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SPE 167578

Development of a User Friendly Computer Program for Designing


Conventional Oilfield Separators
C.O. Olotu, SPE, and S. Osisanya, SPE, University of Oklahoma
Copyright 2013, Society of Petroleum Engineers
This paper was prepared for presentation at the Nigeria Annual International Conference and Exhibition held in Lagos, Nigeria, 57 August 2013.
This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper have not been
reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its
officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is prohibited. Permission to
reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of SPE copyright.

Abstract
The proper handling and processing of crude oil systems plays an important role in the economics of crude oil
production. The separator is the first processing equipment for crude oil systems. Separator design procedures are
cumbersome, time consuming, involve a lot of guesswork, and are prone to a lot of human calculation errors.
Furthermore, subjectivity arises with each design procedure on the parameters necessary and crucial for separator
design. Hence, theres a need to develop a user-friendly computer program to automate separator design.
Separator design is based on empirical procedures that have been established based on sound engineering
judgment.
In this work a user-friendly computer program was developed to estimate separator dimensions (diameter and
height). Two design procedures, Svrcek and Monnery 1994 and the modified Arnold and Stewart 2008 were
selected based on the parameters used in their design procedures. The equations involved in the two procedures
are presented, and are used to develop four user-friendly programs to estimate 3-phase vertical and horizontal
separator dimensions. The VISUAL BASIC programming language in Microsoft Excel was used to develop the
computer programs.
The program was validated using case studies from reviewed texts. Both procedures show similar results for
all the case studies. The Arnold and Stewart design procedures involve less guesswork and is more suitable for
conventional oilfield separator design. The results also show a decrease in separator height and length as
separator diameter increased. This trend was observed in both design procedures.
Introduction
Separators are closed pressure vessels used to segregate produced reservoir fluids into its liquid and gaseous
components and exist in a variety of configurations and classifications. Separators rely on a combination of
mechanical separation mechanisms to achieve mixture separation. They are either classified as two-phase if they
separate gas from the liquid stream, or three-phase if they also separate the liquid stream into its crude oil and
water components (Arnold et al. 2008).Separator shape could be horizontal, spherical or vertical and is dependent
on factors such as amount of liquid to be separated from the inlet stream, and space availability on production
facility. Fig. 1 is the basic schematic of a conventional three-phase oilfield horizontal separator. In spite of
separator shape and type, conventional oilfield separators consist of four major internal sections (primary
separation section, secondary separation section, liquid collection section, and mist extractor section) and some
basic external features as shown in Fig. 1. See Fig. 1 in appendix

A: Primary Separation Section

B: Secondary Separation Section

C: Mist Extractor Section:

D: Liquid Collection Section


Oil and gas separation is achieved using a combination of separation mechanisms that are dependent on the
entire vessel configuration. The main purpose of the primary separator section is the removal of the bulk of the
liquid from the inlet stream and also to reduce the velocity of the inlet stream. Gravity settling is accomplished in
the secondary separation section and its efficiency is dependent on the gas and liquid properties, particle size, and

SPE 167578

degree of gas turbulence. The secondary separation section is designed to utilize the force of gravity to enhance
the separation of entrained droplets from the gas phase. Smaller liquid droplets that do not settle out of the gas
stream in the secondary separation section are removed in the mist extraction section. Liquid collection section
collects all the liquid separated from the inlet stream. The external controls are used to maintain fluid levels and
control the pressure inside the separator. Separators are commonly designed to meet certain specifications and
requirements imposed by the purchaser. Therefore, in addition to the features described above, separators may
be equipped with more and other features, if required by the purchaser. Table 1.0 in the appendix gives a
summary of the comparisons between horizontal, vertical and spherical separators. This study is on the design of
three-phase horizontal and vertical design procedures only. Spherical separators are rarely ever used in oilfield
facilities, installation and operation of level controls on such separators are difficult and very few are still employed
in oil production facilities today.
Conventional separator design procedures are labor-intensive, involving a lot of manual trial and error methods
with wide table look-ups and require the application of many rules of thumb. Depending on the amount of
production data available and number of iterations to be performed it becomes difficult to establish an acceptable
design that is readily available. This paper presents four (4) developed computer programs for sizing horizontal
and vertical conventional oilfield separators using the basic equations and procedures established by Svrcek and
Monnery in 1994 and Arnold and Stewart in 2008. These two design methods carefully outline a step by step
procedure employed in the design of conventional oilfield separators.
Separator Design Theory
The primary tasks of conventional procedures employed in designing oilfield separators are to accurately
predict size (i.e. separator diameter and height or length) and shape, configuration of separator internals, and fluid
levels inside separator. The inlet fluid stream from the well head into the separator is a mixture of liquid droplets of
different sizes suspended in a continuous gas phase. The liquid droplets have to be separated from the gas phase
employing a combination of physical separation mechanisms. The most widely employed separation mechanisms
used in designing conventional oilfield separators are:

Gravity settling

Centrifugal force separation

Impingement
The basic equations used in designing separators are widely known and have remained the same since inception.
These equations originate from the work of Souders and Brown in designing fractionating columns. They rearranged the force balance equation to calculate the settling velocity of the moving particle and hence size a
vertical fractionating column. Fig. 2 is an illustration showing the three forces acting on a particle in vertical motion.
Refer to Fig. 2 in appendix. Based on their work and analysis, separator designers over the years have developed
and published procedures for sizing conventional oilfield separators. Traditional separator design methods are
based on (1) using stokes law and a single droplet size to estimate separator size, (2) setting a residence/retention
time, and (3) cost of equipment.

vt
g
dp
Cd

g
l

..... (1)

= settling velocity, ft/s


= acceleration due to gravity, ft/s2
= droplet diameter, ft
= drag coefficient
= gas density, lbm/ft3
= liquid density, lbm/ft3

Calculating the settling velocity of the liquid droplets based on a uniform droplet size enables separator designers
to estimate the length or height liquid droplets will travel inside the separator before falling to the liquid collection
section. The time required for the gas and liquid mixture to reach equilibrium inside the separator and ensure
effective gas liquid separation is defined as the residence time. For the mixture to reach equilibrium a certain
storage capacity is required; the residence time enables separator designers to accurately estimate the storage
capacity of the separator
Basic fluid properties (such as pressure, temperature, gas, oil and water flow rates) are also essential to
designing and selecting the appropriate separator for a hydrocarbon stream. The separator designer has to be
provided data such as the minimum, maximum, and operating pressures as well as the, minimum, maximum, and
operating temperatures. The densities and viscosities of the fluids present in the inlet stream are also required. It is

SPE 167578

impossible to size an oilfield separator of any configuration and type if any of the data mentioned above is not
provided.
Finally, separator design cant only be based upon basic equations and physical separation concepts. The
designers ability to the select the most suitable design that is cost effective for the given production data is based
on experience and sound engineering judgments. Separator design procedures will allow for various choices and
combinations of diameter and length. For every separator design, a combination of diameter and length will exist
that minimizes the cost of the vessel and enable fluid stability within the separator. The slenderness ratio is a value
used by mechanical engineers to determine the strength of a structural element (column, strut, cylinder etc.). It is
defined as the ratio between the height or length of the structural element to the width or radius of the element. The
American Petroleum Institute (API) and separator designers have published slenderness ratio values that help to
identify that combination of separator cost, stability and strength. Table 2 shows the slenderness ratio guidelines
employed by the two design procedures used in this study. See Table 2 in the appendix.
Outline of the Computer Program
The use of computers to ensure accurate separator design procedures by modeling the basic equations into a
simulator to ensure reliability, greater efficiency, and reuse of the design procedures is summarized in a series of
operations shown in Fig. 3 and described briefly below. Refer to Fig. 3 in the appendix.
Input
This step is broken down into two parts: production data and experience. Prior to the start of designing any
separator, the designer requires the following production data:
Operating pressure
Maximum and minimum design pressures
Operating temperature
Maximum and minimum fluid flow rates.
Liquid droplet size to be removed
Physical characteristics of the inlet stream fluid (such as density, viscosity, specific gravity, API gravity,
GLR, WOR etc)
Operation
Employing the basic equations modeled into the program, the computer program is able to initiate separator
design using the production data provided by the purchaser. The separator sizing (see Fig. 3) step in the
computer program outline involves the use of equations developed by Svrcek and Monnery and Arnold and
Stewart for sizing horizontal and vertical oilfield separators. Conventional separator design procedures also employ
the extensive use of tables and charts developed by designers based on experience and sound engineering
judgments. The tables and charts used by both design procedures are modeled into the computer programs. The
charts and tables modeled into the 4 computer programs are shown in Appendix A. The major equations used in
this step are given below.
Horizontal Separator Design
Svrcek and Monnery:


d
g
L/D
VH
VS

12 (2)

= separator diameter, in
2
= acceleration due to gravity, ft/s
= slenderness ration
= holdup volume, ft3
3
= surge volume, ft


Ag
AHL
AT
ALL
LSS

(3)

= separator area occupied by gas, ft2


= interface area occupied by heavy liquid, ft2
= separator cross-sectional area, ft2
= interface area occupied by light liquid, ft2
= seam to seam separator length

SPE 167578

Refer to Fig. 8 for horizontal separator Dimensions


Arnold and Stewart:

(4)

= maximum separator internal diameter, in


dmax
(ho)max = maximum oil pad thickness, in

= fractional height of liquid inside the separator


Refer to Fig. 9 to estimate .
Gas capacity:
(5)
LSS
Leff

= seam to seam separator length


= separator effective length, ft

Liquid capacity:

(6)

Vertical Separator Design


Svrcek and Monnery:

12 (7)

= gas flow rate, ft3/min, MMscfd


= gas velocity, ft/s

Qg
vg

HT
HH
HL
HR
HBIN
HA
HD

.. (8)

= total vessel height, ft


= liquid hold up height
= height difference between the outlet of the light liquid and the heavy liquid interface, ft
= height difference between the outlet of the light liquid and the baffle, ft
= height difference between the baffle and inlet nozzle, ft
= height difference between baffle and liquid level, ft
= disengagement height, ft

(Refer to Fig. 7 in appendix to see vertical separator dimensions).


Arnold and Stewart:
Separator diameter based on liquid droplet size:
5040
dp
p
T
z

(10)

= droplet diameter, micron


= pressure, psia
= temperature, oR, oF
= gas compressibility

Separator diameter based on water droplet size:

SPE 167578

6690
dp
Qo
SG
o

(11)

= droplet diameter, micron


= oil flow rate, BPD
= difference in specific gravities of the water and oil
= viscosity of the oil, cp

Separator diameter based on oil droplet size:


6690
dp
Qw
SG
w

(12)

= droplet diameter, micron


= water flow rate, BPD
= difference in specific gravities of the water and oil
= viscosity of the water, cp

For diameters 36 in

ho
hw

(13)

= height of oil pad, in


= height of water outlet to interface

For diameters > 36 in


(14)

The preliminary results obtained are void of the designers past experience on separator design. However
these results provide a baseline design that serve as a basis for the final design dimensions.
Output
Refining the generated preliminary designs using experience and sound engineering judgments results in a
second set of generated designs from which the designer could select the most suitable choice. API standard
dimensions for conventional oilfield separators are reported as follows: Separator diameter is given in multiples of
12 inches and the separator height is in multiples of 5 feet. The final design dimension selected should follow API
guidelines and satisfy all constraints of stability, strength and cost.
Case Study 1
This case study is adapted from one of the reviewed literature (Arnold and Stewart, 2008). It is used to validate the
results obtained in the literature and also to compare the results obtained from using two design procedures. Table
3 shows the input production data and Tables 4 and 5 displays the generated results. Tables 3 through 5 are
shown in the appendix.
The results displayed in Tables 4 and 5 using the Arnold and Stewart Design procedures are the same as the
results shown in the literature and this validates the computer program. The results using both design procedures
are similar and a final dimension can be selected that will satisfy both procedures and all other constraints. From
the results displayed in Table 4 and 5, most suitable separator dimensions are as follows:
Final Vertical Separator Dimensions:
Arnold and Stewart: 84-in (OD) X 20-ft (S/S) Length; SR = 2.9
Svrcek and Monnery: 84-in (OD) X 20-ft (S/S) Length; SR = 2.9
Final Horizontal Separator Dimensions:
Arnold and Stewart: 84-in (OD) X 25-ft (S/S) Length; SR = 3.6
Svrcek and Monnery: 90-in (OD) X 20-ft (S/S) Length; SR = 2.7
The final results are presented in API format and satisfy the constraints of cost, stability and strength. The
new dimensions ensure that the separator is properly configured for the appropriate installation of separator
internals while enabling dimensions to be reported in API format.

Case Study 2
This case study is also adapted from one of the reviewed literature (Arnold and Stewart, 2008). This case study
is used to further validate the computer program and also to compare the results obtained from using the two
design procedures. Table 6 shows the production input data and Tables 7 and 8 displays the generated results.
Tables 6 through 8 are displayed in the appendix.
Final Vertical Separator Dimensions:
Arnold and Stewart: 72-in (OD) X 20-ft (S/S) Length; SR = 3.3
Svrcek and Monnery: 72-in (OD) X 20-ft (S/S) Length; SR = 3.3
Final Horizontal Separator Dimensions:
Arnold and Stewart: 84-in (OD) X 25-ft (S/S) Length; SR = 3.6
Svrcek and Monnery: 84-in (OD) X 25-ft (S/S) Length; SR = 2.7
The final results are presented in API format and satisfy the constraints of cost, stability and strength. It can be
observed that the results shown in Tables 7 and 8 are similar and further validate the computer program. The
results also show a similar trend with the results obtained using case study one. An increase in diameter
corresponds to a decrease in separator diameter height or length and this is due to the direction of the travelling
particle. If the given design data for a vertical separator is accurate, the results always show a decrease in
separator height as the separator diameter increases. If the separator diameter the liquid particles (i.e. liquid, oil
and water) have to travel is sufficiently large, the height required for particle settling would reduce. This trend is
illustrated in Figs. 4 and 5.
The final separator dimensions shown above are as a result of the design procedures modeled into a simulator
and designer experience. Estimating separator size for a given production data using only the basic equations or
design experience could lead to a bottleneck of the entire crude oil processing facility. Hence it is very important to
apply both in separator design.
Conclusions
1. A user-friendly computer program was developed to facilitate the design of three-phase oilfield vertical and
horizontal separators using two design procedures (Arnold and Stewart, 2008 and Svrcek and Monnery, 1994).
Automating the design process enable separator designers save time and ensures the reliability and reuse of
the design procedure.
2. The design procedure proposed by Arnold and Stewart is more suitable for the design of separators. This is
because it involves the use of less design variables and constants, and does not rely heavily on the use of
charts and graphs to estimate vessel dimensions. Less guesswork is involved, computation time is reduced,
and the calculation procedures are easy to understand and less prone to human errors.
3. Horizontal separators provide greater fluid stability for the same production input data. The results show that
the predicted horizontal separator dimensions will allow for higher separation efficiency than vertical separators
for the same production input data.
Recommendations
1. The liquid particle sizes to be removed from the inlet stream have to be specified. During the course of this
study, it was observed that failure to specify the particle size to be removed led to separator dimensions that
were not feasible. The results shown in this study are based on the following liquid particle sizes: liquids = 100
microns; oil = 200 microns; and water = 500 microns.
2. Due to uncertainty within the reservoir the production input data cant remain the same forever and changes
would always occur with the original design data. It is suggested that the developed programs should be used
with a reservoir simulator program to ensure separator dimensions that will be equipped to handle such
changes in the production data.
References
Spec. 12J, AP1, API Specification for Oil and Gas Separators, seventh edition, 1989. Washington, DC: API
Arnold, K. and Stewart, M. 2008. Surface Production Operations Vol. 1, third edition: Gulf Publishing Company.
Arnold, K. and Stewart, M. 1989. Surface Production Operations Vol. 1: Design of Oil-Handling Systems and
Facilities, first edition: Gulf Publishing Company.
Arnold, K. and Stewart, M. 1986. Surface Production Operations Volume 1: Gulf Publishing Company.
Arnold, K. and Stewart, M. 1984. Designing Oil and Gas Production Systems. World Oil Journal, 199 (7) 87-98.
Halvorson, M. 2010: Visual Basic 2010 Step by Step: Microsoft Press.
Bradley H. B. 1987. Petroleum Engineering Handbook: Oil and Gas Separators, Chapter 12 (Smith, H. V).
Richardson, Texas, SPE

SPE 167578

Souders, M. J. and Brown, G.G. 1934.Design of Fractionating Columns: Entrainment and Capacity. Industrial and
Engineering Chemistry Journal, 26 (1): 98 100.
Svrcek, W.Y. and Monnery, W.D. 1993. Design Two-phase separator within the Right Limits, Chemical
Engineering Progress, 89 (10): 53-60.
Svrcek, W.Y. and Monnery, W.D. 1994. Successfully Specify Three-phase Separators .Chemical Engineering
Progress 90 (9): 29-40.
Walkenbach, J. 2010: Excel 2010 Power Programming with VBA: Wiley Publishing Inc.
Nomenclature
Ag
= separator area occupied by gas, ft2
= Interface area occupied by heavy liquid, ft2
AHL
ALL
= Interface area occupied by light liquid, ft2
AT
= separator cross-sectional area, ft2
= drag coefficient
Cd
d
= separator diameter, in
dmax
= maximum separator internal diameter, in
= droplet diameter, micron
dp
FB
= buoyancy force, N, lbf
FD
= drag force, N, lbf
FG
= gravity force, N, lbf
Fi
= sum of forces acting on the particle, N, lbf
HA
= height difference between baffle and liquid level, inches, ft
HBIN
= height difference between the baffle and inlet nozzle, inches, ft
= disengagement height, ft
HD
HH
= liquid hold up height
HL
= height difference between the outlet of the light liquid and the heavy liquid interface, ft, inches
HR
= height difference between the outlet of the light liquid and the baffle, ft, inches
HT
= total vessel height, ft
ho
= height of oil pad, in
hw
= height of water outlet to interface
(ho)max = maximum oil pad thickness, in
g
= acceleration due to gravity, ft/s2
LSS
= seam to seam separator length
Leff
= separator effective length, ft
L/D
= slenderness ration
p
= pressure, psia
Qg
= gas flow rate, ft3/min, MMscfd
Qo
= oil flow rate, BPD
Qw
= water flow rate, BPD
Sg
= gas specific gravity
SGo
= oil specific gravity
SGw
= water specific gravity
o
o
T
= temperature, R, F
(tr)o
= oil retention time, min
(tr)w
= water retention time, min
3
VH
= holdup volume, ft
3
VS
= surge volume, ft
vg
= gas velocity, ft/s
vt
= settling velocity, ft/s
z
= gas compressibility

Greek Symbols
SG

g
l

g
HL

= difference in specific gravities of the water and oil


= gas density, lbm/ft3
= liquid density, lbm/ft3
= gas viscosity, cp
= viscosity of the heavy liquid, cp.

LL
o
w

SPE 167578

= viscosity of the light liquid, cp.


= viscosity of the oil, cp
= water viscosity, cp

Appendix A
Table 1: Comparisons between the three types of separators (Petroleum Engineering Handbook: Oil and Gas Separators, Chapter 12)
Consideration

Horizontal

Vertical

Spherical

Efficiency of separation

Stabilization of separated fluids

SPE 167578

Adaptability to varying conditions

Flexibility of operation

Capacity (same diameter)

Cost per unit capacity

Ability to handle foreign materials

Adaptability to portable use

Ability to handle foamy oil

Ease of installation

Ease of inspection and maintenance

*Ratings (1) most favorable (2) intermediate (3) least favorable

Figure 1: Three-phase horizontal separator

Table 2: Slenderness ratio guidelines


Svrcek and Monnery
Pressure

Slenderness ratio

0 < p 250

1.5 -3.0

250 < p 500

3.0 - 4.0

500 < p

4.0 - 6.0

Arnold and Stewart


Horizontal Slenderness ratio

Vertical Slenderness ratio

3.0 - 5.0

1.5 - 3.0

10

SPE 167578

FD

FB

Fi

FB = buoyanc

FD = drag forc
FG

Figure 2: Forces acting on a moving liquid droplet in a gas phase

FG = gravitati

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11

Figure 3: Computer Program Outline

Table 3: Production Input Data


Table 4: Vertical Separator Dimensions
Oil flow rate, Qo

5000 BPD

Water flow rate, Qw

3000 BPD

Gas flow rate, Qg

5 MMscfd

Operating pressure, p

100 psia

Arnold and Stewart


LSS
d (inches)
(feet)

Svrcek and Monnery


SR

d (inches)

LSS (feet)

SR

84

18.2

2.6

60

18.5

3.7

90

17.7

2.4

66

16.7

96

17.4

2.2

72

15.5

2.6

102

17.2

78

14.6

2.2

108

17.1

1.9

84

14

Operating Temperature, T

90 F

API

30 API

Water specific gravity, (SG)W

1.07

Gas specific gravity, (SG)g

0.6

Oil specific gravity, (SG)o

0.876

Table 5: Horizontal Separator Dimensions

Water retention time (tr)w

10 mins

Arnold and Stewart

Svrcek and Monnery

Oil retention time (tr)o

10 mins

d (inches)

LSS (feet)

SR

d (inches)

LSS (feet)

SR

Oil viscosity, o

10 cp

84

21.5

3.1

90

16.5

2.13

Water viscosity, w

1 cp

96

16.4

2.1

96

15.4

1.93

Gas density, g

0.3 lbm/ft

108

13

1.4

102

12.8

1.51

Water density, w

62.11 lbm/ft

Oil density, o

54.7 lbm/ft

Drag Co-efficient, Cd

2.01

Surge time

5 mins

12

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Table 6: Input production data


Oil flow rate, Qo

3900 BPD

Water flow rate, Qw

3000 BPD

Gas flow rate, Qg

Table 7: Vertical Separator Dimensions

1.6 MMscfd

Arnold and Stewart


LSS
d (inches)
(feet)

SR

d (inches)

LSS (feet)

SR

Operating pressure, p

455 psia

72

18.6

3.1

60

18.7

3.1

Operating Temperature, T

90oF

78

17.7

2.7

66

17.5

2.6

API

30o API

84

17.1

2.4

72

16.6

2.2

Water specific gravity, (SG)w

1.07

90

16.7

2.2

78

16.0

2.0

Gas specific gravity, (SG)g

0.6

96

16.5

2.1

84

15.6

1.8

Oil specific gravity, (SG)o

0.876

Water retention time (tr)w

10 mins

Arnold and Stewart

Oil retention time (tr)o

10 mins

d (inches)

LSS (feet)

SR

d (inches)

LSS (feet)

SR

Oil viscosity, o

10 cp

60

36.2

7.3

78

25

3.8

Water viscosity, w

1 cp

72

25.2

2.6

84

25

3.6

Gas density, g

1.43 lbm/ft3

84

18.5

3.1

Water density, w

62.11 lbm/ft3

Oil density, o

54.41 lbm/ft3

Drag Co-efficient, Cd

1.93

Surge time

10 mins

Figure 4: Vertical Separator Dimensions

Svrcek and Monnery

Table 8: Horizontal Separator Dimensions


Svrcek and Monnery

Figure 5: Horizontal Separator Dimensions

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13

Figure 6: Down-comer allowable flow chart (Svrcek and Monnery 1994)

Figure 8: Horizontal separator (Monnery and Svrcek 1994)

Figure 7: Horizontal separator (Monnery and Svrcek 1994)


Table 9: Empirical Constants for Cylindrical height and area conversions (Svrcek and Monnery, 1993)
WD/D A/AT
-5

a = -4.7593 X 10

b = 3.924091

c =0.174875

d = -6.358805

e = 5.6668975

f= 4.018448

g = -4.916411

h = -1.801705

i = 0.145348

14

SPE 167578

Figure 7: Coefficient for a cylinder half filled with liquid (Arnold and Stewart, 2008)