Types of Manual and Hydraulic Wellhead Lubricators for Oil and Gas Operations

Posted by Michael T. Perschke on 14th Dec 2023

There are 3 common vertical back pressure valve lubricators in today’s market. Heshka Oil designs manufactures and runs all 3 of these types here in the USA and sells them around the globe. In this article, we will describe the different kinds of wellhead lubricator units and go over all the pros and cons, as well as proper and improper operation and storage.

The three styles of wellhead lubricators are:

1. Pressure Balanced Manually Operated Lubricator or “PBMO Lubricator”

2. Manually Operated Hydraulic Assist Lubricator or “Hydraulic Assist Lubricator”

3. Pressure-balanced hydraulic Operated Lubricator or “PBHO” or “Snubricator”

a. The Snubricator is the only patented lubricator that brings the best of a PBMO and Hydraulic Assist into one package and then automates it.

The pressure-balanced manually operated (PBMO) back pressure valve lubricator is our first type on the list. The PBMO is the most common and widely used in the industry. The PBMO consists of a lower and upper yoke with an access window splitting the two. The upper yoke has a closed-top upper barrel that houses the polished rod. The unit becomes pressure-balanced when you connect a manifold on the lower yoke's outside port to the upper yoke's external port. This allows pressure from the tree to be routed up the manifold to the top yoke and “jumped” into the upper barrel. This allows the access window to be open to the outside elements where an operator can manipulate the rod up and down and rotate the rod clockwise and counterclockwise.

Let’s talk about Heshka Oil’s PBMO versus the competitor's PBMO.

  • Most competitors currently use a “chevron” style V packing seal in both yokes to seal the rod from the outside elements. This “chevron” style V packing has more cons than pros. The Heshka Oil lubricators, while we can still offer a “chevron” style packing, come standard off the shelf with a superior spring energized packing, which has been proven in extreme environments and can handle both low and high pressure. We have had lubricators in the field for over a year and have original packings. Chevrons leak; this will happen much more often than our spring-energized packings, and when they leak, you must tighten down the packing gland. When you tighten down a leaking chevron, two things happen. The first is that whatever caused the packing to leak has now been squeezed tighter against the rod, so manipulation at this point of the rod will damage your rod even more. Second, tightening the packing gland also tightens up your rod, making it much more difficult to manipulate your polished rod manually.
  • Heshka Oil’s yokes now have leak detection ports, allowing you to detect leaks quickly. And, when you couple that with our sealant injection port option, you can temporarily plug your leak until you complete your job.
  • Heshka Oil’s polished rods have an option for laser engraving inch marks every 5 inches. This always gives you two marks in the window ensuring you know exactly where you are in the tree.

  • Common issues with PBMO Lubricators.

    Almost every issue we encounter with a PBMO is from one of three errors: improper storage, operation, and/or job preparation.

  • Every PBMO lubricator you have when not in use, should be filled with a 50/50 glycol water mix for storage. We know of only two companies globally that currently fulfill this requirement. Failing to follow this guideline negates Heshka Oil's warranty but, more importantly, can contribute to the premature failure of your critical system. You don’t want this happening to your clients well. When you pressure balance with good pressure, particulates and corrosive substances can enter your lubricator. Water and oxygen are the cause of corrosion. Hence, if you don’t drain and replace it with a glycol water mix, you reduce the life of the lubricator components and risk premature wear and possibly component failure in the field.
  • Improper job preparation includes failure to test the lubricator at the shop before taking it to the field, failure to identify worn components, and failure to understand the job requirements before the job starts.
  • Back Pressure Valve Lubricators are inherently dangerous but do not have to be. Unfortunately, we found after the incidents that many service technicians were improperly trained to use the PBMO correctly. A few things to note on a PBMO:
  •  o Needle valves should not be used to “float rods” up and down. This is dangerous and causes an imbalance of pressure between the well and the lubricator.

    o Jumper lines between the lower yoke and the tubing head should be utilized to ensure balanced pressure.


    The hydraulic assist lubricator is made up of the same components as the PBMO; in the hydraulic assist, the upper barrel contains a piston mounted on top of the polished rod with seals that split the upper barrel into two sections, the hydraulic section, and the well pressure section. To manipulate the rod in the hydraulic assist, you must pump in hydraulic fluid, at a pressure capable of overcoming the pressure end load caused by the well pressure on the system, into the upper section (hydraulic section) of the upper barrel. This pushes the piston down, which, in turn, runs the polished rod into the well. A hydraulic assist lubricator is NOT PRESSURE BALANCED; particular attention must be paid to the hydraulic and healthy pressure while running a job in the field.

    I am sure you can begin to picture the problem with this setup in your head. You’re pressuring up the top side of a piston that has good pressure acting against it on the bottom side. This hydraulic assist type lubricator can have some hazardous situations arise if not operated correctly.

  • You can have a situation where the rod can become imbalanced very quickly. Failure of the hydraulic assist pump or the piston seal could cause the rod to launch out of the well and possibly out of the tool. Improper manual manipulation of the hydraulic pressure could also cause this issue.
  • As pressure increases in the well, the piston pressure must also be increased. Monitoring both the sound pressure and hydraulic pressure is done by personnel and, therefore, is subject to forgetfulness.
  • This hydraulic assist setup requires enough hydraulic pressure and the correct pump to overcome healthy pressure. With some frac jobs running over 10KPSI, this can be hazardous, having to maintain equivalent hydraulic pressures on the top side of the piston.

  • You can have the best of both worlds with The Snubricator Hydraulic Lubricator! You maintain the pressure balance of the PBMO and gain the pushing and pulling strength of a hydraulic system. Enter the only available pressure-balanced hydraulically operated lubricator on the market, The Snubricator! As if that was not enough, the Snubricator is semi-automated and will allow the technician to run the hanger or BPV into the well without being in the red zone. Maintaining the traditional two-yoke system, Heshka Oil adds proprietary upper and lower clamps with the hydraulic traverse cylinder to make the safest hydraulic lubricator on the market.
  • All the benefits of the PBMO and hydraulic assist without the manual manipulation of the rod in and out of the well or the imbalance in pressure of the assist.
  • It can be converted quickly as a PBMO for simple BPV jobs or hydraulic or power failures.
  • Keeps employees out of the red zone for much of the lubricator work.