SPE 138442

Natural Gas Lift Method for Wellbores With Multiple Open Formations
A. Rodriguez, BP; R. Schott, Lufkin Industries

Copyright 2010, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE Tight Gas Completions Conference held in San Antonio, Texas, USA, 2–3 November 2010.

This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper have not been reviewed
by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its officers, or
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Inefficient production of wells with multiple open formations to one wellbore is usually caused by liquid loading, liquid
blockage between formations, interference, and crossflow. There are numerous ways that have been tried to flow all
the formations efficiently but usually, at the end, the techniques used either give more opportunity to one formation
(e.g.: new recompletions) and give up on other formation/s production (e.g.: older, more depleted formations, lowest
formation in the wellbore). After long study, testing, and analysis of results we have developed the “Natural Gas Lift”
method that can effectively produce all zones with a single string of tubing, keep all selected zones isolated, able to
use existing artificial lift equipment like plungers/surfactants through the whole string of tubing to assist in
deliquification, and at the same time produce all the formations in the wellbore more efficiently and economically.


The efficient production of wells with multiple formation open in their wellbore has been a conundrum that, to this day,
plague the minds of Petroleum Engineers. How can I produce this well more efficiently without leaving present value
gas behind? How can I produce this matured well optimally and economically? How can I minimize liquid loading and
still produce the more depleted zones? It’s a maze that we hope we have solved with the new develop Natural Gas Lift
Method (NGL) or at least got us closer to the answer. The development of the Natural Gas Lift Method (NGL) (patent
pending) is a new artificial lift solution to the problem that gets us closer to a more complete answer. Historically, wells
are completed and the most prolific zone or zones are perforated and fractured (depending on the area). As the initial
completed zone begins to deplete and liquid load, we begin to recomplete in new zones with higher, or lower,
formation pressures than the initial completion. This raises the questions; how we will produce all of the zones
simultaneously and as efficiently as possible? How will we effectively remove fluid from the lowest most zone(s) while
still producing the upper zones? How do we do this economically?
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Usually we start by flowing the new developed formations whether up casing or tubing depending on their rates
(maybe allowing the lowest zone to liquid load and drink the fluids from ALL the open formations - Figure 1).

Figure 1. Well #1
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Another solution would be to install a string of tubing all the way to the bottom zone and force all other formations to
flow down 1000’s of feet and then U-tube up the tubing and climb 1000’s of feet to the surface (Figure 2). We quickly
find out that the formations produced fluids & gas start creating, in the well, bottlenecking problems, interference,
crossflow, liquid loading, and inefficient flow from all the zones; thus productivity of the well decreases. We quickly find
out that this only works if the bottom most zone(s) have the best permeability and pressure to assist in the U-tube
effect. Otherwise excess back pressure is created and liquid loading effects worsen. Hence, productivity of the well

Figure 2. Well #2 (Example)
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As a last resort you either punch the tubing across from the upper or middle zones and allow these zones to produce
more efficiently and hope that the reduction in back pressure will still allow from some u-tube effects to occur for the
lower zone (s) (Figure 3). (Lower zone(s) will start liquid loading and drinking the fluid from the upper zones (maybe
burping once in a while). Or open a sliding sleeve (ran initially with the tubing string) and as a consequence you get
the same results as above. You are also unable to run plunger lift any deeper than the sliding sleeve or holes.

Figure 3. Well #2
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Another solution is to run a packer (initially with the tubing string) and punch tubing or open sliding sleeve when you
start to liquid load which also results in the same ending as previously mentioned (Figure 4).

Figure 4. (Example)

Since a lot of these conditions are wells that are producing lower fluid rates (less than 150 bbls/mmcfd) they would
normally be optimum plunger lift candidates. However, one you perforate the tubing or install a sliding sleeve we are
unable to run the plunger deep enough to help keep the well effectively unloaded.
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What Artificial Lift method can we use to produce more efficiently lower fluid rate gas wells with multiple open
formations before going to the more expensive artificial lift methods like rod pumps, progressive cavity pumps,
electrical submersible pumps, gas lift, etc.?

With that same line of questioning we developed the Natural Gas Lift (NGL) method (patent pending). We were
looking for an Artificial lift method that could help us deliquify the multiple open formations wellbore and efficiently
produce all zones with minimal capital cost (~> $10k). By isolating selected zones coupled with gas lift
mandrels/checks/screened orifices, NGL allows the use of the natural pressure and gas rates from the isolated
formations to help lift liquids to the surface with the assistance of plunger lift and/or surfactants while at the same time
maintaining the integrity of the tubing so the plunger can be run from as deep a point as possible.

Through survey gradients and pressure bombs we determined what zones needed to be isolated or could be paired
together due to similar reservoir pressures. Utilizing a fullbore packer as the isolation equipment, we then install gas
lift mandrels equipped with one way check valves and elongated screened orifices to allow gas and fluid to enter the
tubing string. The velocity check prevents flow back into the casing from the tubing thus keeping the integrity of the
tubing and we are then able to run the plunger through the whole string of tubing (Poor Boy test). (Figure 5)

Figure 5.
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Surveillance Study and Background Information

A surveillance study was done on the wells before implementing the new technology to better understand the wellbore
behavior and pressure differences between the multiple formations. For example, Well #1 was drilled by Midwest Oil
Company to a total depth of 11,832’ in 1961. The well was perforated and stimulated in the Spiro (11,666’-11,716’)
and Red Oak (7,621’-7,822’). The well was completed as a tubing/casing dual well. The Red Oak produced up the
casing and the Spiro produced up the tubing. Production from the Red Oak and the Spiro was 19.8 BCF and 1.7 BCF.
Well history indicates the tubing developed communication in 1980 and was worked over in 1997 with an open sliding
sleeve. In 2000 the well was recompleted in the Panola (8,384’-8,394’) and the Upper Atoka (3,547’-3,566’). The
tubing was hung off at 7,686’. Well #1 has produced another .8 BCF since. (Refer to Figure 1 for wellbore set up
before installation of the NGL technology)

We did a series of survey gradients on Well #1, isolated formation pressure buildups, and calculated gas and water
rates that each formation could produce at different bottom hole flowing pressures. This data helped us understand the
behavior of the well and the symptoms it was having. (Figure 6) From the data gathered we quickly saw major key
points. One was that the main zones producing in Well #1 were only the upper zones (Upper Atoka, Red Oak,
formation) while must of the time the Spiro would be mostly liquid loaded by the fluids of the upper zones and from its
own. Once in a while the Spiro would be able to produce some gas when pressurized long enough by the liquid
loading. We could also decipher when each zone was producing because the CO2% content for the upper zones
(Upper Atoka and Red Oak) was 1-2% CO2 while the lower zones was about 4-8% CO2 (Spiro).

Figure 6.
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Through the pressure buildup we saw that the upper zones shut-in pressure was approximately ~255 psig while the
lower zone shut-in pressure was approximately ~700 psi. Even though the Spiro was one of the older more depleted
zones, its shut-in pressure was still higher than the upper zones. Also, the Spiro has been under fluids for longer
period of time which concerns us because the near wellbore could be damage (saturated, skin) and the true potential
was unknown.

Well file history has shown us that all the wells that were produced through one single string of tubing, examples
mentioned in the introduction section, have all ended in either punching the tubing shallow, opening a sliding sleeve, or
just giving up on the lower zones, installing a CIBP or setting the tubing high, and allowing them to liquid load. When
looking through the history of the wells with multiple open formations the major symptoms found when trying to flow all
the zones through the End of Tubing (EOT) set at the lowest zone were:

1) Liquid blockage between formations (also maybe scaling issues that can impare production-- not studied in this

Liquid Blockage between formations (Assuming formation rates are below casing critical rates)
If a zone or zones produce fluids, and all production rates that are below the casing critical rate, the fluids will
fall to the bottom due to gravity. This effect is enhanced if upper zones are forced to U-tube down to the EOT
and then flow back up the tubing to the surface. This causes an accumulation of fluid at the EOT from the
production of all the formations. This column of fluid continues building or act as a pseudo blockage between
the EOT and the upper formations that are trying to produce into it (Assuming the lower formation reservoir
pressure is able to handle a column of water when in equilibrium). In this scenario, for the upper formations to
be able to reach the EOT the fluid blockage needs to be lifted up the tubing by the energy stored in the casing
and/or lower zones. Intermitting wells that have good reservoir pressure build rates may be able to handle the
problem, if we dismiss probable problems with interference and cross flow between the multiple formations.

(Example of situation when all zones can flow uninterrupted up the EOT: When the upper formations
flowing pressure at the EOT are equal to or are slightly higher than the flowing pressures of bottom
formations at EOT, and the liquid slug being lifted up the tubing plus wellhead tubing pressure is less
than the flowing pressures of all the zones trying to produce up the tubing (and the rates of all zones
are creating little if any choke due to pressure friction loss which can be caused by the instant
summation of all rates from the producing formations).

Otherwise you will not be able to produce all the open formations efficiently and become bias to the ones that
produce the most gas and liquid loading the rest (e.g.: punching tubing, opening sliding sleeve, etc.)

2) Competition, interference, and/or crossflow between zones trying to get into the same EOT opening.

Competition, interference, and crossflow between the zones trying to get to the same EOT can also impare a
well’s production. Looking again at the example of Well #1, the upper zones shut-in build-up pressure was
around ~255 psi and the lower zones shut-in build-up pressure was ~700 psi. Assuming for a moment that no
fluids are being produced from all the zones, what happens when you open the tubing valve, at surface, and
start producing up the tubing (Forcing upper zones to come down to the EOT and then up)? What will be seen
is that there is competition between the zones. The Spiro, that has a shut-in pressure of 700 psi, will want to
produce first creating a pseudo-blockage or pseudo-backpressure to the upper formations (assuming the Pwf
of the lower zone is higher than the initial shut-in pressure of the upper formations) plus that upper zones gas
has to be forced to come down ~3000’-5000 feet to reach the EOT and higher T and P (Energy spent traveling
downward and perhaps gas compression rather than expansion). The upper zones will not produce until the
Pwf at EOT if less than the shut-in pressure of the upper zones and even then they may produce inefficiently
because the upper zones will never only see wellhead tubing pressure (it will always have a pseudo-
backpressure from the lower producing zone(s)). Also, if the well is left shut-in for too long the lower zone will
start injecting (crossflow) to the upper zones due to lower shut-in pressure.
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There are many other scenarios that can create different effects when having multiple open formations open to one
single wellbore (e.g: fluid mixture creating scale, paraffin/asphaltenes plugging, etc.) but overall the ones mentioned
above are the ones most quickly seen as major problems in the well analysis.
After getting a better idea of how the well was behaving and understanding the pressure differences between the
multiple formations, we went ahead and implemented the Natural Gas Lift in four different wells which two of the wells
are the same wells shown in Figures 1-4 but with new dowhole set up (Refer to Figures 7-11 for Natural Gas Lift
implementation on the four wells).
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Figure 7. Well #1
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Figure 8. Well #2
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Figure 9. Well #3
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Figure 10. Well #4
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The Natural Gas Lift method implemented in the four wells with multiple open formations (e.g.: well with open intervals
at 3000 ft, 5000 ft, 7000 ft, 12,000 ft) have shown great results. The results below show that we are able to deliquify
all zones more efficiently through one single string and at the same time use plunger lift and/or surfactants, through the
whole string of tubing, which ultimately increased the well production above our expectations. (Refer to Figure 11)
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Two main scenarios were seen and optimized when installing the Natural Gas Lift system, which are: 1) lower zone(s)
have higher reservoir pressure (Higher Flowing Bottom Hole Pressure (FBHP)) than shallow reservoirs, 2)
Upper/shallow reservoirs have higher pressure (Higher FBHP) than lower reservoirs.

NOTE: There is a third scenario, when the upper zone(s) have the same FBHP as the lower zone(s). This
scenario is ideal for the Natural Gas lift because the commingle zones will not compete with each other and
further more assist each other to lift the fluid produced from all the zones up to surface. (This was not seen in
our four well analyses.)

On the first scenario, lower zone(s) have higher reservoir pressure than upper/shallow reservoirs. In this case we use
the normal method where we install a plunger system and allow it produce using normal plunger cycles. On the “Off -
cycle” the liquids from the upper zones leak inside the tubing while the tubing and casing pressurizes. The lower
zones fluids and gas flow into the casing and tubing building a liquid level at the EOT and inside the tubing while they
pressurize. On the “ON-cycle” the plunger takes the fluid accumulated inside the tubing and lifts it to the surface (It
also acts as a swab cup bringing fluid and gas expanding from the annulus and helping push the plunger to surface).
The upper formations briskly produce before the plunger passes their injecting depth (At this time/step the upper
formations only see the wellhead tubing pressure because the fluids above the plunger are acting as a seal on the
pressure below the plunger (-- It could also act as a pseudo-backpressure if large volumes of instantaneous rate can
come through the upper formations… this can be minimized by flowing the upper zones up the casing if we see a
major restriction from upper zone production.) and after the plunger passes through the upper zones injection depth.
The new pressure seen by the upper zone injection point is the Pwf at depth coming from the lower zones which could
choke the maximum flow of the upper zone. As the lower zones flowing pressures fall to equal or below to the upper
zones shut-in pressure, as times passes by and the lower zone start to liquid load, the upper zone will start to flow
more vigorously and help lift the liquid from the injection depth to surface (Pseudo two stage plunger by having energy
stored in two separate bottles. (Refer to Figure 12)
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Figure 12. Example of a Two Stage Plunger Set up.
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On the second scenario, the upper zones have higher reservoir pressure than the lower zones. In this case the upper
zones will act as a choke or backpressure onto the lower zones which limits/prevents the lower zones from producing
efficiently or not at all. In this case we still allow, during the “Off-cycle” for the upper zones to leak into the tubing
(tubing with standing valve) but on the “On-cycle” we flow the upper zones up the casing and the lower zones up the
tubing. With plunger lift and/or surfactants assist we can efficiently deliquify all zones, produce upper higher pressure
reservoirs up the casing, and still produce the lower more depleted zones up the tubing.

There are many other configurations that we can think off but the above scenarios are the must common that we have
seen in our well analysis.

After the Natural Gas Lift (NGL) technology was installed we ran a SMART stationary and travelling plunger and gather
data that shows us how the NGL method works as the plunger cycles through the tubing during the OFF and ON time.
(Please refer to Figure 13, 14, and 15)

Figure13. SMART Plunger Data from Well #1
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Figure14. SMART Plunger Data from Well #1-- ZOOM IN into one Plunger Cycle

Figure15. SMART Plunger Data from Well #1-- MORE ZOOM IN
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The Natural Gas Lift method has proven successful in deliquifying and optimizing production on wells with multiple
open formations to one wellbore. Furthermore, our trials show an increase production from 50% to close to 100% of
what the well was doing pre-NGL installation. Further study needs to be done but preliminary results from the 4 well
trial show very optimistic results.

Major finding:

• Successful trials of the Natural Gas Lift Technology.
• Able to produce multiple formations into one single string more efficiently and able to flow them naturally.
• Able to run plunger from the bottom most open formation to the surface which helps lift the liquids to the
surface more efficiently.
• Cost effective and with minimal Wellwork Intervention (~$10k for equipment).
• Recommend further study of well behavior by doing a test with pressure gauges before and after installation of
Natural Gas Lift to better understand fluid blockage between formations, and impediment to flow from upper
zones to lower EOT.

Arkoma Group and Karl Fuchs