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Horizontal VS. Vertical Vessel Selection in Two Phase Oil and Gas Separation

Horizontal separators are smaller and less expensive than vertical separators for a given gas capacity. In the gravity settling section of a horizontal vessel, the liquid droplets fall perpendicular to the gas flow and thus are more easily settled out of the gas continuous phase. Also, since the interface area is larger in a horizontal separator than a vertical separator, it is easier for the gas bubbles, which come out of solution as the liquid approaches equilibrium, to reach the vapor space. Horizontal separators offer greater liquid capacity and are best suited for liquid-liquid separation and foaming crudes.

Thus, from a pure gas/liquid separation process, horizontal separators would be preferred. However, they do have the following drawbacks, which could lead to a preference for a vertical separator in certain situations:

1. Horizontal separators are not as good as vertical separators in handling solids. The liquid dump of a vertical separator can be placed at the center of the bottom head so that solids will not build up in the separator but continue to the next vessel in the process. As an alternative, a drain could be placed at this location so that solids could be disposed of periodically while liquid leaves the vessel at a slightly higher elevation. In a horizontal vessel, it is necessary to place several drains along the length of the vessel. Since the solids will have an angle of repose of 45° to 60°, the drains must be spaced at very close intervals. Attempts to lengthen the distance between drains, by providing sand jets in the vicinity of each drain to fluidize the solids while the drains are in operation, are expensive and have been only marginally successful in field operations.

2. Horizontal vessels require more plan area to perform the same separation as vertical vessels. While this may not be of importance at a land location, it could be very important offshore.


3. Smaller, horizontal vessels can have less liquid surge capacity than vertical vessels sized for the same steady-state flow rate. For a given change in liquid surface elevation, there is typically a larger increase in liquid volume for a horizontal separator than for a vertical separator sized for the same flow rate. However, the geometry of a horizontal vessel causes any high level shut-down device to be located close to the normal operating level. In a vertical vessel the shutdown could be placed much higher, allowing the level controller and dump valve more time to react to the surge. In addition, surges in horizontal vessels could create internal waves that could activate a high level sensor.


It should be pointed out that vertical vessels also have some drawbacks that are not process related and must be considered in making a selection. These are:

1. The relief valve and some of the controls may be difficult to service without special ladders and platforms.

2. The vessel may have to be removed from a skid for trucking due to height restrictions.

Overall, horizontal vessels are the most economical for normal oil-gas separation, particularly where there may be problems with emulsions, foam, or high gas-oil ratios. Vertical vessels work most effectively in low GOR applications. They are also used in some very high GOR applications, such as scrubbers where only fluid mists are being removed from the gas.