Importance of Debottlenecking in Downstream Operations

April 13, 2015 Audubon Companies

When producing oil and gas, operators are faced with numerous changes that occur over the lifetime of a project. Perhaps target production rates have to be increased beyond an anticipated level. Or maybe flow characteristics of a well have shifted in an unexpected way. Other issues such as separation systems or scrubbers not functioning optimally due to changes in pressure, load, or water content add additional complexity over the long term. In these cases and more, the need for debottlenecking studies becomes apparent.

Debottlenecking is essentially the process of identifying and removing barriers that cause reductions in efficiency or some other operational challenge.  Those inefficiencies can manifest in production output and energy usage, requiring careful examination of existing systems and how they can be modified efficiently and in a cost-effective way. Space limitations, budget, and shutdown lengths must all be considered when trying to debottleneck a problem. Solutions may include placing skidded modules inline, modifying part of an existing section, or replacing a section entirely.

In the past, debottlenecking studies have largely looked at operational problems as something that can be isolated and resolved. However, the advent of modeling and simulation software as well as new, broader approaches to debottlenecking have expanded it to the point of “considering whole plant operation from a process and energy point of view as opposed to addressing each bottleneck in isolation,” as Seán Ottewell, senior editor at Chemical Processing pointed out in 2011. Considering the facility in its entirety within a software modeled environment allows troubleshooters to not only evaluate its existing capacity but also identify other bottlenecks that may not have been caught initially. Additionally, several different scenarios can be tested in the simulator, resulting in more effective feasibility and cost estimation phases before brownfield modifications begin.

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