A PLOT to Increase Production

Optimizing oil and gas production requires a unique combination of ingenuity and technology. At ConocoPhillips, collaboration across disciplines led to the creation of a new, proprietary software solution that yields information to allow production increases averaging in excess of 5% in optimized wells. Some wells increased production as much as 30% after using the customized software, called the Plunger Lift Optimization Tool (PLOT).

“It provides an understanding of what wells are capable of and allows us to optimize them to their true capacity,” offered Bill Hearn, Artificial Lift Production Engineer. Hearn estimated PLOT increased production by over 4 Million Cubic Feet per Day (MMcf/day) in a recent application.

Existing Plunger Lift technology relies on a pressure activated piston to remove liquids that build up at the bottom of a well that can reduce the flow of gas.

“Not finding a tool or finding anyone who would be willing to work with us to build one in a timely manner, we decided to build our own. To the best of my knowledge there is still nothing in industry like PLOT, meaning we have a surveillance and optimization tool for plunger lift wells that other operators do not. And I might add that of the wells that ConocoPhillips operates, plunger lift is by far the single largest artificial lift type, nearly making up more than all other forms of artificial lift combined,” said Pat Bergman, Principal Engineer, Artificial Lift.

“It changed the overall optimization process and taught us how to effectively optimize the wells,” Hearn added.

PLOT gathers approximately 4.5 million daily data records from monitoring of rates, pressures, and results from mathematical calculations, and generates visualization tools, optimization graphs, and reports. Over 500 calculations are used to determine optimization levels and critical alarm states.

“PLOT allows us a nearly real time detailed look at how our plunger lift wells are being operated and how those wells react to changes that are made. Ultimately this should allow us to better optimize the wells (make more production) and recognize sooner when things go wrong (break, wear out, etc.),” Bergman said.

Field operators, office-based engineers and control room operators have the ability to immediately see well performance data highlighting which wells are operating at peak capacity and which need further optimization. The tool also delivers critical operational alerts that highlight potential issues that, if not resolved, could impact safety or well operations.

Access to such data provides a number of benefits.

“In an asset such as San Juan, driving is the one of the highest risk activities that a Multi Skilled Operator is exposed to on a daily basis. Through PLOT we can remotely troubleshoot wells and optimize controller settings, which over time will reduce the time field personnel spend driving to locations,” noted Farmington, New Mexico- based Senior Engineer Ryan Sustakoski.

Additionally, PLOT can help reduce emissions by improving our ability to identify and resolve issues that have the potential to release gas to the atmosphere, allowing us to react to dynamic conditions while maximizing production.

“With the detail available from PLOT we are able to identify equipment failures and track basin-wide facility performance. Over time, this will allow us to develop alarms for specific criteria that indicate a significant HSE risk resulting from an equipment failure,” added Sustakoski.

PLOT also enhances operator ability to eliminate misapplied strategies while improving our Green House Gas (GHG) reporting results by reducing well venting as part of the optimization process.

Two of the critical equations used in PLOT are considered ConocoPhillips intellectual property and have pending patent applications. A phased deployment of PLOT is underway in the U.S. and we are evaluating further adoption in Canada and around the world where we have plunger lift enabled wells.

“We are still in the process of determining how to best extract the value of PLOT,” said Bergman.