E&P Software: GreaseBook meets “Shark Tank”of E&P Software…

Last week, Houston-based SURGE (an accelerator that provides access to capital, customers, and mentors to E&P software and other energy-related companies) extended invitations to 11 of the world’s most promising Energy Startups….

More than 500 companies vied for a seat at the SURGE table and the opportunity to break bread with an elite group of SURGE alumni…

From this year’s applicant pool, SURGE accepted less than 2% of the total applicants. And, with members of the class hailing from such places as Chicago, New York, and San Francisco — Oklahoma City’s GreaseBook is damned proud to round out the mix.

e&p software accelerator

That’s right, SURGE thinks GreaseBook is onto something hot, and has extended a formal invite for GreaseBook to join the ranks of this increasingly elite group of energy & oil software startups!

What does this mean for GreaseBook?

In addition to seed funding, GreaseBook will be given access to 100+ mentors representing the world’s leading experts, policymakers, scientists, decision makers, and influencers in the energy arena…

Surge is only in its third year, and its previous two classes have already gone on to raise $25 million in funding while creating more than 150 jobs…

Some of the industry’s most well-known players (Halliburton, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhilips, Shell, ABB, Schlumberger, RigNet) are plugged into the SURGE community. Essentially, by joining SURGE, GreaseBook will be granted access to the industry that simply can’t be found anywhere else…

What does this mean for you, the E&P Software User?

While SURGE offers access to leading experts on design and infrastructure of GreaseBook’s operations, when it comes to influencing the direction & functionality of the app, our best asset is YOU — the independent operator.

Not only can our clients going to get a better app, they can also expect an even more dynamic group of folks to service and stand behind it…

We have a whole slew of app enhancements that we’ll be rolling out to our users in the coming months. And guess what? They were all ideas submitted by the GreaseBook community… engineers, owners, admin, supervisors, and pumpers like YOU.

Thanks to the SURGE Accelerator, GreaseBook is ‘pumped’.

Thanks to mobile technology, independent operators are able to scale every last man hour — and squeeze every last drop of oil — from their operations.

Pump more oil. Waste less time. Make more money.

E&P Software

**In November, Surge moved into its own building, a 58,000-square-foot space that also serves as a co-working space for technology entrepreneurs and other E&P Software upstarts.


GreaseBook Founder named Up & Coming "Industry Disruptor" by OGM Magazine

Just recently, The OGM (Global Oil & Gas Industry News) featured GreaseBook’s founder & CEO (Greg Archbald) as one of its Up & Coming “Industry Disruptors”!!

From exploring Greg’s definition of “success” to disclosing his role model (W. Axl Rose, notorious front man of 80s rock band Guns ‘N Roses), the article gives the reader some interesting (and fun!) insight into Greg’s life and how he got to where he is today.

We’re proud of everything Greg has accomplished, and even more grateful to The OGM for recognizing his hard work — check out the full article by clicking here:



Oil Production Software: The Consumerization of the Oil & Gas Enterprise

Oil Production Software meets smartphones and tablets…

There’s a big problem in oil & gas: getting the production information from the oilfield back to headquarters.

And, while the mega operators have always had the capacity to collect production information via sensors and telemetry — to the independent oil company, the ‘digital oilfield’ has always been something that lay just out of reach.

Why was this so?

Two reasons:

  • Most operators are spread too thin. Not only are field data collection systems expensive, but they also require a high level to design and deploy.
  • A large majority of the independent operator’s production portfolio consists of marginally producing wells (better known in the industry as ‘stripper wells’). Simply stated: retrofitting these wells with sensors the cost doesn’t justify the means.

However, now the independent operator has options. . . check out the video below (ie sit back and relax while the Big Boys seethe with envy!! 😉 )

**Update: 1/15/2015: We get a lot of people inquiring about this video. Since time of filming, GreaseBook has accomplished nearly everything we set out do in our pitch…

  1. CTO onboarded? Yes, and man this guy is gooooood…

  2. Customer Success Manager and help desk Staff online? Check!

  3. A GreaseBook in every pumper’s truck in America?  At 14,000,000bbls of oil flowed through the app (and counting!), we’re closer than you might think 😉

During SURGE Day at the House of Blues in downtown Houston, GreaseBook pitches its new oil production software platform to a group of more than 500 investors, thought leaders, and potential clients in the energy industry…

Attended by heavy hitters like ShellStatOilConocoPhilips, and Schlumberger, GreaseBook explains how what once was only available to the largest of operators can now be replicated by the independent oilman, with better results, in less than 20 minutes…

Being an independent operator has never been so good!! 🙂

E&P Tanks Software: Oil & Gas Awards Nominate GreaseBook Pumper App

The other day, the Oil & Gas Awards rolled into Oklahoma City to celebrate and recognize all sorts of advances made in the industry over the past 12 months… Among the likes of Halliburton, Continental Resources, and Chesapeake, the Oil & Gas Awards committee named the GreaseBook App (essentially, E&P Tanks Software which assists pumpers in monitoring their oil & gas production) as one of their finalists…

For which award you ask?

The Future Industry Leader Award!

GreaseBook was honored to take part in the ceremony, but was more satisfied knowing that a large number of small to mid-sized operators are recognizing that consumer electronics (ie iPads and iPhones) and cost-effective apps (like GreaseBook!) are enabling them to work smarter, not harder.

The Oil & Gas Awards Committee recognized GreaseBook for “having attained and demonstrated an impressive depth of technical knowledge in its field, and showing an innovative approach to its work.”

For us, that’s code for:

Eliminating those greasy Run Tickets

Empowering your pumpers (thus increasing your oil production…)

Thwarting greedy oil purchasers

**Side note: don’t be shy — click one of the links above!**

Thanks to the Oil & Gas Awards Committee, GreaseBook is humbled.

Thanks to mobile technology, independent operators are able to scale every last man hour — and squeeze every last drop of oil — from their operations.

Pump more oil. Waste less time. Make more money.


Oil Well Monitoring: Oil Well Monitoring with an iPad App

GreaseBook, an iPad app explicitly for oil well monitoring, was recently featured in Hart’s E&P Magazine… check out the article below!

Smart technology provides relief for reporting headaches.

Over the last five years, there has been a major paradigm shift in the source of innovation.

Although the supermajors of the oil and gas industry still contend for the top spot in industry innovation (as demonstrated by their success in exploiting ever deeper, more remote basins), some of the larger E&Ps are resisting the call to mobilize their working environment. These companies are saying no to connectivity, restricting the use of smartphones and tablets, and overlooking the applications and convenience their employees have come to enjoy and even depend on in everyday life.

oil well monitoring

Why is this so? Old habits die hard. Large companies look at mobile and pervasive computing from the IT mindset – control and compartmentalize – ahead of the benefits the organization will gain by enabling its teams through the mobile medium. However, with the employee time savings and relative affordability that the mobile medium has to offer E&P companies, smaller operators are taking note. Many of the small- to medium-sized independents have started to look to consumer electronics and cost-effective apps to work smarter, not necessarily harder. Thanks to mobile technology, independent operators are able to scale every last man hour – and squeeze every last drop of oil – from their operations.

David vs. Goliath

The GreaseBook app allows operators to use consumer technology to streamline their wellsite reporting. (Image courtesy of GreaseBook)

Monitor your oil well with an app

For years, the standard protocol of large production companies has been to monitor and execute all deepwater drilling activities via sophisticated satellite networks. Most wells over a certain capex are fitted with real-time optimization tools and sensors. However, for many smaller industry players, the digital oil field has always been a mirage that lay just out of reach.

Most operations managers and field engineers feel they are already spread too thin. Many field data collection systems require a high level of expertise to design, deploy, and operate. These systems also require general IT, control theory, and petroleum engineering skill sets to properly manage. While continually updating risk assessments, quantifying uncertainties, and integrating data across autocratic domain knowledge silos might all be part of an average day at one of the majors, for the smaller players, the cost and energy required does not justify the means.

While large independents and supermajors have entrenched themselves in advanced analytics software, data repositories, and massive IT departments to oversee it all, smartphones and tablet computers have been piggybacking their way into smaller companies. How? In the pockets and purses of the employees who work there.

Oil Well Monitoring: The pen and paper live on

It may surprise most people to learn that in a large majority of independent operating companies, the pen and paper method still remains the dominant form of field data collection. However, this is quickly changing. In most operations, field personnel are contracted to oversee and troubleshoot an operator’s leases. These field personnel usually fill out industry-standard paper gauge sheets. All oil, gas, and water production measurements are handwritten, and (if the operator is lucky) pumpers include any special commentary before mailing or faxing these figures to headquarters.

Although technologies like remote operations and SCADA have sought to address productivity and efficiency issues, many independent operators are of the mindset that a marginal well is going to produce what it is going to produce regardless of whether its production is monitored or not. Even in the case of high-flow wells, most operators require that their pumpers visit these sites several times a day, trumping some of the potential benefits a wireless monitoring device may tout.

When it comes to smaller operators, telemetry providers promoting real-time information may have missed the mark. Many operators are not concerned about immediate information. What they truly desire is a way to streamline the redundancy, reporting, and productivity issues that come with field data collection. What is more, they want a way to make sense of it all. And, with many pumpers fast approaching retirement age, operators are now searching for effective ways to transfer the intimate knowledge they have gained about their production properties to the next generation of engineers, managers, and field workers.

Some forward-looking E&P companies are addressing this through consumer electronics. Because of the shared repositories of information on which these mobile devices subsist, intimate knowledge of a company’s oil and gas assets is not stored away deep in a file cabinet or in some “autocratic domain silo” but is easily accessed via the cloud.

Rather than focus on the management and operations of onsite data servers, a majority (if not all) of the smart device software apps are hosted on the cloud. For the smaller operator, this means that employees can focus on what they are best at: overseeing oil and gas production, not managing complicated IT structure. Every piece of historical production information is stored offsite at a cloud storage provider, from which a relief pumper or a newly hired engineer can easily access needed information for review.

Smaller operators also are becoming more cognizant of the free apps on the iPad and iPhone that are the perfect complements to their business. Many of these apps only take a few minutes to set up but have the potential to yield days in productivity increases from operations managers, field engineers, and pumpers every year. For example, pumpers generally have a task list of things they need to do on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis to keep their leases running in top form. By forming pumper message groups in Apple’s Reminder app (which comes standard on every iPad and iPhone), oil and gas operators have an effective way to deliver daily, weekly, and monthly to-do lists (e.g. drop soap sticks, pump maintenance, chemical schedules, gas chart calibration, etc.).

Engineers who oversee the operations of small producers are employing free file sharing services such as Dropbox to store and deploy important documents like well completion reports and workover information. Once files are uploaded into Dropbox, employees are no longer tethered to their desktop computers. A field engineer can view a well history file from his tablet or smartphone in the field and share this same file with his team of field personnel.

Pumpers also have been quick to realize that by using the camera function on their smart devices they are able to save an employer thousands of dollars each year. By taking photos or video of problems in the field and posting them to messaging applications, veteran foremen and engineers can visually engage with their production assets. Where once issues could only be resolved through verbal descriptions over the telephone, companies are now able to visually troubleshoot problems from the office, thus avoiding costly onsite service calls.

A new breed of specialized apps has begun to crop up in the oil and gas industry. GreaseBook, an iPad application for operators and their pumpers, has eliminated the need for the traditional paper gauge sheet workflow. The company designed the app to work in oil-producing areas with zero mobile connectivity, and the app touts zero setup time and no contracts. The company has set out to improve the way pumpers record and interact with the vital production information they collect in the field, and the app can potentially eliminate 99% of all in-house, field-related administrative duties.

Operators are happy to outsource many of their core computing and operations processes to third-party companies because of the convenience and amount of time that is saved. What is more, company employees actually want to use these smart devices, which means management does not have to endure the typical push-back of new initiatives.

The platforms on which these smartphones and tablets run are nothing to scoff at. Take Apple, which according to market value surpassed ExxonMobil as the world’s most valuable company in 2011. The apps that run on these smart devices are backed by cloud computing heavy hitters like Microsoft and RackSpace Cloud systems and are connected by mobile communications giants like Verizon and AT&T. Essentially, operators feel more comfortable leaving the responsibilities of their core computing and operations processes to third-party consumer companies, not only because of the convenience and amount of time they save but also because these companies dedicate 100% of their resources to providing and perfecting these services.

Democratization of the oil field

Despite the success operators are having with the implementation of these easy-to-use, cost-effective apps, many of the larger operating companies are resisting the call to mobilize their working environment. The cost of not going mobile comes in many forms. It comes in the form of not attracting the strongest candidates to replace the industry’s aging work force. And it comes in the form of not making the best decisions due to limited information. These petite E&P companies may soon find themselves the envy of their larger, more “sophisticated” brethren. Something happens when people start to use smart technology. Their focus shifts from “how things get done” to “how things need to get done,” and for owners and managers of E&P companies, this is a welcome transformation.

Well Production Data: GreaseBook well production data app for iPad featured in The Oklahoman

GreaseBook well production data app for operators was recently featured in an article written by the energy editor of The Oklahoman. The article was aptly entitled, “Local software company aims to digitize oilfield”, and addresses GreaseBook’s goal of making  (consumer friendly) technology available to small and mid sized oil and gas producers.

Well production data

Although the concept of the “Digital Oilfield” is nothing new, GreaseBook recognized that the efficiencies gained in the oilfield from going digital have always been a mirage that lay just out of reach for the small E&P. However, with the advent of consumer technology (iPads and iPhones), the larger, “more sophisticated” Super Majors and large independents are eyeing the small(er) producer with increasing envy…

Check out the article here: http://newsok.com/local-software-company-aims-to-digitize-oil-field/article/3872479

Oil and Gas Data Management: GreaseBook on The Energy Makers Show

Last week, The Energy Makers Show interviewed GreaseBook to find out a little more about the app’s approach to oil and gas data management for lease operators in the oil patch…

In the clip below, Russ Capper (Owner/CEO of The Energy Makers Show) talks with Greg Archbald (Founder of GreaseBook) to understand exactly how the app replaces the paper gauge sheet…

The EnergyMakers Show is a weekly video podcast featuring interviews with energy innovators, thought leaders and public policy makers discussing the challenges of the world’s rapidly increasing thirst for energy.

We were thrilled to be a part of the interview, and even more grateful to the Energy Makers Show for spreading the word about GreaseBook — be sure to pay Russ a visit at www.theenergymakers.com!

Maintenance and Repair For Marginal Wells In Oil & Gas Production

Monitoring production will take up a big chunk of time working a lease pumping operation. Most of your day will more likely be spent doing maintenance and basic repairs, however, on a wide range of equipment. A pumper will become competent in a whole range of skills while working on a lease, as their job covers a number of different duties.

This is particularly true as time goes on and production begins to drop. As a reservoir loses pressure, production inevitably falls. That fall in production means that there’s less money to hire specialists when there’s a problem. That means the pumper will most likely have to make more repairs on their own. Most of the equipment on the lease is repairable, from patching tanks to putting leak clamps on a line.


A Work Day

It’s important that the pumper not take on more than what can be done by a single person. As production drops, the pumper will have to do a wider range of tasks, but safety is important. You may need to perform a wider range of tasks, as production slows so does the pace of the operation. There’s more time for repairs, and time to schedule help for tasks that require it.

Oil has more time to sit, and so less chemical can be used in treating it. Vessels like heater-treaters may be turned into three phase separators, without using heat. Gas production will usually also fall, meaning that the gas system is easier to run. Less automation will be needed to handle all of this.

Maintenance of automation systems can sometimes be difficult, as the equipment is specialized and may be unfamiliar. The manufacturer will usually have resources to help you puzzle out problems and understand any repairs that may be necessary. Local suppliers are also usually good sources of information.



Your personal welfare is always important. There are many tasks and situations around the lease that can be dangerous if not treated seriously, but are perfectly safe when a little common sense is used. When repairing gas leaks and handling gas there are some particular safety rules to keep in mind, outlined below.


Working At The Tank Battery

The tank battery is the biggest above ground part of a pumping operation, so you can expect to spend a fair amount of time working there and maintaining the different parts. Every day should begin with look around the battery, inspecting the lines and tanks for problems. Leaks are usually very easy to see, as there will be a trail of black fluid trailing to the ground. When patching a leak on a tank, always lower the level of liquid below the leak. That will make the process much easier. Likewise, when tightening a leaking fitting there should be no pressure on it.

You’ll also want to keep the battery as clean as you can. It’s much easier to spot a leaking tank if the side of it isn’t already covered with drops of oil. Whacking weeds and keeping plants from overgrowing equipment will also make problems easier to spot. Other small tasks include lubricating valves and pumps, adjusting controls and valves, painting to prevent rust, and a whole range of other tasks to keep the battery operating.


Maintaining And Repairing Lines

A line leak can usually be stopped by applying a line clamp, which can be tightened around a leaking pipe. Special care should be taken when working with gas lines. Natural gas pumped from the well obviously doesn’t have the smelly stuff in it that the gas company adds later, so it’s possible to stop smelling it. That makes it particularly dangerous, as inhaling gas can lead to a loss of consciousness or worse. Always stand upwind of leaking gas, and have a second person standing by if possible. When a breeze is blowing, the small pocket of lower pressure created by your ‘wind shadow’ will draw gas into your face, even if you are standing up wind. Stand so that you’re facing at an angle to the wind, or shift a few steps to one side or the other regularly so that gas will be blown away from you.

This rule should also be followed when gauging tanks, as gas will be released then as well.

Maintenance and Repair

Figure 1. Keeping an eye on the wind’s direction is always a good idea.

Maintenance At The Wellhead

Maintaining the well and pump downhole is one of the pumper’s major responsibilities. You’ll need to keep engines and pumps maintained by changing oil and lubricating bearings. Other tasks you may be asked to perform includes tightening or replacing belts, checking stuffing on valves and pumps, replacing fuses, checking chemical levels and pumps, and treat fluid produced from the well with chemical.

Unusual Operations In Oil & Gas Production

Each well and operation is going to be unique, depending on your experience, the behavior of the well, and a whole range of other factors. Every operation will face different challenges, and so it’s important to approach problems with an open mind. Some problems are best solved by working with other pumpers, either to prolong the life of the well or to save on equipment costs. It is often worthwhile, and can do a lot to make a well more profitable.


Working With Other Operators

Working with other pumpers has its own problems. Any potential disagreements can be avoided with clear procedures and a professional attitude. However, there are also some technical problems when working with other pumpers, but they can be solved with a little ingenuity.


Satellite Tank Batteries

Some lease properties cover a lot of area and have a few different wells. Nature is rarely considerate enough to put good well locations all in one spot together, so oil might have to be sent quite a distance to a central tank battery before it can be processed. To save a bit on the cost of running multiple lines, the flow lines for two wells that are close together might be joined into one flow. This joint allows for a smaller tank battery that can have a few vessels, like a separator or gun barrel, to treat the oil. The oil is sent on to the main tank battery, to the stock tanks where it will be held until it’s sold.

Gas might be stored at the tank battery, as well as water before it’s disposed of. When you’re partnering with another pumper, the place where the flow lines from the different wells is a good place to build a satellite battery. It’s also a good place to put a header and a testing separator.

One of the bigger problems to solve when sharing a tank battery with another operator is how to test the flow and measure the flow of the fluid coming from the well. The testing needs to be done before the two flows join in order to get an accurate measurement for each. A small header allows you to switch flows from individual wells into the meter and test separator, so each flow can be assessed. Each setup should meet the needs of the well and pumper, or pumpers, and so every tank battery will be custom designed.

Unusual Operations

Figure 1. This well tester can be brought to each wellhead.

If a test manifold isn’t going to work, then it’s possible to move the testing right to the wellhead. A testing manifold will also need to be installed in the flow line at a good spot near the well. This manifold will consist of two tees, each holding a 6 inch nipple and a plug valve. These can be connected to a well tester that’s brought to the wellhead. The well tester will accept the emulsion coming from the well and separate it into gas and liquid so that each part can be measured. The two are then sent back to the flow line and allowed to mix back together. The tester will also take a sample of the liquid, which can be used to determine the amount of oil and water in the sample.

Unusual Operations

Figure 2. An example of a satellite battery. There’s no stock tanks as oil is sent on to the main tank battery stock tanks.

In Figure 2 you can see an example of a satellite tank battery. The battery contains two separators, a line heater, a heater-treater, and other equipment. This example is automated, and includes a communications shack with equipment that alerts the pumper if there’s a problem.


Unitizing A Reservoir

Unitizing an oilfield means to bring several different wells, being operated by different pumpers, under the control of one company. Obviously, that can be a fairly complex proposition, especially when considering lease payments, property rights, and all that nonsense. However, it can often solve or prevent problems that can arise when several companies all are pumping from the same reservoir, so that everyone ends up benefiting. The unitized field is worked by the largest company, or whichever is going to be best able to operate the wells.

There are some safeguards so everyone’s interests are protected. Well tests and gauging will need to be witnessed. After the amounts of oil, gas, and water has been determined, and the operating company has covered their costs, the profit is split among the different parties.

Unitizing a field is most often necessary when several companies are drawing from the same reservoir. Each operator is going to want to produce as much as possible from their well, but some techniques for improving production can have an impact on other pumpers also working the reservoir. For example, if the reservoir is higher on one side, the upper wells will produce more gas, and lower wells will produce more water. The higher well might want to inject water to force more oil up to their well, but that will increase the amount of water the lower wells produce. Unitizing a reservoir means that the reservoir as a whole can be considered in each case, meaning that pressure is maintained and wells can all be produced efficiently.


Commingling Wells

When two wells from two different areas are producing oil of similar quality, from property owned by the same company, it’s possible to commingle the flow from those two wells. That simply means to run the fluid produced from both wells through a single flow line to the same tank battery. This can have a number of benefits, from requiring less pipeline to be run, to decreasing loss of lighter oils due to evaporation. Records of the individual production of each well needs to be kept, but they can otherwise be treated and stored together.

The biggest advantage of commingling flow with another operator is that it will save money. Splitting the cost of the lines from well to tank battery can be savings, and there are also other ways to lower costs. An example of a tank battery handling commingled flows can be seen in Figures 3 and 4.

Unusual Operations

Figure 3. A tank battery used by two lease pumpers. There’s a range of equipment here, including a few three phase separators and meters.

Unusual Operations

Figure 4. Equipment can be owned and used by each operator. In this picture, one heater-treater is shared by the tank battery and one is reserved for testing.The other two are owned individually by the pumpers.

Figure 3 is a long view of a tank battery used by two operators. On the left are stock tanks and gas meters. On the right are heater-treaters. Each has a sign showing which company owns it, and the heater-treaters each have a meter so that the production for each company can be tracked. Figure 4 shows a close of the heater-treater, facing the stock tanks. You can see the signs showing ownership of each tank, as well as the circulating pump on the far left.

Unusual Operations

Figure 5. Two headers, one for each operation.

Each company has its own header for handling flow through its tanks and from its wells. There’s also a separate, shared test line. A gas meter on the right measures gas separated from the fluid before sending it back into the main flow line. The metering separator uses gas operated valves, which allow the separator to be used, and then dump automatically back into the main flow line. These measurements, as well as when the test separator dumps, are recorded at about the same time every day.

Unusual Operations

Figure 6. A smaller separator used for measuring the oil coming from each heater-treater before it’s routed to the common stock tanks.


Working For Two Companies

It’s possible that you may want to maximize your work time pumping for two different companies. There are operations where that’s not a big deal. Some smaller companies with wells that don’t produce high volumes may not have enough work to keep a pumper occupied every day. If you’re driving your own car and using your own tools, it’s generally not a problem.

Larger companies may have many more wells, or wells that produce higher volumes. They’ll often have plenty of work, as well as supplying some of the tools and equipment that you use. It’s usually wise to check with the company before taking on a second job. They won’t want your attention being pulled away by other responsibilities, and so have the quality of your work suffer.

The key is to do the best job you can, and make sure everyone is clear with what you’re doing and when you’re doing it. With some common sense and professional approach to your work, most problems can be overcome.

Troubleshooting Problems In Oil & Gas Production

Checking oil production is something that should be done on a regular schedule, if not daily. Each day of measurements adds to a record of production, which when taken as a whole can be an indicator of future oil production.


Figure 1. A worker gauging the tanks for the day.

There will be days when the oil produced from the well is more or less than you were expecting. Obviously a rise in production can be exciting, and a fall worrying, but in truth production tends to be very steady over time. A big difference from what’s expected, if it’s confirmed after re-gauging, will more likely be an indicator of a problem. Whether it’s a drop or a rise, and the size of the change, can be a good indicator of where the problem is.


Problems Leading To Overproduction

There are just a few things that can lead to a genuine rise in production, the most likely being an unusually successful waterflood system. In most cases, however, the increase is due to some other factor.


Out Of Balance Tank

Most of the tanks in the tank battery will hold some level of both water and oil. These two fluids are in a balance in the vessel to ensure that water is separated and that treated oil is routed, eventually, to the sales system. Tanks can fall out of balance, however, holding either more water or more oil than they should.

When the tank is holding more water than it should, more oil will be pushed up and over into the oil flow line. This is more likely to happen with three phase vessels like heater-treaters that use a water leg. The water leg can become plugged, slowing or stopping the flow to the water disposal system. The buildup forces the water level in the tank to rise. A valve that’s mistakenly been closed can also lead to a rise in water and therefore an out of balance tank. It’s a common enough problem that stock tanks should be large enough to hold overproduction without overflowing.  

If you suspect that an out of balance tank is the problem, you can use Kolor Kut or another water gauging paste on the gauging line. A thief, a small graduated cylinder, can also be lowered into the tank and used to measure the level of the oil-water interface.

There will be times when a clogged line or closed valve is not the culprit, and there genuinely is additional oil coming from the well. That can often be the result of running the pumps for longer, which will lead to a temporary rise in production. However, wells can only produce so much, and production levels will fall back to their previous levels even if the pumps are run for longer periods.

A well may also have broken a gas lock. This is when a pump is working improperly, or has been serviced improperly, so that gas has become trapped in the pump. The pump will pump smaller amounts as the pump’s space can’t fill entirely. Eventually, enough liquid pressure will build to force the gas down the line, breaking the gas lock. When the lift bringing oil from downhole has a gas lock, oil will build up in the annular space until pressure has built to the point that the gas lock breaks. The oil in the annular space will be pumped to the surface, leading to a brief rise in production, but only until the annular space clears. Waiting for the gas lock to break is obviously not ideal, but the other option, unseating the pump, is not much better.


Problems Leading to Underproduction

Problems leading to production shortfalls can be a bit more concerning, as shortfalls can quickly add up to lost money. While there are a few more causes for production loss, it’s still usually possible to find the problem in one of a few areas.

Tank Battery

You’re most likely to find the problem in the tank battery. That’s where most of the equipment is, and so there’s more there to go wrong. A quick look around can often provide a hint to the problem; leaks and overflows are easy to spot just by walking around the battery. If there’s no obvious signs of an issue, the problem is most likely going to be somewhere you can’t see, in one of the vessels.

Most tank batteries will at least include a separator. This vessel is used to break gas out of the produced oil before it’s sent either to stock tanks or to further treatment. The level of fluid in the separator is controlled by a float switch. If that switch breaks or stops working for some other reason, the separator can fill to the point that emulsion forces it’s way up and out the gas line. This can be diagnosed by checking the sight glass and by feeling the float switch to see if it’s still functioning. Faulty or leaking valves can also cause problems. There is also a small insect, called a mud dauber, native to many of the areas where oil reservoirs are found. They get their name by building nests out of mud, which when they select a pumping operation for their homes can clog vent holes.

As mentioned above, vessels can be put out of balance, though a fall of production usually indicates that oil has built up in a heater-treater or other vessel. If the oil outlet becomes clogged, the oil in the vessel will build up and force water out the drain. If the vessel becomes overfull enough, it can also push oil down through the water outlet. A sight glass will usually make this problem plain, as will checking the water disposal tank and pit.

Paraffin is a petroleum product that is very similar to wax in some respects. It is produced by many wells, and will often collect at the bottom of the oil in vessels, just about at the level of water. The wax can collect to the point that it forms a seal between the water and the oil, preventing additional oil from separating from the water and going out the oil outlet. Instead, it will be forced out of the water drain. This problem is a pain to fix, as it requires some special equipment or chemicals to break the wax dam. Vessels, and in particular gun barrels where oil can sit for longer periods, should be checked regularly so that this situation can be prevented.


At The Well And Downhole

After the tank battery, the most likely place to find a problem is at the well, either on the surface or downhole. It can be easier to diagnose problems on the surface, as you can simply look for leaks and other problems. A common issue is that a well has been turned off early or not turned on according to schedule. If the pump isn’t running, it’s obviously not producing oil. Making up the lost pumping time and gauging again should bring production up to the expected level.

A problem with the electrical system will also lead to lost pumping time. Often, replacing a fuse or resetting the system will solve the problem. It’s important to use the correct fuse in each case; control boxes may have a number of different fuses with different ratings. In some cases, rodents chewing on wires or otherwise getting into the system will cause an electrical failure.


Figure 2. An example of a swing check valve. (courtesy of Dandy Specialties, Inc.)

A failed or leaking check valve on the casing or flow lines may also cause a loss of production. With a valve open, oil won’t be produced to the tank battery. Instead, fluid will simply be pumped up to the top of the well and then allow to fall back. The pump will show good pressure, but a gauging of the tanks will show less production than expected. Cleaning the check valve can fix the issue. To diagnose a failed check valve on the casing, close the casing valve for a couple hours while the pump runs, then open it back up. Failed check valves at the tank battery could lead to losing production from other wells downhole.

Sometimes the problem is simple human error. Many operations require many valves to open and close. Forgetting one valve or other part of the sequence is not only possible, it’s almost certain to happen at one point.

When a valve that has been left closed is opened after the pump has been running, it should be opened slowly. There may be pressure on the line, and suddenly releasing that pressure can lead to unfortunate consequences down the line, such as a ruptured tank. Bleeding the valve and allowing pressure to drop before opening the valve completely is a safer way to do things.

When the problem is downhole, things can be a little more complex. A few problems that can cause a loss of production require a well servicing job. That might require extra equipment and cost you money. Other problems can be taken cared of from the surface.

Occasionally a pump valve may come unseated on the bottom. You can find out for sure if that’s the problem by opening the bleeder valve on the tubing while the pump is running. The rod clamp above the pump carrier bar can be raised, which will lower the pump. There may be rocks or other trash under the pump. Lowering the pump will cause it to start bottoming out. If the pump is powered by an engine, revving the engine will start the pump tapping.

Gas lock in the pump downhole can cause a drop in production, as mentioned up above. Salt bridges may also be a concern in operations that pump salty water. When the pump isn’t running, the salt water in the casing can rise. That water level drops when the pump is started, leaving a thin coating of salt behind. When that happens several times a day over a period of time, the casing space can be blocked by salt buildup to the point that it affects production. The solution is to pour fresh water down into the annular space to wash the salt away. That can be dangerous, as it may seal off some zones of the reservoir.

The casing perforations can sometimes become clogged with sand or sediment. As those openings are how oil flows into the pump to be sent to the surface, those clogs will cause a slowdown in oil production. The casing space may also fill with sand.

The pump used to lift oil to the surface will also eventually wear out, which will lead to a slowdown of production, or even bring it to a halt. Pumps generally wear out at predictable times, and checking the lease records can help you anticipate a failing pump.

The tubing string may fail to develop pressure when the pump is running. That can be an indication of a worn out pump or a split or crack in the tubing. You can test the pressure from the well by running the pump to put pressure on the tubing. Like many tasks around the lease, this can be dangerous if common sense and good safety habits aren’t used. A pressure gauge should be put on the bleeder valve. Once that’s in place, close the tubing wing valve that leads to the tank battery. Run the pump for one revolution and then turn it off. At this point you’ll want to check the pressure gauge, but it’s important to note that you should not look at the gauge directly. It may be under a great deal of pressure and a failing valve may be dangerous. If no pressure develops, run through that process a second time to double check. You may need to wait a few minutes for the pressure in the tube to settle before an accurate reading can be taken.


Line Problems

Flow lines should be checked regularly in any case, so problems are usually caught before they become more serious. However, they should be checked if production has fallen, just to be on the safe side. The whole length of surface lines should be walked to check for leaks or plugs. Leaks are generally obvious, and tapping the pipe will often reveal plugs. Empty line will sound more solid. Buried lines become plugged, though putting the line within conduit can reduce the chances of that.