Despite significant yield increases for upstream operators

Oil-producing companies in Trinidad and Tobago are not being very “smart” by spurning the “smart pumper” technology that PetroCom Technologies, a leading local energy services company, wants to introduce into the industry.

The company’s managing director, geophysicist David Borde, has been trying to push this concept for several years, but the independent (small and medium-sized) oil producers have shown little interest so far.

This lack of interest is surprising, as the smart pumper could increase crude output from the thousands of wells that are scattered across south Trinidad “by as much as 10 to 15 percent.”

A smart pumper is a device that upstream operators attach to their wells that not only helps boost production, but also reduces overall operational costs and improves overall safety.

It was devised right here in Trinidad and Tobago by U.S. oilman Greg Boyles, owner of New Horizon Exploration, which operates the Parrylands E block near Point Fortin in a 75/25 percent joint venture with state company Petrotrin.

The smart pumper is manufactured by Direct Drivehead Inc. of Houston and is being used by some U.S. companies.

Parryland E delivers fairly heavy oil (16 degrees API gravity), and Mr. Boyles soon discovered that the first 110 wells he sank “did not respond very well to steam and were equally difficult to pump.”

He concluded that “the only way I was going to succeed in Parrylands was to pump these wells economically at whatever rates they would give us, while minimising our downtime, minimising our expenses and maximising our production.”

So he developed the smart pumper to do just that. “I did it in bits and pieces until I got something that could work,” he says.

“It’s a matter of a machine pumping a well better than a man.”

Actually, the smart pumper can almost think, and act, like a human being.

“It enables us at Parrylands to automatically determine if Well 1, for example, is a two-barrel-a-day well, so smart pumper only asks, and takes, two barrels a day. Smart pumper determines what a well’s capability is intuitively, without any programming. So you can put smart pumpers out on wells that you have no idea how to manage and it manages them for you.

“With the same number of people in Parrylands, we have added to the number of wells we have been able to complete, and it is only through smart pumper and not any enhanced oil recovery (EOR) methods that we have been able to succeed in Parrylands.”

About 65 smart pumpers are now installed on wells in Parrylands E, and although crude production there may seem small, at 83 b/d on average in 2014, according to MEEA figures, it might easily have been less without the smart pumper technology, because the geology in that part of south Trinidad is demanding, to say the least.

In the Caribbean, where PetroCom Technologies is the marketing agent, Suriname state oil company Staatsolie has adopted the smart pumper with enthusiasm and has seen some of the wells on which it has been installed yield as much as 41 percent more crude.

But upstreamers in Trinidad and Tobago itself have remained supremely indifferent to its possibilities, although maximisation of production is supposed to be their prime objective.

Petrotrin, which controls most of the productive acreage in the oil belt in south Trinidad, would seem to be a likely and enthusiastic adopter of the smart pumper, but this has not proved to be so, says Borde.

Mr. Borde says that “Touchstone Exploration did come close to deciding to install smart pumpers, but the deal was never completed. Trinity Exploration and Production were really keen on installing about six smart pumpers but didn't follow through.

Other independents other than New Horizon Exploration, of course, showed no interest.”

Discussions with Petrotrin, which could be the biggest up-taker of smart pumpers if it chose to do so, are “still continuing,” Borde says.