Installing ceramic sand screens

OE Staff

April 1, 2017

In an industry first, achieved last year, 3M ceramic sand screens were deployed from a light well intervention vessel, Helix’s Well Enhancer.

Deploying the screens offshore last year. Photos from 3M.

Sand has long been one of the major challenges for oil and gas operators and service companies as it can seriously limit production.

For the most part, metallic sand screens are used. However, 3M has developed a ceramic sand screen. 3M chose to use ceramics due to their resistance to erosion or corrosion, compared with metal, in harsh downhole environments.

The firm’s ceramic sand screen technology’s deployment last year, on Shell’s Gannet field in the Central North Sea, was the first time the technology was used by a major. It was also the first time one of the ceramic screens has been deployed using a light well intervention vessel (LWIV).

The screens were deployed using e-line, with each screen hung from a high expansion Interwell packer.

One, 40ft section of screen, which comprised six ceramic modules, was deployed on the Gannett well (each ceramic module is about 5ft-long).

The aim of the project was to prove that a cost-effective intervention and installation of ceramic sand control technology was possible, with a viable return on investment. Using a LWIV, rather than a rig, was key.

Using ceramics, which have better long-term wear resistance than metal screens, also helps improve the long-term viability of the well, says Martyn Earl, business development manager, Advanced Materials Division, 3M.

“The ceramic won’t erode/corrode whereas as metal will in certain conditions,” he says. “We have screens that have been in the ground since 2011 (the first deployment) that are still functioning, to our knowledge.”

3M’s ceramic sand screen technology.

This quality can add real value, compared to metallic screens, in highly corrosive and erosive environments, such as high-flow wells, high-rate gas wells, and high-pressure and high-temperature (HPHT) wells as well as preventing proppant flowback, Earl says.

The screens are manufactured with a metallic base pipe, with a stack of ceramic rings providing the sand filter mechanism. The rings are technical ceramics, manufactured in 3M’s Kempton plant, Germany, from Silicon Carbide. 

“The rings are spaced to allow gas/fluids through, but prevent any sand ingress,” says Ian Hunter from 3M Oil and Gas, Advanced Materials Division. “The sizing can be changed during manufacture depending on the size and distribution of sand to suit the application.”

3M manufactured the first screen in 2011, and has since had 25 installations worldwide to date, including 17 offshore. This number was set to increase throughout February, Hunter says.

The main challenge on Gannett was it had not been done before, Hunter says. “Additionally, there were more space restrictions, more vessel movement, height restrictions on the wireline mast, compared to a rig,” he says. “But, in terms of the technology, there is no difference to us deploying from a rig or a vessel, it is just a change in planning. The screens can be deployed via wireline, coil or by a rig pipe, for example, and we have both retrofit and standalone versions available.”

The screens were deployed in April 2016 and took about 12 hours to install. “It would take a similar time on a rig due to the wireline deployment,” Hunter says. “However, with the LWIV there was less mobilization and demobilization time.”

The screens are capable of being run in any well, however, Hunter says that they have significant technical advantages in high flow wells, high rate gas wells, HPHT wells, and for prevention of proppant flowback. Thanks to their longevity, they would offer advantages in such wells subsea, he adds.