Using benchmarking to improve operating performance

How do you know if your offshore platform, onshore production facility, natural gas processing plant (NGPP) or natural gas liquids processing plant is a marginal performer or world class? How do you measure success? What does “good” look like? The use of metrics can help answer these important questions.

Successful businesses compare their individual performance to defined standards. These standards might be as simple as understanding if revenues were higher than expenses in the prior month or as complex as a patented optimization metric combining the integration of diverse business metrics.

Compressor Drivers: The Single Largest Overlooked Opportunity to Improve Operating Costs

Compressor drivers in plants represent the single largest overlooked opportunity for companies to reduce cost. Declining production reduces a field’s compression needs, resulting in an under-utilization of compression capacity that raises costs. For NGPP sites, compression can account for almost half the facility annual operational expense (OpEx). In upstream facilities, rotating equipment cost varies from 10% to 15% of total annual OpEx, while surface equipment maintenance is close to 35% to 40%.

Some Solomon clients use gas-fired turbines and engines as compression drivers in the plants they operate. The charts below show the run time versus the gas capacity utilization by driver type. Those compressors operating above the 45% run time line indicate a significant amount of recycle, or compressor discharge, is used to load the compressor to maintain optimal operation.

For those with fired turbines, approximately 15% are shown in the red box where run time is greater than 80% with less than 60% of the gas capacity utilization. For those with engines driving the compressor, 33% are shown in the red box, with run time greater than 80% and less than 60% gas capacity utilized. In other words, these compressors are operated more than 300 days a year at less than 60% of their design.

Upstream faces similar issues when fields begin to decline in production. As a result, the original spare capacity of N+1, or the number of necessary compressors plus a backup for reliability purposes, becomes N+multiple.

In many cases, operators have the assets in place and assume the energy is “free”. The operating philosophy is to run the equipment because of the capital expense already incurred, and the perception that reliability is improved with more activity. The downside of running equipment when it is not necessary, however, is higher operating expense due to additional major and minor overhauls to repair equipment and unnecessary fuel consumption that creates more greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, operators should focus on optimizing compression needs and implementing a reliability program to ensure equipment availability.

How to Become a World’s Best Operator

Participation in Solomon’s upstream studies and Solomon’s Worldwide Natural Gas Processing Plant Performance Analysis (NGPP Studyis an excellent way to evaluate your plant’s current performance and develop strategies for you to become a world’s best operator. The Comparative Performance Analysis™ (CPA™) will evaluate the process efficiency, reliability, and operating costs of your assets as compared to others in the industry. The study can identify and quantify the differences between your facility and the top performing facilities worldwide in terms of production losses, thermal efficiency, and spending. The study can then show you where you can improve your plant’s performance.

Figure 2. Driver – Fired Turbines

Figure 3. Driver – Engine

Figure 4. Driver - Fired Turbines (Offshore Compressors)