Blockages in natural gas and oil pipelines can be caused by the aggregation of clathrate hydrate crystals which form at the oil-water-gas interfaces. Knowledge of interfacial tensions between components are crucial to understanding the interface physical chemistry and numerically simulating pipeline multiphase flow. This study measures the effect of the presence of natural gas components on the oil-water interfacial tension and its potential implications on flow assurance in oil-gas pipelines. Decane is used to mimic oil and is saturated with the gaseous mixture of methane, ethane, and propane as is consistent with simulations of multiphase dynamics. Water droplets were generated in decane and photographed through a window using pendant drop method in order to determine the oil-water interfacial tension. This study examined both mechanical and thermodynamic phenomena by considering interfacial tension under different pressure/temperature conditions covering the natural gas hydrate formation region. The effect of the gas mixture composition and pressure on the interfacial tension was determined at different temperatures in the range of pipeline operating conditions. The behavior was explained from both experimental and theoretical points of view. At lower pressures, the presence of the C2 and C3 natural gas components lowers the decane-water interfacial tension compared to the case of the decane-water-methane system. In particular, the pressure dependence of the interfacial tension was found to be almost five times higher than that in the absence of C2 and C3. By decreasing the interfacial tension, the presence of ethane and propane may facilitate the mixing of the water and oil phases in pipelines, therefore affecting the rate of hydrate formation.
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