What is a Christmas Tree on an Oil Well?
A Christmas tree is used by petroleum and natural gas industries to regulate the flow in the pipes of an oil or gas well. It is a complex assembly of valves, spools and fittings that looks similar to a lit Christmas tree–not the one that you see around the holidays, but the one that appears at a drag race starting line. These are installed on top of a wellhead, typically after drilling operations have been completed.
Christmas trees are used both for surface and subsea wells. They typically have complex control and monitoring systems installed within them to help maintain safe and consistent flow of the oil or gas within the well. Because the major function of the Christmas tree on a wellhead is to control the flow of oil and gas out of the well, they are configured to provide many different functions–such as injecting chemicals into the flow, providing pressure relief, monitoring key components of the extraction process such as pressure, temperature, corrosion, flow rate, flow composition, and much more.
The valves on a Christmas tree must be very strong and corrosion resistant and are typically made from blocks of steel. The number and function of these valves vary from wellhead to wellhead, depending on the function of that individual wellhead, but most of them are designed to help maintain safe operation of the well. For production wells, this might mean allowing the operator to inject chemicals into the well to eliminate issues such as blockages or help control the production volume on other wells in the wellfield.
Types of Valves on Christmas Trees
Master Valves – There are usually two master valves on a Christmas tree a lower master valve and an upper master valve. These are the most important valves on the Christmas tree because they are the main “spigot” for the flow of the well. The well is either flowing or not flowing. There are two valves to make sure that if one of them does not work, the other one will.
Swab Valve – This valve is used for performing intervention operations such as inserting wirelines or coiled tubing into the well.
Wing Valves – The right-hand valve is typically called a flow wing or production wing valve because it is how the oil/gas flows to a production facility. The left-hand valve is typically named the “kill wing valve” because it is used to inject chemicals and fluids into the flow such as corrosion inhibitors or blockage removers.
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