but the fragments were not supplied for analysis. The adjustable choke has a more complex design; however, the flow wetted section of the valve is structurally similar to the one of fixed choke, the nominal characteristics being the same as in the previous case, i.e., type PS1-1EE for standard sour service, per API 6A [6], with a sintered WC-Co insert in the nozzle and a body made of low alloyed carbon steel AISI 8620. Table 2. Flow parameters in the wellhead handling the gas natural condensate. Parameter Gas production Choke inlet pressure Choke outlet pressure Condensate content in the liquid phase Water cut CO2 molar content Value 20 MMcf 3200 psig 700 psig 55% 45 % 3.4 %

Material The material of the choke body meets the chemical composition of the AISI 8620 steel and has a strongly non homogeneous pearlite microstructure, with cementite rich shells surrounding zones containing large widmanstaetten ferrite grains with reduced pearlite areas within (Figure 9). The girth weld between the outlet and intermediate sections is microstructurally uniform, containing fine tempered martensite (Figure 10).

Figure 8. Passing defect trough choke wall that led to leakage.

Figure 9. Microstructure in the elbow section of the choke body. Optical micrographs, 3% Nital etching. Damage mechanism According to the macroscopic surface morphology, the most severe damage appears downstream the nozzle and coincides with the girth weld between the elbow and the outlet sections of the valve. The defect that allowed the fluid leakage is located in the thinned wall of this zone. The shape of the erosion

marks shows that, originally, the fluid flows longitudinally. As an ampler cavity forms by the preferential material removal at the HAZ of the weld, the flow is slightly tilted, and then it recovers the longitudinal pattern downstream, in the outlet duct of the valve. In this zone the erosion groves are shallower, thinner and denser.

Figure 10. Microstructure of the girth weld. Optical micrograph, 3% Nital etching. Attempts were done to SEM-EDX analyze the sample taken in the severe damage zone. On the surface of this sample taken near the nozzle seat, very thick and adherent layers of corrosion products were found, that could not be removed by intensive etching with Ortophosphoric acid (Figure 11). The corrosion products are mixtures of oxides, carbonates and, possibly, other salts; as shown in the EDX spectrum in Figure 11. Besides the large amount of Fe, O and C, other elements such as Cr, Si and Na are contained in the corrosion products. In the enlarged cavity with tilted grooves, the corrosion deposit is still thick and hard to remove by chemical etching. However, in this zone the corrosion pits inside the erosion grooves could be better resolved by SEM (Figure 12).

(a) (b) Figure 11. Well adhered corrosion deposits on the sample taken near the nozzle seat. Ortophosphoric acid etching. a) SEM view at low magnification. b) EDX spectrum.

Figure 12. SEM micrographs in the enlarged cavity with tilted grooves. Ortophosphoric acid etching. These macro and micro morphological features suggest that the grooving erosion preferentially occurred at the beginning of the degradation process, until the large cavity downstream the nozzle seat opens sufficiently to decrease the turbulence in the flow. Thereafter, generalized CO2 induced corrosion controls the damaging process, lasting a relatively long time to produce corrosion deposits that are very thick and strongly adherent to the substrate. The corrosion governed damage is more evident in the downstream sample, which is characterized by dense coalescing pits and multiple layers of corrosion products, tending to exfoliate (Figure 13). By comparing the micro-morphological and microstructural features in this zone, the preferential corrosion of the ferrite phase could be inferred.

Figure 13. SEM micrographs near the valve outlet. Ortophosphoric acid etching. This damage mechanism is expected, since the corrosiveness of the fluid is classified as moderate to severe due to CO2 partial pressure being 30 to 110 psia; furtheremore the non homogeneous



microstructure of the material enhances the formation of corrosion micro cells between ferrite and cementite rich zones enhancing the overall wall loss. The lack of evidences regarding the fracture of the nozzle does not allow defining the root-cause of the failure. However, it might be inferred that this event originated a change in the flow regime, increasing turbulence and intensifying the erosion-corrosion process downstream the broken nozzle. Other adverse flow production conditions and characteristics particular to this choke design could have enhanced erosion-corrosion damage but they are not likely to be the root cause of the failure. Such adverse conditions are: i) increasing the outlet flow velocity to increase production, as a routine practice; ii) positioning of the girth weld in the proximity of the nozzle outlet, same as in all other valves in field.

CONCLUSIONS The two cases histories here reported show that failures in chokes bodies, although not frequent, could occur under either normal conditions or as a consequence of the primary failure of an internal component. Whether normal conditions systematically lead to channeling within thin gaps inside the choke, the failure risk has to be carefully considered. Otherwise, when the damage on inner surfaces is almost uniform, premature failures are not likely to occur. It is worth to notice that in both case, the inappropriate location of the girth weld enhanced the excessive tinning in reduced zones.

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