You are on page 1of 3

60 Pipeline & Gas Journal / June 2008 / www.pgjonline.

Basic Guide to Pipeline
Compressor Stations
s natural gas moves through a pipeline,
the pressure decreases due to friction
of the gas along the pipe wall and the
gas must be recompressed to maintain
the flow. Gas compressor stations are installed at
optimum locations along the pipeline as the load
profile changes and are sized to sufficiently boost
the gas pressure and maintain flow through the
pipeline. Compressor stations may be small, situ-
ated on gathering lines (Figure 1) or laterals, or
large on major trunk line transmission systems.
However, all are built up from the same functional
blocks of equipment. Each functional element
(Figure 2) plays a role in the work of the station
and the design and sizing of each is essential to the
efficient and safe operation of the plant.
The functional elements include gas scrub-
bing and liquid removal, compressor and driver
units, aftercoolers, pipes and valves. Controls
including Supervisory Control And Data
Acquisition (SCADA) system, monitoring and
data recording, alarms and shut down proce-
dures, both routine and emergency are an
integral part of the station. Provision also has to
be made for venting the compressor and driver
housing and buildings, complete with ventila-
tion and fire protection, and safety equipment.
The financial elements include cost-of-ser-
vice calculations which include the installed
cost of the equipment, fuel, maintenance and
operating costs for the expected project life
(typically 10 25 years). A risk simulated dis-
counted-cash-flow (DCF), rate-of-return (ROR)
method of investment (Santos, 2003) analysis
is recommended. Fuel cost is the major item in
this calculation and the projection for escalation
forms an important consider-
ation and must be included in
the risk simulation analysis.
Inlet Receiving
The gas in a main transmis-
sion line is nominally clean and
dry while that in gas gathering
lines may contain liquids prior
to processing, but in all cases
there can be entrained liquids
By Saeid Mokhatab, Greg Lamberson and Sidney Pereira dos Santos
and particulates which have to be removed
before compression to maintain efficiency
and integrity. Efficient and safe handling of
the liquids collected from the scrubbers in a
compressor station is one of the keys to a good
design. Individual scrubbers (with or without
standby unit) may be installed for each stage of
compression for each compressor unit.
A common scrubber should be considered
for multiple units on a common suction line.
Filter/separators may also be used to remove
smaller liquid droplets and/or solid particles.
In the case of reciprocating compressors being
used in the transmission system a coalescer
filter is of capital importance to guarantee that
cylinder lubricating oil will not enter the pipe-
line and affect gas specification. Poor handling
of these liquids can be the major source of
operating and maintenance problems and have
a significant impact on station economics. The
suction scrubber should be equipped with a
mesh type mist elimination section to avoid liq-
uid entrainment into the compressor. Scrubbers
can take several forms, inertial with or with-
out demister pads or the horizontal cyclonic
type. The latter are commonly used on mainline
transmission stations.
There are three main concerns that should
be addressed in the liquid-handling design for
any compressor station: safety, environmental
impact, and economics. Another consideration
should be operability, which includes issues like
hydrate formation (when water is present in the
gas composition), failure consequences, etc.
The gas compressor stations inlet receiv-
ing facilities consist of pig receivers and a
slug catcher to remove large solid and liquid
contaminants followed by filter coalescers to
remove fine solids and hydrocarbon mist. A
filter coalescer also cleans the gas in each
fuel supply to the turbines and gas engines.
Removed liquids flow to a hydrocarbon storage
tank where they are separated by gravity and
then transported by truck as saleable hydrocar-
bon liquid or disposed of as waste product.
Design Pressures
The design pressure for station gas piping
should at least equal the MAOP of the pipeline.
For single-stage stations, the suction and dis-
charge piping should have the same design pres-
sure. For multi-stage stations, the suction piping
design pressure should at least equal the highest
attainable suction pressure under all operating
and startup modes, and the interstage and dis-
charge piping design pressures should at least
equal the maximum discharge pressure. Multi-
pressure systems must be designed to ensure that
each system is not over-pressured during normal
operation and is protected to the appropriate
pressure level during upset conditions.
It is a general rule to use design pressures
to accommodate use of a standard ANSI Class
rating for compressor station piping compo-
nents. The cost to increase design pressure
to a standard ANSI Class is minimal and will
provide greater flexibility in future use of the
equipment and materials.
The gas pressure in the pipelines is increased
by a combination of one or more compres-
sors connected in parallel or in series to the
Figure 1:
Cabiunas Terminal - Onshore
Gas Gathering Compressor
Station. (source: PETROBRAS -
Rio de Janeiro Brazil)
Figure 2:
Typical Compressor
Station P&I Diagram
(Mokhatab et al., 2007).
Pipeline & Gas Journal / June 2008 / 61
pipelines by the station piping. Typically for
mainline stations, gas turbine-driven centrifu-
gal compressors are used as the base units to
compress the majority of the flow. These are
compressor drivers that are turbine engines
using natural gas for fuel.
Compressor selection is based on detailed
analysis of the operating conditions in terms of
flow and pressure ratio needed by the pipeline
hydraulics. Frequently these conditions will vary
over time and the compressor selection will have
to have flexibility, by restaging if necessary, to
accommodate all the expected conditions. From
transient analysis based on predicted ramp-p
gas demand and flow profiles a set of values is
defined that will be used to pre-select compres-
sor units, depending on the installation layout,
whether series or parallel (Santos, 1997; 2004).
Typically the conditions for most mainline
stations will require compressors with one or
two stages, and the compressor design may
be of the overhung rotor or barrel design.
The determination of operating conditions
and hence the development of the compressor
characteristics will have to take into account
the gas characteristics, suction and discharge
pressure, and suction temperatures, usually
involving equations of state for the particular
gas composition, and the process environment
(i.e., climate, altitude, location, etc.).
The pipeline and station designer will make
sure that the equipment selection and arrange-
ment including maintenance strategy and level
of availability will be subject to a feasibility
study (Santos, 2004).
Compressor power will be determined from
the compressor characteristics and thus the
driver BHP can be calculated. Driver selection
is principally influenced by energy consump-
tion (fuel used) and power capability to drive
the compressor. Since gas turbines do not come
in an affinity of ratings, it is usually necessary
to select the nearest match for power above the
maximum requirement. The optimum selection
of compressor and driver is a complex process,
involving much negotiation with the suppliers,
and is beyond the scope of this article.
It is recommended that all potential areas
of pipe stress be evaluated very carefully due
to the large temperature variations present in
compressor system piping and the stresses
occurring in large-diameter piping. Particular
care should be taken to ensure that pipe stresses
do not impart excessive forces on compres-
sor nozzles. Shaft misalignment with resulting
vibration and/or excessive wear can be caused
if high loads from the piping are transmitted to
the compressor case. Compressor manufactur-
ers will provide the maximum allowable loads.
A complete pipe stress analysis should be
performed on compressor gas piping systems if
operating temperatures are greater than 200F.
Mostly in the case of a gas gathering system,
gas compressor station inlet receiving facilities
consist of pig receivers and a slug catcher to
remove large solid and liquid contaminants, fol-
lowed by filter coalescers to remove fine solids
and hydrocarbon mist to reciprocating compres-
sor cylinder and valves protection. A pig refers
to a device that is pushed by the gas through the
pipe either to clean the pipe of obstructive mate-
rial or inspect the pipe for defects (roundness or
thickness reduction from corrosion process).
A slug refers to volumes of hydrocarbon liq-
uids and water that accumulate in the pipeline
as entrained liquids in saturated natural gas con-
dense. Slugs also occur from cleaning solutions
injected into the pipeline for integrity mainte-
nance pigging. Normal gas flow by-passes the
slug catcher to reduce pressure losses. Flow is
switched through the slug catcher for as-needed
use. Where liquid slugs may be received, the
station should include a slug-catching system
with adequate storage capacity for the largest
expected slug. Typical slug catchers are con-
structed of pipe and fittings and create a change
of direction of the gas stream, allowing dropout
of the liquid slug (Figure 3).
Some facilities, (e.g. gas-fired power plants)
use natural gas reciprocating booster com-
pressors. Turbine manufactures may require
carryover limited to 0.1 to 0.003 ppm (wt.)
range. A downstream coalescer filter will pre-
vent lubricating oil from compressor cylinders
affecting turbine integrity. Filter and turbine
manufactures specifications and also field
experience should be considered to guarantee
proper equipment selection.
The compressor foundation should also be
designed taking vibration into consideration.
Pressure drop in the compressor suction, interstage
or discharge piping system including scrubbers,
valves and related items in each system should be
no more than 3 psi per stage or system (excluding
coolers and any gas treating facilities).
Station Control
Control functions are typically based on
personnel safety, the operating parameters
of the station, and the types and number of
compressor units installed at the station.
Compressor station controls can be divid-
ed into two sections, unit control and sta-
tion control. Digital technology is now used
throughout both systems. The unit control
utilizes a microprocessor which will control
the turbine compressor unit to run to set
points under the direction of the operator or
the station control system. The set points can
be flow or pressure. Commonly, a flow or
suction pressure will be the control parameter
with discharge pressure and/or suction pres-
sure as overrides. The control protocol will
include limits to ensure safe operation. These
limits will include pressure and temperatures
on discharge and suction on the compressor
as well as speed and flow and pressure ratio
in relation to surge.
The unit control will monitor the compres-
sor operation to ensure that it will not run
into surge. If the operation of the compres-
sor nears the surge line, the unit control will
instruct the recycle valve to open and so
maintain safe operation. Should the recycle
condition continue for a time, and if coolers
are not provided in the recycle line or com-
pressor discharge, the unit will be shut down
on high discharge temperature.
In addition to control and safety, the unit
control will monitor key operating parame-
ters and provide video output on demand and
printout on a routine basis to provide a con-
tinuous record of operation. These readouts
and records can be used for troubleshooting
and maintenance. The station control system
will oversee the unit operation and also pro-
vide the interface between the operators and
the plant. It will provide video and print data
recording of all key station parameters. It has
become more common to operate stations and
units remotely from central dispatch stations
and the station-control systems will report to
the central station via a SCADA link.
The overall control of a major gas pipe-
line transportation system typically originates
from a central Gas Control office that is
remote from all of the compressor stations.
Gas control monitors flow measurement for
the total station throughput as well as each
compressors throughput and fuel consump-
tion. The programmable logic controller
(PLC) in each compressor units control panel
communicates to gas control the operating
parameters for that compressor and the posi-
tions of the valves controlling the gas flow
through that compressor. This example sta-
tion offers redundant communication using
microwave, satellite, or conventional leased
telephone systems. This station is designed
for the option of completely unmanned oper-
ation by Gas Control. The PLC compressor
on/off operation, performance set points, and
all station-critical valves may be remotely
controlled. Gas Control may monitor all sta-
tion alarms and shutdowns.
Gas turbine-driven centrifugal compressor
unit panels typically include unit protective
functions, local and remote starting, auto-
matic unit valve operation and equipment
and process monitoring instrumentation. If
a multi-unit station is involved, a separate
station panel may be used to automatically
control station operation.
Acoustical Treatment
Noise is a significant environmental pol-
Figure 3:
62 Pipeline & Gas Journal / June 2008 /
lutant and the reduction of noise is an essen-
tial part of the design of a compressor sta-
tion. The technology of noise reduction has
reached the level that for most practical pur-
poses a compressor station can be designed
to contribute less than 3dB to the pre-existing
background noise level. Local requirements
should be taken into account for a proper
design. The design of the unit enclosures,
buildings, exhaust and inlet silencers are sub-
ject to stringent specifications. Double-wall
enclosures are frequently used to control unit
noise emissions as afore mentioned.
Normally an acoustic simulation study is
done. If an acoustic simulation study has not
been conducted, the following requirements
for the piping system are the minimum:
the use of elbows in the piping should be
minimized to the fewest number possible
and elbows should be eliminated between
compressor cylinders and pulsation suppres-
sion devices.
Exhaust emissions from the gas turbines
now have to meet the environmental limits
of the location. Modern gas turbines are
designed with low emission combustion
systems to meet these requirements. These
systems may be dry or wet low NOx and are
now becoming the standard equipment for
all gas turbines.
Silencing equipment incorporated into the
engine air intake ducting and filters, engine
exhaust systems, vent and blowdown exits,
equipment enclosures, and piping insula-
tion accomplish noise control for the sur-
rounding community and station employees.
Liners and baffles of noise reduction mate-
rial are used inside the engine air intake
ducting and filters, engine exhaust, and vent
and blowdown exits. Acoustical lining on
the internal walls and silenced ventilation
systems reduce noise from the compressor
As much station gas piping as possible
is installed below grade to provide addi-
tional noise reduction. Above grade sta-
tion gas piping is acoustically insulated.
Internal noise-reduction modif ications are
required in flow control valves. Fan tip
speed limitations and low-noise fan drive
designs are required for gas and oil cool-
ers. Station noise control provides a day-
night average sound level (Ldn) of less
than 55 decibels per the A rating (dBA)
of human response to noise at the nearest
noise sensitive area. This complies with
current U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission regulations. Noise levels
within a 3-foot distance from equipment
for the employees average time of expo-
sure is less than 85 dBA. This complies
with current U.S. Occupational Safety and
Health Administration requirements.
Site Selection
And Aesthetics
Site selection is primarily defined from
thermo-hydraulic simulation optimizing, fuel
usage and transmission costs. Site selection
depends upon pipeline hydraulic consider-
ations and land availability. Consideration
should be given to possible future expansion
of the facility. Access to the station shall be
granted at any weather conditions or climate.
When it is not possible or feasible to locate
adjacent to a public road, which may occur
due to remoteness of the pipeline route, pri-
vate roads are used, providing an agreement
has been made with the property owners for
ingress and egress.
Additional factors to consider in site selec-
tion include proximity to the connecting
pipeline and avoidance of crossing pipelines,
especially foreign pipelines; prior land use
(soil contamination, archaeological history,
wildlife habitat, etc.; soil conditions (load
bearing and stability, fill materials); topog-
raphy (required cut and fill, drainage); avail-
ability of required utilities (electric power,
water, communications); and environmental
permit and noise requirements - and if sour
gas is present - the proximity to the public
and prevailing wind.
Emissions And
Environmental Rules
Equipment should be installed with provi-
sions for containing leaks, spills and wash
water as required to comply with federal,
state and local regulations and permits. Tanks
should be installed above ground unless spe-
cific conditions require burial, and in either
case, must comply with all environmental
regulations and state and local permits. For
tanks that contain fluids potentially damaging
to the environment, proper spill containment
is included.
Compressor station reliability and avail-
ability are paramount to overall gas pipeline
delivery dependability. Reliability consider-
ations are incorporated into many areas of
the facility. Some reliability considerations
are listed below.
The total amount of installed compression
(stand by units) must be more than the normal
design requirement to allow for scheduled
and unscheduled maintenance.
Spacing between compressors or compres-
sor groups aims at preventing fire damage to
one compressor from harming others and to
ease maintenance work.
Using redundant and parallel filter
coalescers prevents unexpected large amounts
of contaminants from impeding the gas flow
and allows filtration cartridge replacement
without interrupting compressor operation.
Monitoring and trending of vibration,
bearing temperatures, and other critical oper-
ational parameters by the compressor PLC
identify service needs to prevent catastrophic
equipment failures.
Maintenance systems should be developed
to manage all aspects of maintenance prior to
station startup.
All below ground steel pipe, conduit
and structures are coated with a corrosion
protective and electrically insulating coat-
ing. Additionally, steel pipe installed below
ground is protected from external corrosion
using cathodic protection.
Sufficient operational and capital spare
parts inventories should be available based on
reliability-availability-maintenance (RAM)
analysis and life cycle cost considerations.
Equipment should be standardized as fea-
sible to minimize spare parts requirements.
Good human factor practices should be
used in evaluating access to and viewing of
operating data, manipulation of controls,
installation of isolation devices, and removal
and replacement of equipment (e.g. equip-
ment and personnel access and egress, lifting
points, pull clearances, materials movement,
etc.). P&GJ
Authors: Saeid Mokhatab is the process
technology manager for Tehran Raymand
Consulting Engineers, Iran, specializing in
design and operations of natural gas trans-
mission pipelines. He has participated as
a senior consultant in several international
gas-transmission pipelines EPCM projects,
and published numerous academic and indus-
try oriented papers and books.
Greg Lamberson is the principal consultant
of International Construction Consulting,
LLC, USA, with over 25 years experience in
all phases of business, project, engineering,
and construction management for upstream
onshore and offshore oil, gas, and energy
related facilities and pipelines in North,
Central, and South America, the Caribbean,
the Middle East, Central Asia, China, Russia,
the Far East, and Africa.
Sidney Pereira dos Santos, is a senior con-
sultant at Petrobras Gas & Energy, Brazil,
with more than 20 years of experience in the
design of most of the gas transmission pipe-
lines/compressor stations in Brazil such as the
Bolivia-Brazil Pipeline project. He has been
conducting technical and economic studies
with risk analysis and conceptual design for
the upcoming gas pipeline expansion projects
in Brazil, and has presented various interna-
tional papers on related subjects.
Mokhatab, S., Santos, S.P., and Cleveland, T.,
Compressor Station Design Criteria, Pipeline & Gas
Journal, p. 26-32 (June, 2007).
Santos, S.P., Transient Analysis A Must in Gas
Pipeline Design, paper presented at the Pipeline
Simulation Interest Group, Arizona, USA (1997).
Santos, S.P., Compression Service Contract
When Is It Worth? paper presented at the Pipeline
Simulation Interest Group, Bern, Switzerland (2003).
Santos, S.P., Gas Compressor Service with
Turbo Compressors, paper presented at the ASME
International Pipeline Conference, Alberta, Canada
Santos, S.P., Series or Parallel Arrangement for a
Compressor Station A Recurring Question that Needs
a Convincing Answer, paper presented at the Pipeline
Simulation Interest Group, California, USA (2004).