First-Hand:First Artificial Lift Installation

Submitted by Joe Dunn Clegg

I was transferred to Shell’s West Texas Odessa Production Division in September 1953 and was assigned to be a production engineer for the Goldsmith production unit. I was responsible to make engineering recommendations for the unit. (NO FINANCIAL AUTHORITY). The production foreman for the GoldSmith unit called and said “ Learnee, I need a 54 inch stroke 114,000 in-lb. gear box beam pumping unit.” He went on to say “My last flowing well (Old Cowden #1) just died and I need to get it going ASAP.” I checked the well file. (Always a good idea).

The well turned out to be a high gas to oil ratio (GOR) producer on a single well lease that was being controlled by a pressure regulator. (Similar to plunger lift without a plunger.) I arranged to meet the foreman at the well location to learn further details. In the Goldsmith field, one could stand on top of his car and see five miles in all directions and see nothing but beam pumping units—nothing but bobbing horseheads. I found an older engineer who told me how to design/select a beam pumped sucker rod installation. I used pencil & paper, sliderule (no computers), catalogs, charts and empirical formulas to make the selection. Wrote up the justification and AFE and made my pitch to my engineering boss.

He said “ Joe you are off to a good start but remember that the type artificial lift selection is very important and that pumps of all kinds do not like high GOR’s. “ I should evaluate gas-lift. (Smart guy) I knew nothing about gas-lift and could not find any engineer in the office who could help me. (Gas-lift was something they do in LA.) I did learn that for gas lift, one needed a reliable high pressure gas source and that there was lots of low pressure (sour) gas in the Goldsmith field but no high (H2S free) gas pressure source. That meant that a gas compressor would be needed and sour gas used.

After a couple of days the foreman called and asked “Where is my pumping unit?” I stated that I was considering gas-lift. He said “No gas-lift! Install over my dead body! If gas-lift installed, the office engineer (Joe Clegg) would have to operate the system.” CLICK went the phone. My boss said I need to be more diplomatic and get along with the foremen.

Lesson #1: No green engineer can win an argument with a seasoned production foreman.

Lesson # 2: Artificial lift selection is not always easy and straight-forward.

Guess what? We (Shell) put in a beam pumping sucker rod installation. Did it work? The installation worked but had a poor pumping efficiency and the dynamometer card looked like a flipped State of Oklahoma map. But by installing a natural gas-anchor and time cycling, the well produced at a top allowable rate.

I kept my job and became a legend.