PumpWell Solutions is wringing more oil from every well

Is enhanced oil recovery necessary given advancements in well optimization?

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April 15, 2014

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Krzysztof Palka believes every well in Alberta is capable of producing 20 per cent per year more
Photograph by Bryce Meyer

Krzysztof Palka sounds like a proponent of enhanced oil recovery. “We believe that every old well in Alberta is capable of producing 20 per cent more,” says the president and CEO of PumpWell Solutions Ltd., before adding the qualifier “per year.”

It’s that qualifier, per year, that differentiates what his company does from enhanced oil recovery, which can be characterized by steep decline rates after the first year. EOR techniques such as thermal recovery, gas injection and chemical injection can increase ultimate oil recovery between 30 to 60 per cent in-place from mature fields. But Palka’s company claims to be able to increase the productivity of wells by 20 per cent per year without the need to pump additional stimulants downhole – and without the steep decline rates.

Established in 2004, PumpWell now provides continuous well optimization as a service to 30 oil producers across the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, who collectively produce over 30,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. By constantly monitoring the downhole pressure in a well and making small adjustments over time – often changing the rhythm of a pump jack’s stroke by just milliseconds – Palka says that his company has been able to significantly increase the productivity of his clients’ wells.

PumpWell is one-part manufacturer and retailer of well monitoring and optimization equipment and one-part service provider of continuous well optimization and artificial lift. Palka says it’s the second part of PumpWell’s business – the continuous monitoring and optimization – that sets his company apart.

“Public data on those wells show that we have produced 20 per cent more simply because we don’t have unnecessary shutdowns and we produce effectively all the oil that flows out of the well.”

“We looked at other optimization technologies on the market,” he says, “and there are good technologies out there, but they are sold and then they just hang like a piece of jewelry on a pump jack without doing anything.” Since well optimization is complex and production engineers aren’t able to focus on optimization full time, Palka says, “We decided that we should be responsible for delivering those results to our clients.” As a result, Palka’s team in Calgary constantly monitors the downhole pressure of oil wells across Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba to maximize the flow from each well, thereby eliminating the week-to-week suboptimal performance of a well’s production.

“We have one field where we’ve worked for over two years in Saskatchewan and the wells there are over 50 years old and they’ve all been pumped off, which means theoretically there should not be more volume available,” Palka says. “Public data on those wells show that we have produced 20 per cent more simply because we don’t have unnecessary shutdowns and we produce effectively all the oil that flows out of the well.”

The success PumpWell has had in optimizing these wells in Saskatchewan has led to the company’s bold claims of being able to increase the productivity of wells across the WCSB by 20 per cent or more. Asked whether or not differences between wells, resource formations and depths make the success of those wells in Saskatchewan difficult to emulate elsewhere, Palka says that each well needs to be optimized differently and that this problem is another reason he is encouraging producers to outsource well optimization to his company.

The company’s early success has been in conventional wells but Palka says that an increasing number of PumpWell’s clients are using its optimization services in horizontal wells. Horizontal wells are more expensive, more difficult to complete and frequently the downhole pressure is affected by factors like gas interference and proppant flowback. In addition, the downhole pump is located in the transition zone between the vertical and horizontal legs of the well. These factors make horizontal wells more difficult to optimize. “They’re way more difficult than before,” Palka says. But he’s not discouraged. In fact, given these problems, he thinks that more and more companies will see the advantage of outsourcing their optimization. “All of these wells can produce more, but they require attention and they require optimization.”

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