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Plunger Lift James F.

Lea, Company: PLTech All rights reserved Contents


1 Typical Plunger System 2 Advantages/Disadvantages 3 Depth/Rate Limitations 4 Plunger Lift Costs 5 Cycle Description 6 Feasibility 7 Plunger Lift Line-Out Procedures 9 References

1 Typical Plunger System


Plunger lift is, in its best form, a method that uses only the power from the existing well to produce liquids from the well and bring them to the surface using gas pressure that has built up in the well during a time when the surface production valve is closed. One type of a typical installation is shown below.

Figure 1 Typical Plunger Lift Installation

The components in the above installation include: -A downhole bumber spring to catch the plunger which is wirelined into the well -A plunger free to travel the length of the tubing -A well head designed to catch the plunger and allow flow around the plunger -A motorized valve which can open and close the productin line. -A sensor on the tubing to sense arrival of the plunger -An electronic controller which contains logic to decide how the cycles of flowing production and time of well shut-in period are determined for best production

2 Advantages/Disadvantages of Plunger Lift: Advantages of Plunger Lift: Retrievable without pulling tubing. Very inexpensive installation. Automatically keeps tubing clean of paraffin, scale. Applicable for high gas oil ratio wells. Can be used in conjunction with intermittent gas lift. Can be used to unload liquid from gas wells. Disadvantages of Plunger Lift: May not take well to depletion; hence, eventually requiring another lift method. Good for low-rate wells only normally less than 200 B/D (31.8 m/d). Requires more engineering supervision to adjust properly. Danger exists in plunger reaching too high a velocity and causing surface damage. Communication between tubing and casing required for good operation unless used in
conjunction with gas lift.

3 Depth/Rate Limitaions
The below chart shows the approximate range of plunger lift applications. on a depth-rate map vs. some other methods of lift. Note that it can be used at very deep depths, especially if there is no packer or the annulus is open. However, it is not suitable for high rates of liquid removal. The plunger is usually just allow to surface and a new plunger can be installed and the old one taken out of use if it is beginning to wear.

BPD
1 10 100 1000 10000 100000

0 2000 4000 6000 8000 10000 12000 14000 16000 18000

Plunger

Gaslift Beam ESP

4 Plunger System Costs

A plunger lift system is not costly. A list of typical costs are listed below. A more expensive system is possible with a more expensive controller and more pressure sensors included into the system. -Plunger (dual pad) $930.00 -Lubricator/Catcher $1026.00 -Motor Valve $496.00 -Controller $$1299.00 -Bumper Spring/ No-go/Seating Nipple $350.00 -Arrival Sensor $306.00 -Regulator & Drip Pot (to control valve)$200 -Tubing Master Valve $606.00 (used, new $1500.00) Total: $4372.00 (15% discount is not uncommon)

5 Cycle Description:
The events of a plunger lift cycle are described in the following list and are also illustrated by the following figure showing the casing and tubing pressures and other values during the flow cycle and the build-upcycle. 1. The well is opened after the casing pressure is built up to a workable value. 2. The tubing pressure drops, then rises as the slug of liquid passes and then continously drops during the remainder of the flow cycle. If there is no second rise in tubing pressure , then the plunger has failed to surface. 3. The casing pressure drops at first, but then may build up as the tubing begins to liquids load as the gas velocity begins to drop to low values during the flow cycle. 4. The BHP drops at first during the flow cycle but builds back up as the liquids begin to load the well. 6. The well is shut-in. 6. The tubing and casing pressure build up but the tubing pressure is less than the casing pressure due to liquids in the tubing. The bhp builds up during the build-up portion of the cycle as well. 7. The cycles continue and may be adjusted according to several available logics available in controllers. Note that for a plunger cycle, the pressure that is built up in the off cycle is the major energy that is used to surface the plunger and the liquids. The well inflow adds some

energy as the plunger rises, but the majority of th energy comes for the pressure of the gas in the casing. That is why most sucessful installations do not have packers in the well.

Figure 2 Typical Events During a Plunger Lift Cycle

6 Plunger Lift Feasibility


Because expense is involved in trying out some method of lift in a well, it is desirable to be able to predict in advance if plunger lift will work or in in a well. Even though plunger lift is not too expensive ( ~ $4000 per installation for minimum installation, see above approximate cost list), time spent on a well trying out a new method of lift can be time consuming and expensive non-the-less. Even if the vendor agrees to try plunger lift at no cost, the time spent on the well, down-time, and other considerations make it worthwhile to be able to predict in advance if plunger lift will work or not. Because of the need to predict in advance if plunger will work, several screening procedures are listed here so you can determine if plunger lift should perform in a candidate well or not. There are several screening procedures that can be used to determine if plunger will work or not. The simplest (and most incomplete) is that the well must have a gas/liquid ratio of 400 scf/(bbl-1000 ft ). This is the same as about 233 m3 gas/ (m3 liquid- 1000 m3 depth). For example: Well GLR= 500 scf/bbl Well depth = 5000 ft Is this OK for plunger lift?

The GLR needed is 400 scf/(bbl-1000 ft) x 5 = 2000 scf/bbl The actual GLR is only 500 scf/bbl, so this well is not a candidate for plunger lift. This would be the same as: Well GLR = 88.96 m3 gas/ m3 liquid plunger? Well depth = 1524 m Is this OK for

The GLR needed is 233 m3 gas/ m3 liquid x 1.524 = 355 m3 gas/m3 liquid The actual GLR is 88.96 m3 gas/m3 liquid so this is not a candidate well.

This is an approximate method and if you are a little high or a little low in the evaluation, plunger could still possibly work. Also this method does not consider the well pressure which is an important consideration in determining if plunger lift will work or not.

The next method is to make use of some charts which have been around for a number of years to approximately determine if plunger lift will work or not. The next two charts shown in this category are from Reference 1. Heres how the next two charts (Figure 3 and Figure 4 ) are used. The net operating pressure shown on the X axis of the figures is the difference in the casing build-up pressure and the separator or line pressure which the well flows against when the well is opened. The casing build-up pressure must be a pressure to which the casing builds within a resonable period of time. For instance it could not be the casing pressure to which the well builds in two weeks because this would be far too long for a plunger cycle. It should be what the well builds to in a matter a few hours at most. The line pressure is a little more straight forward, but is too has some complicating factors involved. For instance, the separator pressure might be 100 psi, but if it is far away with a small diameter line from the well head to the separator, then when the well comes on, the line pressure might build to 200 psi at the well head as the liquid slug is forced into the small diameter line. Therefore use of the Figures 1 and 2 must be used with some judgement. The Y axis is simply the produced gas/liquid ratio in scf/bbl. Just divide the numbers on the X axis to get the units in m3 gas/m3 liquids. Example: Suppose you have 2 3/8s tubing (a 2 inch plunger approximately). Casing build-up pressure= 350 psi Line or separator pressure = 110 psi Well GLR = 6500 scf/bbl Well depth is 8000 ft Does the use of Figure 3 indicate that plunger will work? The net operating pressure is casing - line pressure = 350 - 110 = 240 psi Entering Figure 3 shows that at 8000 ft, you need about 6000 scf/bbl. So this well with a measured GLR of 6500 scf/bbl is predicted to be a plunger lift candidate. If you examine Figure 4, you will see that there is some advantage to using the large tubing. However, if the plunger comes up dry, a large metal object (the plunger) will impact the well head and this is undesirable. This is why 3 1/2 tubing and corresponding plungers are not used too much. Also note that for Figures 3 and 4, that the casing size is not shown. The casing size is important and the bigger the casing size, the smaller the required casing build-up pressure becomes. From Reference 1 it is unclear if the Figures 1 and 2 were developed from using 5 1/2 casing data or from 7 casing data, or both.

Figure 3 Feasibility of Plunger lLfit for 2 3/8s iinch Tubing

Figure 4 Feasibility of Plunger Lift for 2 7/8s inch Tubing

Figure 5 below shows an estimate (from Otis brochure on Plunger Lift) for possible liquid production vs. depth and tubing size. For instance suppose the well is 7000 ft deep and you have 2 inch tubing. The maximum production in bbls liquid/day is about 110 bbls/day as shown below.

Figure 5 Liquid Production Estimate for Plunger Lift (OTIS Chart)

Plunger lift works better (much better) if you have no packer in the well and the annulus is clear to build up pressure during the off cycle. However, if the well is strong enough, plunger has been shown to work with a packer in the hole. The below chart (Figure 6) allows you to estimate what is needed to make plunger lift work with the presence of a packer in the hole. Or conversely, it shows how a packer adversely affects the use of a plunger. For instance, 1400 scf/bbl is good enough to operate a plunger to 3900 ft, but if a packer is present, then the produced GLR of 1400 scf/bbl is good enough to only operate a plunger to about 2000 ft. The accuracy of Figures 5 & 6 is not known.

Figure 6 Gas Needed for Plunger Lift with/without a Packer in the Well

The output data file for this program also imposes some limits of operation on GLR and on available casing pressure needed to plunger lift at conditions of depth, GLR, casing pressure, line pressure, and other factors. The next sections are concerned with operational aspects of plunger lift. Although many of the current new controllers will do some of the functions mentioned below in terms of starting up a plunger lift well, the below discussion is included in case you do not have such a controller or just so you can better understand what a plunger lift controller is doing to get well do operater. 7 PLUNGER-LIFT SYSTEM LINE-OUT Procedure pre kickoff There are several things which must be considered before kicking off the well. Of prime importance is casing pressure. It is the gas trapped in the casing that primarily determines the cycles, and the success of a Plunger-Lift system. Another key factor is the liquid load; the amount of liquid in both the casing and the tubing also determines operation. The other major factor is back pressure. This is back pressure from all sources, whether it be from high line pressure, small chokes, or compressors that will not handle the initial surge of gas. All of these factors must be considered before kicking off the Plunger Lift system. It is extremely important to properly prepare the well before you open it up. First, it should be as clean as possible. Meaning that it should be as free of liquid as possible. This may mean swabbing the well until it is ready to flow, or it may mean leaving it shutin for several days to allow the pressure (tubing and casing) to build high enough to surface the tool. A good rule of thumb is that the pressure difference between casing and tubing (shut-in), not exceed 40% to 50% of the difference between casing and sales line pressure. The lower the % the better. Example: 600psi(cas)-500psi(tbg) = 100psi 600psi(cas)-100psi(sales) = 500 psi 100 / 500 = 20% GOOD It pays to be patient. Should you get too enthusiastic and try to surface the plunger before you have enough pressure, the results may load the well further. Go ahead and get plenty of pressure, more than you really feel is necessary. Let it build to static if possible. It will

save you time and trouble, later on. There is a common mistake made when swabbing a well to prepare for Plunger-Lift. This is to let the well flow too long, after the initial slug of fluid has surfaced. Once it becomes gaseous and you see the casing pressure drop, shut in the well and let the pressure build. Remember, be conservative with that gas. In many cases, it is necessary to vent the head gas on the initial cycle. This creates more differential across the slug and tool. If it is not feasible to allow the head gas to vent, then you should make every effort to remove as many restrictions as possible. If a choke is necessary, be sure and use the largest possible for the system. Its also a good idea to put large trim in the dump valves of the separator. Remember, a slug traveling at 1000ft/min. is producing at a rate of 5760 BLS/Day. Perhaps a larger orifice plate in the sales meter would be in order to help measure the peak of the head gas. kickoff Once you have adequate pressures, it is time to bring the plunger up. You should have pressures on the tubing and casing that fit into our formula. When you open the motor valve to surface the plunger, let the tubing pressure bleed off as quickly as possible. The faster you are able to bleed off the tubing pressure, the more efficient the plunger will travel. It is critical that you time the travel of the plunger. The time it takes the plunger to surface is an indicator of how efficient it is traveling. Ideally it should travel at some 750 to 1000 feet per minute. Below 750 ft/min., the gas starts to slip by the plunger; above 1000ft/min., the velocity will cause excessive wear on the equipment. Typically, once you open the motor valve, you will produce a surge of high pressure gas. As the gas bleeds down, the next thing you should produce is a slug of fluid, followed by the plunger. In most cases, it is best not to let the well flow more than a couple of minutes after the plunger surfaces. Should you continue to let the well flow, for any significant time, it is highly possible you will draw your casing pressure too low and allow too much additional fluid to enter the well bore and load it up. Now shut the well back in via the motor valve. As the plunger falls back t bottom, the gas is building up on the casing for the next cycle. When the casing pressure has regained the initial pressure, you are ready to set the cycle. To set the cycle, I prefer to use the combination of casing pressure (to initiate the cycle), and plunger arrival sensor (to shut in). This provides you consistency insofar as casing pressure is conserved by shutting the well in immediately upon plunger arrival. The result is to make the next cycle sooner. It is important to realize that liquid loading occurs, not only in the well bore itself, but in the formation immediately surrounding the well bore. For this reason, a very conservative cycle should be used for the first few days. Operate with as high a casing pressure as possible. To put this in the form of a procedure, it would look like this: Check (and record) both the casing and tubing pressures. Apply the formula. Open the well and allow the head gas to bleed off quickly. Remember to time the plunger travel.

Once the plunger surfaces, shut the well in and let the plunger fall back to the bottom. Leave the well shut-in until the casing pressure recovers to the same pressure it had on the previous cycle. Open the well up and bring the plunger back to the surface (time it). Then shut it in. If this cycle has been operated manually, then set the timer and sensors to the observed time and pressures. If you have no casing pressure sensor or magnetic shut-off switch, then it is necessary to use time alone for the cycle control. Allow enough time for adequate casing build up and enough flow time to get the plunger to the surface. A 2-pen pressure recorder is a big help under these conditions. By monitoring the charts, you can quickly compare the recovery time of the casing and adjust the cycle accordingly. Whichever approach you use, once you see the cycle is operating consistently, leave it alone to clean up for a day or two.

stabilization period Because a well loads up in the formation as well as in the well bore, it generally takes some time for the well to clean itself up. Depending on the strength of the well, this clean up could be accomplished in a day or it may take several weeks. Be patient. During this time, the cycles should remain quite conservative. Your shut-in cycles will be longer, and the flow times will be shorter than they will be later on. Dont get greedy and ask too much of your well too soon. Allow it to slowly and systematically get stronger. Dont forget, it is a must that you continue to time the plunger travel. As the well gets stronger and stronger, the travel time will become shorter. At some point, this travel time will stabilize. optimization When you have reached a point where the well seems stabilized, you are ready to optimize the cycles. The approach you take varies somewhat, depending on whether it is a gas well or an oil well. Determining the operating casing pressure is the same for both, the only difference is in flow times. Care should be taken not to lower your casing pressure setting too fast. Drop the casing pressure only 15 to 30 psi at a time and then let the well go through a few cycles at that new pressure before lowering the pressure further. You need to continue to time the

plunger speed to make sure it doesnt travel too slow. If its traveling too slow, dont lower the casing pressure any further. Let it operate at that setting or a slightly higher pressure for a while longer. If it is traveling too fast, let the well flow a while longer after the plunger surfaces. This will result in more fluid feed in and the larger load should slow the plunger speed. At some pressure, you will notice a good consistency between casing pressure high and low. The pressure drop and recovery time of the overall cycle will get quite consistent. When this happens, you are at a good casing operating pressure. Now were ready to set the flow time. An oil well usually is the easiest to set. Since the gas/liquid ratio is normally much lower for an oil well, there is not as much gas available to produce the liquid. In order to fully optimize the system, an oil well will need a magnetic shut off switch to shut the well in on plunger arrival. You are able to save the tail gas and send the plunger back quicker for another load. If you flow after the plunger arrives, you will deplete the needed gas from the casing. It will require a longer shut-in to rebuild the pressure. The net effect in most cases is less liquid production. Rather than let the well flow after the plunger has surfaced, lower the opening pressure. Lower pressure should mean more production. In some cases, a few minutes of after flow can be too much for a weak well and can cause it to load up. Be gentle. A gas well will require a little more attention since the flow time of a gas well will be considerably longer than an oil well. Over a period of several days, continue to add small increments of on-time. Throughout these changes, you are reminded to time the plunger travel time. Once you get to a point where the plunger is traveling less than approximately 750 feet per minute, you should stop adjusting there and leave it at that setting. Keep in mind that any surface changes will have some effect on the operation of the system. If the sales line pressure goes down, you can flow the well longer. If the line pressure goes up, you will need to shorten the cycle or increase the casing pressure to account for it. Other changes such as orifice plate sizes or choke settings will affect the system. Be aware of them. follow-up Now that you have your well reasonably lined out doesnt mean you can forget about it. There are some things that should be done on an ongoing basis. It is strongly suggested that, on a regular basis, you check the plunger travel time. Your well is going to continue to change. You can get the most out of the plunger lift system if you make minor corrections in the cycle. It is advisable to physically inspect the plunger itself, monthly. Wear and/or loose parts can be detected and should not go unattended. These systems are designed to last for many years and will do so if properly maintained.

in times as possible. In the case of an oil well, optimizing the liquid rates is easier. If you feel there is more there than you are getting, you could be right. You might start from the beginning and line the well out as best as you can. A slow, systematic approach is the best way to get the job done. If you still fin the results unacceptable check with the Tulsa Artificial Lift & Production Optimization Team ( J. Lea, H. Nickens, or Tony Liao) or call you plunger lift representative.

8 SUMMARY
Plunger lift is a good method to move small amounts of liquid production from gas or gassy wells. It is not particularly depth limited. When the plunger is worn, it can simply be retireved from the wellhead or catcher and replaced with another plunger. Most installations can be started without pulling the tubing, but by simply wirelining a bumper spring into the well to catch the plunger at the bottom of the well. The do not do well with sand or scale but are good to run in paraffin wells.

9 REFERENCES:
1. Beeson, C. M.: Knox, D. G: and Stoddard, J. H:, Part 1: The Plunger Lift Method of Oil Production, Part 2: Constructing Nomographs to Simplify Calculations, Part 3: How to User Nomographs to Estimate Performance, Part 4: Examles Demonstrate Use of Nomographs, and Part 5: Well Selection and Applications, Petroleum Engineer, 1956. 2. Foss, D. L. and Gaul, R. B.: Plunger-Lift Performance Criteria With Operating Experience- Ventura Field, Drilling and Production Practice, API (1965), 124-140. 3. Hacksma, J. D. : Users Guide to Predict Plunger Lift Performance, Presented at Southwestern Petroleum Short Course, Lubbock, Texas (1972). 4. White, G. W. : Combining the Technologies of Plunger Lift and Intermittent Gas Lift, Presented at the Annual American Institute Pacific Coast Joint Chapter Meeting Costa Mesa, California ( October 22, 1981). 6. Lea, J. F. : Dynamic Analysis of Plunger Lift Operations, Tech. Paper SPE 10253 (Nov., 1982), 2617- 2629. 6. Rosina, L. : A Study of Plunger Lift Dynamics , Master Thesis, U. of Tulsa, Petroleum Engineering, 1983. 7. Ferguson, P. L., Beauregard, E.: How to Tell if Plunger Lift Will Work in Your Well, World Oil , August 1, 1985, 33-36.

8. Turner, R. G., Hubbard, M. G., Dukler, A. E. : Analysis and Prediction of Minimum Flow Rate for the Continuous Removal of Liquids from Gas Wells, November, 1969, JPT, 1475-1482. 8. Coleman, S. B., Clay, H. B., McCurdy, D. G. & Norris, H. L., A New Look at Predicting Gas-Well Load Up, March 1991, JPT