2018 Winner: Outstanding Commercial Achievement In Science And Technology
Smart technology makes big impact in oil pump industry
As oil and gas producers continually look to optimize production, SSi Artificial Lift saw an opportunity to innovate traditional beam pumps to find the most efficient means possible to extract crude oil from the reservoirs. Their innovation uses nitrogen as a counter balance, requiring far less energy. This innovation has reduced operating costs, improved energy efficiency, increased production, leveraged artificial intelligence technology and improved safety.
What problem did you see a need to solve and how did you solve this real-world problem?
Dave Kennedy, CEO at SSi Artificial Lift: In the artificial lift business, everyone is very familiar with the beam pump. At SSi Artificial Lift, we bring an unique patented technology that uses both hydraulics and nitrogen as the lift. As a result, you get a very small footprint on the well. The technology is also much more intelligent because it thinks and it adjusts constantly based upon the changing well conditions. The California-based company was moved to Calgary six years ago and we’ve made about 250 improvements to the technology since.
What has been the impact?
When you see the famous horsehead beam pumps, they don’t have intelligence built in. Our unit constantly looks at the well and optimizes production. The benefit for the producer is we’ve got a much longer stroke. Traditional beam pumps can go to 240 inches, but we go to 372 inches and we designed that here. We can lift from 25,000 pounds to 80,000 pounds whereas the beam pump’s maximum is 42,700 pounds. Not only can we lift more, which means deeper wells and heavier oils, we produce more because we’ve got a longer stroke. Because the technology is very innovative with independent up and down strokes, we can go very fast in the up stroke, when you’re producing, and very slow in the down stroke avoiding issues with gas or fluid lock.
With heavy oils or gas you potentially get a “pounding” based on the fluid lock, we provide the intelligence so the unit adjusts constantly. We can change the stroke length and the strokes speed at the push of a button. When optimizing the well, the operator who is looking at the well data can decide without shutting down the well. You can’t do that with the beam pumps. You must stop the unit, bring in a crane, move all the weights, and so on. With our technology, you push a button twice and stroke speed and stroke length change. We build intelligence in and that allows the operators to produce more oil at a lower cost.
Has being in Alberta helped you find success?
In Alberta, we’ve got some good talent and there’s a good engineering base. Having that pool of talent that you can draw from is a major benefit. We’ve got some guys here that have been in the business 20+ years. We’ve got experienced guys that allowed us to start marketing globally. We export 70 percent of everything we do here, which includes to the United States, which is the largest artificial lift market in the world.
Who have been your major supporters?
There are a number of clients who had already experienced problems with the existing pumps. When we introduce them to this new technology, they become informed buyers. When they are very informed about the well conditions, they are quite willing to try this out. Occidental Petroleum and Chevron have a lot of lift wells so they see the benefit of increasing their production and reducing the cost. There are several Alberta companies such as Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus, Connacher and a few others who are already using our technology. They’ve got a fairly big installed base because it gives them better oil production.
What are the plans for the future?
We can’t stand still. We compete against the big guys so we’re like David and Goliath. We can move at the speed of light when it comes to making decisions and developing the technology. We are also trying to continuously improve.
When a client gives us feedback, we develop a technology plan and just go and do it. We can build and make stuff in 10 weeks. Right now, we’ve got about seven or eight plans within our current technology program for constantly keeping ahead. We listen to what the clients tell us and because we have the intelligence we can develop programming. We have to stay ahead because if we don’t constantly have some arrows in our quiver for the future, then our competition will keep ahead of us.
How does it feel to be an ASTech Finalist?
I was very impressed that ASTech provides these prestigious innovation awards for the industry and I was very flattered that our company is one of the Finalists. It’s great that Alberta encourages innovation because this allows those people to spend the money within the province to develop products that can be exported. In our case, our focus is very much across the border.