Managing the World's Oil & Gas Resources

From Deep Ocean Water to the Deserts of Africa, Rockwell Automation Is Helping Companies Bring New Sources of Energy to Light

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Automatio Fair 2011

By Jim Montague, Executive Editor

Seems nothing is out of reach anymore. Not only are there few process control capabilities beyond the scope of Rockwell Automation's PlantPAx process automation system, there apparently are few corners of this wide world where Rockwell Automation technology's not already at work for oil and gas producers.

For instance, oil platforms in ultra-deep water off the coast of Brazil, sandstorm-swept tank farms in the heart of Africa and even natural gas compressor stations in the wilds of Pennsylvania are using the company's process control solution and many other Rockwell Automation components to help run and reinvigorate their oil and gas applications. Several users of these systems showed up at Automation Fair this week in Chicago to describe their experiences at the event's Oil and Gas Industry Forum.

Alexandre Maia, engineer and production manager at Petrobras, reported his company is on track to become one of the world's biggest oil producers by 2020, and that a large measure of its growth will come from oil in pre-salt fields in the newer Santos Basin off the coast of Sao Paulo. This region is southwest of the established Campos Basin off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. Pre-salt is a geologic condition in which an oil field is covered or interlaced by thick salt formations in addition to existing bedrock, which can make it extra difficult to secure the oil. Maia explained that, "Not only can the salt layer's weight cause destructive pressure variations during recovery, but the salt can also act like a sponge, further hampering extraction. The oil is there, but it's also twice as deep as usual, and so we have to do some things differently."

To develop these new areas and increase overall production from 2.7 million barrels per day (mb/d) now to 5.3 mb/d by 2020, Maia reported that Petrobras is using a variety of solutions from Rockwell Automation on its production platforms and other field facilities and also at its Caraguatatuba Gas Treatment Unit (UTGCA) that processes 12 million cubic meters of natural gas per day. For instance, its devices are being used beneath the sea on Petrobras' gas-lift manifolds at the Roncador field and on production manifolds at the Albacora field. The oil company had also equipped 100 wells at its land-based Uruco Basin production and gas treatment plant in Caraguatatuba with Rockwell Automation's SLC-5/04 PLCs with radio modems and SLC-5/05 with fiber-optic networking.

"We want to keep these systems simple and do pretty much what we've done before—just a lot more of it. Rockwell Automation had been great in helping us so this," said Maia.

Likewise, Wang XingYi, deputy chief engineer of China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), reports that his firm is growing equally quickly, so it's also deploying solutions from Rockwell Automation to get the job done. For example, the CNPC International Refinery in Chad is transferring oil from the Ronier oilfield over a 311-kilometer crude pipeline to the N'Djamena refinery and then operating a tank farm with crude oil tanks, product tanks and fuel gas tanks.

"The challenge in Chad is that it's very hot; there are frequent sandstorms; it's hard to transport part and supplies; and there's a shortage of parts and support," said Wang. "We're using the PlantPAx process automation system, and it's given our tank farm the safe, reliable and stable operations, flexible and expandable networking, and low-cost maintenance we needed." Wang added that benefits of using the PlantPAx system include:

  • An open system that can accept all standard communication protocols without authorization;
  • ControlLogix 1756 hardware platform that's reliable and enables low-cost maintenance;
  • Flexiblity and expandability by supporting many kinds of network protocols and I/O types;
  • Acceptance of all kinds of application services, such as data gathering, historical and real-time data warehousing, asset management and system optimization;
  • Strong controls that can handle continuous, discrete control and safety system functions.  

"This tank farm has been running for several months, and it's been keeping a low fault rate and high operation rate. We've saved a lot on maintenance, too," said Wang. "In fact, we've cut about 20% of what we estimated we were going to have to pay for a traditional DCS and its maintenance, spare parts and expansion."

Finally, National Fuel Gas in Williamsville, N.Y., recently partnered with engineering integrator EN Engineering in Woodridge, Ill., to upgrade a few of the 40 compressor stations that move natural gas over its 2,877 miles of pipeline that bring gas to its 728,000 customers in western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania. The upgrade was also needed to help National take advantage of increased development and gas recovery in the local Marcellus Shale region. In addition, Simplex System Controls fabricated the station's new control panels, and Evets Electric provided installation services. EN Engineering also was just named as a Rockwell Automation Solution Partner.  

The initial project upgraded 12 compressor units at two compressor stations, one in Roystone, Pa., and the other in Independence, N.Y. The Roystone station has eight Ajax compressor units, five headers, six operating configurations and a storage field of 2.5 billion cubic feet (BCF). The Independence station has four Ingersoll-Rand compressor units, four headers, 10 operating configurations, a gas dehydration unit and 4.0 BCF storage field. The upgrade's scope included:

  • Designing and installing new station-level control systems at the Roystone and Independence compressor stations;
  • Integrating the new station controls with the pipeline's SCADA system, local safety systems and existing measurement and control systems;
  • Designing and installing new compressor unit control systems;
  • Installing a new plant-wide, fiber-optic control network;
  • Fabricating control panels;
  • Installing new instrumentation systems. 

The upgrade's main challenges were to understand and replicate functionality of the existing controls, integrate new control systems with existing systems, interface new control panels to existing equipment and instrumentation, and prevent disruption of operations throughout installation. "We used a unitized design concept and then employed ControlLogix PLCs with FLEX I/O, as well as redundant PC-based HMIs with FactoryTalk View SE (Supervisory Edition) at the station level and PanelView operator interfaces with FactoryTalk View ME (Machine Edition) at the unit level," reported Jennifer Shaller, National's lead electrical engineer.

Shaller added that the upgrade has given National's two stations more consistent and reliable control, fully automated and more efficient operations, enhanced data collection, improved diagnostic and troubleshooting capabilities, improved reliability of the control systems, improved mechanical protection of integral compressor units and opportunities for additional control functions.

"This was a big team effort by National Fuel, EN Engineering, Rockwell Automation, Simplex Systems Controls and Evets Electric," added Mark Adelmann, EN Engineering's vice president. "Retrofits are always especially challenging because you have to understand and replicate all of the existing controls functions, but National coordinated every step of the way, and Rockwell Automation provided all the equipment, panels and technical support."

Shaller added that, "The new compressor controls have all the legacy look and feel that our operators needed, but they no longer have to deal with the stress of continually babysitting them." 

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