Flexible and Optimized Refining and Petrochemical Operations

Petrochemical producers and refiners are having to adjust to big changes over the last couple of years. With the large supply of natural gas and natural gas liquids (NGLs) from shale combined with the opening of U.S. oil exports and new LNG exports, prices and supply chains are being affected dramatically.

Emerson's Chris Hamlin


Emerson' Ed Schodowski


At this week’s Operational Excellence in Refining and Petrochemicals conference in Houston, Emerson’s Chris Hamlin and Ed Schodowski presented a plenary session on the path to top quartile performance. This presentation addressed today’s challenges and opportunities, adopting disruptive technologies to create long-term value, challenging conventional thinking and examples where these ideas have been put into practice to deliver business results.

The changing global supply of hydrocarbons has accelerated the need for flexible operations in order to maintain and grow market share. Ed shared one example for refiners in their use of “opportunity crudes”. These shale oil-based crudes, less expensive than traditional crudes, provide challenges in the refining process. We’ve touched on some of these challenges in a post, Optimizing Opportunity Crudes in Refining Operations.

Traditionally, refiners and petrochemical producers have planned operations on a periodic cycle. Given the flexibility introduced by today’s global markets, a shift to real-time decision making is required. This is where disruptive technologies—introduced by the Industrial Internet of Things can play a role. Continue Reading

Optimizing Shale Oil and Gas Production

While the news of an OPEC oil freeze increases prices, at least in the short term, they remain well below their levels of a few years ago. The focus for oil and gas producers remains on optimizing their current producing wells at the expense of new drilling.

Emerson's Michael Machuca


shale-ops-optimizationEmerson’s Michael Machuca shared a whitepaper, Optimizing Shale Operations to Prosper in Difficult Markets, about areas of the shale oil & gas production process to squeeze out costs.

The whitepaper opens explaining how the breakeven costs of producing shale oil & gas has continued to decline. One area of optimization is bringing uniformity to the well pads to:

…take advantage of reusable engineering, and to directly comparable performance indicators… A few critical devices and systems placed at strategic points across many sites can deliver data, provide control and improve processing with consistency, leading to improved operations.

Overall, well pads have consistent basic functions:

Oil and gas need to go through their initial treatment steps (separation of oil and water, gas and oil, etc.), into storage, and then transferred to trucks. In the process it is necessary to control vapor emissions; avoid health, safety and environmental (HSE) problems; and measure how much product has been transferred to the customer.

The four areas where oil & gas producers can have a major impact on operational cost reductions include:

  • Vapor control
  • Vapor recovery
  • Inventory measurement, and
  • Product transfer

The whitepaper goes into each area in detail and I’ll share one area as an example to encourage you to read the whitepaper. Continue Reading

Petrochemical and Refining Sessions at the Emerson Exchange Conference

The list of workshops, short course, plenary sessions, exhibits and more at the October 24-28 Emerson Exchange conference can be overwhelming. If you’ve already registered, the MyExchange tool can help you find, plan and schedule the sessions you’d like to attend.

Emerson’s Marcelo Carugo


If you haven’t registered or are considering whether or not to attend, you can use the search tool and filter by industry, job function, technical level, track/category and more. For example, I was speaking with Emerson’s Marcelo Carugo the other day and I multi-selected the Petrochemical and Refining industry filters which produced a list of 58 sessions.

His team will be hosting a Refining and Petrochemicals Industry Forum which will explore the state of the industries, best practices with revamps, and applications which help to improve reliability, safety and efficiency.

I asked Marcelo for some guidance on other petrochemical and refining-related sessions in which he or members of his team may be participating or attending.

Here’s his list (follow the links to read the sessions’ abstracts): Continue Reading

Pipeline Leak Detection Best Practices

A recent LinkedIn post, Leak Detection Market for Oil & Gas worth 2.71 Billion USD by 2020, at a CAGR of 7.1% highlights the purpose of these leak detection systems:

…to assist the pipeline operators and monitors in detecting and localizing the leakage. This leak detection system can detect the leakage at all stages of oil & gas industry such as upstream (exploration & production), midstream (pipeline networks), and downstream (refineries and storage tanks).

Emerson's Sudhir Jain


Pipeline Manager: Best Practices in Leak and Theft DetectionEmerson’s Sudhir Jain pointed me to a whitepaper, Pipeline Manager: Best Practices in Leak and Theft Detection, written by Energy Solutions International (ESI). ESI joined Emerson in 2015.

For a pipeline leak detection to be effective, it must be:

…able to detect leaks with limited false alarms. Too many false alarms and the system will be rendered practically useless. The system must also be able to cope with all operating conditions with minimal desensitization of the leak detection capability. Minimal desensitization is actually the difficult part.

The effectiveness of pipeline leak detection system (LDS) software is only as good as the measurement instrumentation feeding data to it. Continue Reading

Optimizing Distillation for Increased Methanol Capacity

Author: James Gremillion

When the process licensor designed your methanol plant, everything fit together to exactly produce the nameplate amount of methanol yearly. In the design there were necessary tradeoffs made because of costs, physical size, availability of materials, etc. In designing the distillation section, for example, the licensor did a calculation of how many theoretical trays were needed to produce the required product (how many theoretical trays to separate methanol and water, for example).

There are two adjustments that can be made to the distillation column to determine the actual number of trays from the theoretical number of trays. First is the tray efficiency. The higher the tray efficiency, the closer the actuals trays are to the theoretical trays. The second is the reflux ratio.

The reflux ratio is the ratio of the reflux flow (what we are putting back into the column to improve separation) and the total flow (reflux flow plus distillate [product] flow). The higher the reflux ratio, the less trays are needed to get the required separation. A high reflux ratio gives better separation but requires more energy. Continue Reading