Challenges with Artificial Lift Systems

Thermal recovery techniques, like Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD), are now very common in Western Canada.  Over the last 20 years, thermal operators have gained access to specialized technology and best-practices that make it possible to produce under these very challenging conditions.  Despite these advances, there are still some major challenges associated with the Artificial Lift (AL) systems tasked with pumping fluids to surface.

  • The presence of a depleted or low–pressure formation above the reservoir (or the operators desire to optimize the level of sub-cool) often makes it necessary produce SAGD wells at very low pressure.  At low degrees of sub-cool (i.e. close to steam saturation conditions) vapor may break-out of the produced fluid and reduce pump performance.
  • Additionally, these pumps are expected to operate reliably at very high downhole temperatures, typically up to 260°C (500°F) – although many operators are interested in pushing their technology even higher.

Meeting these requirements is very challenging for technology vendors trying to optimize their AL systems.  Likewise, it’s often difficult for thermal operators to assess how well a new high temperature pump is going to work in their SAGD operation without running a field pilot (which is costly, and still only gives them limited insight at a single condition).

Join the JIP

Two ways to join:

  1. If you are a thermal AL vendor: contact C-FER and ask whether your system may be suitable for JIP testing.  As new systems are developed C-FER has been tasked with identify suitable candidates.  We’ll present your pump to the JIP members, make them aware of your technology, and see if they want to test it.
  2. If you are a thermal operating company: contact C-FER and inquire about joining this ongoing JIP, sharing learnings, and actively collaboration on high temperature AL development.

Evaluating and Optimizing High Temperature Artificial Lift Technology

C-FER launched the Laboratory Testing of Artificial Lift Systems JIP in December 2003, with over a dozen thermal operators participating including Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Devon, EnCana, Imperial Oil, Husky, Nexen, Suncor, Total, and Petrobras.

The broad goal of this JIP was to evaluate and optimize high temperature AL technology for thermal applications.  Under Phase I of this JIP C-FER designed and built a world-class experimental flow loop to evaluate High Temperature (HT) AL systems under SAGD-representative conditions.  The loop is highly instrumented, and capable of testing AL over a large envelope of conditions that would be difficult to mimic in a field-pilot.

For example, the High Temperature Flow Loop is capable of:

  • fluid temperatures of up to 260°C,
  • operating with different fluids (oil, water, and oil/water emulsions to mimic the viscosity and density of produced fluids at various fields); and
  • multiphase flow testing (with gas and/or steam).

During Phase II of this JIP a number of thermal AL systems (ESPs, PCPs, MxM PCPs, gear pumps, etc.) from different vendors were evaluated by C-FER, while primarily focusing on both HT and low intake pressure operation.  In early 2010 C-FER also launched Phase III of this JIP, which is a parallel group that’s focused on identifying and testing the highest temperature AL options (> 250°C).  Both Phase II and Phase III of this JIP are currently ongoing.

This JIP has provided operators with an independent validation of HT AL technology over a range of conditions (i.e. instead of “trying them” in an active well), and it has allowed vendors to characterize (and optimize) their new HT AL systems for SAGD before releasing them to industry.


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