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Hi-Tech Trunk Line

Date of publication: 25 March 2021

Innovative solutions are the basis for the ESPO-2 development.

2021 has been pronounced the Year of Science and Technology in Russia. In this context, the synergy of the real economy sector with innovative projects is of great significance. The experience of companies that have already built their activities on this platform is priceless. There are quite a few of such examples in the Far Eastern Federal District (FEFD), precisely in the oil and gas industry. One of the modern hi-tech companies is Transneft Far East. This Transneft subsidiary operates the second phase of the Eastern Siberia – Pacific Ocean (ESPO-2) pipeline system created on the basis of cutting-edge achievements in science and technology. And the trunk pipeline and its offshoot to Komsomolsk-on-Amur Refinery are operated with a constant upgrading of the technological level. And what is particularly important, with the use of equipment made in Russia.

The key target of automation is the running of mainline pumps. The most advanced technologies in this realm allowed Transneft Far East to cut its production costs by RUB 5 million in 2020.

Needed Pressure

In essence, a target model of an effective oil transportation company has been created within the framework of the ESPO-2 construction. Revolutionary model. Even at the initial stage, leading technologies were embedded in the project.

Today’s degree of technological advancement allows the transshipment of resources in the East of Russia with one of the lowest energy consumption levels in the industry. At the oil pumping stations, hydraulic couplings have been installed combined with the mainline pump units (MPUs) with a hi-tech drive and variable frequency converters (at the offshoot to Komsomolsk Refinery). These allow to apply energy efficient oil transportation modes: to consume as much energy as necessary based on preset throughput volumes. Special full-speed operational modes of mainline pumps also enhance the energy efficiency.

Last year, Transneft Far East alongside with Transneft R&D, Giprotruboprovod and Industrial Automation Centre of Transneft Upper Volga completed the upgrading of software algorithms in the automatic control system over the pressure in pumps equipped with hydraulic coupling. This innovation increased the speed of the system’s response even to minor fluctuations of pressure in the oil pipeline. A margin of stability under a high-amplitude pressure will also increase. To check the algorithms in an environment as close to reality as possible and not to affect the oil pipeline’s safety at that, they assembled a test bench precisely simulating the operation of process sections of the ESPO-2.

“The test bench is based on an existing hydraulic model of the oil pipeline which is part of the unified supervisory control system’s simulator,” explains Deputy Chief Engineer of Transneft Far East in charge of automated process control systems Mikhail Donskoy.

The scheduled date of the modernised algorithm introduction is Q2 2021.

The production automation is designed to ensure comprehensive control of all processes at the facilities of Transneft Far East and, what’s most important, to make them safer. One of the main functions of automatic equipment is process control at oil pumping stations.

“Almost all principal and ancillary components at our oil pumping stations are equipped with sensors monitoring various parameters. There are up to 10,000 such sensors at each facility,” says Head of the automated process control systems section at Transneft Far East Vasily Polyakov.

Relying on Automatic Equipment

The key target of automation is the running of mainline pumps. Absolutely all possible parameters are under control here. If any of the parameters, such as temperature, pressure, or consumption, is above the admissible limit, automated hardware and software switches the process equipment to a safe operational mode. Special software tracks all processes taking place at a facility and makes certain decisions. Not only does this rule out any possibility of an emergency situation; it also maintains all parameters within the admissible limits to ensure uninterrupted oil transportation.

Furthermore, the human factor is reduced to minimum; the automation system is so fast that an operator working at the oil pumping station (PS) does not usually have to interfere.

“Yet life is a lot more difficult than the model; not everything can be calculated or digitised,” Mr. Polyakov continues. “A human should keep the process under control anyway, tracking the way automated equipment performs its functions. The operator must report any deviations in its operation. And make respective decisions. The automated firefighting system is another extremely important element of the oil pumping station (PS). In case of emergency, it will launch water and foam pumps. In addition, there is a multitude of local automated systems at the stations: treatment plants, bio waste recycling plants, ventilation and air-conditioning, gas hazard monitoring.

The operator gets detailed and precise information from each unit. Information about everything going on at the line part and PS is sent to operations control centres in Khabarovsk, Belogorsk and Dalnerechensk. This is how the unified control system (UCS) of the ESPO-2, the source of pride for Transneft specialists, works. This software and hardware suite is meant to monitor the process, control operational modes and automated protection of the trunk line sections. Every second it ensures safe oil transportation over the pipeline extending to more than 2,000 km.

The UCS allows the launch and halt of the oil pipeline’s process section with “one button”.

“In case of emergency, it will take a given PS out of service, whereas crude oil will keep flowing over the pipe bypassing this station,” Mr. Polyakov explains.

Again, there’s a non-stop technological development in this case. Transneft Far East upgraded the Unified Control System in 2020. This was done to optimise the operation of new oil pumping stations No. 23, 26 and 32 commissioned in 2019. The systems of automated trunk pipeline control, dispatcher control, traffic console operator’s decision-making support, seismic impact control were improved. Furthermore, the fiber-optic system of pipeline monitoring was also upgraded. This list will hardly be informative for those who are not in the know, but oil transporters get the message: the measures taken have enhanced the safety of the ESPO-2 operation and, what is important, enable a smooth transition between different modes of the trunk pipeline operation.

Pipe under Supervision

“Perhaps one of the most important UCS subsystems is leak detection,” Mr. Polyakov continues. “The mathematical model of forecasting hydraulic pressure in the pipeline is embedded there. Real-time data from all stations and sensors are fed to this subsystem which compares them against the benchmark.

This subsystem detects a hypothetical oil leak with the help of a fiber-optic cable. It is laid along the entire pipeline in the immediate proximity, sensing and responding even to the slightest ground vibrations or temperature fluctuations. Both seismic and human activity trigger an immediate automatic response. In case of any data divergence, this subsystem will precisely spot the trouble and signal it to a proper authority. If serious deviations from the benchmark parameters are detected, the subsystem will switch the oil pipeline to a safe mode all by itself.

Special innovative solutions are used for the routine inspection of trunk pipelines. In 2020, oil transporters inspected more than 2,052 km, including all 12 sections of the ESPO-2 having the length of 2,047 km, in addition to 5 km of a standby leg on the underwater crossing over the Bira River. In-line inspection tools developed by Transneft Diascan were engaged in the works. This equipment is based on the application of various physical principles (ultrasonic, magnetic devices) and enables to comprehensively assess the condition of pipelines.

This year, the pipeline will also be inspected. The total length of the main oil passage to be inspected will be approximately 2,087 km as the former amount of works will be complemented by inspection of a standby leg on the underwater crossing over the Amur River. This is what they’ve started with: a smart geometry tool has already inspected this section successfully. This tool spots and measures possible changes in the pipe geometry: displacements, bends and turns. The same tool identifies the line axis coordinates.

It’s difficult, of course, to list all technological perks of the Company. Among them is the use of floating roof tanks and drag reducing agents put out by the Transneft Synthesis plant in Tatarstan, commissioning of a transformer oil regeneration plant, and a lot more.

Numerous cases demonstrate one distinctive feature of the ESPO-2 system: ongoing technological upgrading of both PS and line facilities. The results are not long in coming. They include more reliable crude oil transportation, higher operational efficiency, minimisation of the environmental footprint. In addition to what can be physically “touched” or at least measured: energy savings. Cutting-edge energy efficient technologies allow a large-scale reduction of industrial costs. In 2020, Transneft Far East consumed 838 tonnes less in fuel equivalent, as compared to the originally planned energy consumption level. In money terms, the savings exceeded RUB 10.5 million. Nearly half of the amount was saved due to optimisation of oil transportation processes. It is calculated that implementation of the energy saving programme will save RUB 10.2 million in 2021. Technologies do pay off!

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