The wellhead consists of the pieces of equipment mounted at the opening of the well to manage the extraction of hydrocarbons from the underground formation. It prevents leaking of oil or natural gas out of the well, and also prevents blowouts caused by high pressure. Formations that are under high pressure typically require wellheads that can withstand a great deal of upward pressure from the escaping gases and liquids. These wellheads must be able to withstand pressures of up to 20,000 pounds per square inch (psi). The wellhead consists of three components: the casing head, the tubing head, and the ‘christmas tree.’
The casing head consists of heavy fittings that provide a seal between the casing and the surface. The casing head also serves to support the entire length of casing that is run all the way down the well. This piece of equipment typically contains a gripping mechanism that ensures a tight seal between the head and the casing itself.
The tubing head is much like the casing head. It provides a seal between the tubing, which is run inside the casing, and the surface. Like the casing head, the tubing head is designed to support the entire length of the casing, as well as provide connections at the surface, which allow the flow of fluids out of the well to be controlled.
The ‘christmas tree’ is the piece of equipment that fits on top of the casing and tubing heads, and contains tubes and valves that control the flow of hydrocarbons and other fluids out of the well. It commonly contains many branches and is shaped somewhat like a tree, thus its name, ‘christmas tree.’ The christmas tree is the most visible part of a producing well, and allows for the surface monitoring and regulation of the production of hydrocarbons from a producing well. A typical Christmas tree is about six feet tall.