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Operation of sucker-rod lift systems
Ongoing operation of a sucker-rod lift system may involve a certain amount of automation and control. Information on troubleshooting problems is also discussed.
Automation and pumping control
Automation means different things to different people and becomes a problem when the term triggers concern from the field about personnel reduction. Thus, sucker-rod-lift automation may not always be considered good if not properly applied. However, there needs to be monitoring and control equipment on an installation to enhance:
- Proper operation
- Failure reduction or prevention
- Troubleshooting/problem solving
At minimum, a sucker-rod-lift installation should have vibration switches on the unit to shut it down, if there is a high part in the rod string that will cause overloading of the gearbox or damage to the unit foundation. There should be a pressure gauge (or a connection for a pressure gauge to allow temporary installation) on the flowline-pumping T, downstream of the check valve that monitors the flowline pressure. There should also be some type of pump-cycle controller. This may be from a simple time clock to a more sophisticated pumpoff or rod-pump controller.
A number of papers have been published that address automation of sucker-rod-lift or beam-pump automation and control.  There is also a reference on practical automation for mature fields.  If a high degree of automation is considered, then a very important side consideration is keeping this electrical equipment working, especially during electrical storms; thus, proper lightning protection and grounding should be considered. 
A study made several years ago indicated that at least one-half of the pumping wells surveyed had a subsurface pump installed that was too large (Conoco unpublished internal report). The results of such installations were devastating fluid pounds when wells were overpumped, resulting in short run times and increased failure frequency. Because of the cost to pull and replace a pump, typically other parts of the sucker-rod-lift system were changed to compensate for the oversized pump. Too many times, the too-large pump is a result of habit or of not optimizing when the well capacity has changed.
It is still possible to live with the too-large pump until the correct size can be installed. Some interim measures are to reduce the pump displacement by reducing the strokes per minute, shortening the stroke, and decreasing backpressure on the tubing/casing annulus, thereby decreasing formation backpressure, allowing more fluid inflow, and reducing the pumping time.
Probably the most common type of well control or automation is time clocking, which consists of pumping a portion of a 15-minute period. Percentage timers and pumpoff controls are used in modern time-clocking work. The purpose of time clocking is to adjust the pump capacity to the well capacity.
Pumpoff controllers have been developed over the years to:
- Be standalone monitors
- Provide rod-string load and polished-rod position and related dynamometer cards
- Be installed with communication links to allow remote monitoring and control of the installation
Current advancements in computers along with electrical end devices allow sophisticated control of individual installations and/or a whole field. If new pumping installations are planned, these types of controllers/automation should be considered. It becomes more difficult to justify a retrofit to a long-time producing field, but this may be considered depending on access to the field, variable well inflow, and/or reduction in operating costs by reducing well failures. Many papers on pumpoff or rod-pump controllers, different theories concerning their operation, and controller installation and operation have been published.  These should be reviewed to determine if or when a controller may be advantageous to install.
Once a sucker-rod-lift system is installed on a well, the continued monitoring and optimization of pumping parameters begins. Obtaining monthly well tests on the fluid production from the well and a fluid/pump submergence level is recommended to ensure that the well capacity is within the recommended pump-capacity range, the well does not have excess capacity or equipment needs to be changed because of excessively high fluid levels, and that excessive pumping of the well is not occurring.
Although current rod-string-design models, simulators, and programs are fairly accurate, they still need individual-well calibration to ensure that the design assumptions are correct for the actual well conditions. Additionally, to know what is different and why, the six main well loads need to be recorded from the predictive design. These loads need to be compared to the actual well loads with known fluid-level, well-test, and pumping parameters. Gipson and Swaim  have described these six basic loads and their relationship to a surface dynamometer card.
Many papers have been published on dynamometers and their use on sucker-rod-lifted wells.  Some of these provide discussion of surface loads and surface dynamometer cards, while the latest trend is to discuss downhole dynamometer cards (or pump cards). While obtaining actual downhole loads that these dynagraphs recorded, there has been recent work on developing and field-testing a downhole dynamometer. 
While these measurements investigate the sucker-rod-string loads, the other components of the lift system also should be investigated, including the pumping unit and gearbox. As previously discussed, there are only two techniques to check if a pumping unit is overloaded: conducting a torque analysis or comparing the permissible-load diagram (PLD) for the pumping unit to the loads from the surface dynamometer card. The torque-analysis technique has been demonstrated by Gipson and Swaim,  and Takacs,  Gault,  and Teel have discussed PLDs or envelopes. Chastain discussed examples of PLD use for properly counterbalancing a pumping unit. 
Failures of sucker-rod-lift components have been discussed in countless papers. The use of current data processing and root-cause analysis of these failures has been the recent industry trend to assist in reducing failures. , Additionally, the Artificial Lift Energy Optimization Consortium (ALEOC) program in west Texas has been useful for operators to compare the failure frequency of their sucker-rod-lift components, wells, and fields with other operators to find areas of improvement.  One final new trend developing for this lift method is a total well-management concept that integrates the well capacity/pump submergence and rod-string and pumping-unit loads with power demands. This may prove the best practice for optimizing, troubleshooting, and reducing failures along with reducing associated lifting costs.
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