By Jamie Zachary
Pent-up demand for improved efficiency in oil and gas operations is leading to a new wave of innovation in filtration and pump technology – and you don’t have to look far to find it, with some of most exciting advances having a distinct Western Canadian flavour.
Calgary-based Black Powder Solutions (BTS) is giving a name and solution to the age-old problem of filtering out built-up pipeline residue. The company works with clients in upstream, midstream and downstream sectors of the oil and gas industry to capture ferrous and non-ferrous material otherwise known as black powder in hydrocarbon fluid transmission pipelines.
BTS uses unique radial magnetic separation technology to create multiple compressed magnetic fields that remove ferrous and non-ferrous black powder contamination in pipelines at the sub-micron level.
“Very few people in the oil and gas industry understand black powder contamination. It’s usually just known that dirt that just keeps on making things break down,” says BPS marketing manager Kimberley Simonson.
Black powder is the abrasive, reactive contamination particulate present in gas and hydrocarbon fluid transmission lines. They range in size from 100 microns and greater to sub-micron sizes, and are typically a composite of iron oxides, iron sulphides, varying dirt such as silica and calcium as well as chloride, sodium and other material particulate.
Black powder forms throughout the pipeline process – from producing formations through well bores, into gathering lines, in reservoirs for fluid separation and along transmission pipelines. After refinement, it continues to build in the gas plants and refineries, storage reservoirs and through to the end user.
“Operators are now becoming very keen on operational excellence and liability issues,” says Simonson. “Everyone is looking for the most efficient, cost-effective solution to running their facilities – how to make their equipment last longer.”
Some of the company’s notable clients include Kinder Morgan Canada, Enbridge and Targa Resources. Simonson notes BPS is currently focused on LPG and LNG on-loading and off-loading applications, but also actively exploring the use of magnetic separation technology in the oil sands.
Edmonton-based Swirltex, meanwhile, recently unveiled a new buoyancy-based membrane filtration technology that its CEO says has the potential to open up new doors for oil and gas operators.
The technology works by essentially spinning the contaminated water in a tube and using the centrifugal force to move oil and other contaminants to the centre of the membrane – a space that has historically not served any purpose.
“What this opens up is a lot of future processes,” says Swirltex head Peter Christou, whose company made history two years ago in Antarctica when it successfully demonstrated the highest altitude operating membrane treatment system in the world.
“There’s a lot of technology out there that use nanotechnology or engineered oil to absorb materials out of the water – especially when it comes to dissolved organics. The problem is they still have to remove these materials from the water,” he continued. “Our technology is able to manipulate those materials’ buoyancy so they don’t interfere with the membrane. This opens up a lot of techniques for desalination, remove of heavy metals, etc.”
In addition to cleaner water that can now be reused, it also utilizes a fraction of the energy of conventional water treatment methods – 75 per cent less energy, says Christou.
“By channelling the energy from the centre of the membrane, it saves a lot of energy,” he says. “Also, by making the contaminants stay in the middle, it increases the output of the product.”
In the world of pumps, today’s oil and gas operators are focused on one thing: better performance, says Mykola Bilash, Edmonton-based manager of technical marketing for centrifugal pumps for John Brooks Company.
“They’re focused on enhancements to reduce downtime and ease of maintenance,” he says, noting approximately 40 to 50 per cent of John Brooks’ clients are in oil and gas. “The interesting thing is that during the recent downturn, we actually found customers had the time to look at new technology and innovative solutions as it relates to pumps. When times were good, there didn’t appear to be as much urgency.”
To that end, John Brooks has been working closely with SEEPEX’s new smart conveying technology (SCT) that Bilash says offers operators faster maintenance, shorter downtime and reduced life cycle costs.
The smart stator is divided into two parts, so maintenance can easily be done by one person without the need to remove either the suction or discharge pipe work. Additionally, the two-piece smart rotor allows for quick and easy removal and replacement without the need to dismantle the joint or use special tools, saving time and money.
Overall, Bilash estimates maintenance is reduced by up to 85 per cent, as a result.
The SCT also features an integrated retensioning device, which allows the clamping between the rotor and stator to be adjusted for optimum flow and readjusted when the flow rate reduces due to wear.
Bilash notes readjustments can be done in a matter of minutes, and does not require operators to replace any components. He also estimates the service life of both the rotor and stator, as a result, increases by up to 200 per cent. It also removes the need for replacement parts and reduces the life cycle costs of the pump.
Bilash also says the Gorman Rupp 6500 Series End Suction Centrifugal Pumps is turning heads these days as an alternative to better serving applications where a suction lift is not required – notably in fracking applications. A double volute mitigates shaft breakage and extends the life of the mechanical seals, wear rings and bearings, all while maintaining hydraulic efficiency.
Meanwhile, a side access port allows for easy access to pump interior for inspection and clean out while the pusher bolt capability assists in the removal of the suction flange.
“The real benefit of the 6500 Series is it offers indefinite run-dry capability, but, at the same time, a full solids-handling pump. It’s the best of both worlds,” says Bilash. “Consider the alternative, which might be a blender feed pump that’s mechanically sealed but doesn’t have run-dry capability. If that seal fails every two months as a result of run dry, that’s six seals a year at the cost of the seal, the downtime, cost of maintenance and the cost of transporting the equipment to the shop to replace or repair.”
While demand for improved performance is encouraging some of the change that’s taking place in the oil and gas pump applications, Bilash credits suppliers with ultimately driving innovation in the industry.
“They are capitalizing on what they believe will be a niche market and/or are identifying downfalls with current products that can be a plug-in-like solution,” he says. “They’re become very proactive versus responsive.”
To that end, he points to a growing number of products now meeting stringent American Petroleum Institute (API) requirements. SEEPEX, for example, has recently unveiled its API 676 progressive cavity pump specifically for oil and gas clients that offers higher pressure load capacity and corrosion resistance, simple integration into existing piping systems and the ability to cast instead of weld into place.
“It’s unlike anything else I’ve seen on the market today,” says Bilash. “And it’s actually rated, which means that, because it’s met a much higher level of specifications, the design life is much longer than regular industrial pumps out there – 30 to 40 years, compared with five to 10.”