The Abqaiq Plant receives sour crude oil from upstream, and then processes the sour crude into sweet crude before shipping it downstream to refineries and for exporting. The plant is broken into three main processing operations: the Oil Division processes the crude oil, the NGL (Natural Gas) Division processes and sends the gas through compressors to gas facilities and the Utilities Division produces the energy, steam and compressed air to operate the plant. “We receive the crude oil with gas, process it and ship it in a safe manner downstream to terminals and refineries. From there it is delivered to every part of the world; to the Gulf in the east or to the Red Sea in the west,” says Andres.
Going above and beyond
As the plant was built in the 1940s, some of the equipment was installed with minimum protection. However, the plant has undergone improvements over the past number of years, which involved upgrading the equipment to the latest standards in terms of reliability and safety. “Throughout the years we have worked on the critical equipment, installing temperature and vibration sensors to monitor its condition, of which most are connected to an ESD (Emergency Shut Down) system,” says Andres. “These sensors and monitoring devices aim to ensure that the equipment does not fail, or alternatively they will send an alarm to the operator so he can take action or shut down the machine.”
Of course, as with any plant comes the issue of obsolescence. Andres explains that the Abqaiq Plants have managed several capital projects to further maximize the reliability and performance of its facility. For equipment that become obsolete or, in some cases, the manufacturer is no longer in the market, the plant invests in installing new equipment and performs a complete replacement. Whatever decision is made, Andres emphasizes the effort that is put into upgrades for pumps, as well as for steam and gas turbines. “We are continuously looking for new technologies that can assist operations and increase reliability,” he says. “Not only do we install these new technologies, but we also pilot them or develop in-house tools to make daily activities easier.” Additionally, Saudi Aramco’s philosophy is not just to comply with international standards, but also to comply with internal standards as required.
To read the entire interview with Andres Gonzalez please email the Editor, Deirdre Morgan.