What problems are customers facing with artificial lift in the Rockies today?
With the growth in the number of unconventional wells in North America, we have a better understanding of their behaviors, and one of the more challenging behaviors is the rapid decline in a well’s productivity. In addition, sand, gas, and corrosion are constant challenges in this environment. Obviously, developing an ESP pumping system that can adapt to those environmental conditions has been a key to success here.
Of course, it’s all about oil production and the ability to continuously and very easily operate in a wide range of conditions and constantly draw down harder, and to produce more oil for a longer amount of time in these very tough conditions.
How did operators produce wells in the Rockies before the REDA Continuum pump? What was their biggest challenge with ESPs in the past?
I think most operators were taking a conventional pump and applying it to an environment it was not designed to survive. These wells are much harsher, deeper, and harder. They have lots of sand, and the sand is very fine—which is very different from the North Sea and other conventional heavy sands. As a result, we had to adapt, we had to reengineer, and we had to develop a better pump to make sure that our customers could make a profit and stay in business.
When you say “harsh” can you quantify what’s harsh about the downhole environment in the Rockies?
When you look at a lot of different wells around the world, you typically think you get a sandy well, or you get a hot well, or you get a gassy well, or you get a corrosive well. Unfortunately, the Northern Rockies is everything: You get every combination you can imagine, and then of course it’s also deep. As we know, when you add depth for an ESP you add a lot of thrust and a lot of complications. So it’s just virtually trying to work with the whole system to constantly push the envelope to produce more oil for longer.
Would you consider the Continuum pump a game changer in these unconventional and challenging wells?
Yes, without a doubt! I think the Continuum pump has allowed Schlumberger to run longer, gain market share, and collaborate with operators so we continually learn and improve performance. We’ve already adapted and pushed these pumps out to different areas outside of the Northern Rockies, and they have performed exceptionally well. At their core, they are still a mixed-flow, tough compression pump, and they can easily be adapted to extend ESP performance anywhere in the world with ease.
If I called you on a Monday because I needed a Continuum pump, when could I have one installed? What kind of a timeline are we talking about?
We keep equipment on the shelf regularly. We streamlined our equipment inventory in North Dakota to three or four most reliable pump types. They’re sitting there regularly, and equipment comes on a truck every second day from our manufacturing center in Bartlesville, OK. So, our ability to respond is very quick and very different from the days of “Give me a P.O., I’ll place an order, and we’ll see that equipment in 3 or 4 months, and then I’ll let you know when it arrives.” You can’t work like that anymore. You won’t survive.
How do you see the future of unconventional production, and what do you expect—or need—next from the REDA Continuum pump?
I think we can still improve and learn from the successes we’ve had. Ultimately, Schlumberger continuous engineering improvement efforts mean we’re always tweaking technology to draw down lower and produce oil for longer with better uptime than any other ESP in these conditions.
Are there any other technologies that you think supplement the pump performance?
Absolutely, it’s a system. You need the pump to stay together and obviously do its job. But you also need the motor that can deal with the temperatures we expect. We have superior cables. We have excellent drives with algorithms to handle the gas slugs and the changing conditions. So once you put it all together in a fit-for-basin solution, we're able to come up with a REDA ESP system that can withstand and hold up better than any other ESP, which allows us to continually perform.
What about surveillance beyond the standard controller automation? How important do you think surveillance is?
Surveillance with the Lift IQ production life cycle management service has become a critical part of the unconventional production package. Years ago, when we started to offer that service, it was already clear that unconventional wells are very different from conventional wells with their sharp decline curves, pressure changes, long laterals, and constant changes. Those long laterals are like a big garden hose throwing out a lot of different stuff—gas, sand, fluid density changes. . . .To keep track of the variations and optimize ESP parameters to maintain performance and ensure a long lifetime, you need something that can react faster and better than any human with a truck can do. When you also factor in safety and the winter driving conditions in this part of the world, surveillance is essential. Look at it this way: Even if you could manage one well or a few wells, you can’t watch hundreds of wells at one time! But each well can change within an hour by so much—that’s why the surveillance is so important because it gives the pump the best chance of success.
So, this has become a key part of production: Every well is on surveillance of some sort. Monitoring allows us much faster feedback and changes as compared with sitting and relying on field technicians to physically visit every well. It allows us to simplify the optimization process. And even more things are getting layered in for safety and for troubleshooting.
Tell me about the cost of running Continuum pumps, as compared with conventional off-the-shelf ESPs. Do operators see a cost savings while running Continuum pumps?
They absolutely see some efficiency improvements. We have two great examples of major operators who are able to run their ESPs off of pump unit power at 175 A per well. We are running off that with no problems at all—that’s real efficiency!
ESPs are known to use power, right? We are running multiple campaigns in North Dakota with Continuum pumps off pumping unit power, without limitation. The operators know they will need power for the next 10 to 15 years, so they install 400-A distribution breakers on each of their wells. Of course, when you go from 175 A up to 400 A, that’s a lot more investment. So we took the challenge to run off of pumping unit power for two operators in North Dakota, and we’re doing it very successfully so they’re not paying this big outlay for power.
What would you say to someone out there who was considering using Schlumberger and the REDA Continuum pump for the first time?
I think the most important thing is to work together to come up with a system that works and then continue to regularly optimize the pump. You need to look at the performance, keeping in mind the well type and ensuring that you give that pump the best chance to work in the environment, and learn from that what you can as fast as possible to continually to improve.
You have to react constantly to keep the pumps running. Uptime is critical, so for us, it’s not just selling a pump and forgetting about it. We’re engaged from minute one to the time that pump is pulled. And then, of course, we’re working on reruns because the success of the first pump has been so good.
And with every pump we pull, we gain new insights that generate further improvements. We continually develop the range so we are running longer and producing more oil before the operator has to transition to the next artificial lift solution, which in North America is vital to the economics of this business.