Texas gas plant retrofits
to improve ethane recovery
Sudhir V. Golikeri
Bechtel Hydrocarbon Technology Solutions Inc.
MMscfd with ethane recovery at 40%. Pioneer wanted to
raise ethane recovery to more than 80%.
Pioneer Natural Resources USA Inc.
Pioneer Natural Resources USA Inc., Dallas, in
2012 employed basic process design provided by
Bechtel Hydrocarbon Technology Solutions, Houston, to increase ethane recovery at its 80-MMscfd
gas plant near Amarillo, Tex., to more than 80%
This article describes the evaluation approach
including identification of the constraints in the
current operation, comparison of different retrofit options, and selection of the best retrofit option
with maximum use of existing equipment.
The selected option was to recycle residue gas, improve
heat integration by reconfiguration of existing heat exchangers, and redeploy idled equipment. Pioneer completed the
necessary modifications in less than 6 months.
Production from newly discovered abundant reserves of
shale gas in the US has sharply driven down the price of natural gas, and demand for NGLs has experienced growth as
petrochemical feedstock and as a clean fuel for heating and
cooking. Consequently, NGLs trade at a premium to natural
gas, and NGL recovery becomes a major revenue earner for
the natural gas processing business.
This trend is projected to continue.
Pioneer Natural Resources owns the Fain I gas plant near
Amarillo, a turbo-expander plant built around 1980. The
plant also has a cold box for nitrogen rejection and helium
In 2011, it was operating at reduced capacity of 50
It is not unusual for a plant that is older than 20 years to
operate with feed conditions and throughput very different
from its original design, resulting in reduced performance.
A good retrofit project requires a creative approach. Proper
diagnosis of constraints in the existing process configuration and equipment can uncover the best slate of cost-effective retrofit options for evaluation.
The first step in this project was to set project
goals and design basis. These were to:
• Evaluate options to increase ethane recovery
to more than 80%.
• Determine effects on the nitrogen rejection
• Use existing plant compression as much as
TOWER PRESSURE EFFECT ON C2, C3 RECOVERY
Based on a presentation to the GPA Annual Convention, San
Antonio, Apr. 7-10
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