Widely known as an avid educator and leader in the oil and gas industry, Joe Vandevier has in-depth experience developing and implementing enhanced solutions for profitable oil recovery. As the President and Principal Consultant of Downhole Dynamics, LLC, he is dedicated to helping his clients identify strategies and technologies to improve their operational efficiency and achieve their production goals. In this spotlight, Joe discusses how the rise of digital technologies and unconventional production are impacting the artificial lift segment.
Recently, new monitoring and automation technologies have taken over the oil and gas spotlight. How do you think this trend toward digitization will impact the role and offerings of artificial lift service companies?
Monitoring and optimization technologies have evolved at a rapid rate over the last decade. To date, most of these technologies have been applied to industrial processes, aerospace applications, and medical sciences. However, over the last five years, artificial lift systems (ALS) suppliers and end-users have begun to utilize remote monitoring and optimization to identify wells that are underperforming or developing completion problems or artificial lift performance issues.
Digital tools required for effective ALS monitoring and optimization include accurate and dependable downhole gauges, variable speed drives, and artificial intelligence software combined with remote communication capabilities. These components working together make it possible to not only provide operating alarms but also analyze various production and equipment parameters and diagnose potential failures before they happen. The impact on artificial lift service companies will continue to evolve as successful suppliers become more “systems” oriented and are able to provide “smart” ALS made up of pumps, controls, downhole sensors, optimization software, remote communication capabilities, and proper application and sizing tools.
Given the above, the power of the web and cloud computing make it possible to analyze large amounts of data, and the use of “rule-based” and artificial intelligent systems can advise the operator of the health of the well and the artificial lift system while providing suggestions for optimization.
What are some strategies that could help producers increase the efficiency of their systems while operating in challenging downhole environments?
Achieving high-performing production systems is not an accident, but it is rather a carefully orchestrated result of ALS providers and producers working closely together to achieve this end. It begins by developing a good understanding of the producing well and its environment and production capabilities. Without this understanding, the proper selection of the required fit for purpose equipment cannot be made. In addition to technology implemented at the wellsite, digital software and analytics can enhance the design process via predictive modeling of the downhole environment. Once the well can be accurately characterized, the use of an effective and accurate artificial lift sizing program such as Zone™ can ensure that the proper pump system components are selected to match the well and operate within their rated range.
Next comes the specializing of the ALS design to handle known issues such as high temperature, erratic well inflow, free gas, solids, scale, asphaltene, and other production issues. No matter how well the equipment is sized to match the well, the adaptation of the equipment to meet the producing environment is critical to achieving acceptable run life and maintenance of well production.
The third step then involves the continuous monitoring of the well and ALS to ensure it is operating within its intended range. Similarly, proactive actions should be taken to remediate developing problems before they result in an ALS failure. The final step is to make sure there are lessons learned from each well failure that allow a refinement of the equipment, well treatment, and workover procedures in order to continuously improve the operating outcome.
Maximize Run Life With a Fit-For-Purpose Strategy
To maintain profitable oil recovery in this environment, operators need strategies that help eliminate inefficiencies and enhance the run life of their systems.
In this guide, you’ll learn how a fit-for-purpose methodology can be applied to optimize production and create fine-tuned solutions for uninterrupted production throughout three stages of the artificial lift lifecycle:
- Selection and design
- Installation and operation
- Failure analysis and feedback
With the rise of unconventional production, what challenges should operators keep in mind to improve the performance of their artificial lift systems?
The very nature of “unconventional” wells is that they are different. In general, they are wells completed in tight shale reservoirs where the permeability and hydrocarbon contact of the well is artificially improved by multiple fracing of the reservoir and the use of long deviated and horizontal completions. The fracking process involves pumping large amounts of solids-laden fluid into the formation to achieve the hydraulic fracing outcome. In many cases, the reservoir also contains a degree of free solids that combine with the frac fluid and exit the reservoir through the artificial lift system during the production process. These solids combine to create quite a challenge for equipment life during the initial months of well operation.
In addition, a large portion of “unconventional” wells contain significant natural gas. Due to the rapid declining reservoir pressure that is characteristic of “unconventional” wells, this gas breaks out of solution and must be effectively produced through the ALS.
The third ALS selection and operating factor has to do with the well completion itself. Typically, these completions begin with a vertical wellbore and at some point “kick-off” with a deviation build that results in a horizontal well. The combination of the casing bend along with irregular deviations called tortuosity results in the potential of heavy damage to the ALS during installation. The successful operation of ALS in “unconventional” wells must take into account not only the unique well and fluid environment of each but also include a knowledge of the well completion and the ALS modification required to allow for extended runlife.
With artificial lift being an essential part of US oil production strategies, where do you see opportunities for growth or improvement among service companies in this sector?
According to Spears and Associates, the ALS sector of Oil and Gas equipment and services has been one of the highest growth sectors in the industry over the last twenty years. Since almost every well drilled will eventually need to be pumped, the future for ALS is bright. As an ALS service company, the opportunity for improvement (and subsequent growth) centers on not only improving each component of the system but also working to provide a “fit for purpose” system adapted to meet both the unique requirements of each well while providing the user with the optimum economic outcome.
For example, where well workover costs are high and / or daily oil production is significant, ALS runlife usually becomes the producer’s #1 goal. In these cases, the producer’s economic return is dominated by their failure costs measured in well workover expenses and lost production. To be successful, it is important for the ALS service company to provide an enhanced range of technology solutions to ensure good equipment reliability. On the other hand, where a producer has mature, benign wells with high water cut and low oil production, ALS initial costs and energy efficiency dominate the economic equation. In those cases, the ability of the ALS service company to provide cost-effective systems with good energy efficiency is the key.
Finally, a significant opportunity for growth and improvement centers around the “service” element. A successful, growing ALS company is continuously striving to provide the best service in the industry. This comes from having the best people committed to being all they can be. Success comes from the experience and attitude of the whole ALS company team working together to make sure the needs and wants of the customer are always in their line of sight.