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Tue 1 Aug 2006 04:00 AM

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Pumping: at the heart of the energy industry

As the oil industry strains under ever-increasing demand, pumps play a crucial role in keeping it ticking

Pumps|~|200pumps.gif|~||~|Pumps are the second most manufactured engineering product in the world—beaten to first place by the electric motor—and are the heart of the oil and gas industry.

Their ubiquitous presence, from rigs and refineries to fire fighting ships and pipelines, puts them under the full force of the pressure that the energy industry is under, as it cranks up production. The pressure, which includes soaring costs in all fields and an incessant demand for pumps, is driving innovation to produce more efficient pumps that can work in the region’s tough environment.

The market’s dynamics are not only boosting demand, but are also changing how companies pay for pumps. With overheads rocketing, renting pumps has become increasingly attractive to many firms. “Why buy expensive equipment that may be used for a one-off project, when renting is a lot more cost effective than buying it?” said Joe Chappell, director of Action, which offers UK pumps from its Dubai-based regional headquarters.

On the production side of demand, the price pressure drives a virtuous circle—the continual rise of oil and gas prices drives the need for pumps and more oil, and the cost savings offered by more efficient and reliable pumps allows more and longer pipelines to be built, which of course, need pumps.
“With oil hitting US $75 a barrel, the capital needed to build pipelines of more than 1,000 km is available. And increases in pump efficiency and reliability have made pipelines one of the cheapest methods to transport oil and gas,” said Colin Tedman, divisional manager of Hydrolink’s UAE operation, which assembles and designs pumps.

Pipelines—the industry’s arteries—use a number of high pressure (up to 1000 bar) pump types for pipeline pressure testing and cutting (pipeline concrete weight jacket removal). High-pressure pumps are also used for water injection, removing marine growth, water jet assisted pile driving, heat exchanger cleaning and general industrial cleaning.

Prior to use, specialist contractors clean pipelines by using centrifugal pumps to drive a scraper (a ‘pig’) through the pipeline. Depending on the pipeline’s design and condition, the pumps used in these applications can pump fluids at up to 5000 cubic metres per hour at pressures ranging from 12 - 40 bar.

The stresses of the flat-out production, which has pushed the industry to its limits, have made maintenance of paramount importance, as production disruption costs rise in tandem with the prices of oil, labour and raw materials. For this, high-pressure and ultra-high pressure (up to 2750 bar) pumps are used to maintain and clean refineries, rigs and tankers.
Most ultra-high pressure surface preparation is carried out with 110 kW (150 hp) diesel engine driven units, such as the Hughes Ultrabar 24 unit with a performance of 23 lpm at 2750 bar (40,000 psi).

There are, however, specialist compact UHP units such as the Hughes Ultrabar 10 unit. These pumps are designed for single-gun applications where space and water usage are at a premium, such as on offshore platforms or in shipboard maintenance. The Ultrabar 10 is powered by either a diesel engine or electric motor drive for use in safe or hazardous areas. Hughes says that the unit’s weight and size—1.9 metre long x 1.0 metre wide and less than 1000 kilogrammes—make it a fraction of the size and weight of UHP units currently found in the market.

The Zone 2 Ultrabar 10 version has a performance of 8 lpm at 2200 bar (32,000 psi) fitted with a 37 kW (50 hp) electric motor capable of being powered from a 63 amp welding socket found on most offshore and onshore installations. This avoids the need for any hazardous area wiring before work starts. Companies such as Maersk Oil & Gas Europe are using it for spot blasting on gas platforms. The diesel-powered model offers mobility, where an electric supply is not available, and has a performance of 9 lpm at 2600 bar (38,000 psi).

A disadvantage of a diesel pump, however, is its running cost. Dubai-based Engineering Works Foundation Infrastructure (EWFI) CEO, Ahmed Zuhir, an engineer and pumps inventor, said the relentless rise in the price of diesel has driven interest in electrical powered pumps. “I’ve been asked by customers to invent a new pump to meet their overhead needs,” he said.

One area where UHP pumps have come into their own in the past five years is in tackling oil rigs corrosion and build up of underwater sea growth on their legs.

Corrosion was historically cleaned by dry grit blasting, which caused many problems on the rig including: pollution; grit entering machinery; and stopping other works being undertaken on the rig downwind of the blasting area. “Ultra high pressure water jetting at 2000 bar to 2500 bar has solved these problems, you do not need to transport tonnes of grit to a rig, you just simply connect into the onboard water supply,” Tedman said. Cleaning of the undersea rig legs is also a vital part of maintenance. A build up of growth on the legs gives a larger surface area and a higher frictional area, making the rig more affected by sea movement, and
obstructing inspections of welding on leg nodes.

Chappell said one of the challenges the region poses is that water in the region, either from the sea or groundwater, is very saline. “The desalination plants have pushed up the PH of the Arabian Gulf to PH8,” he said. The water temperature is another problem—can be as high as 55 degrees when it’s in a stationary, exposed environment such as in tanks.

And both factors speed up metal corrosion, which is why pumps are internally coated with fibre glass, ceramic or epoxy.
Divers often clean legs often using 1000 to 1500 bar high-pressure plunger pumps. These pumps are also used to clean well drill tubes that suffer from mud and/or cement build up.

Positive displacement pumps (axial or radial piston type ) have a completely different function—opening and closing control valves remotely by using an oil or water fluid medium. “This has tremendous advantages for those valves that are located in deep water installations,” according
to Tedman.

High-pressure positive displacement pumps, generally 500 bar to 1500 bar, come into their own during a turnaround period in a refinery. They are used to clean heat exchangers, boiler tubes and fin-fan cooling tubes internally and externally.

Pumps play an important part in the life of a tanker from pumping crude on and off the vessel to cleaning and maintenance. Shipyards carry out ultra-high pressure water jetting, at pressures in the region of 2500 bar, to remove paint and rust without the pollution and windborne problems of dry blasting. Specialist accessories make ultrahigh pressure water jetting safer, faster and more ecologically
acceptable for shipyards and operators, such as deck surface cleaners and hull crawlers with vacuum recovery systems.

UHP pumps also play a vital role in health and safety, as well as the environment. The industry has set up various standards, the most important being the FiFi rating for pumps in fire fighting systems. A full FiFi pump set has a performance of 2400m3/hr at pressure up to 12 bar and the ½ FiFi has a performance of 1200m3/hr at 12 bar. “These pump units are built to very exacting standards as people’s safety does rely on these pump sets being able to operate at a moment’s notice,” Tedman said. Fire pump sets are normally operated through a fire monitor (water cannon), mounted on the pump unit itself or in a separate location. These can be operated manually or for the more sophisticated fire monitor systems, electrically or hydraulically from a central console.

Another pump manufacturers’ contribution to lessening the industry’s impact on the environment is sound-proof pumps that reduce noise pollution, which is also a health and safety issue.
“Exposing workers continually to noise, which is a physical hazard, can slowly lead to deafness,” said Dan Wurst, an HSE oil industry specialist who works for DNV tanker manufacturer.
To address the problem, Godwin has designed its Dri-Prime Hushpac range of pump sets to minimise and reduce sound to as low as 63dbA at seven metres. Designed for applications where noise levels are a priority, the units feature special enclosures engineered to keep operating noise to a minimum. Openings provide easy access to operating controls, service locations and pipe connections.
The Godwin Dri-Prime Hushpac also features a bunded fuel tank and a non-spill carry over system, which prevents spillage of contaminated liquids such as fuels and petroleum.

The region’s demand for pumps has attracted many of the world’s leading pump companies to operate out of the UAE, both for its own oil industry and as a regional hub. Some bring in completed pump sets from their factories overseas, while others design and assemble or make custom-made pumps in the Middle East.

Chappell said that Action supplies equipment that’s being used as far afield as: Singapore, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Libya and Bangladesh, and that a lot of it is destined for use in the UAE and comes from Abu Dhabi.

In Saudi Arabia, Al Rushaid Group and Flowserve Corp of the United States have signed an agreement to build the largest pump repair and manufacturing and training facility in the Middle East.

Construction of the 20,500 sq metre complex at the Al Rushaid Oil Field Centre in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, started last month and will be fully operational in October next year.
The US $14 million complex with 100 employees, will include a pump repair, manufacturing and test facility and a hydraulics training centre.

The complex is designed specifically to support Aramco, Sabic, SEC, SWCC and other major companies within Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. It will be involved in pump and spare parts manufacturing, pump set packaging, and engineering and engineered services.

The hydraulics training centre—the first in the Middle East—is 100% funded by Saudi Arabia’s Al Rushaid Group. The 3,000 square metre unit will have classrooms and laboratories. The courses will range from basic hydraulics theory to advanced-level training in advanced maintenance and repair and technical services.

Sheikh Abdullah Al Rushaid, chairman, Al Rushaid Group, said: “To have this level of pump service/repair, testing and training is truly an essential component in the growth of our most important industries.

He also said that technical training for Saudi youth is a social and national obligation and that this technology transfer helps KSA.

Al Rushaid, ranked ninth among the top 100 Saudi companies, provides engineering and contracting services to a variety of industries. Flowserve, based in Dallas, is a manufacturer of pumps, seals, valves and other fluid control technology. Lewis Kling, Flowserve’s CEO said, “The Arabian Gulf region is a critically important geographical market for Flowserve.”

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