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Eng./ ALy Nassr


The natural gas which flows from a well is wet, saturated with
heavy hydrocarbons and contaminated with salt and sand. Gas pressure
at the wellhead varies from a few PSIG to ten thousand
pounds. Natural gas flowing from deeper wells may contain large
quantities of hydrogen sulfide. The BTU content ranges from 1000
to 1400 BTU per SCF, while the temperature at the wellhead can
be over 200F.
In contrast, gas in common carrier transmission lines is of a
much more uniform quality. Typical conditions are:
5 ppm H2S
1000 BTU per SCF
5 pounds water per million SCF
The common carrier transmission lines are usually 16" to 30"
in diameter. They carry gas from perhaps fifty thousand wells, scattered
throughout remote and inhospitable regions, to the population
centers of the nation. The lines from the wellheads are typically 2"
in diameter. The gas flows into collection lines called laterals which
range from 3" to 12" in diameter.
Although there is no generally accepted practice, liquids are
often separated from natural gas before the gas enters the collection
lateral piping. The liquids consist of brine (salt water usually less
saline than sea water) and condensate (natural gasoline).
The condensate is collected in trucks and winds up in a petroleum
refinery or similar facility, where the condensate is blended
into gasoline. The brine is also removed from the well site in trucks,
then injected back into the ground in designated disposal wells.
After separation from wellhead liquids, the gas is metered.
Exact measurement of the gas volume flowing from a well is important
for two reasons. First of all, the owner of the well is not the
same individual who owns the mineral rights to the land. The

must be paid a royalty (about 20%) by the lease operator (i.e.
the company or individual that produces and sells the gas). Secondly,
the lease operator pays tax on his production (7% in Texas).
Many wells are joint ventures, and this too necessitates careful


The most common problem in the cryogenic plant is a freeze-up.
Freeze ups may be caused by hydrate formation or COZ solidification.
The next most common problems involve either a reduction in the
volume of liquid product produced or else the NGL goes off-spec
(contains too much methane).
The first step in troubleshooting is to be certain that a problem exists,
by checking the instruments involved to be sure that they are not in
error. Beyond this, troubleshooting involves checking all possible
causes of the problem through the process of elimination.
Severe operating problems can be avoided if they are promptly noticed
and identified, and prompt corrective action is taken. Operators need to
know what to be on the lookout for, however. One of the best indicator
of cryogenic plant operation is the expander feed separator. The
temperature in this separator should remain fairly constant as long as
the inlet gas composition and flow rate are also fairly constant. A
change in separator temperature signals the development of a potential
problem .
An increasing temperature in the expander feed separator can be caused
A freeze-up in a heat exchanger.
A vapor-locked demethanizer reboiler.
An open J-T valve is by-passing gas around the expander.
There is a problem in the expander.
Excessive feed gas flow to the demethanizer reboilers.
A decreasing temperature in the expander feed separator can be caused
Snowballing temperatures
Insufficient warm feed gas flow to the demethanizer reboilers.
Each of the above problems is discussed below.

Freeze-U ps
In most cases, either the dehydration unit is not sufficiently lowering
the water dew point of the inlet gas or COZ is solidifying. Other causes
of solids or semi-solids formation include amines, glycols and
compressor lube oils, although these will form upstream of the
expander, whereas hydrates and COZ blockages can also form

downstream of the expander. Freeze-ups can be identified by high
differential pressures across affected equipment.

Hydrates - The usual first method of attacking a hydrate plug is by

injecting methyl alcohol, methanol. Methanol will dissolve a hydrate
provided the methanol liquid can reach the plug. As long as there is
enough flow to carry the methanol to the plug it will do its job. This
may be next to impossible to do in horizontal flow passages since there
is no flow through a plugged passage. If the methanol can travel to the
plug by gravity flow, it will also do the job. When methanol injection is
unsuccessful, a derime procedure must be followed .

Carbon Dioxide, COZ - Both liquid phase and solid phase CO2 can
exist in various cryogenic plant areas, depending upon the pressure,
temperature and concentration of the carbon dioxide.
The solid C02 is the problem phase.

To Use the Solid COZ Formation Chart: If operating conditions are

in the methane liquid region as shown by the insert graph, the dashed
solid-liquid phase equilibrium line is used. For other conditions the
solid isobars (lines of constant pressure) define the approximate COZ
concentration limits.
For example: Find conditions of 300 psia and -170F on the insert
graph; this point is in the liquid methane region. The dashed solid-
liquid phase equilibrium line indicates that concentrations of at least
2.1 mol % COZ in the liquid phase would be likely to form solids.
However, at the same pressure and -150F, conditions are in the
methane vapor phase, and 1.28 mol % C02 in the vapor is the minimum
concentration that could lead to solids formation. It seems that liquid
methane inhibits solid COZ formation.
The most likely trouble spot for solid COZ formation is in the
demethanizer. If expander liquid
is fed to the top tray of a demethanizer (non-refluxed) the COZ will
concentrate in the top equilibrium

stages. This means that the most probable condition for solid C02
formation may be several trays
below the top of the tower rather than at expander outlet conditions.
The COZ will plug the section of
trays (or packing), causing a high AP through that section of the tower,
(f- Methanol cannot remove a solid COZ plug. It won't melt solid COZ
like it can melt ice or a
hydrate. Solid COZ removal must be removed by deriming (described

Derime Procedure - Derime is the name given to the process of
removing ice (or hydrate, or solid COZ) buildup on or in equipment.
Rime is defined as a mass of tiny ice crystals formed from vapor. This
is a good description of how solid deposition starts out in the cryogenic
plant. Derime literally means "to thaw out". So, if we can't remove a
solid plug with methanol, we have to warm up the plant (or lower its
pressure, or both) until the solid melts. Derime procedures commonly
involve shutting the plant down and back-flowing warm residue gas
through to the flare, while injecting methanol. The exact procedure
depends upon the plant, so operators should follow their site specific
procedures. Some plants have piping installed that permits
deriming the demethanizer without going through a complete
shutdown. This arrangement takes warm NGL liquid from the
discharge of the bottoms product pump and introduces it onto the top
tray of the
tower, from which it will run down and melt whatever solids have
deposited on the trays.
Vapor-Locked Demethanizer Reboilers :
Liquid from a draw-off tray in the demethanizer flows under the
influence of gravity into the side or bottom reboiler. The liquid head on
the draw-off tray is sufficient to move the liquid through the piping and
into the exchanger. The liquid enters on the bottom side of the shell and
flows upward, around the tube bundle (or through a section of a plate-
fin exchanger). As it flows through, the liquid is partially vaporized by
the warmer fluid on the other side. The rising vapor bubbling through
the remaining liquid lifts it up through the exchanger outlet and back
into the tower; this is the thermosyphon effect. The combined vapor-
liquid stream returns to the tower below the draw-off tray. If something
should happen to increase the pressure drop in the piping and through
the exchanger, the liquid level on the draw-off tray will back up until it
overflows into lower areas of the tower. If this happens in the
demethanizer tower, cold liquid will enter the bottom and cause the
methane content to increase. Furthermore, there will be no heat input
from the "locked" reboiler, so the tower bottom temperature falls
further and methane content rises higher. An important side effect

is that the warm feed gas passing the other side of the reboiler is not
cooled down. This still-warm gas travels back to rejoin the rest of the
feed stream but warms it up, causing reduced liquid condensation.
Attempts to cram more warm feed gas through the reboilers just makes
things worse.
Reboilers may be locked by excess vapor production ... a gas "bubble"
forms inside the exchanger, becomes trapped there and keeps new
liquid from entering. Solids in the tower can also plug the reboiler inlet
line to create the same effect, but a vapor lock is the most common
cause. The simplest way to clear a locked reboiler is to shut off the
heat. Vapor production will falter and liquid can reenter the reboiler.
Slowly readmitting the warm stream will get things going again.
Sometimes an injection gas line is tied in at the base of the line
returning to the tower. A small flow of injection gas will create a lifting
action to get the liquid moving again. The success of injection gas is
evidenced by rising temperatures in the reboiler and tower and the
injection gas is then
gradually shut off.. Injection gas should be warm, lean gas such as high
pressure residue gas.
Demethanizer Temperature Control
Basically just a few things can go wrong here, as evidenced by
temperatures that are out of control and either too warm or too cold. A
temperature control valve can get stuck in either the open or closed
position, the butterfly valve in the main gas stream may be too far open
or too far closed, or the temperature controller itself may fail. The
operator will have to perform a visual inspection and attempt to solve
the problem. (The best way to ferret out a controller problem is to put
the controller in manual and attempt manual control. If you can control
manually you have eliminated all the other possible causes and the
controller is the problem.) If the problem with temperature control is
that the temperature is too low, be certain that you do not have locked
reboilers before blaming the temperature controller.
Turboexpander-Brake Compressor
Practically every potential problem with this machine is annunciated
and alarmed at the expander control panel. The best advice we can give
here is to refer to the vendor's manual for the troubleshooting
procedures for your particular machine.

Snowballing Temperatures
Snowballing is an interesting phenomenon that gets its name from what
happens to a little snowball as it rolls down a snow-covered hill it gets
bigger and Bigger and BIGGER. This particular cryogenic plant
problem is like the snowball in that once started, the problem grows
and grows. In the case of snowballing in the cryogenic plant,
temperatures start out getting too cold and keep on getting colder and
colder in a constantly amplifying cycle. An explanation of snowballing
If the expander feed separator temperature starts to decrease, the
temperature of the gas leaving the expander will also decrease, which
in turn lowers the temperature of the demethanizer overhead gas, which
causes greater chilling in the gas/gas exchanger, which further
decreases the temperature in the expander feed separator, and so on.
The result is more liquid production than the demethanizer can handle.
Some of this liquid can carry over in the demethanizer overhead and
finds its way to the gas to gas exchanger where it vaporizes and, like a
good refrigerant, chills the inlet gas even further. This of course results
in even more liquid production and the race is on.
The net results of snowballing are colder temperatures in the plant and
a decrease in NGL production due to the large amount of liquid that
leaves from the top of the demethanizer and ends up "lost" in the
residue gas leaving the plant. The method used to stop snowballing is to
slow down the expander (or even shut it down) to reduce chilling in the
plant and halt excess liquid production. Slowing or stopping the
expander will divert gas through the J-T valve and cause the plant to
warm up. When things are back to normal, the expander can run again.
The cause of the problem is usually found at the demethanizer reboilers
when the bottoms temperature controller does not allow enough gas
flow to the reboilers. The net effect is colder gas entering the expander
feed separator. If the problem persists, it may be necessary to raise the
plant's pressure control set-points

Whether one is troubleshooting a distillation tower in a natural
gas liquids recovery facility, or in a petroleum refinery, the components
of the problem causing inadequate fractionation are the same:
Damaged tower internals
Low reflux rates
Erratic control
There is a very straight-forward method to determine if a control
problem is leading to the production of off-spec products. This method
is based on the following premise:
"If you can't run it on manual, you'll never run it on auto". Certainly, for
the relatively simple operations of concern here (i.e., deethanizers,
debutanizers, propane-butane splitters and deisopentanizers)LPG and
gasoline fractionation specifications are achievable with manual
control. If you cannot successfully operate a distillation column on
hand control for a few hours, then check to see if the control valves in
the field are properly responding to the control center valve position
signal. Next, increase the reflux rate and the tower bottoms heat input
(reboiler duty). An unexpectedly large improvement in the separation
between the light and heavy key components indicates poor
vapor/liquid contacting due to dumping liquid through tray decks or
vapor channeling in packed beds. On the other hand, if separation
efficiency does not noticeably increase, or even decreases as reflux is
raised, flooding is indicated.

There are two commonly accepted terms describing flooding in
a trayed distillation tower:
Liquid flood
Jet flood
Figure 111 shows the effect on tower pressure drop as the reflux
rate and reboiler duty are increased. The liquid flood point is
characterized by a sudden increase in measured delta P. At this

point, the capacity of the downcomers to drain liquid pouring over
the outlet weir is insufficient. The height of liquid in the downcomers
shown in Figure 11-2 increases until the top of the weir is
reached; at this point liquid begins to stack-up on the tray deck and
drainage from the downcomer on the tray above is reduced. Thus,
all trays above a tray that is flooding, will also begin to flood. Fully
developed downcomer flood will always greatly reduce fractionation

Downcomers can flood at even relatively low liquid rates if the

bottom edge of the downcomer is not submerged in the liquid on the
tray deck. Unsealing the downcomer in this manner permits up flowing
vapor to interfere with liquid flow in the downcomer, thus reduces
downcomer liquid handling capacity. Downcomers will also
flood at low liquid rates due to high pressure drop across the tray
decks. After all, the height of liquid in the downcomer must be
sufficient to overcome the pressure differential between trays. Thus,
fouling deposits on tray decks, which reduce the open area available
for vapor flow, can precipitate downcomer back-up and liquid flooding.
The downcomers do not have to be over-flowing for excessive
tray loads to reduce tower efficiency
When does the level indicated in a gauge glass not correspond
to the liquid level in a vessel? Assuming the level taps are unplugged, is
it possible for the liquid level in the bottom of a distillation tower
to be higher than the level in the gauge glass?
Figure 11-6 illustrates a rather common occurrence in a natural
gas amine H2S scrubber. A light hydrocarbon with a 0.7 specific
gravity is floating atop amine with a 1.0 specific gravity. Due to the
location of the level taps, the liquid in the gauge glass is only
amine. If we think of the gauge glass and the bottom of the tower
as the two legs of a two-phase manometer, it's apparent why the liquid
(i.e. hydrocarbon) level inside the tower is above the level in the
gauge glass.
This phenomenon is a common cause of flooding in gas scrubbers.
Due to an erroneous level indication, the liquid hydrocarbon is
permitted to rise to the vapor inlet. The liquid is then entrained by

the up flowing gas onto the bottom tray. The mixing of the liquid
with the aqueous amine solution promotes foaming and
hence flooding of the bottom tray. The foaming/flooding spreads up
the tower until gross quantities of amine are carried overhead with
the sweet natural gas. Once the accumulated liquid hydrocarbon in
the bottom of the tower is flushed overhead by the flooding trays,
the tower's bottom level settles out below the vapor inlet nozzle and
the flooding and excess rates of amine carry-over stops.
To the operators, the cause of the flooding appears inexplicable.
It has apparently started and stopped by itself. However, it is possible
to locate the level in the bottom of an amine natural gas scrubber
by touch. The liquid outlet normally is 20F to 40F warmer
than the vapor inlet. This temperature difference, when noted on the
outside of the tower's shell, corresponds to the true bottom's liquid
To prevent this situation from developing, hydrocarbon skimming
taps should be provided in the bottom of natural gas amine
H2S scrubbing towers.

Equation 1 above, states that a tray will become less efficient
due to incipient jet flood when the pressure drop per tray, expressed
in inches of liquid, equals 20% of the tray spacing. The inches of
liquid term assumes the liquid is deaerated. Of course, the liquid in
the downcomers and on the tray decks is closer to a froth than to
a flat liquid. The more highly aerated the liquid is (i.e. the more
foam-like it becomes), the greater will be the depth of liquid
corresponding to a measured external pressure drop. Hence, liquids
which foam in distillation columns (such as dirty amine and ethane rich

fractionators) reach their incipient jet flood at pressure drops
below the 20% indicated in equation 1.
Ordinarily, this foam cannot be observed in the column's bottom
sight glass. Even if the bottom of the tower is retaining a foam
level above the vapor inlet (or reboiler return nozzle), the fluid in
the sight glass is a flat, deaerated liquid. To observe a high foam
level in the bottom gauge glass proceed as follows:
Block in the bottom gauge glass level tap.
Open completely the top tap.
Crack open the gauge glass drain valve.
Assuming the foam is above the top tap, the foam will slowly
start running down the gauge glass and hence can readily be observed.


A corrosion probe is a device for inserting a thin strip of metal
through a 3/4" bleeder into a pipeline. The metal strip is called a
corrosion coupon. The probe is designed to permit the coupon to be
inserted and removed under full pipeline pressure. The coupon is
weighted prior to installation and then periodically thereafter.
Weight loss of the cleaned coupon is then correlated with the corrosion
rate on the pipeline (in mils per year). The key to the successful
application of this program is routinely weighing of the
coupon. Checking the coupon after leaks have developed in the gas
collection piping system is not especially informative. Once natural gas
has been sweetened and dehydrated with triethylene glycol, it is no
longer corrosive and internal pipeline corrosion is no longer a danger.
External corrosion of a pipeline, due to moisture and minerals in the
soil continues to be a hazard. To protect underground pipelines, piping
is wrapped with a thick plastic coating which is impervious to moisture.
The external coating protecting a pipeline is subject to deterioration.
When this happens, the pipeline is exposed to the corrosive
effects of soil and water. To control this corrosion, cathodic protection
is normally required. Both economic and safety factors, require

that the corrosion rate be slowed or mitigated to extend the lifetime
of pipelines. Cathodic protection is a corrosion mitigation method that
can effectively stop corrosion on buried pipelines. It involves the
of grounding devices called "anodes" in the soil near the
pipeline to be protected. These anodes pass DC current onto the pipe
surfaces to neutralize the natural currents that cause corrosion.
There are two types of Cathodic protection systems. A galvanic
Cathodic protection system involves anodes that are more
electrochemically active than steel. The anode materials used are
magnesium, aluminum, or zinc. No external power is required. An
impressed current Cathodic protection system involves anodes made of
special cast iron, graphite or platinum. An external source of DC
power is required. The most commonly used power source is a
rectifier which converts AC to DC. The anodes are also electrically
connected to the structure in these systems to complete the electrical
Cathodic protection is an effective corrosion mitigation system.
However, a number of things can cause a cathodic protection system
to malfunction. It is critical to detect and correct these failures before
corrosion can occur on the pipeline. Electrical surveys are the
most commonly used tool to detect these failures.

PROCESSING , Campbell Petroleum Series (Jan. 1982).
2. "GPSA Engineering Data Book" Eleventh Edition.