Shale producer turned oil tech maker forms JV with Schlumberger

By Luke Geiver | June 27, 2017

Jeff Saponja and his team at Heal Systems bring a proven background to their work and development of a new unconventional oil and gas production enhancement technology. Before Saponja started Production Plus Energy—the company that has essentially become Heal Systems—he was an operating producer working in the Bakken shale play. “As production engineers by trade, we identified that there were challenges in producing these wells,” he said. “We were always trying to maximize drawdown. What we found was there was a predicament. The more drawdown we could achieve, the less reliable the artificial system became.”

After deploying multiple artificial lift systems on their Canadian Bakken wells with little or no change to their issues, the team began experimenting with a system they developed in-house. “We discovered we weren’t dealing with the root issue,” Saponja says of their time using other downhole systems.

Now, multiple years the team was in the oil production side of the industry, Heal has found success in the energy service and tech side. The Calgary-based company recently signed a joint venture agreement with Schlumberger that will bring the Heal system to multiple oil and gas basins across the U.S., Canada and internationally.

The Heal system can be installed on the casing string and requires no moving parts. The system can be applied to existing systems or put into new set-ups. “It has been known for a long time that horizontal well bores are simply a pipeline and the liquids don’t flow smoothly. They flow inconsistently or in slug-flow conditions,” he said. Because pumps don’t like inconsistent flows, many artificial lift providers have worked to create larger pumps or found ways to handle inconsistent flows.

“We had a different hypothesis,” Saponja explained.

“We asked what if we stopped the horizontal flow slugging before the pump. That lead us down the path to the development of the Heal system,” he said. In 2013 and 2014, the company deployed a system in its own deep Bakken wells. Others learned of their success and asked to use the same system, according to Saponja.

In 2015, the company captured or acquired all of the patent and intellectual property. Over the next two years the team deployed the system in 200 locations throughout all of the major basins in the U.S. and Canada.

The system bridges the horizontal section of the well with the vertical section. A specialized portion roughly 800 feet long is installed on the bend of the casing. The special casing changes the flow regime of the oil before it hits the vertical section of the well. When the flow reaches the vertical section it is smooth. The liquid mix that is passed onto the pump is more in tune with what the pump wants to receive. While the production uplift numbers vary, the system can improve production efficiency by 30 to 70 percent, according to the company. And, because the system helps with flow rates, when it is installed on a new system prior to initial flowback, the system can keep a new well on natural production longer, Saponja said.

Through its work with Schlumberger, the Heal team will still be allowed to work with any operator or other service company looking to install the system. Schlumberger will also provide an international distribution network that Saponja said would not have otherwise been possible.

Although he calls Calgary home, Saponja is now spending a lot of time in Houston. His team is growing rapidly this year, having grown from a handful of employees to more than 40. With his technology now proven, Saponja is focusing on driving down manufacturing costs and scaling his team’s operations.