An evaluation of subsea pump technologies that can be used to achieve dual gradient drilling



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Dual Gradient Drilling is an exciting technology which promises to solve the current technical hurdles and economic risks of Deepwater Drilling. Several techniques for Dual Gradient Drilling have been proposed to the industry. One such method involves installing a subsea booster pump at the seafloor with the aim of returning the drilling fluid back to the rig. The pump will manage annular pressures in the wellbore as circulation rates and mud weights vary and will permit early detection of wellbore influxes. Any such pump chosen to achieve this objective will be subjected to very high differential pressures and will be faced with the onerous task of lifting very abrasive and viscous mud slurries from the sea floor back to the drilling rig. This distance in deep water may be well within the range of about 4, 000 ? 12,000 feet depending on the operating water depth of the rig. Several pump technologies available to the industry were examined. Piston pumps are very efficient and can withstand the high differential pressures encountered in the Mudlift Drilling System. However, their drawbacks are their large size and weight and high initial capital cost and maintenance costs. Centrifugal pumps on the other hand are relatively smaller than piston and diaphragm pumps and are generally less expensive. Disc pumps, with their non-impingement design are able to handle solids and fluids with a high gas volume fraction but, like centrifugal pumps, are generally less efficient than reciprocating pumps. Diaphragm pumps are capable of maintaining a constant rate regardless of pressure fluctuations. They can handle very abrasive solids with limited wear on the pump. They also excel at handling very viscous fluids and they can be modified to handle up to 95% gas volume fraction. Like piston pumps, they have very high efficiencies. The potential of each of these pump technologies to meet the requirements for the Mudlift Drilling System was examined in this thesis. The benefits and drawbacks of each of these pump technologies were highlighted and modifications to meet the demands of the mudlift system evaluated.