We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Pump Jack?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
About Mechanics is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At About Mechanics, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A pump jack is a device used in oil production when the pressure inside a well is not sufficient to force oil to the surface. The pump jack is run to physically extract oil for use. Pump jacks were historically used on wells with low production levels, and can be seen dotting the landscape in many regions where oil wells have been dug. The distinctive appearance of the pump jack has become iconic and these devices are often used as symbols of the oil and gas industry, including on some company logos.

Known by names like “nodding donkey,” “grasshopper pump,” and “thirsty bird,” the pump jack consists of a long beam moved by an external power source. As the end of the beam rises and falls, the weighted end dips in and out of the well to extract oil. The other end is connected to a pulley system that is attached to the power source, providing continuous movement of the pump jack while it is turned on.

The same basic mechanics can also be seen in the design of some hand pumped wells, with a human being serving as the power source. Pump jacks can run on generators, as well as central power supplies. In large oil fields, pump jacks can be strung together along a power connection to access a central source of energy. Field workers maintain the devices, providing lubrication and replacing worn out parts.

These devices may not necessarily run full time. Production can be adjusted in response to changing oil prices and other factors, and in addition, some wells need to be allowed to rest to bring the levels of oil up high enough to reach with a pump. Typically, the pump jack extracts a solution of oil and saltwater, along with other impurities, and if a well is worked too hard, the level will fall below the reach of the pump. The ability to adjust production levels with a pump jack allows field workers to control how much oil is extracted, and when.

Once pulled out of the ground with a pump jack, the oil can be moved to containers for shipping and eventual treatment. In the treatment process the impurities will be removed and the oil will be graded and subjected to a series of refinery processes to produce different oil and gas products. The grade of the oil depends on a number of factors, with higher graded oils generally being more valuable.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon259551 — On Apr 06, 2012

What powers an oil pump jack?

By matthewc23 — On Aug 23, 2011

All these stories of seeing pump jacks in odd places simply shows how in demand oil is. Where I live there are several pump jacks in a clearing in the middle of the woods and there is a collection area for the oil near a large thicket of trees. If there is an oil spill or a lightning strike a massive inferno will ensue. However, oil is in incredibly high demand and they will put pump jacks up wherever the oil is. I remember seeing an episode of The Simpsons where they found oil under the school so the school got converted into a giant oil well. I would love to see this scenario happen in real life just to see what would happen.

By jmc88 — On Aug 22, 2011

@jcraig - I once saw a pump jack on the front of someone's lawn. I know this goes along with a pump jack being in someone's yard but this was on his lawn right in front of his house. He told me that he did not own that pump jack, but that he sold the rights to someone to drill the oil on his land. I found it strange he would allow that to happen on his front lawn but I guess he really needed the money.

By jcraig — On Aug 22, 2011

@stl156 - It is interesting to see some of the strange places that these pump jacks end up. Because there may not be a lot of oil in the area, but there is enough to drill, these pump jacks will just spring up wherever the oil is.

In addition to several pump jacks dotting farmer's fields, I have seen these pump jacks in backyards, and I sometimes in the middle of the woods. Anywhere oil is, these pump jacks will be placed there to collect it, no matter how strange the location may be.

By stl156 — On Aug 21, 2011

I live in eastern Illinois and we have a good supply of oil, but are known more as a farming area. With the decent amount of oil we have, we do not have massive oil wells, but rather many, many pump jacks that dot the landscapes.

It is not unusual, where I live, to see a farmer's field with four or five of these pump jacks and sometimes they are seen in the strangest of places.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
About Mechanics, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

About Mechanics, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.