Phase Separator Efficiency in Natural Gas Processing: Understanding the Risks and Solutions

Phase separator efficiency is a critical factor in ensuring the quality of natural gas in a transmission system. In this blog, we will examine the role of separator efficiency in natural gas processing, the impact of poor separator efficiency on the pipeline, and what steps can be taken to optimize separator efficiency.

Before natural gas can be transported and utilized effectively, it must undergo a series of processing steps, one of which is separation. Separators are critical components in the natural gas processing industry, responsible for separating different phases of the gas mixture. The importance of separator efficiency cannot be overstated, the risks associated with inefficiencies are great, and the solutions to optimize separator performance very cost effective.

Separator efficiency is a key factor in ensuring the quality of the processed natural gas. The primary purpose of separators is to separate the gas from liquids and solids, typically hydrocarbon liquids and processing liquids like MEG & TEG (Monoethylene Glycol and Triethylene Glycol). When separators are operating efficiently, they achieve the following objectives:

High-Quality Gas Production: Efficient separators produce natural gas with very low levels of impurities, ensuring that the gas meets industry standards and is safe for reliable gas treatment systems.

Optimal Equipment Performance: Efficient separation minimizes the risk of corrosion and fouling in downstream equipment, such as pipelines and compressors, thereby extending their lifespan and reducing maintenance costs.

Risks Associated with Phase Separator Inefficiency
When phase separators operate below their optimal efficiency levels, several risks and challenges can arise:

Corrosion: Poor separation at the front end of gas treatment plants can lead to corrosive species entering the gas treatment plant.

Foaming: when liquids enter a gas treatment plant, it leads to foaming and fouling problems in desulphurisation systems.

Reduced Capacity: Poor separator performance can limit the overall flow capacity of a gas processing facility, leading to production bottlenecks and reduced output.

Product Quality Issues: Inefficient separation can lead to the presence of liquid or solid contaminants in the natural gas leaving the gas processing plant. When separator efficiency is not sufficient in the NGL recovery system, these hydrocarbon liquids leave the plant via the gas export line and are not included in Btu measurements made by gas analysis systems. These liquids can compromise product quality and cause equipment damage downstream.

Increased Operating Costs: Just 0.1% Liquid Volume Faction (LVF) can lead to a loss of $11m per year for an average sized gas plant. Inefficient separation also increases costs for transmission system operators with significantly shortened compressor seal life and more frequent pigging operations.

The Conclusion

Phase separator efficiency is not just a technical requirement but a cornerstone for the safety, compliance, and profitability of natural gas processing. The stakes are high, with suboptimal performance leading to compromised gas quality, reduced plant capacity, increased operational costs, and environmental risks.

This makes the adoption of solutions like the LineVu process camera system not just advantageous but essential. LineVu provides a real-time monitoring system by live streaming pipeline activity to the control room. It is specifically engineered to detect inefficiencies in phase separation. By alerting operators when separation hasn’t occurred as expected, LineVu acts as a failsafe, allowing immediate corrective action to be taken. This ensures consistent product quality, optimises throughput, and reduces the risk of non-compliance with tariffs and legal requirements.
Therefore, in an industry where even the smallest inefficiency can have a ripple effect of negative outcomes, LineVu offers a way forward, turning data into actionable insights for natural gas processing operations.

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About the author

Paul Stockwell, the managing director of Process Vision, is a renowned authority in moisture measurement with 35 years of experience in the oil and gas industry. He founded International Moisture Analysers (IMA) and played a key role in advancing moisture measurement techniques. Notably, he introduced tunable diode laser absorption spectroscopy for natural gas measurements, revolutionizing the field and establishing it as the industry standard method. Throughout his 20-year tenure as managing director, Paul has gained valuable insights into process optimization, cost reduction, and safety enhancement. His vision for Process Vision encompasses improving process throughput, reducing maintenance costs and CO2 emissions, and nurturing young engineering talent, aiming to make a significant difference in the oil and gas industry.

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