3 Key Facts About Pump Jacks

April 1, 2023

3 Key Facts About Pump Jacks

A pump jack is a mechanical device used in the oil field to lift liquid – usually an emulsion of crude oil and water – out of an oil well. The device is also known as a donkey pumper, oil horse or pumping unit. It was invented in 1925 by Walter Trout working for Lufkin Foundry & Machine Company in Texas. It is the dominant form of artificial lift in the oil field industry.


When you look around the oil fields of Appalachia, Texas or other places where crude is produced, you’ll see plenty of pump jacks. These massive machines – also known as nodding donkeys, horse-heads and thirsty birds – have been around for over a century to lift oil from wells that don’t naturally rise up to the surface. They work by making something called artificial lift, which mainly builds pressure inside an oil well to pull the oil to the surface. It’s estimated that over 96% of US oil wells will need to use a pumpjack at some point in their lifespan. Typically, pump jacks are gas or electricity powered and can remove up to five barrels of oil per minute from the ground. This number is determined by a few factors, including the depth of the oil in the well, the amount of pressure that’s needed to get it out, and the size of the pumpjack. Modern pump jacks have made great strides in technology, using less energy, being easier to maintain and more resilient to wear and corrosion. These technological improvements have helped to drive the global pump jack market, which is still robust and growing at an impressive rate.

Operation Process

The power behind pump jacks is commonly an electric motor. This prime mover powers a set of pulleys that in turn drive a pair of cranks. These cranks, which often consist of a counterweight, lift and lower one end of a beam that rocks up and down. The other end of this beam is a horse head attached to a rod that runs through the well. As the walking beam rocks up and down, it submerges the rod and plunger, thus lifting oil to the surface. This oil is then pumped from the well and piped to a separating tank. Some wells also have a gas engine running off of “casinghead” gas, which can be used to power the pump jack if it doesn’t require a lot of electricity. In order to monitor the operation of a pump jack, wired sensors must be installed on the unit and connected to a control room via long cable runs. This can be a costly and time-consuming process. A new, wireless remote monitoring solution eliminates the need for cable runs and allows for retrofitting into existing pump jack machinery. The SignalFire Remote Sensing System (SRFSS) uses a TiltSCOUT as a wireless node to detect the pump jack’s cyclical up-and-down motion and sends this data to a Gateway that formats it for use in a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system.


A pump jack is a unique scaffold system that features a platform supported by moveable brackets on vertical poles. This allows the jack to be raised and lowered in a similar fashion to an automobile jack. The platform can be positioned to accommodate varying heights and is typically used for siding installations or other tasks where the scaffolding needs to be lowered. It is a simple and inexpensive solution to lift and transport heavy objects. In the oil industry, pump jacks are a vital part of the downhole process for wells that don’t produce enough oil to flow all the way to the surface. This equipment, commonly called a “horse head” or a “rocking horse,” is assisted by counterweights and an electric motor that raises and lowers the sucker rod to move liquid out of the well. Andy Cordova, downhole product leader for Lufkin Industries, a big manufacturer of pumpjacks in Buck Creek, Texas, says fracking has opened up a lot more wells to the market and now requires larger pumping units. This has pushed the demand for more specialized equipment, like air-balanced units.

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