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Compressors are heart of natural gas

production
By Norm Shade Published: August 6, 2014 2:30PM
With the development of the Utica Shale, more and more natural gas compressors are appearing
on the Eastern Ohio landscape. Gas compressors have always been part of Ohios oil and gas
production, however, the size of the Utica play requires more and larger compressors than ever
before.
Raw natural gas is commonly collected from a group of adjacent wells and, after processing at
the collection point to remove water and natural gas condensate, it is pipelined to a gas
processing plant. After further processing to remove salable liquid hydrocarbons (ethane,
propane, butane, etc.), the natural gas is then delivered into the interstate pipeline grid, which
takes it to commercial, industrial and residential customers.
Natural gas compressors are literally the heart of natural gas production. Shale gas wells tend to
produce at very high pressures and flow rates initially, but they decline rapidly to a lower level
that is sustained for many years. As the pressure declines, gas compressors must be deployed to
boost the gas pressure high enough to push it through pipelines to market. Just as the heart is
vital to collecting and pumping blood throughout the body, a gas compressor collects natural gas
from underground wells and pumps it to market.
Gas compressors are prevalent throughout the interstate pipeline grid and in gas processing
plants, strategically located in a limited number of centralized plants. But upstream of those
plants are many more gathering compressors, located at or near the actual wells that produce
gas from deep underground. Gathering compressors typically sit out in the open, not housed in
buildings. They pull gas from individual or a group of wells and boost the pressure to push it into
a gathering pipeline that leads to various types of processing facilities.
Most natural gas compressors are reciprocating (i.e., piston-type) compressors, driven by
reciprocating engines that use natural gas fuel. Much larger than the average 110 to 150
horsepower automobile engine or even a 450 horsepower semi-truck engine, turbocharged
compressor engines are typically more than 1000 to as high as 4500 horsepower or even larger.
Engine exhaust is quieted by a large industrial muffler, and to meet environmental regulatory
requirements, exhaust is treated with a catalytic convertor, just as automotive engines are.
Large industrial gas compressors have two to six cylinders with internal pistons and check
valves. Connected into a pipeline, a compressor draws gas in at a low pressure and delivers it out
again at a higher pressure to move it through the pipeline system. Depending on the needs of the
particular gathering system, the cylinders on a compressor may be configured to operate in
parallel or in series (called staging). Most gas gathering compressors are configured in two- or
three-stages.
The compression process naturally causes the gas to heat up, so cooling is required before it
enters the next stage for further compression or before continuing on into the pipeline. This is
accomplished with large air cooled heat exchangers. Similar in principal to the radiators in cars
and trucks, the heat exchangers also cool the engine and compressor.
The engine, compressor and heat exchanger are mounted on one or more welded I-beam skids
that allow the packaged compressor syst
The compression process naturally causes the gas to heat up, so cooling is required before it
enters the next stage for further compression or before continuing on into the pipeline. This is
accomplished with large air cooled heat exchangers. Similar in principal to the radiators in cars
and trucks, the heat exchangers also cool the engine and compressor.
The engine, compressor and heat exchanger are mounted on one or more welded I-beam skids
that allow the packaged compressor system to be built in a factory and transported to a field site
on one or more large trucks. The skid also provides a platform for mounting accessory items
such as gas separators that remove small amounts of liquid from the gas, pulsation bottles that
smooth out the pressure waves from the compressor, controls, and other equipment.
Most compressor packages are built in the Southwestern states, however, Youngstown, Ohio
packager, Dearing Compressor & Pump Co., has enjoyed major growth with the development of
the Marcellus and now the Utica Shale. Another Ohio company, Ariel Corporation in Mount
Vernon, manufactures the majority of the large reciprocating gas compressors used throughout
the world.
Most large compressor packages are mounted on concrete slabs. Some are housed inside
buildings, but most gathering compressors operate out in the open. Gas gathering compressors
operate around the clock, often running more than 8400 hours a year. To put that figure in
perspective, driving an automobile 15,000 miles a year at an average speed of 50 mph takes only
300 hours.
A typical new Utica Shale gathering compressor has the capacity to deliver as much as $50,000
of natural gas each day, make high reliability extremely important. Computerized controls
operate and monitor the engine and compressor, keeping the system operating reliably or
automatically shutting it off if maintenance is required or a problem occurs. Satellite or cellular
links allow operators to remotely monitor the compressors, and mechanics are automatically
called out when unscheduled maintenance is needed. With annual maintenance and major
overhauls every 4 or 6 years, these large compressor packages typically last for more than 20
years.
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