by Doug Cumpston, Griswold Pump Company, Pump Solutions Group

Centrifugal pump technology plays critical role in many oil and gas applications.

Significant advancements have occurred in the technology used to identify oil deposits below the Earth’s surface, most notably in the vast shale plays in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Montana and Texas. This technology combined with innovative new drilling and enhanced recovery procedures, such as hydraulic fracturing, have led many to comment that the U.S. is on the verge of a new golden era in oil and gas exploration and production.

In fact, the New York Post made that argument in July 2011, noting that the U.S. is the world’s No. 3 oil producer, at 7.5 million barrels per day (bpd), with the ability to add another 1.5 million bpd by 2015. This would mean that, by 2015, the U.S. would produce more than traditional oil producers—Iran, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates—in terms of daily production. This increased U.S. production will be driven by the shale formations that could eventually yield more than 4 billion barrels of oil before they are played out. 

Hydraulic fracturing and other advances in sophisticated systems for enhanced oil recovery (EOR)—such as chemical injection, gas injection or thermal recovery—have also made it economically viable for producers to return to sealed-off wells that were considered fully depleted or too expensive to produce further. Many of these wells may still hold up to 75 percent of their recoverable oil, some of which can be recovered using the new EOR techniques.

Natural gas is experiencing the same type of increase in production in the U.S., with the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicting in June 2011 that the world was entering a golden era for natural gas, as well. Under the IEA’s scenario, global natural gas demand from now until 2035 will grow 2 percent each year, compared to a growth of 1.2 percent in total energy demand during the same time period. At that rate, demand levels for natural gas would surpass those of coal by 2030 and approach the demand level of oil by 2035. Additionally, 40 percent of the increase in global natural gas production up to the year 2035 would come from unconventional production processes, such as the hydraulic fracturing of shale beds or exploiting deposits of coalbed methane gas. Much of that increased production will come in the form of natural gas that is found in North American shale beds.

Centrifugal pumps, engineered for operational flexibility, efficiency and durability, meet the pumping needs of many oil and gas applications. 

With this recent 21st Century U.S. oil and gas boom is the increased need for oil producers to get their drilling and recovery operations online quickly. These multimillion-dollar systems require a wide range of unique equipment to run efficiently, safely and cost effectively, not only with regard to the recovery of oil and gas, but also in the ancillary operations during the production and transportation process. This Efficiency Matters examines how centrifugal pump technology can be used to maximize operations in two crucial areas of oil and gas production.

Produced Saltwater Handling Challenges

Oil and gas drilling and production would be simple if only oil and gas flowed to the surface when a well is drilled. That, however, is not the case as a number of byproducts reach the surface along with the desired oil and gas. One of the more voluminous byproducts is saltwater, which has been trapped for centuries with the oil and gas in the formation.

When the saltwater reaches the surface, it must be separated from the oil and gas. Once separated, the production company handles it in one of two ways:

  • It is shipped away via truck. 
  • It is pumped via pipeline for disposal or re-injection into the formation.

These saltwater-handling and transfer processes can only be completed successfully if the production company has the proper pumping equipment. The salt-water transfer pumps move the saltwater from stock tanks into a pipeline, which eventually feeds an injection pump that injects the saltwater back into the formation. They may also pump the saltwater into trucks for shipment out of the area.

Oil & Gas Transfer Challenges

A second, crucial pump-related application in the oil and gas production and supply chain is Lease Asset Custody Transfer (LACT). A LACT unit automatically measures, samples and transfers oil from a lease location in the oilfield into a pipeline. It is a critical component in the ownership transfer of oil from the production site to trucks, pipelines and storage tanks of the terminal or end user. Think of it as a “cash register” between a company that is selling oil and a company that is buying the oil. Key to helping these LACT units operate efficiently and reliably is the pump that transfers the oil from the owner’s transport unit or storage vessel to the buyer’s.