Due to potential blast hazards to plant personnel, the control rooms of one of the world’s largest natural gas (NG) processing and compression facilities had to be relocated to a Blast Resistant Module (BRM). This complex cutover for personnel protection needed to be completed without shutting down (S/D) either of two interdependent NG production facilities. A S/D would result in a process upset at 12 oil production facilities which rely on the natural gas feed for their operation.
Client: Oil and gas exploration company
Facilities: NG compression and processing facility
Business Challenge: Relocate control room personnel out of a hazardous blast zone without shutting down two NG facilities
Solution: Strategizing, engineering, execution planning, project management, and coordination of multiple vendors to execute a cutover with no facility downtime
The facility feeds large volumes of compressed natural gas to 12 oil production facilities through sections of piping that are up to 5 feet in diameter with compression being achieved by enormous turbines. The number of drawings, valves, interconnecting wires, and control schemes that needed to be evaluated was extensive and complex.
Normal gas operation controls such as turbine controls, panel boards, and valve interfaces such as the main gas header valves feeding the plant had to be migrated which included Basic Process Control Systems (BPCS), safety systems, Fire & Gas (F&G) systems, Halon fire suppressant circuits, and Emergency Shutdown (ESD) circuits. A misstep on these critical systems could have brought the entire facility down which would have cascaded to downstream facilities which rely on the natural gas for their operation. Furthermore, the NG facility equipment spanned 50 years of modifications, and many upgrades which were needed to universalize and modernize the many generations of equipment, including digitalizing hardwired signals into a new PLC-based BPC.
The greatest challenge was migrating the hardwired emergency stop (E-stop) circuits to the new control room with minimal transition time and without a widespread outage. In fact, because of the hazards and complexities involved in a complete shut down and restart, the NG facility had only been shut down twice since being placed into service many decades earlier, and it had been over a decade since the last complete outage. E-stops are used by operators as a last resort in response to a critical process excursion. The E-stop circuit, when tripped by the operators, opens valves to the flare relief system, closes isolation valves, and shuts down running equipment. Complicating matters is the fact that E-stop circuits are designed fail-safe, meaning if any circuit is opened, the E-stop actions are triggered.
aeSolutions designed the new control room and took responsibility for all stages of the project, managing tasks from conceptual and preliminary engineering to detailed design and managing on-site activity and personnel during the complex cutover. Beginning with a comprehensive survey of the existing facilities, aeSolutions cataloged all equipment and systems that needed to be relocated, identified all stakeholders and resources who would need to be involved, and then created a detailed plan for cutover without requiring plant downtime. Specifically, aeSolutions:
Performed a detailed option analysis to evaluate potential best solutions
Analyzed existing terminations and every wire to understand what it does and temporary bypasses to be put into place; maintained a well-documented log to track what had been completed
Developed step-by-step cutover procedures and checklists and an integrated schedule that identified specific people and detailed daily tasks over the entire year leading up to the cutover of both NG facilities. Impacted stakeholders included facility engineers, operators, support staff, design team, contractors, vendors, construction crew, and IT networking crew. A comprehensive responsibility matrix was maintained to coordinate all tasks at the level of detail required for success.
Developed a contingency plan to guard against emergency events and mitigate risk of valves changing position during the cutover process for safety purposes; had personnel man all the valves during the cutover process and used a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system to monitor and detect potential process hazards. Processing natural gas is an exercise in precision, and even the smallest changes in pipeline pressure, flow rates, temperature, and gas composition can have huge impacts
Set up a local integration center, i.e., Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) lab, to convene equipment and everyone involved; determined ways to install additional panels; designed, fabricated, tested, and provided the new control panels that were needed for the programmable logic controller (PLC) and control systems as well as safety systems such as E-stops and F&G system; developed a scheme of transitioning existing terminations to new termination locations without causing a S/D; prepared all personnel involved within the FAT lab to ensure a smooth cutover process during implementation in the field
Managed on-site activities helping direct the cutover process while implementing the cutover plan, including directing facility operators, engineers, support staff, construction, and even IT staff
aeSolutions’ role evolved from system integrator to becoming the focal point of coordinating schedules and staffing and choreographing the entire cutover project. aeSolutions started by surveying the existing equipment and systems. By having a single point of contact for project management, the client benefited from standardization of approaches and technology, a higher degree of coordinated activity, and a shortened timeframe. aeSolutions developed an execution strategy and found ways to integrate multiple teams into the plan while handling the conceptual engineering, preliminary engineering, detailed design, and ultimately manufacturing and implementing the required components.
The local FAT lab was instrumental in enabling the team to confirm how equipment worked, verify detailed FAT plans and test procedures, and developing methods to quickly (dis)connect test panels with everyone in the same room. Equipment was evaluated during and after the assembly process to verify it was built and operated in accordance with design specifications. The FAT lab provided an off-site opportunity to reconcile and unify all the moving parts involved with the unit before the equipment was shipped to the site. This cost-effective integration strategy saved time and travel costs to successfully cutover the controls on a NG operating plant without impact to production. In the end, the project achieved its two objectives 1) the NG facility employees were safely relocated to the new BRMs and 2) the project was completed without a shutdown or process upset of the operating facilities.