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Part 3: A pacemaker for paraffins

Once the test wells began producing oil in our San Juan Basin oil discovery, some challenges came about – particularly paraffin buildup.

A component of crude oil, waxy paraffin can start to precipitate and plug production pipes. To combat the problem, one solution is to mechanically cut out the paraffin with slick line, but that is costly and time consuming. Another solution is to regularly pump expensive chemicals down the hole.

But WPX’s team in Aztec, N.M. – including Technician Lead Doug Sprague and Senior Technician Art Alsup – came up with a creative solution using a two-piece plunger bypass system for the well.

“Our first experience with the paraffin resulted in half a day of cutting the paraffin from the surface and swabbing, well into the evening.

“We knew we needed a mechanical means to combat the accumulation of paraffin in the production tubing, and a two-piece plunger, or pacemaker, seemed like the solution,” Sprague says.

The two-piece plunger system is designed to fall against the natural flow of the well and sweep accumulated fluid and build-up from the tubing, then bring hot fluid back up with it.

“The pacemaker was initially set up to run down about 3,000 feet – its sole purpose to clean the tubing mechanically,” says Sprague. “After about a week of operations, we decided to lower it to about 5,000 feet.”

Lowering the “bumper spring” to that depth accomplished two things: One, the hot fluid prevented the paraffin from accumulating along with the mechanical cleaning of the plunger. And two, we were able to increase our fluid production:  oil.

And most importantly, the system doesn’t halt production for hours at a time, as other methods do.

“We implemented the plunger in about two weeks by working with our vendors – very fast,” says Russell Knight, operations superintendent. “And we navigated through without suspending flow, which was cost efficient.”

Of roads and relationships

Our cooperative approach with vendors, residents in the area, and regulatory groups has been critical in the development of WPX’s Gallup Sandstone oil play.

“One of the more recent things we’ve done is institute a road committee in the area,” says Ken McQueen, director of operations.

“The energy industry is key in maintaining the roads out there – we’re helping water them to keep the dust down because about half the roads are not paved.

“Like most places, New Mexico has a need to preserve water, so we’re also recycling as much as water as we can. This decreases the usage of freshwater from local sources,” McQueen says.

Once the oil is ready for transport, WPX is focused on limiting truck traffic, and that’s possible thanks to a nearby pipeline already in place.

“We have a very rich history here,” says Randy VanDenBerg, WPX’s district operations manager. “We’re committed to develop good working relationships with the community. It’s important to us.”

WPX is highly regarded in the San Juan Basin for the way it does business. In 2012, the New Mexico Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service recognized our efforts to help preserve natural resources and for developing mitigation measures that lead to quieter operations and reduced emissions.

On Deck

WPX is on pace to drill 12-14 Gallup Sandstone oil wells in 2013. Our first six wells have an average I.P. rate of 819 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

WPX expects to finish 2013 with a year-end exit rate of 3,400 barrels of oil equivalent per day in the San Juan Basin. Our targeted drilling and completion cost is $5 million per well.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned to for more coverage of our Gallup Sandstone development. We plan to release a video about our discovery in early 2014.

“We have a very rich history here. We’re committed to develop good working relationships with the community. It’s important to us.”


Randy VanDenBerg – District Operations Manager


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