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Nitrogen Rejection Technology for Abu Dhabi

David Wilkinson, Costain Abu Dhabi Company W.L.L. and Grant Johnson, Costain Energy & Process.

Abstract
Gas supply to Abu Dhabis domestic market will increase significantly over the next 3 -4 years as mega projects such as OGD-III, AGD-II, and IGD become operational. Beyond these projects Abu Dhabis gas producers face a number of challenges to increase production further in order to meet rising domestic gas demand. This includes development of gas processing to manage nitrogen breakthrough resulting from injection for pressure maintenance in oil and gas fields. This paper discusses advances in gas processing technologies required to meet these challenges, the integration of these technologies into complex facilities and optimisation against criteria such as capital and lifecycle cost, performance, reliability, safety and environmental performance. Gas processing required to pre condition feed to a large scale nitrogen rejection facility, including special requirements to prevent blockages due to freezing, corrosion and embrittlement, are discussed. Pretreatment to remove components such as carbon dioxide, sulphur compounds and water is typical for hydrocarbon dewpointing and NGL extraction. However, due to nitrogen rejection requiring lower operating temperatures more stringent specifications for removal of these components are necessary. In addition, the need for removal of other components upstream of a nitrogen rejection facility such as heavy hydrocarbon and mercury will also be discussed. An outline is provided on selecting the correct nitrogen rejection technology and the key parameters influencing capital cost and power consumption. Issues that need to be considered during the optimisation phase are also highlighted.

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Nitrogen Rejection Technology for Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabis growing domestic gas market


Abu Dhabis domestic sales gas production will increase significantly over the next 3 -4 years as mega projects such as OGD-III, AGD-II, IGD become operational. Following these projects Abu Dhabi is developing the more marginal ultra-sour Shah gas field. In addition, both nitrogen (N2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) are being injected into Abu Dhabis oil f ields to maintain production and displace gas in order meet increasing domestic sales gas demand. Residue gas injection programmes for the pressure maintenance of oil and gas reservoirs currently account for approximately 35% of Abu Dhabis total gas production. The remaining gas production 2 services the domestic sales gas market of which almost 60% allocated for electric power production.

Uses of Nitrogen for EOR3


Nitrogen maybe used for several different oil and gas recovery applications from simple pressure maintenance to more complicated miscible techniques: Pressure maintenance gas cycling maintains conditions of condensate reservoirs above the dew point using natural gas either from the same reservoir or as residue gas from a gas processing plant. When natural gas price increases it becomes economically attractive to replace this gas with nitrogen. Attic oil production. A steeply dipping reservoir with an active water drive may leave oil trapped above the producing wells. If the volume of oil is too small to justify drilling on an additional well it may have previously been displaced with natural gas. Nitrogen can be used to replace this natural gas. Driving of miscible gas slugs. At pressure above 1,000 psia, CO2 can become miscible with oil and maybe used as a miscible flood agent. Cost and availability of CO2 may lead operators to consider the use of a CO2 slug with nitrogen chase gas, which may be injected alternately with water. Similarly, hydrocarbon slugs such as ethane or LPG can be driven by nitrogen. Production of gas cap gas normally does not occur until oil production has virtually ended. If it is desirable to produce gas from the cap in the early stages of oil production, this can be achieved by injecting nitrogen into the cap to replace the produced gas. Miscible displacement with nitrogen. Nitrogen can achieve miscibility when the pressure is sufficiently high (i.e. the reservoir is sufficiently deep). The oil must also have sufficiently high API gravity (45 or greater) to achieve first contact miscibility.

Nitrogen injection developments in Abu Dhabi


The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) have recently decided to construct two large scale Air Separation Units (ASUs) with a combined production capacity of 670,000 standard cubic metres per hour (scm/h) through their joint venture, Elixier. The nitrogen produced by these ASUs will be injected into Abu Dhabis onshore condensate fields at Habshan. Associated gas produced by these condensate fields is fed to Habshans gas processing facilities. These facilities consist of multiple plants operating in parallel. Each plant is designed to achieve either domestic sales gas or re-injection gas product specifications. Naturally after a short period the injected nitrogen will begin to appear in the associated gas, which over the course of time becomes increasingly dilute. Therefore, in order to maintain gas plant product specifications nitrogen has to be removed.

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Nitrogen Rejection Technology for Abu Dhabi

Conventional gas processing


Raw natural gas normally contains a range of contaminants that need to be removed to enable transportation and so that the gas can be eventually used as fuel. These components include water, as it can freeze; CO2 because it is inert (has no fuel value) and reacts with water to form corrosive carbonic acid; and sulphur components, which are both toxic and corrosive to many processes. Hydrocarbon dewpoint control and NGL extraction processing steps are also common in gas processing to achieve the product specification and recover valuable products. Nitrogen is also inert, and like CO2 has no fuel value. As its concentration increases it leads to the following issues: 1. Increased size and therefore cost of compression facilities, pipelines and processing plants; 2. Poor combustion at high concentrations. For these reasons concentration is typically limited to 4-5 mol% for commercial and domestic use, in line with Abu Dhabis domestic sales gas specification.

Nitrogen rejection technology


There are a range of potential process flowsheets for nitrogen removal from natural gas. The design of a nitrogen rejection plant must consider the most cost-effective overall facility including for feed compression, pre-treatment, nitrogen removal and product gas compression. The lowest cost nitrogen rejection plant does not necessarily lead to the most cost-effective overall facility when feed and product compression are taken into account. For the type of nitrogen injection project being undertaken in Abu Dhabi, Costain would expect the nitrogen content of displaced natural gas returning back to the gas processing facility to typically vary from less than 2 mol% at initial breakthrough up to 40 mol% or higher at the end of operation. Therefore, the nitrogen rejection plant must be designed with flexibility to operate across a range of feed gas nitrogen concentrations. Technology Selection For small gas flowrates, below 25 million standard cubic feet per day (MMSCFD), Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) and semi-permeable membranes may be considered. However, while both these technologies have advanced, neither can produce the high purity nitrogen waste stream, hence minimal hydrocarbon loss that is achievable using cryogenic processing. Only cryogenic processing meets Abu Dhabis requirements: Proven design for flowrates greater than 300 MMSFCD per train Very high hydrocarbon recovery (often as high as 99.9%) Minimal emissions of methane to atmosphere (less than 1 mol% in waste nitrogen) High thermodynamic efficiency, ensuring low power consumption Potential for integration with NGL extraction facilities Feed gas preconditioning for cryogenic nitrogen rejection The pre-treatment facilities required for nitrogen rejection plants are essentially similar to those discussed for conventional gas processing and include removal of CO2, sulphur components, water and heavy hydrocarbons. Deeper removal may be required to avoid freezing at the cryogenic temperatures in the Nitrogen Rejection Unit (NRU). Removal of heavy hydrocarbons such as aromatics, and benzene in particular, and mercury are conventional practice on low temperature gas plants. Process technology to remove these contaminants is simple, well proven and reliable. Page 3

Nitrogen Rejection Technology for Abu Dhabi

CO2and sulphur components The low operating temperatures required to process gas to produce a pure nitrogen vent stream, require removal of CO2 to low levels, typically less than 0.2 to 0.3 mol%, to avoid solidification, hence, lower than conventionally required for NGL extraction processes. Removal of carbon dioxide to the low levels possible using amine solvents gives further margin on solubility, minimising risk of solidification and simplifying operation. Where the feed gas CO2 concentration is relatively high, this may have very little impact on the size and cost of the acid gas removal system. Water Feed gas to the NRU is required to be dehydrated to a specification typically less than 0.1ppmv. This is to minimize icing of the plate-fin heat exchangers, which reduce heat transfer performance, ultimately requiring the NRU to be shutdown and thawed. Molecular sieve is the only suitable dehydration technology which can meet this specification. Heavy hydrocarbon Due to the low operating temperatures within the NRU, and potential for solidification of heavy hydrocarbons (aromatics in particular), removal is required. Upstream systems may be considered, using conventional absorption, adsorption or partial condensation processes. Alternatively the removal of heavy hydrocarbons or even high recovery of NGLs can be integrated into the NRU process. Mercury Feed gases can contain trace quantities of mercury. To protect the multistream aluminium plate-fin heat exchangers, used in the NRU, against any possibility of embrittlement, mercury is removed upstream. Technologies available for mercury removal include sulphur-impregnated carbon, sulphur-impregnated alumina, molecular sieve or metal oxides, with a typical product specification target level of less than 3 10ng/m . Considerations for Optimisation Process selection and optimisation for cryogenic nitrogen rejection is essentially a case of balancing the cryogenic process efficiency, flowsheet complexity and cost against the cost of compression. The machinery configuration needs to be carefully addressed to minimise power consumption. The key parameter in process cycle selection is feed gas nitrogen content and where this varies, the importance of this factor is critical. Feed pressure, flowrate and contaminant levels are also of importance but it is the nitrogen content, which essentially dictates the optimal cryogenic process. Because of the dominant impact of product compression on both capital and operating cost, the cryogenic process must be highly efficient. For nitrogen rejection units these issues are well understood, which usually makes the choice of process cycle relatively straightforward. The capital cost and power consumption of the nitrogen rejection process is influenced by the feed flowrate and feed gas nitrogen content and it is conventional to bypass a portion of feed gas around the cryogenic process to reduce cost. This means that the nitrogen level in the NRU product hydrocarbon stream must be reduced below the overall sales gas specification so that the blended export gas is on specification. The benefit of this approach is that the volume of gas being processed at the lowest temperatures is reduced, thus minimising the size of the cold boxes and compression system, and its operating cost. The rejected nitrogen stream usually contains a small quantity of hydrocarbon (predominantly methane). The hydrocarbon content of the nitrogen vent stream is dictated by environmental and economic criteria and is typically set at 0.5 -1 mol%. The economic optimum methane level in the vent stream is derived from a relatively straightforward evaluation of revenue loss against capital and operating costs. This stream will normally be vented, but, depending on local environmental issues, could be incinerated. A typical NRU schematic is shown in Figure 1. For feed gas nitrogen content of up to 30 mol% an upstream pre-separation column would be used to increase the nitrogen level to the downstream fractionation system. This might typically consist of an integrated double fractionation column process.

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Nitrogen Rejection Technology for Abu Dhabi

Costains experience in nitrogen rejection enables plant designs to be developed that select the best operable and maintainable design configuration for the application.

Figure 1 Pre-separation and Double Column Block Diagram (Low Nitrogen feed gas) Integration with NGL Extraction There is potential to combine NGL recovery and nitrogen rejection in a single integrated plant. Costain has patented technology for NGL recovery (for both high ethane recovery and high propane recovery) and for nitrogen rejection and has developed conceptual designs combining the two technologies. Consolidating heat exchange systems for NGL recovery and nitrogen rejection provides an opportunity for cost saving, but the main potential benefit is in reduced product gas compression requirements due to increased thermodynamic efficiency, particularly with overall optimisation of parameters in NGL recovery and nitrogen rejection sections.

Nitrogen Technology Advances


Costain continues to develop and improve its process technologies, adding to a portfolio of intellectual property in cryogenic gas processing, separation and liquefaction, which covers a range of process plant technologies for natural gas, hydrocarbon gas on refineries and petrochemical plants, synthesis gas, air and high carbon dioxide content gas. A patent has recently been granted to Costain for cryogenic nitrogen rejection from natural gas. The process technology is based on the well established integrated double distillation process, but can efficiently handle feed gas nitrogen content of less than 30 mol%, and provides an improvement over the conventional double distillation process with lower methane emissions giving increased revenue and an optimal environmental solution. This enhanced technology demonstrates both low power consumption and low capital cost whilst maintaining the high hydrocarbon recovery, simplicity, high reliability and ease of operation of double distillation processing. Costain also has a number of further patent applications pending, in one case offering an improvement to NRU pre-separation column system design and in another providing an efficient process for nitrogen rejection in natural gas liquefaction.

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Nitrogen Rejection Technology for Abu Dhabi

Cryogenic NRU Technology development and projects


First NRU in Poland In the 1970s, Petrocarbon Developments, the forerunner of Costain Energy & Process, had extensive experience in both cryogenic air separation and natural gas processing along with experience in plant design and supply to the Polish marketplace. This led to the companys first nitrogen removal project from front end design through to commissioning at Odolanow, Poland, which processed 250 MMSCFD of natural gas containing 45 mol% nitrogen in two trains. The double column process, derived from the separation of air, was selected as the scheme for removing nitrogen from methane due to its energy efficiency. Removal of nitrogen from methane can use the same flowsheet as air separation. A first distillation is performed at approximately 26bar to produce pure nitrogen and a methane-rich stream that is cooled and fed to a second distillation column, operating just above atmospheric. The condenser of the first column is integrated with the reboiler of the second column so that high pressure condensing nitrogen can boil methane in the base of the second column to provide stripping vapour. Low temperature differential in the heat exchangers and the double distillation leads to a low energy plant design that requires no refrigeration and is flexible and robust to feed gas flow and composition changes. In cryogenic processing, energy efficiency and process integration are very important in order to reduce power consumption, which is expensive in both capital and operating charges. In nitrogen rejection plants, reduction in feed gas pressure and the consequent Joule-Thomson effect produce refrigeration so the plant can be autothermal, with no refrigeration being required other than that generated by the process itself. Power is required for compression of the methane rich product stream(s) to sales gas pressure via a sales gas compressor. Joule-Thomson expansion is a very effective way of providing refrigeration as the Joule-Thomson valves letdown liquid (not gas) and the evaporation of all product streams to gas leads to excellent recovery of their refrigeration content. The Odolanow plant (figure 2) included removal of carbon dioxide upstream of the NRU and also produced 0.45 MMSCFD of crude Helium.

Figure 2 - Krio Odolanow gas processing plant, Poland Page 6

Nitrogen Rejection Technology for Abu Dhabi

Preseparation column innovation Costain applied its experience and knowledge of cryogenic gas processing principles when studying processing options for the nitrogen containing Morecambe Bay gas, in the UKs Irish Sea. Nitrogen content was approximately 8 mol%. By the late 1980s, it was becoming difficult to blend gas from new fields into the existing pipeline system whilst maintaining the pipeline gas quality and heating value. British Gas commissioned Costain to undertake a comprehensive study to identify the optimal process for nitrogen removal from this feed gas. Costain identified an important concept for low nitrogen containing gas: that of using a pre-separation column before the main distillation. Separation by distillation to obtain pure products consumes a lot of energy, especially where the feed is relatively dilute in one desired product (as with the relatively low nitrogen content of Morecambe Bay gas). A crude initial separation reduces energy use. A process flowsheet using pre-separation and an energy-integrated downstream flowscheme was patented and has since been successfully implemented by Costain in a number of major 4 nitrogen rejection facilities . The nitrogen rejection facility at the North Morecambe Terminal, Barrow-in-Furness, is essentially built to this Costain process design. It offered both lower capital and operating costs than alternative process 5 flowsheets . Approximately half of the methane in the feed gas is removed at elevated pressure, thus reducing gas compression. In addition, the feed for the downstream distillation is nitrogen-enriched, giving more efficient distillation, improved energy integration and the opportunity to increase the pressure of lower pressure methane-rich streams, so reducing product gas compression power further. Because the pre-separation column operates at relatively warm temperatures and removes all the carbon dioxide in the feed gas, the pre-separation design is relatively tolerant to carbon dioxide, which can be important if the upstream acid gas removal plant is upset and allows carbon dioxide into the NRU. Further development and projects In 1993, Costain designed and supplied another nitrogen rejection plant, with a capacity of 70 MMSCFD, to the British Gas Tunisia Hannibal Gas Plant, Sfax (Figure 3). This plant used the double column process flowsheet, as at Odolanow, to process feed gas from a pre-separation column with a nitrogen content a little over 50 mol%. As part of an overall upgrade of the Hannibal Gas Plant, Costain completed debottlenecking modifications to the overall NRU in 2008.

Figure 3 Hannibal gas plant, Sfax, Tunisia with nitrogen removal cold box on the right In 1995, Costain executed an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) project for PowerGen (now E.On) at Connahs Quay, North Wales. This nitrogen rejection plant processes Irish Sea gas from Liverpool Bay with approximately 10 mol% nitrogen content, similar to the North Morecambe facility. The process flowsheet was developed around the use of pre-separation to permit a simple, low-cost and efficient sales gas compression system - the key to Costains success in securing the project order. Rather than having separate sales gas compression and process refrigeration compressors, the E.On plant is energy-integrated so that product methane is evaporated to produce refrigeration. The pressures of the methane streams are optimised to be low enough to provide sufficient cooling whilst high enough to minimise compression. This approach leads to a simple compressor configuration that can use 6 conventional centrifugal machines to give high overall plant reliability .

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Nitrogen Rejection Technology for Abu Dhabi

The E.On plant illustrated Costains ability to provide first class NRU technology as part of a complete turnkey capability (Figure 4). It has operated with great success over a range of nitrogen contents and 7 can be quickly ramped up or down to meet fluctuating feed gas rates .

Figure 4 E.On gas treatment plant. Pre-separation column is in front of the two cold boxes with molecular sieve dehydration in the fore-ground and sales gas compression on the left. Costains next project was initiated as a process study that proceeded through front end engineering design (FEED), design and procurement. The initial study was for a UK independent Lasmo (subsequently Eni), for its gas concession in the Bhit Mountains, Pakistan. Feed gas nitrogen content of 18 mol% meant the plant design could be similar to that utilised at Connahs Quay with pre-separation again being a key feature to simplify sales gas compression and minimise power consumption. The eventual process design gave an optimal balance of performance, efficiency and operability at low capital cost, whilst also resulting in smaller cold boxes to facilitate transport to the remote plant site (Figure 5).

Figure 5 Overall view of the Eni Pakistan Bhit gas processing plant with the two white cold box trains to the left and right. As will be noted from the earlier projects, the design of the cryogenic process system must be optimised in parallel with the design of the sales gas compression system in order to arrive at the most costeffective, easily operable and best performing process. The plant capacity was increased to process 270 8, 9 MMSCFD of gas in two 50% trains. These were successfully commissioned in mid 2003 .

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Nitrogen Rejection Technology for Abu Dhabi

Costain has recently completed the design and supply and handed over successfully, two trains of 300 MMSFCD each to Pemex (Figure 6). This facility, the worlds largest NRU facility, processes increasing nitrogen in associated gas from the Cantarell oil field which is under nitrogen injection for gas cap pressure maintenance to improve oil recovery.

Figure 6 Pemexs Cuidad Pemex Gas Plant, Tabasco, Mexico.

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Nitrogen Rejection Technology for Abu Dhabi

Conclusion
Abu Dhabis increasing domestic gas demand, combined with the need to maintain condensate and crude oil production, has initiated projects to inject nitrogen to displace natural gas used for pressure maintenance. The need for nitrogen removal from the associated gas produced has already been identified. For large scale removal of nitrogen from natural and associated gases, cryogenic processing is the only economic solution. Costains development of NRU designs over a number of projects has led to relatively simple yet highly efficient plant designs, suitable for a wide range of feed gas nitrogen concentrations.

Acknowledgements
The support provided by both the Front End Solutions Group at Costains UK based Energy & Process Division in producing this technical paper and the GPA GCC chapter providing the opportunity to present it is very much appreciated.

References
1. Elixier nitrogen project details sourced from ADNOC and Linde websites. 2. Fletcher, S., FACTS: Abu Dhabi needs gas for domestic market, Oil & Gas Journal, Nov. 16, 2009. 3. Duckett, M., Banks, R., Limb, D., Using nitrogen to enhance oil and gas recovery, WORLD OIL, July 1983. 4. Finn, A.J. & Kennett, A.J., 'Separation of nitrogen from methane-containing gas streams', U.K. Patent No.2208699. 5. Finn, A.J., Rejection strategies, Hydrocarbon Engineering, Oct. 2007, p.49. 6. Dunlop, A.J., Optimal Utilisation of Nitrogen-rich Natural Gas', Gas Processors Association Europe Meeting 'Coping with Low Prices', London, 16th February 2000. 7. Healy, M.J., Finn, A.J. & Halford, L., 'U.K. nitrogen-removal plant starts up', Oil & Gas Journal, 1st February 1999, p.36. 8. Millward, R.J. & Dreaves, B.R., 'A boost from N2 rejection', Hydrocarbon Engineering, July 2004, p.60. 9. Millward, R.J., Finn, A.J. & Kennett, A.J., 'Pakistan Nitrogen Removal Plant Increases Gas Quality', Gas Processors Association Europe Annual Conference, Warsaw, 21st - 23rd September 2005. 10. Jackson, S.R., Finn, A.J. & Tomlinson, T.R., New Challenges for UK natural Gas

Costain have compiled this website to provide further information on Nitrogen rejection technology http://www.nitrogen-rejection.com/

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