Figure 1.1--Plunger installed in Canada. This cycle can occur over hours or days in wells that have stabilized flow rates below the critical unloading rate. Such is the behavior of many wells that are temporarily shut in or blown to atmosphere to unload liquids. Plungers currently are being used in many countries. Applications include wells with depths of 1,000 to 16,000 ft, producing bottomhole pressures of 50 to 1,500 psia, and liquid rates of 1 to 100 B/D. These are common ranges of application, but not necessarily limits of operation. The most common plunger-lift applications are for liquid removal in gas wells, but plungers also are used successfully for oil production in high-GLR oil wells, in conjunction with intermittent gas lift operations, and to control paraffin and hydrates. In fact, plungers have been installed on wells for the sole purpose of preventing paraffin or hydrate buildup, thereby reducing paraffin scraping or methanol injection. For this use, when plunger lift is installed, paraffin, hydrates, and salt should be removed so that the plunger will travel freely up and down the tubing. Given initially clean tubing, a plunger excels at preventing formation of such deposits because of the scraping action of the plunger against the walls of the tubing, along with slugs of warm reservoir fluids. Wellbore configurations for plunger lift include wells with an open annulus (most desirable), wells with packers, slimhole wells (2.875-in. Also, plunger lift is used in conjunction with intermittent gas lift, external gas supplies/injection, wellhead compression, vent options to tanks or low-pressure systems, some sand production, tubing/casing flow control (three-valve controllers), and carbon dioxide (CO2) floods. Most commonly, plunger lift is applied in a gas or oil well with sufficient pressure and GLR to operate the system without additional supply gas. It is desirable to have tubing with no packer in the well. The annular space provides a storage area (volume chamber) for the gas under pressure and allows this gas to work freely on the plunger and liquid slug. Gas can flow from the casing to the tubing and provide lift with little restriction, and inflow from the reservoir is not relied on as the plunger moves up the hole.
Plunger lift is used primarily in low rate, high gas-oil ratio (GOR) wells. This page focuses on the features desired in key equipment required to operate a plunger lift operation. Desirable features in a plunger include efficient sealing, reliability, durability, and the ability to descend quickly. Rarely does a plunger exhibit all these characteristics, though. Usually a plunger that excels at one aspect sacrifices others. A wide variety of plungers is available to accommodate differences in well performance and operating conditions. Most plungers do not have a perfect seal; indeed, turbulence from a small amount of gas slippage around the plunger is necessary to keep liquids above and gas below the plunger. A more efficient seal limits slippage and allows the plunger to travel more slowly, which reduces the energy and pressure required to lift the plunger and liquid load. Less efficient seals allow excessive slippage, and so increase the energy and pressure required to operate the plunger. The velocity at which the plunger travels up the tubing also affects plunger efficiency (Figure 1). Very low velocities increase gas slippage and lead to inefficient operation and possible plunger stall.
Plunger lift systems can be evaluated using rules of thumb in conjunction with historic well production, or with a mathematical plunger model. Because plunger lift systems typically are inexpensive and easy to install and test, most are evaluated by rules of thumb. Plunger lift operation requires available gas to provide the lifting force, in sufficient quantity per barrel of liquid for a given well depth. The minimum GLR requirement is approximately 400 scf/bbl per 1,000 ft of well depth and is based on the energy stored in a compressed volume of 400 scf of gas expanding under the hydrostatic head of 1 bbl of liquid. One drawback to this rule of thumb is that it does not consider line pressures.
Plunger lift is used for recovery, primarily in high gas-oil ratio (GOR) wells, in many countries. Applications include wells with depths of 1,000 to 16,000 ft, producing bottomhole pressures of 50 to 1,500 psia, and liquid rates of 1 to 100 B/D. These are common ranges of application, but not necessarily limits of operation. The most common plunger lift applications are for liquid removal in gas wells, but plungers also are used successfully for oil production in high gas liquid ratio (GLR) oil wells, in conjunction with intermittent gas lift operations,    and to control paraffin and hydrates. In fact, plungers have been installed on wells for the sole purpose of preventing paraffin or hydrate buildup, thereby reducing paraffin scraping or methanol injection.
Plunger lift is commonly used for production of low volume, high gas-oil ratio (GOR) or high gas-liquid ratio (GLR) wells. A plunger lift candidate must meet GLR and pressure requirements, but the method of installation and the mechanical setup of the well also are extremely important. Installation is a frequent cause of system failure. This page focuses on the installation and appropriate maintenance of plunger lift equipment. For reference, Figure 1 is a full wellbore schematic of major plunger-lift components, and Figure 1 is a plunger-lift troubleshooting guide. Numbers represent rank in order of most likely solution. There are many plunger-lift manufacturers and equipment options, so quality and design vary. Purchasers have the ultimate responsibility for investigating the manufacturing process.
An important consideration related to intermittent gas lift operations is the injection-gas breakthrough and resulting loss of the liquid production per cycle from the injection gas penetrating the liquid slug during the time required to displace this slug to the surface. The produced-liquid slug can be a small fraction of the starting slug size because of injection-gas breakthrough. The losses are greater when the injection-gas pressure is low and the required depth of lift is near total depth in a deep well. For example, a 12,000-ft well with a bottomhole flowing pressure of 300 psig and an available injection-gas pressure of only 450 psig can be gas lifted intermittently with the proper plunger. The well could not be gas lifted successfully from this depth without a plunger.
For a low-pressure well with solids and/or heavy oil at a depth of less than approximately 6,000 ft and if the well temperature is not high (75 to 150 F typical, approximately 250 F or higher maximum), a PCP should be evaluated. Even if problems do not exist, a PCP might be a good choice to take advantage of its good power efficiency. If the application is offshore, or if pulling the well is very expensive and the well is most likely deviated, ESPCP should be considered so that rod/tubing wear is not excessive. There is an ESPCP option that allows wire lining out a failed pump from the well while leaving the seal section, gearbox, motor, and cable installed for continued use.
Plunger lift has become a widely accepted and economical artificial lift alternative, especially in high-gas/liquid-ratio (GLR) gas and oil wells (Figure 1). Plunger lift uses a free piston that travels up and down in the well's tubing string. It minimizes liquid fallback and uses the well's energy more efficiently than does slug or bubble flow. As with other artificial lift methods, the purpose of plunger lift is to remove liquids from the wellbore so that the well can be produced at the lowest bottomhole pressures. Figure 1--Plunger installed in Canada. In recent years, the advent of microprocessors and electronic controllers, the studies detailing the importance of plunger seal and velocity, and an increased focus on gas production have led to a much wider use and broader application of plunger lift.
Plunger lifted, and free-flowing gas wells experience a wide range of issues and operational inefficiencies such as liquid-loading, downhole and surface restrictions, stuck or leaking motor control valves, and metering issues. These issues can lead to extended downtime, equipment failures, and other production inefficiencies. Using data science and machine-learning algorithms, a self-adjusting anomaly detection model considers all sensor data, including the associated statistical behavior and correlations, to parse any underlying issues and anomalies and classifies the potential cause(s). This paper presents the result of a Proof of Concept (PoC) study conducted for a South Texas operator encompassing 50 wells over a three-month period. The results indicate an improvement compared to the operators' visual inspection and surveillance anomaly detection system. The model allows operators to focus their time on solving problems instead of discovering them. This novel approach to anomaly detection improves workflow efficiencies, decreases lease operating expenses (LOE), and increases production by reducing downtime.
Accompanied with liquid condensation, natural gas production wells suffer from liquid loading if the gas flow rate is insufficient to carry liquids to the surface. With continuous production, the reservoir pressure decreases due to reservoir depletion, resulting in decrease of gas flow rate and inability to carry liquid upward. Then, the produced liquid accumulates in the well bottom and creates a static liquid column, adding a backpressure against reservoir pressure and reducing gas flow rates until the well production ceases. Due to many advantages, such as low operation cost and prevention of paraffin deposition along wellbore, plunger lift has been widely used in gas wells for the removal of liquid column and rescuing dying gas wells from liquid loading.
The existing plunger lift models in literature are imperfect due to either limited field applications or oversimplified assumptions, which lead to considerable prediction errors. Starting from