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What Design Should I Use For My Condensate Stabilizer System?

The installation of condensate stabilizers throughout the various shale plays across America is becoming the new rage for gas liquid processing. First, much of the shale gas being produced is so rich in hydrocarbon liquid that the raw condensate production is literally flooding production and processing facilities. Secondly, the ability to now export crude condensate (as long as it has first been “processed”) has opened brand new markets for the producer. However, there are certain challenges that face each application and which vary on a case-by-case basis, depending on such variables as: 1) Location of the stabilizer to an existing processing facility; 2) Product specifications of the product buyer; 3) Composition of the condensate to be processed; 4) Proximity to pipelines and other infrastructure; 5) Other factors.

Raw condensate, by definition, has the entire gambit of hydrocarbon (and non-hydrocarbon) components contained within the liquid and which compositional breakdown is determined by a wide variety of parameters including pressure and temperature. In order to “stabilize” the condensate and make it into a salable product, the light end components are driven off into the overhead vapor stream, while the heavy end hydrocarbon components exit out the bottom of the stabilizer tower. This all seems simple enough, except when you find out that there are a multitude of specifications that can be required for the condensate product and that you have to do something with the overhead vapor product.

Stabilized condensate may be sold under a variety of specifications, most relating to the vapor pressure of the product. In the last two years, S-Con has designed and built stabilizer systems which delivered the condensate product at 200 psig true vapor pressure, 12 psia RVP, 9 psia RVP and 70 degree API Gravity, respectively. Each of these products was classified as stabilized condensate, but they are all substantially different from the others; the 200 psig TVP product is essentially a heavy NGL product, while the 70 degree API Gravity product is a light crude oil. What kind of bottoms product is produced determines all the other factors that go into the system design, such as: 1) System capacity; 2) Overhead product specifications and disposition; and 3) System design and operating parameters (P&T), among other things.

For example: A given size stabilizer system may be capable of processing 5,000 bpd of raw condensate feed when delivering a 200 psig bottoms product, but may only have a processing capacity of 2,000 bpd if a 70 degree API Gravity product is to be generated. Additionally, in the case of the 200 psig product, less equipment and heat exchange may be required, the system may be operated at higher pressure, and essentially all of the propane and heavier components are recovered in the bottoms product. On the other hand, if a 70 degree API Gravity product is being turned out, additional heat is required for the system, essentially all of the hexane and lighter components are driven overhead, and a NGL product is oftentimes recovered from the overhead stream as it cools.

So, the moral of this story is: Know what is going to be processed and what product specifications will need to be met. If these two constraints are known, S-Con and the Client can work together to deliver a plant that will meet all of the Client’s needs and expectations.

Optimizing Existing Asset Performance To Save Capital and Increase Revenue

Capital budgets have been slashed to the bone, but gas still has to be processed, or risk the potential of having oil production shut in because of flaring regulations. To overcome this dilemma, companies are now reviewing their existing gas treating and processing facilities to determine how they can get more out of them with little or no capital expenditures.

Many of the plants put in over the last several years have been stock, “cookie-cutter” type plants which could be delivered and put in service quickly, which was what was needed at the time. This resulted in numerous plants being installed that were not a good fit for the specific application being addressed, thus oftentimes leaving the operator with poor product recoveries and higher than desired operating and maintenance costs. Additionally, since there are very limited capital funds to install new plants, the demand for these existing gas plants to increase throughput and recovery levels continues to be a top priority for midstream operating companies.

The most logical answer seems to come in the form of modifying the existing plants with “after-market accessories.” This may include simple things (such as rearranging some piping or changing operating parameters) to adding additional equipment (such as a secondary distillation column or additional refrigeration). The key, in almost every case, is to get more out of what you already have for less money and that is where S-Con can be a tremendous help to our clients. S-Con’s experienced and knowledgeable process engineers work closely with our customers to thoroughly investigate various options and opportunities to enhance plant performance and operation and, once a direction has been agreed upon, then fully develop the solution and implement it into the existing plant design.

Working together, S-Con and its clients can increase the performance and capacity of existing plants.

How S-Con Does More with Less

With the downturn in oil & gas prices and capital budgets being cut back dramatically, S-Con’s Customers are becoming increasingly focused on potential project economics and costs. To that end, many of our Clients are relying on S-Con to perform screening studies, preliminary/conceptual designs, and budgetary estimates prior to approaching their Management with a funding request. By approaching projects in this manner, S-Con is able to work with the Client to develop a plan that will deliver what is required, while developing a cost basis that can be believed. Additionally, it provides both the Client and S-Con the ability to hit the ground running should the project move forward.

Depending on the breadth and scope of the work to be performed in this process, S-Con can quickly provide meaningful information back to the Customer in as little as three (3) days. S-Con’s team of highly skilled Engineers and Designers work together with the Client to develop concepts and layouts that will meet the specific project requirements, with a careful eye on the overall project cost expectations. This close working relationship between S-Con and its Clients typically results in very few surprises and allows the Customer to approach its Management, confident that the job can be done right and within the stated budget.

Lump-Sum Turn Key Projects Offer Better Project Control

Lump Sum Turn Key (LSTK) projects allow the Client and Contractor to better coordinate efforts and control project costs. Under LSTK projects, the Client directs all questions, modifications and communications through a single Contractor entity, eliminating the need to contact numerous parties.  If there is a problem, there is only one Contractor to deal with and the ability to point fingers elsewhere is eliminated.

Additionally, LSTK contracts are based on a specified and well-defined scope of work to be provided for an agreed upon fixed sum.  This allows both the Client and the Contractor to address any proposed changes, discuss impacts to project cost and schedule and track the impacts of the changes more closely.  This is much more efficient and cost effective than what is oftentimes seen in Time and Material (T&M) contracts, where the impact due to changes are rarely monitored or tracked.

Collaboration Leads to Shorter Project Schedules

Successfully executing EPC project installations in a timely manner requires collaboration between field construction and shop fabrication. Communication and collaboration amongst all disciplines is vital for proper sequencing of work and final equipment installation.

A master schedule can assist in breaking the overall project into phased schedules and demonstrating how the work within each phase will be performed. The schedule can also assist in establishing the sequence and timing of all necessary activities for the completion of the final project. Through a teamwork approach, it is possible to shorten schedules and ensure quality from conception through fruition.

Modifications on Standard Designs Offer Efficiency

Numerous types of technologies are now available for the purposes of processing and treating natural gas. Selecting the proper technology to use for specific applications can sometimes be confusing. As new technologies continue to emerge and old technologies are applied in innovative manners, the decision making process has become even more complex. To complicate matters even further, there are now more types of gas streams requiring treatment than ever before. Regardless of which types of gas it is, one thing is certain, however. Almost all forms of gas produced today contain at least some form of contaminants that must be removed prior to being sold. This is precisely why it is crucial to properly evaluate possible gas processing company options in order to find the solution that is most cost-effective and efficient.

In many cases, this means starting with a standard design and then making modifications to meet the client’s specific requirements. Experience has proven that this typically produces a processing solution that is not only effective for the specific type of production environment involved, but also cost-effective as well

Collaboration Shortens Project Schedules

In the design of any new gas plant fabrication or facility, it is crucial to recognize the importance of the relationship between the design and the final construction. Both processes must work together and be viewed as a fully-integrated system in order to achieve a final successful outcome. In a broad sense, design involves the creation of a description of the new facility and typically incorporates the use of detailed specifications and plans. The construction planning process identifies all resources and activities that are necessary in order for the new design to become a physical reality.
In both construction and design, a number of operational tasks must be carried out with a range of precedence. When both shop fabrication and field construction work together in a harmonious relationship, it is possible to shorten project schedules and remain on budget.  This is made possible by keeping elements that are unique to the planning of constructed gas treating facilities in mind during the early stage of a project life cycle. For instance, the design as well as the construction of the facility should meet the conditions unique to the specific site. The collaboration of shop fabrication and field construction early-on and throughout a project design can produce long-lasting benefits.