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Cross-Reference to Related Application

[0001] This application claims the benefit of and priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 62/516,748 filed on June 8, 2017, which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.

Field of Invention

[0002] This invention relates to controlling tools in a wellbore. In one example, the tool to be controlled is a Surface Controlled Subsurface Safety Valve (SCSSV). In certain embodiments, the SCSSV is coupled with a hydraulic control system in close proximity to the valve that alleviates the mechanical depth constraints of standard mechanical spring valves.

Background of Invention

[0003] Surface Controlled Subsurface Safety Valves are traditionally used in high risk flowing wells in sensitive environments where loss of well control could be catastrophic. The valve is often controlled with a hydraulic line attached to the valve that runs back through the wellhead to a hydraulic pump and control panel at surface. Application of hydraulic pressure keeps the valve in an open position. The valves have a "fail-safe" feature where any loss of hydraulic pressure will cause the valve to close. The most common valve configuration has a hydraulic cylinder containing seals on a rod piston tied to a flow tube that pushes the flapper open allowing the well to flow. A mechanical spring below the flow tube pushes the tube closed when pressure is lost through the control line. This type valve has mechanical limitations due to force available from a spring versus the hydrostatic loads the rod piston seals may see during a failure. In most cases deep water drilling requires the safety valve be set deeper than the mechanical spring force allows. To overcome this limitation, safety valve manufacturers use technology such as nitrogen charged chambers to compensate for the spring limitations and continue to use the standard hydraulic control through control line. Others use dual "balanced line" control lines. Surface operated hydraulic control line systems have many problems. The fluid travels through temperature extremes that affect the flow characteristics. Long distances though small control lines can take an extended period of time to move the fluid required to operate the device. Some devices use electric actuated hydraulic pumps to control safety valves. They are complex in nature and contain features

that provide additional risk of failure. There remains a need for a simple, reliable safety valve solution for deep setting depths. The present disclosure provides a simplified solution that eliminates many of the aforementioned problems and risks.

Brief Description of Drawings

[0004] Figure 1 is perspective phantom view of one embodiment of the actuator sub of the present invention.

[0005] Figure 2 is a cross-sectional view of an actuator sub similar to Figure 1.

[0006] Figure 3A is a cross-sectional view of a safety valve which may be operated by the actuator sub, the safety valve being in the closed position.

[0007] Figure 3B is a cross-sectional view of the Figure 3A safety valve, but shown in the open position.

[0008] Figure 4A is a perspective view of second embodiment of a safety valve connected to an actuator sub.

[0009] Figure 4B is a more detailed view of the internal components of the actuator sub seen in Figure 4A.

[0010] Figure 5A is a perspective view of a third embodiment of an actuator sub.

[0011] Figure 5B is a more detailed view of the internal components of the actuator sub seen in Figure 5 A.

[0012] Figure 6A is a cross-sectional view of a second embodiment of a safety valve which may be operated by the actuator sub, the safety valve being in the open position.

[0013] Figure 6B is a cross-sectional view of the Figure 6A safety valve, but shown in the closed position.

[0014] Figure 7 illustrates a control line and control electronics for use with the Figure 6 A and 6B safety valve embodiment.

Detailed Description of Selected Embodiments

[0015] Figure 1 illustrates one embodiment of the actuator sub 1 for generating hydraulic pressure disclosed in this application. Actuator sub 1 generally comprises the sub housing 2 with an outer surface 3 and a main flow passage 4 extending through sub housing 2. The wall space 5 is formed between the central flow passage 4 and outer surface of sub housing 2. As one example, the inner diameter of flow passage 4 could be approximately 5 inches and the outer diameter of sub housing 2 could be approximately 8 inches, leaving a wall space 5 approximately 1.5 inches thick for a concentric sub. In an eccentric sub, the 1.5 inches of wall space would be only along a portion of the sub circumference with the wall thickness being much less on the remainder of the circumference. Within the wall space 5 is milled the groove or compartment 6. In the illustrated embodiment, compartment 6 is milled through outer surface 3, but in other embodiments, compartment 6 may be milled into the wall space without removing outer surface 3, e.g., compartment 6 may be formed as a series of bores in the wall space.

[0016] Figure 2 is a cross-sectional view more clearly illustrating the components positioned within compartment 6. First hydraulic fluid tube 7 and second hydraulic fluid tube 8 are positioned to engage manifold 10. The hydraulic fluid tubes may also be more concisely referred to herein as "hydraulic tubes" or "fluid tubes." These hydraulic tubes are typically sealed either to retain hydraulic fluid at a pressure higher than the operating environment, or in certain embodiments, to protect electronics within the tube from external high pressure fluids in the operating environment. In the Figure 2 embodiment, hydraulic tubes 7 and 8 are separate cylindrical hollow tubes which have threaded connections 15 engaging manifold 10. The open ends of hydraulic tubes 7 and 8 which engage manifold 10 are in fluid communication with the tube channels 11a and l ib, respectively. The manifold cross channel 12 connects tube channels 11a and l ib, forming a flow path from hydraulic tube 7 to hydraulic tube 8. Although the illustrated hydraulic tubes are separately formed components, it will be readily understood that alternative hydraulic tubes may be formed by drilling bores directly into the material of wall space 5. Toward the end of hydraulic tube 7 opposite manifold 10, there is the pressure equalization port 16, which allows fluid communication between main flow passage 4 and the interior of hydraulic tube 7. A pressure piston 17 is positioned in hydraulic tube 7 and acts to separate well bore fluids entering from main flow passage 4 from the hydraulic fluid that will otherwise fill hydraulic tubes 7 and 8. It will readily be understood how the pressure of fluid in main flow passage 14 will be transmitted through equalization port 16 to pressure piston 17, which then transmits the pressure to the fluid in the hydraulic tube 7. The biasing mechanism or spring 18 will act to place a further positive pressure (i.e., pressure above main flow passage pressure) on the hydraulic fluid in the hydraulic tubes 7 and 8. In one example, spring 18 will maintain the hydraulic fluid at a pressure about 25 psi to about 300 psi above the main flow passage pressure. It will be understood that the volume to the left (in Figure 2) of piston 17 in hydraulic tube 7 and the volume in hydraulic tube 8 will form a hydraulic fluid reservoir 20. In one preferred embodiment, the hydraulic fluid may be Lubsoil® Motor Fluid No. 3 available from Tulco Oils, Inc. of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

[0017] Figure 2 illustrates hydraulic tube 8 as including drive motor 25 and hydraulic motor 30. In the illustrated embodiment, drive motor 25 is an electric motor such as an induction motor, brush commutated motor, permanent magnet motor, or a permanent magnet motor with electronic commutation. However, drive motor 25 could also be another motor type, such as a hydraulic motor. Where drive motor 25 is a hydraulic motor, hydraulic fluid could be circulated from the surface in order to power such a hydraulic motor, i.e., fluid from the surface could be circulated to the hydraulic motor and then returned to the surface, or alternatively, fluid circulated from the surface could be exhausted to the wellbore after passing through the hydraulic motor. In the case where drive motor 25 is electric, wires 41 may extend through the power port 13 in manifold 10 and connect to drive motor 25. The bulkhead plug 40 will form a fluid- tight seal through which wires 41 travel and allow connection of a power source to bulkhead plug 40. In one example, the power source is an electrical line extending to the surface. In many embodiments, a control device or means at the surface, such as a Programmable Logic Controller or PLC, may be utilized to control the current and voltage of drive motor 25, or otherwise receive signals from down sensors and/or control other electronic components downhole.

[0018] Alternatively, other embodiments could include part or all of the control electronics downhole, either within the actuator sub 1 or in a separate electronics sub suitable wired to actuator sub 1. There may also be embodiments where an alternative or supplemental power source is provided by batteries position in or near the sub housing 2. This power source could include a transformer or similar device to condition the power input to the drive motor. In certain embodiments, the battery power would act as a temporary power source to prevent very short-term power interruptions/fluctuations from prematurely closing the safety valve.

[0019] Hydraulic motor 30 will be a device which accepts torque input from drive motor 25 and drives hydraulic fluid at an elevated pressure toward the outlet tube (or "control line") 35. Although not explicitly shown in Figure 2, it will be understood that hydraulic fluid in hydraulic tube 8 can move around drive motor 25 to reach the intake area (or low pressure side) of hydraulic motor 30. In many embodiments, hydraulic motor 30 is a "bi-directional" motor (or pump in the Figure 2 arrangement). Hydraulic motor 30 is bi-directional in the sense that if torque is not applied to motor 30, fluid may flow either way through motor 30 (depending on which side of the motor has the higher pressure). Bi-directional also means that one-way valves or check valves are not positioned in motor 30' s immediate flow path, i.e. no check valves are positioned to block fluid backflow as in "uni-directional" pumps. [0020] In one embodiment, the bi-directional hydraulic motor 30 is a swashplate pump. However, hydraulic motor 30 could be any conventional or future developed hydraulic motor or pump which fulfills the bi-directional characteristic described above

[0021] Although actuator sub 1 could be utilized to operate many different pressure controlled downhole tools, in one embodiment actuator sub 1 is employed in combination with a subsurface safety valve. Figures 3A and 3B illustrate a conventional subsurface safety valve 100 which includes the valve housing 101, flapper 102, flow tube 103, return spring 104, activating piston 105, and fluid connector port 106. It will be understood that flow tube 103 will include a milled half-moon slot 110 which is engaged by a corresponding milled slot on the head portion of activating piston 105, thereby allowing piston 105 to impart force to flow tube 103. Although not explicitly shown in the Figures, but similar to most conventional flapper valves, flapper 102 will have a spring biasing it in the closed position. Pressurized fluid entering connection port 106 will act on activating piston 105, which then moves flow tube 103 downward, overcomes the force of return spring 104, allowing flow tube 103 to push open flapper 102 (see Figure 3B). If pressure on piston 105 is released, return spring pushes flow tube 103 upwards, allowing flapper 102 to close

[0022] Actuator sub 1 will be connected directly to or in comparatively close proximity to safety valve 100 in the downhole string. A hydraulic line will connect the output tube 35 of actuator sub 1 to the fluid connection port 106 of safety valve 100. Power applied to drive motor 25 will cause drive motor 25 to supply hydraulic motor 30 with the torque required to deliver pressurized fluid to fluid connection port 106, overcome return spring 104, and ultimately open flapper 102. As long as power is supplied to drive motor 25, hydraulic motor 30 will continue to maintain the fluid pressure needed to keep flow tube 103 extended and flapper 102 in the open position. However, if power to drive motor 25 is interrupted, the force of return spring 104 is able to force activation piston 103 rearward. Because hydraulic motor 30 is bidirectional, the fluid which was acting on activation piston 103 moves in the reverse direction through hydraulic motor 30 and back into fluid reservoir 20 of activator sub 1. In this manner, the disruption of power to drive motor 25 causes safety valve 100 to return to the closed position, i.e., safety valve 100 fails in the closed position.

[0023] In many embodiments, the amperage of current supplied to drive motor 25 governs the output power (torque) of the drive motor while voltage governs speed of the drive motor, and thus, these two variables can be used to regulate the pressure of the fluid hydraulic motor 30 is capable of generating. This allows control of drive motor

amperage/voltage at the surface to control the pressure produced by hydraulic motor 30 and to supply the pressure needed to maintain safety valve 100 in the open position.

[0024] Many of the invention's preferred embodiments may be on a separate sub or integral to the safety valve which it controls. Each of these preferred embodiments will have a reservoir that is pressure balanced to the tubing (i.e., main flow passage), a power source, a drive motor, and a hydraulic pump providing hydraulic pressure that opens the safety valve. A fluid recharge port 14 allows for recharge of the hydraulic fluid due to leakage. Although not explicitly shown in the Figures, it will be understood that a recharge sub would be positioned above actuator sub 1. The recharge sub would have a fluid line connection to recharge port 14 and include its own reservoir of hydraulic fluid allowing replacement or refilling of the hydraulic tubes 7 and 8 as necessary.

[0025] As suggested above, the manifold 10 allows fluid to travel from the reservoir over to the power assembly 25/30. The power assembly 25/30 includes a power source that could be a battery or hydraulic pump at the surface connected to a drive motor 25 with a coupling that may be a direct drive or a gear reduction connected to a hydraulic motor 30. The drive motor 25 and hydraulic motor 30 may be immersed in hydraulic fluid. The spring 16 assures the reservoir 20 always applies pressure to feed the hydraulic motor 30. The discharge side of the pump includes seals to force fluid through control line 35 when the hydraulic motor is activated. The control line 35 is tied to safety valve connection port receptacle 106 (see Figure 3A).

[0026] Figures 4A and 4B illustrate another embodiment of a safety valve 100 operated by an actuator sub 1. In this embodiment, safety valve 100 and actuator sub 1 are separate subs joined by a conventional box-by-pin threaded oilfield connection. Figure 4 A shows a concentric sub housing 2 having grooves 6 cut into the wall space 5 of sub housing 2. Sub housing 2 is concentric in the sense that the wall thickness is substantially the same around the entire circumference of the sub and naturally the grooves 6 do not penetrate into the main flow passage of the sub housing. As more clearly seen in Figure 4B, a first hydraulic tube 7 and a second hydraulic tube 8 are positioned in adjacent grooves 6. Similar to the embodiment of Figures 1 and 2, the Figure 4B embodiment has a pressure equalization port 16 which allows fluid pressure communication from main flow passage 4, through equalization fitting 48 and bulkhead 40 into first hydraulic tube 7. As in the previous embodiment, the spring 18 and pressure piston 17 will act to impart a pressure in hydraulic fluid occupying the volume of tube 7 to the right (in Figure 4B) of pressure piston 17. Again, this volume of tube 7 forms a hydraulic fluid reservoir which directs fluid to hydraulic tube 8. The hydraulic fluid is directed through fitting 49, fluid control line 50, and then to fitting 51 which connects control line 50 to hydraulic tube 8. While fitting 51 engages hydraulic tube 8 adjacent to hydraulic motor 30, it will be understood that there is sufficient annular space between the inside surface of tube 8 and hydraulic motor 30 such that hydraulic fluid may freely flow to the low-pressure side of hydraulic motor 30. In other words, the seal dividing the high-pressure side and the low pressure side of motor 30 is to the left (in Figure 4B) of fitting 51.

[0027] The Figure 4B embodiment also includes the drive motor 25 powering hydraulic motor 30 similar to the Figure 2 embodiment. Although largely hidden from view in Figure 4B, a drive shaft extends between drive motor 25 and hydraulic motor 30. The end of hydraulic tube 8 opposite hydraulic motor 30 is sealed with the bulkhead 40 and threaded end cap 42. Wires required for electrical components in tube 8 may pass through bulkhead 40 and end cap 42 in a sealed manner allowing positive hydraulic pressure to be maintained in tube 8. The higher pressure output from hydraulic motor 30 is transmitted through ferrule connector 34 to outlet tube (or control line) 35. The higher pressure fluid in control line 35 may then be routed to the safety valve 1, or potentially any other hydraulically operated downhole tool. The fitting 51 directing fluid to hydraulic tube 8 and the ferrule connector 34 forming the connection to fluid to control line 35 may be considered as part of one embodiment of a manifold 10.

[0028] A further embodiment of actuator 1 is seen in Figures 5A and 5B. Figure 5A illustrates how this embodiment has a single groove 6 formed in the sub body 2. As more clearly shown in Figure 5B, both hydraulic tube 7 and hydraulic tube 8 are positioned in this single groove 6. As with previous embodiments, an equalization port 16 connects the sub's main flow passage, through bulkhead 40, to the volume of hydraulic tube 7 to the left (in Figure 5B) of pressure piston 17. The volume of hydraulic tube 7 forming the hydraulic reservoir (the volume to the right of pressure piston 17 in Figure 5B) may be connected to hydraulic tube 8 via a short segment of control line 50 which routed to the lower pressure side of hydraulic motor 30. Hydraulic tube 8 further includes the drive motor 25 and is sealed by bulkhead 40 and a threaded endcap (not illustrated). The higher pressure output of hydraulic motor 30 is directed to control line 35 which is routed down sub housing 2 adjacent to hydraulic tube 7 in the control line groove 36. The embodiment of Figures 5 A and 5B may be referred to as positioning the first and second hydraulic tubes in an "in-line configuration," whereas the embodiment of Figures 4A and 4B may be referred to as positioning the first and second hydraulic tubes in a "side-by-side configuration."

[0029] Figures 6 A and 6B illustrate a further embodiment of safety valve 100. The Figure 6 embodiment is similar to the Figure 3 embodiment in that the Figure 6 embodiment will include the flapper 102 which may be opened by the extension of flow tube 103. The Figure 6 embodiment also includes the return spring 104 which biases flow tube 103 toward its retracted position, which would allow flapper 102 to close. The Figure 6 embodiment differs from Figure 3 in that Figure 6 shows two activating pistons acting on flow tube 103 as opposed to the single activating piston seen in Figure 3. For example, Figure 6 A illustrates a primary activating piston 105A and a secondary activating piston 105B engaging flow tube 103 and moving it to the extended position (i.e., moving flapper 102 in the open state).

[0030] In many embodiments, the fluid pressure moving primary activating piston 105 A will be supplied by the output of hydraulic motor 30 of the actuator sub 1, i.e., output control line 35 of actuator 1 will be connected to the connection port (primary connection port) 106A, thereby supplying hydraulic fluid to primary activating piston 105A. Additionally, in certain embodiments, hydraulic fluid will also be supplied to secondary activating piston 105B from the hydraulic fluid reservoir (e.g., hydraulic tube 7 in Figure 4B). In other words, secondary activating piston 105B is exposed to the pressure in the fluid reservoir as opposed to the higher pressure output of hydraulic motor 30 which is routed to primary activating piston 105A. Although not explicitly shown in Figures 6A and 6B, certain embodiments of the safety valve may include a position sensor indicating when the secondary activating piston is in the extended or retracted position.

[0031] Figure 7 illustrates one mechanism for transferring reservoir fluid to the secondary connection port 106B seen in Figure 6A and thus to secondary activating piston 105B. Figure 7 shows the secondary piston control line 61 which at one end will connect to the fluid reservoir of hydraulic tube 7 (Figure 4B) and at the other end will connect to safety valve connection port 106B (Figure 6A). Figure 7 also shows a valve 60 regulating flow through control line 61. In the illustrated embodiment, valve 60 is an electrically controlled "fail-to-open" or "fail-open" valve. In other words, fail-to-open valve 60 will remain closed only while power is supplied to the valve. If power is cut off from valve 60, then valve 60 will automatically move to the open position. One example of fail-to-open valve 60 could be model no. 1335BA4AT-24VDC available from Jefferson Solenoid Valves, USA, Inc. of Miami, Florida. Figure 7 further illustrates the electronics tube 55 which houses battery 56 and electronics card 57. The bulkheads 40 isolate the interior of electronics tube 55 from outside fluids while allowing wires 41 and 52 from electronics card to extend outside of electronics tube 55, e.g., wires 52 running back to the surface such that electronics card 55 sends and receives signals from the previously discussed PLC. Thus, one function of electronics card 57 is to selectively direct power from battery 56 to fail-to-open valve 40 via wires 41. Electronics card would also receive signals from the position sensor at secondary activating piston 105B indicating whether the piston was in the extended or retracted position. Although not specifically illustrated, it will be understood that electronics tube 55 would be inserted into an addition groove 6 formed in the wall of sub housing 2.

[0032] Since control line 61 is connected to secondary activating piston 105B through connection port 106B (Figure 6A), fail-to-open valve 60 may be operated to affect the position of secondary activating piston 105B. In one example, hydraulic motor 30 will be used to supply pressurized fluid to primary activating piston 105A while no power is applied to valve 60 (i.e., valve 60 remains open). As primary activating piston 105A moves flow tube 103 to the extended position, flow tube 103 will pull secondary activating piston in the same direction. The vacuum created behind secondary piston 105B by its movement will draw fluid from the fluid reservoir in hydraulic tube 7 (with the fluid volume removed from the reservoir being compensated for by the advancing pressure piston 17). Again, fluid may freely flow to secondary activating piston 105B because no power is being supplied to fail-to-open valve 60 and it therefore is in the open position.

[0033] In previously embodiments described in reference to Figures 3 A and 3B, once hydraulic motor 30 had delivered sufficient pressurized fluid to the activating piston to fully extend the flow tube and open the flapper, hydraulic motor 30 had to continuously operate in order to keep the flapper in the open position. However, the Figure 6 embodiment provides an alternative to this mode of operation. Because secondary activating piston 105B has advanced and drawn hydraulic fluid with it, providing power to fail-to-open valve 60 closes this valve and prevents secondary activating piston 105B from returning to its rearward position. Thus, once fail-to-open valve 60 is closed, operation of hydraulic motor 30 may be stopped (or substantially reduced) without the flow tube 103 and flapper 102 moving to the closed position. In other words, even though primary activating piston 105A now lacks sufficient fluid pressure to maintain flow tube 103 in the extended position, the closed fail-to-open valve 60 prevents secondary activating piston 105B from moving to its flapper closed position. Therefore, this embodiment includes a control means which allows hydraulic motor 30 to operate until primary activating piston 105A has fully extended flow tube 103, then the control means closes fail-to-open valve 60 and ceases (or substantially reduces) operation of hydraulic motor 30. This configuration provides a "temporary hold open" function which maintains flapper 102 open at the much lower power consumption of keeping fail-to-open

valve 60 closed as compared to continuously operating hydraulic motor 30. And of course, if there is a complete failure of power throughout the system, then fail-to-open valve opens control line 61, allowing hydraulic fluid to bleed back into the reservoir of hydraulic tube 7 under the force of return spring 104 acting on flow tube 103 and secondary activating piston 105B, thereby allowing flapper 102 to fail to the closed state.

[0034] While the depicted embodiments of the actuator sub 1 generally show at least two hydraulic tubes, other embodiments not illustrated might be implemented with a single hydraulic tube enclosing all components required to carry out the functions described above.

[0035] The safety valve operation is simplified and many of the problems and risk associated with items mentioned in prior art are eliminated with the embodiments disclosed herein. The control system disclosed uses a drive motor to turn a hydraulic motor that applies hydraulic pressure to open the safety valve. Once the valve is open energy applied to the drive motor maintains hydraulic pressure keeping the valve open. If the energy is removed the hydraulic motor spins in reverse as the spring pushes the rod piston back to the closed position. The hydraulic fluid returns to the low pressure side of the reservoir.

[0036] In certain embodiments, the closed hydraulic system is pressure compensated to the ID of the tubular tied to the safety valve. This pressure compensation balances the hydraulic load across the rod piston seals. The compensation feature has a floating piston that can supply ample fluid to operate the valve and has sufficient volume for thermal expansion. The hydraulic actuator needs to only overcome force from the spring to open the valve. The preferred embodiment will feature an electric drive motor.

[0037] The term "about" will typically mean a numerical value which is approximate and whose small variation would not significantly affect the practice of the disclosed embodiments. Where a numerical limitation is used, unless indicated otherwise by the context, "about" means the numerical value can vary by +1-5%, +/-10%, or in certain embodiments +/-15%, or even possibly as much as +1-20%.