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From Fossil To Fuel™
From Fossil To Fuel™

Episode 17 · 2 years ago

Episode 16 - Surface Facilities

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

A high level overview of the facilities at surface and what we do when oil and gas comes to surface.

My name is Brennan McDougall and I'm a professional engineer. Or the last decade I've worked in many different facets of the oil and gas industry. While I have a pretty solid technical background in oil to gas, I don't really know a whole lot about the other non technical departments that help run an oiling gas company. Recently I took a course to help develop my business acumen and better understand how the financial side of the business works. What a novel concept to educate the technical people on the business and financial side. I thought it would be a really cool idea to return the favor and educate the non technical people on the technical side. This is how the concept from fossil to fuel was born. Through these twenty four episodes, we will take a journey from how oil and gas was formed millions of years ago how it is refined into the fuel that runs our cars and Keats our homes. Come join me on this adventure as we learn how the oiling gas industry operates from fossil to few. ...

We've spent a lot of time so far talking about what goes on below the ground, looking at geology, the reservoir drilling in completion operations and so forth. But what happens when oil and gas actually comes out of the ground? There's still a lot of work that needs to be done before oil and gas becomes usable in terms of a fuel source for our homes and in our cars. The first thing that happens when oil and gas comes out of the ground is that it's typically treated at some sort of surface facility that's either located right beside the well head or somewhere close by. Remember that when oil comes out...

...of the ground, you can't just use it as it is. It needs to be treated and in most cases it needs to be treated several times. The usual process looks a little something like this. So oil and gas comes out of the ground via the well head or through the well head, it's then piped over via pipeline, or like a small pipeline, to some local surface facilities close by, where it's treated in order to meet the main pipeline specifications so that it can be transported by pipeline to a gas plant or refinery. Once they're oil can then be separated, refined and purified into components that are more useful, like diesel or gasoline. Will cover pipelines in the next episode and refineries won't be till the last one in episode twenty four. So for now let's just stick to the actual surface facilities that are typically on your...

...well site location. Recall that when we talked way back about reservoirs, we said that most reservoirs consist of some oil, some water and some gas. Over millions of years, the oil, water and gas accumulate down in the reservoir and they can blend together like a salad dressing. So if you think of a bottle of salad dressing in the store, when this bottle of salad dressing is sitting on the shelf and it's been sitting there for a while, your typical balsamic dressing will have the balsamic vinegar on the bottom with all of the oil floating on top. But when you shake it up it becomes one consistency in engineering we call this one consistency in emulsion. So to mulsify means to blend liquids that don't normally mix. So in the reservoir you could have everything emulsified like salad dressing, but when it comes to surface we want it...

...like the dressing that was in the store, meaning that it's been separated so that we can separate it easily and then sell each component. Pipelines will always have restrictions on what can and can't go in them, so the first thing you typically do is separate the oil, gas and water. Most often we separate the oil, gas and water and send them in separate pipelines, but sometimes we can mix the oil and gas together back into the pipeline. It really just depends on where your operations are and what the restrictions are on the pipeline, since for the most part the water isn't really worth anything. It's basically a waste product. And Bit of a side note here, produced water is typically nasty. It's not even close to drinkable. Picture like a dirty, stinky swamp water. But now that you've got your oil and gas separated,...

...you need to clean out any impurities from those or at least to the level that the pipeline specify. And for your information, the most common things that we remove are hydrogen sulfide, sulfur, carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen and, of course, any remaining water. So let's take a look at how this is all done generally speaking, and this is very generally speaking, we're looking at the following processes in order. They are separation of the oil, water and gas, dehydration, which is meaning to remove water from the gas, treatment, which is to remove the contaminants that we just talked about, conditioning or stabilization, which is to adjust the temperature, pumping or compression, so pumping for oil, compression for gas, which is to adjust the pressure, and produced water treatment, followed by metering. So we already talked...

...a little bit about separation, but the way it's actually done is in a cylindrical vessel called a separator. So picture the propane tank for your barbecue, but much bigger and much more elongated. That's basically what a separator looks like. They're all different kinds, but to keep it simple, basically what we're trying to do is control the temperature and pressure of the separator so that the lightest component, which is gas, comes out the top, the heaviest component, water comes out the bottom and oil comes out the middle. I'm not going to go into details about how the internals of a separator actually work, but that's basically the result that we're looking for. Gas Out the top, water at the bottom and oil of the middle. To dehydrate means to remove...

...water. Like I mentioned before, oil and gas companies make their money on oil and gas, not water, so it's no surprise that water removal from hydrocarbons has been a huge problem or challenge for engineers since the oil and gas industry started in the late eighteen hundreds. Over the last hundred plus years, technologies come a long way, as we've basically gone from simple tanks to things like a perform ax matrix plate coalescer. Remember, it's all about cost benefit analysis, though. The produced water basically has little to no value and there will be added cost for every bit of additional removal that you try to achieve. It's not always about getting a hundred percent of the water out. It's about finding that optimal value. So typically, when we pump our products into...

...the pipeline after they've gone through the surface facilities, even though we've dehydrated it, that doesn't necessarily mean that we've taken out a hundred percent of the water. It's all about cost benefit analysis. Sometimes will even skip the dehydration process because it's not necessary. Nowadays, a lot of wells produce more water than they do oil and gas in terms of the volume, and with more water production, there are more emulsion and more problems to treat. For something so critical to life on earth, you wouldn't think that water present such a problem, but it does for oil and gas. Corrosion is a big one too, and obviously waters tied to corrosion, but you can also form hydrocarbon ice plugs called hydrates, and I already mentioned emulsions. It's funny with water. Sometimes you just can't get rid of it and sometimes you can't get enough.

It really just depends on this situation. So once you've got the majority of the water out, you need to treat the oil and gas to remove any remaining contaminants, and I mentioned a bunch of them before, but for the most part it's usually hydrogen sulfide and or carbon dioxide. Those are the big two and both of them are very corrosive. So it's important to treat the oil and gas right away. And if you haven't heard of it before, I should also mentioned that hydrogen sulfide is extremely deadly and if inhaled at even very low levels, it can kill you in a matter of seconds, if not instantly. So we're dealing with some pretty serious stuff here. Once you've got everything removed, now you need to condition the oil and gas. This one's a little bit more complicated to explain without getting into the chemistry, so I'm just going to try and simplelify a little bit. Conditioning is basically like...

...your last chance to get the oil and gas in an optimal state before you put it into the pipeline. And so, depending on the composition of the oil and gas, and I mean the composition of the actual molecules that compose what your oil and gas is, they'll typically have an optimal, and I'm using air quotes here, optimal state to be in. So oil and gas molecules, depending on what they are, is very generic term when I'm saying oil and gas molecules, but depending on what they are, they'll behave very differently at various pressures and temperatures, which is why each blend of oil and gas molecules has an optimal state. The pipeline will to have design pressures and temperatures that need to be met. So will typically heat or cool the oil and gas at this point to get to that optimal state. That's meaning for...

...temperature. So once we've got there for temperature. Now we need to get the product to the optimal pipeline pressure, assuming that it's being transported by pipeline. You could use trains or trucks as well, depending on location and cost. anyways, once the oil and gas has gone through this fur face facilities will need to pump the oil and compress the gas to increase the pressure so that it can get into the pipeline. So remember that fluids flow from high pressure to low pressure. So we need to pressure it up and enough before leaving the surface facilities so that it can get into the pipeline. Imagine trying to blow water back into your garden hose with your mouth. If you can't overcome the pressure that's in the line then you're not going to get anything back into it. Similarly as the pressure coming out of the water hose that you've got to your house is high enough that there's no way you're going to be able to blow water back into it with your mouth. You just can't get...

...enough pressure. So similarly, we need to sufficiently increase the pressure of the oil and gas so that it's physically able to enter the pipeline, but not so high that it exceeds the pressure rating of the pipeline, there will also be some pressure drop along the pipeline, so we need to consider that as well. But again, we'll talk more about pipelines and next episode. All of the water that gets produced and eventually separated from the oil and gas needs to be properly treated and disposed of. Some companies will have infrastructure in place to treat the produced water and reuse it, but most will typically just send it to a disposal facility where it gets cleaned up and sold for reuse or injected into a disposable the last step of this process is the money maker, that's the metering. Before the oiling gas goes into the pipeline, we need...

...to measure how much we are actually producing so that we know how much money we're going to be making. When the oiling gas gets to the refinery or gas plant or wherever it's going. They can compare what they're receiving with what we've meted and make sure everything adds up, kind of like how gas companies have a meter on the side of your house to make sure they know how much money they're going to be making from us. Hey, guys, if you like today's episode, make sure you subscribe to the podcast. Unlike most podcasts that release an episode every week or two, I did all twenty four at once, Netflix style, so you can listen to them all right now if you just hit subscribe. If you like today's episode, make sure you leave me a comment or thumbs up, or you can email me at from...

...fossil to fuel at GMAILCOM or look me up on Linkedin. I'm Brendan McDougall.

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