As it reached 75 years of operation, a Latin American oil company grew to become the world’s fifth-largest oil producer and the region’s second-largest enterprise by annual revenue, behind only the Brazilian national oil company, Petrobas.

Though the oil company’s rate of daily production has been declining steadily over the past decade, from an all-time high of 3.48 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2004 to 2.52 million b/d in 2013, that rate of production still equates to nearly 920 million barrels per year of oil production, which is still a lot of product that needs to be moved to various end points, including refineries, storage terminals and retail sites. To facilitate this crude oil transport and transfer, this Latin American oil company operates a network of pipelines that covers nearly 8,000 miles.

Setting off a chain reaction

A pipeline system this vast and complex needs to be kept operational at all costs since less downtime adversely affects the company’s ability to meet production and delivery schedules. A common reason for pipeline breakdowns and malfunctions is corrosion that can be caused by the oil being transported or environmental factors. To combat these situations, corrosion inhibitors are periodically injected into the pipeline to protect it from corrosive elements.

“We had the opportunity to work with the people who were working on the design of the injection of chemicals in the pipeline system for the company,” said Oscar Ruiz, a longtime consultant in the Latin American oil and gas industry. “The company was looking for pumps that could satisfy its needs for reliable injection rates, while possessing the capability to be operated remotely in harsh weather conditions.”

Ruiz turned to his network of contacts in the process setting off a nearly two-year chain reaction that would eventually result in one of the most significant pump orders in the history of the chosen pump company.

The hydraulic diaphragm metering pump model used in the case study application.

The hydraulic diaphragm metering pump
model used in the case study application.

Ruiz’s first call, in early 2012, was to his friend Jim Janes, for whom he works as a consultant. Janes is the president of Janes Industrial Products LLC in Scott, Louisiana, a manufacturer and supplier of specialty cleaning compounds for the industrial, aviation and remediation industries.

“I’ve known Jim since 1995 and in 2005 he developed a solvent for this type of application,” said Ruiz. “We have also worked together in the past selling chemicals to one of the water treatment plants in Mexico. It makes it far better that we trust each other.”

Once the chemical source was identified, Ruiz needed to find the right chemical injection pump for the application. Working off Janes’ recommendation, he contacted a sales representative firm in Louisiana.

“Oscar contacted our office and asked us to look at some injection systems for the oil company,” explained Ernie Spreen III, a former outside salesperson for FLIP Inc. “The company was looking to replace the pneumatic pumps it was using because with the heat and how they configured them, they weren’t lasting long at all. There was not enough air available to use the pneumatic diaphragm pumps, it was too dirty to mess with and they needed someone to make sure the filters were clean. At first, they were looking for little solenoid pumps with fiberglass backing with no storage tanks, then [they] started looking at pump skids, but eventually realized they would need something that could stand up to the harsh climate where the equipment would be located.”

The right pump for the process

That eventually led to the decision to use strictly stainless steel equipment in the field. Spreen recommended a specific hydraulic diaphragm metering pump with stainless steel components, electronic stroke control, explosion-proof operation and installation on 316SS skids. In all, the oil company would require 43 complete skid systems and 86 pumps.

Highly repeatable and reliable, hydraulic diaphragm metering pumps can handle high pressures. Spreen said more than half the oil company’s applications would be 1,000 psi, so the systems could be configured identically so they could go anywhere in the country and function in any condition. “No pump would really work in this application except for what we were offering,” Spreen said.

Ruiz, who had experience with the pump manufacturer on pump projects in injection systems and water treatment plants, was quick to second the recommendation.

The pump company fabricated 43 complete corrosion-inhibitor injection systems for the oil company, which consist of a pair of diaphragm metering pumps and a stainless steel 250-gallon tank in which the corrosion inhibitor is stored. All can operate remotely.

After receiving approval of the pumps from the engineering firm that partnered with the oil company on the project, and with all the other pieces in place, the next step was to get the pumps on-site and operating. Each of the 43 pump locations would be set up the same. The pump manufacturer also supplied a 250-gallon, stainless steel chemical storage tank for each site, with the pumps and accessories installed within a locked enclosure to prevent damage or theft.

The pumps, which can be controlled remotely, can inject pipeline corrosion inhibitor at a rate of 12 to 20 gallons per day with the relief valves set for a high pressure of 1,300 psi, though the maximum operating pressure will be closer to 1,180 psi. Once a week, a technician will come out and refill the storage tank and inspect the pump, with an oil change required every three to six months.

“It’s really a simple system,” said Spreen. “You’ve got a stainless steel drip pan underneath, a locking mechanism for the covers to keep down shrinkage, and rain shields to keep rain out of the vents and fill ports. It’s set up so that the oil company can padlock everything down so intruders can’t get into it, tamper with the lines or steal chemicals, because they do have an issue with that.

“They also have extreme heat conditions for nine months out of the year, along with storm conditions, so one of the design features we added was to install the pump itself and the motor under the storage tank to give them protection from the elements. The stroke control is also sealed and all of the pumps are explosion-proof and NEMA 7-rated. The tank is all 316 stainless steel – even the legs. There is nothing on that system that should have any corrosiveness to it.”

Another major benefit of the pumps is their ability to be controlled remotely, meaning the dosing levels – whether 0.5 or 5.5 gallons per hour – can be set off-site based on the readings supplied by the pipeline.

“They have satellite control of the liquid levels, equipment and probes that are placed within the pipeline and note how much inhibitor needs to be used,” said Spreen. “It is a completely unmanned installation.”

In late December 2013 the first pump skid was installed by the Latin American oil company, a moment that was the culmination of two years of cooperation between a number of entities, all of whom based their recommendations on the trust and reputations that have been built over many decades of reliable service.

Tom O’Donnell is director of business development with Neptune and PSG. He may be reached at Tom.ODonnell@psgdover.com or 215-699-8700. Based in North Wales, Pennsylvania, Neptune Chemical Pump Co. is a manufacturer of chemical metering and peristaltic (hose) pumps, chemical feed systems, chemical injection accessories, make-down systems and portable mixers. Neptune is an operating company within PSG, based in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois, a Dover company. You can find more information on Neptune at neptune1.com and PSG at psgdover.com.