Stepping on the gas

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Removing the restrictor from a shower head is one way to increase the flow rate of the water. A similar principle is under investigation at Pluto – only it involves easing the electronic restrictions on the speed of gas flowing through pipelines, not water through a shower head. 

“Removing some of the restrictions – incrementally and in a controlled manner – could allow gas to be safely ramped up,” says senior process engineer Phil West. Phil has been in charge of a “warm high rate” trial to increase flow rates at Pluto LNG plant over four days in April to determine whether an increased flow rate could be done safely during warm weather temperatures.

“We wanted to see how the equipment would perform under hot weather conditions,” explains Pluto operations manager Mike Knuckey. The trial included the inspection of spreadsheets of data plus the visual inspection of pipes by an accelerometer to determine how much the pipes vibrate. Phil describes the trial as an “outstanding success”, adding: “It was completed with minimal flaring, within the minimum planned three days and with zero health, safety and environment and process safety incidents.” 

Steve Banks says congratulations are due to all those involved in Operations, Development, Projects and Engineering for both the execution of the trial and its preparation. “It is an excellent example of collaboration between the teams. They did a great job in a very tight time-frame because the job had to be arranged quickly before the ambient air temperature fell too much,” Steve says. “The warm high-rate trial proved up one of the options we currently have under examination for Pluto expansion.” 

As development manager Pluto expansion, Steve is interested in the range of possible low-cost extensions or expansion options at the LNG plant. It’s all part of Woodside’s goal of adding value to existing operations – and in particular, to get more value out of Pluto. Woodside is aiming to generate new value from low-cost extensions or expansions of existing project development. 

To use Pluto’s unused capacity, Woodside might accelerate development of some of the gas reserves it holds, such as Pluto, Xena and the Pyxis field next to Pluto. Or Woodside might process the resources of other operators in the region – or do both. A range of options is being considered. At the lower end of the scale is capacity enhancement which would increase production by around 0.7 million tonnes per annum (MTPA). “The warm high-rate trial we’ve just completed was to prove up the pre-treatment capacity that’s available and build a new liquefaction unit next to it,” says Steve. 

More costly, but chasing greater value, would be a mid-sized “stand-alone” LNG train which would boost capacity by up to 1.5 MTPA. Steve says the trial results were very satisfactory, but cautions: “More work is required to confirm whether these rates can be sustained safely and continuously in the future.” 



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Trunkline Q2 2017​​​​