If you found this page you may have some interest in the independent American oil and gas industry. Did you know that of all the oil produced in the United States, one out of every six barrels is produced from what is known as a “stripper well?” The IRS classifies a stripper oil well as one producing ten barrels or less per day. Most of these aging, marginal oil wells belong to small, privately owned oil and gas companies. Many were acquired from larger energy companies who at some point sold the declining wells, considering them not worth the effort and expense to operate. These old U.S. oil wells, some of which were were drilled as far back as the 1800′s, are still producing enough crude oil to make them worthwhile for small companies to keep operating. Some of these wells are as old as the U.S. petroleum industry itself. In fact, the oldest stripper oil well in the United States is now more than 150 years old. The McClintock Well No. 1 is a 620′ deep oil well located near Rouseville, PA. It is still producing 7 to 10 barrels of oil a day, every other month. (It is allowed to sit idle for a period of time between production cycles, while more oil flows from the rock formation back into the area around the wellbore.) With crude prices at more than $100 a barrel, this historic oil well is still making its owners quite a bit of money, even after all these years. This oldest producing U.S. oil well is located about 14 miles from Titusville, PA, site of the world’s first oil well, the Drake well, which was drilled in 1859. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are about 420,000 stripper wells in the United States. Most marginal oil wells are located in the lower 48 states. Additionally, there are about 296,000 stripper gas wells in the U.S. The IRS classifies a stripper gas well as one that makes less than 75,000 cubic feet of gas a day. These little gas wells account for nearly 10% of total U.S. natural gas production annually. The majority of these older wells are located in the following states:
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Below are some photos of stripper oil wells in the Luling field of Texas. Most were drilled in the 1920′s using conventional rotary drilling, as well as with older cable tool rigs.
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Below, a small stripper well running on an electric motor in the Luling field. This Texas oilfield was discovered in the 1920s by wildcatter Edgar B. Davis. There are still quite a few wells producing in this old oilfield, however production amounts are now dwarfed by the larger Eagle Ford Shale wells being drilled just to the south of Caldwell and Guadalupe counties.
More Statistics On Stripper Oil and Gas Wells in the United States
According to the US Department of Energy, in 2008 there were approximately 296,000 stripper gas wells in the United States producing 2,000,000,000,000 ft.³ (two trillion cubic feet,) of natural gas a year, or enough to power twenty-five million homes. It was estimated in 2008 that stripper wells produced enough oil to fuel more than half of the jet planes flying in the United States. Since these statistics were released in 2008, a monumental shift in U.S. oil production has occurred, thanks to the development of the technologies of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Now, because of the incredible amount of oil being produced by new fields such as the Eagle Ford Shale and Bakken shale, stripper wells account for an even smaller portion of total US oil production. Nevertheless, these small wells are an important part of domestic oil and gas production as a whole. Many stripper wells become in danger of being plugged or capped when oil prices fall to levels were small independent oil companies can no longer justify operating them. When this happens, anywhere from 1/2 to 2/3 of the recoverable oil that the well could have ultimately produced is left in the ground forever. It has been estimated that between 1994 and 2003, more than 142,000 marginal oil and gas wells in the U.S. were plugged and abandoned. This has resulted in a loss of revenue of more than more than $3 billion, and contributed to an increased reliance on imported oil. A number of agencies are working to help improve the productivity of marginal oil and gas wells and keep them from being plugged. One of these agencies is the The Stripper Well Consortium, an industry-driven entity managed by the Pennsylvania State University. One of the successes of this consortium has been the Gas Operated Automatic Lift pump or (GOAL,) which was co-developed with Brandywine Energy and Development Company. This device uses the pressure of gas moving into the bottom of the well to help force liquids out, increasing the amount of both oil and gas produced by a small stripper well. Another invention that is helping improve oil recovery and efficiency of stripper wells goes by the acronym of “MEOWS.” That stands for Marginal Expense Oilwell Wireless Surveillance”. (They must have a lot of fun in the acronym department at the D.O.E.!) Developed with funding from the Department of Energy (DOE) and managed by DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, MEOWS allows owners of small oil wells monitor their pumpjacks and determine when underground flow rates have decreased to the point where the pumpjack should be shut off, to save the pump rods, electricity, etc., and allow the oil in the wellbore to recover. Another agency that is working to improve marginal oil and gas well productivity is the Department of Energy’s Rocky Mountain Oilfield Test Center, located at Teapot Dome near Casper Wyoming.
Many marginal oil and gas fields, such as the one seen in the photo above, are utilizing a technology known as “enhanced oil recovery,” or “secondary recovery,” to help increase production. Secondary recovery techniques include injecting CO2 gas or steam underground to force out more oil and gas, as well as drilling horizontal wells to better drain old fields. More about secondary recovery techniques in oil and gas can be seen here What is Secondary Recovery In The Oil Industry?