Counting the costs of a power and process disturbance to oil and gas operators

Power and Process Oil and GasPower and Process Oil and Gas

Loss of production can be a manager’s nightmare.  1 out of 5 refinery shutdowns are caused by power related issues.[1] The electrical equipment at a refinery requires power to operate, without power there is no production, without production there is no revenue.  That’s millions of dollars lost from missed production, excessive flaring, legal liability and most worryingly, heightened safety issues.

Firstly, what happens when an operating asset you are responsible for suffers an unexpected outage due to electrical issues (e.g. dirty grid, power disturbance due to thunderstorms, etc.)  Well, as the production units go silent, the clock starts ticking.  As the manager, every second counts.   Not only do you need to know what happened, but you want to know how quickly you can get production back (safely) because the downtime is impacting P&L, performance KPIs, contractual commitments, scheduling, supply contracts, emissions targets… and more.

Experience shows that a typical trip investigation requires a team of people from operations, maintenance, reliability, engineering, electrical to conduct the trip investigation and be ready to re-start production, taking on average 20 hours (almost a full day’s lost production revenue).

The investigation team need accurate information, fast, to determine root cause analysis, sequence analysis, determine corrective actions etc. before getting approval to restart.  All too often, the required information is in different systems e.g. the process information is in the Distributed Control System, the electrical information in the Energy Management Control System, which makes reconciling information in a clear, consistent, easy to understand format, time consuming and error prone.

Anything that we can do to restart operations sooner is a good thing.  The good news is that in today’s digital world, we can now unify the electrical power and process information as if it was ‘one system’ to resolves this issue faster, reducing the outage time by as much as 30%.  For an average 20-hour outage, that’s 6 hours of recovered production revenue.  The bad news is that many older generation DCS weren’t designed for the open integration of information from other systems, so this may require an update to the DCS technology.  A small investment compared to the returns on offer.

Secondly, what happens if your operators aren’t aware of the interaction between the process control and energy management system?  For example, an operator is responsible for running a process area within a refinery.  The operator interface in the control room was designed 15 years ago when the control system was installed.  They do not use best practices for operator situational awareness, alarm management, can’t combine electrical information.  During a process disturbance there are a flood of alarms.  In the high stress situation, the operator acknowledges the alarms, but in the process inadvertently acknowledged an alarm that one of the electrical feed pumps had shutdown. Eventually the entire unit is shutdown.

The good news is that this can be avoided.  Enhanced alarm management capabilities, streamlined operator interface and electrical data integration in the latest generation DCS would likely have avoided missing the critical alarm and made the electrical pump feed alarm more easily identifiable. Giving control room operators real-time visibility of the health, safety and performance of the plant’s electrical supply and distribution equipment can improve uptime and net throughput by 3-5% points as well as reduce electrical maintenance costs about 5-10%.  Again, this may require an update to the DCS, but this is minimal compared to the value created.

In the next blog we will explore how to build a winning business case to upgrade control and electrical systems to unlock untapped value.