Making strippers purr

A new, ultra-low cost method for monitoring marginal oil wells promises to help rescue thousands of US wells from an early demise.

Developed with funding from the Department of Energy (DOE) and project-managed by DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), the inexpensive monitoring-system prototype helps improve the efficiency of rod-pumped oil wells.

More than 75% of all oil wells in the US are classified as ‘stripper wells,’ producing less than 15 barrels per day. These wells are extremely sensitive to oil price changes or swings in operating costs, and from 1993 to 2000, about 150,000 of them were abandoned, leaving about 150 million barrels of crude in the ground.

Keeping such pumping and improving the bottom line of thousands of small independent American producers was the impetus behind the development of the Marginal Expense Oilwell Wireless Surveillance (MEOWS) monitoring system.

The MEOWS system allows daily, remote monitoring of wells in real time, while providing information that helps the operator improve the efficiency of rod pumps controlled by timers. The system entails attaching small, self-contained, wireless vibration sensors to a well’s flow-line check valves and then analysing the vibration data variations to determine oil-flow conditions.

There are other commercial systems that can gather, transmit, and analyse such data, but at a cost of about $30,000 per well, the use of such high-tech equipment is limited to big-volume oil and natural gas wells, such as those found in the Gulf of Mexico.

Jim Barnes, project manager with the National Energy Technology Laboratory, lauded the new system, which would cost a couple of hundred dollars per well, while providing “very significant value” to a lot of independents.