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Home / Issue Archive / 2006 / August #8 / Pumps Work Smarter with a Brain Boost from Lufkin Automation

№ 8 (August 2006)

Pumps Work Smarter with a Brain Boost from Lufkin Automation

You can't get more American than Lufkin, Texas, where in 1902 Lufkin Industries opened shop, and from where today the company ships pumps and automation equipment to oil producing regions worldwide.

By Elena Zhuk

Lufkin's rod pump advertisements even play on a cowboy theme, picturing a man wearing a Stetson, astride a horse. "It's a Lufkin son, you can depend on it," this icon of individualism tells a small boy in the picture.

And on this side of the Atlantic, you couldn't find a country more thought of as still living mentally in the old Soviet Union than Belarus. Painted by the world's media as a closed country governed by a dictatorship, Belarus is hardly the place you'd expect an East Texas cowboy to choose as his point of entry into the CIS oil and gas industry.

But for Lufkin Automation, a part of Lukfin Industries, oilfield group, that's exactly what did happen.

The Best Combination of Price and Quality

It all started in June 1996 when Belorusneft engineers picked up a Lufkin Automation brochure at Moscow's NEFTEGAZ exhibition. Soon after, state-owned Belorusneft contacted the US manufacturer's CIS representatives in Russia and just before Christmas, Lufkin engineers visited the Gomel region. There, they installed three Lufkin System 60 controllers for a test demonstration on the 40-year-old Rechitskoje field, one of the oldest producing oilfields in Belarus.

The test lasted two months. Belorusneft liked the results and bought the three test controllers. In January 1998, they followed up with an order for 50 more controllers and three control centers. Today, Belorusneft has the complete package - 300 controllers in an integrated system - the first installation of a Lufkin System 60 field automation system in the CIS.

The project has paid dividends. On the heels of its Belarus project, Lufkin Automation won contracts in Tatarstan with TATEX (a JV between Devon Energy and Tatneft) and with Tatneft itself. The most recent round of equipment deliveries to Almetjevsk occurred this July. Soon, Lufkin expects to another contract with a Russian major.

"We decided to introduce this equipment because of an increasing need to control our reserves," Andrei Tishkov, who heads the Production Automization Department at Rechitsaneft, a part of Belorusneft, told Oil&Gas Eurasia in Rechitsa this month. "We chose Lufkin because it offered us a complex that could control both overhead and downhole equipment. Also, the equipment could transmit all the information through radio channels. We liked that. Some other alternatives were considered as well. We looked at a UK firm that offered a similar product but it was more expensive. At that time there were some Russian analogs too, but they couldn't be coordinated with each other. The administration came separately, and so did the downhole and overhead controllers. It wasn't practical to put it all together ourselves. It would have cost a lot. Costs of the Lufkin system have long ago been recouped."

Getting the Big Picture

No matter where you are in the Gomel region - at Belorusneft's headquarters in Gomel, or at the Production Automization Centers in the Svetlogorsk or Rechitsa production areas - a single production engineer can monitor the status of any automated well in the entire group from his or her computer screen using the CSLift software from the US firm CASE Services, Inc.

Operation of the overall system of some 300 controllers is split between those three centers. At the Rechitsa control area which Oil&Gas Eurasia visited, a single production engineer handles 97 controllers which currently operate 117 wells separated by as many as 40 kilometers. The engineer's major task is to accumulate information, analyze it and take effective decisions. He is backed up day to day by colleagues from the BelNIPIneft R&D Institute and from the production department at Belorusneft.

Vladislav Petrov, the lead production engineer at Rechitsa, showed OGE how it's done. "The CSLift system enables you to program the well controllers that operate a piping unit. "From this station," he continues, pointing at the computer at his desk, "we can set all the necessary parameters for bringing a well to a stable rate of production and further operation." Belorusneft actually started out using the Control-C DOS program created by Delta-X Corp. later acquired by Lufkin Automation, but found it to be not flexible enough, so they switched to CSLift.

Operation of the automated wells is dynamometer tested. Polished rod loading variations are registered and a dynamometer chart is produced. As a result, the operating experience is accumulated for every well. Each well has a dynamometer chart of its own which shows any bugs in automated operations, and allows flow rate to be estimated. "There's a separate dynamometer chart for every turn of a pumping unit," Petrov explains. "Controllers take readings constantly. If the situation turns to the best or to the worst, it makes the decision: to stop or to start. Thus, we can program the parameters both for continuous and for cycling operation."

At certain intervals a complete controller array inquiry is performed, delivering information on the current status of the well stock. The readings are taken at midnight so that when the production engineer arrives at the office in the morning, he or she will understand immediately if there are any problems. Also, additional readings are taken on shutdown, on starting-up and in running.

"The basic parameters we need for evaluation are dynamometer charts and time: how long the well was operating and how long it was idling. As a result, we receive the charts for maximum and minimum polished rod loading, flow rate chart, and production data for a definite period. This system has been working steadily since 2000, and every well has an operation history of its own now," Petrov said.

A Benefit Hard to Estimate

In analyzing the ROI (Return on Investment) of this sort of project, Dmitry Lemeshko, an engineer in Belorusneft's central office processing department, says his goal is to keep production costs below established standard. To achieve this, he needs equipment that saves energy while increasing production at the wellhead. "That's how it was earlier: an operator would start up the well, and it would keep working around the clock," he told OGE. "No matter if you suck it down to the intake or not - the energy was being wasted, the well was running free and some accident could easily happen. First of all, this system lets you optimize the operation. The well is pumping, then it stops. The pump is filled, then it is on after some time. The outcome is cutting energy expenditure and building up production."

According to Petrov, Rechitsaneft's production engineer, the system enables him to monitor his well stock in a timely manner so he can act to prevent problems before they occur. Increasing the number of treatment operations generally leads to increased oil production costs. Since 2000, with the Lufkin system Belorusneft has reduced by nearly 30 percent the number of well treatment operations it has had to make. Moreover, introducing the system became one of the factors of increasing mean cycles between failures of the automated stock.

"It is the responsiveness that counts," Petrov said. "Before we had this system, we had to inspect the stock every week. Then we manually took the dynamometer chart, processed it and made a decision. Now it is the program that tells us what to do in this or that situation. It prevents emergencies such as breakaways, paraffin blockage, dusting and flow rate decrease due to leakage."

No Time for Risk

These days at Rechitsa field there is not a workman in dusty overalls in sight. There are no battered looking pumping units; only freshly painted, bright-red pumping units, birch trees, and boundless rye fields under a bright blue sky. The silence is only broken by the rod moving steadily up and down. "The units are painted every year and even the drips are taken care of," Lemeshko said. "It was just seven years ago that we began to pay so much attention to the appearance." Apparently, Belorusneft, which marked its 40th anniversary July 21, was not just getting ready for celebration but showed a European-style corporate culture.

Commercial oil production started in Belarus in 1965 with the discovery of the Rechitskoje oilfield. In its hey-day, some wells produced up to 200 cu. m of oil per hour with crude flowing into pipelines that fed four branch connections at a time. In ten years however, production in the Gomel region of Belarus was on the decline, reaching its lowest level of 1.8 mln tons per year in 1997.

Production is declining while consumption is rising. Domestic production satisfies only 10 to 15 percent of demand in Belarus. Moreover, that demand is expected to grow from 19.5 mln tons per year in 2006 and to 25 mln tons per year by 2020. Belarus felt reserves depletion earlier than its neighbors in Russia and Eastern Europe. To stabilize what the country has, Belarus has actively developed abandoned wells, bringing shut-in wells back on-stream by, among other things, sidetracking. Belarus also pays considerable attention to the development of high-viscosity oil. Belorusneft relies on oil recovery stimulation technologies, including hydrofracturing, lateral and multilateral drilling, and it takes care to buy the latest equipment on the market.

"In our field automation program, we chose a reliable American-made teledynamometer testing system, because we have no time for risky experiments," Lemeshko said. And here elements of the Belorussian character - caution, common sense and the desire to find their feet was at play in the decision making. And if you think about it, folks from East Texas aren't that different.

From Minsk to Almetyevsk, and Beyond - Go East Young Man!

After its success in Belarus, Lufkin Automation has designed two more advanced generations of controllers having no analogs worldwide and moved to the East, bagging two contracts in Tatarstan.

The first was with Russia's oldest joint venture, TATEX, a JV between the US oil company Devon and Tatarstan's state oil company Tatneft.
"We have been working with TATEX for three years now, and are involved in providing the control equipment for the first dual completion rod-pumped wells in Russia," John Pike, international sales manager for Lufkin Automation in Houston, told OGE. "This is a single well bore with two pumping units, two tubing strings and two pumps. One pump is located under a packer producing one zone, while the other is above the packer producing from a different zone. It is like getting two wells out of drilling one well."

The matter in hand is the new Lufkin Automation development. SAM Well Manager is the product of the third generation after System 60; it is characterized by plenty of functions which System 60 or controllers of competitors do not have.

"We are able to control the well using an advanced technique where we calculate the pump intake pressure each stroke, and can calculate the production on each and every stroke," Pike said. Lufkin Automation has installed around 100 controllers and SCADA system software in both normal pumping wells as well as in the dual completions. The controllers are equipped with radios that communicate continually with the computers in the office.

Lufkin Automation's second project is with Tatneft which started in 2005 with a pilot project on 10 wells. It has since been expanded to 50 additional wells with equipment being chased in 2006. The equipment includes radios and SCADA system software. "Tatneft plans to set up the SCADA system on the basis of the controllers SAM Well Manager and XSPOC software which is also supplied by us. The project is expanding and we expect much larger orders in 2007. The potential with this customer is to automate thousands of wells," Pike said.

And that's not all. "We are also working with another major Russian company that we expect to have a contract with before year end," he added. "They have installed a pilot project and it was successful, they have agreed to add 60-80 wells in two locations before year end." And who is this company? Watch this space and find out.

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