Natural gas processing separating methane from natural gas liquids

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Natural gas has become a vital source of energy in recent years, serving as a bridge between highly polluting fuels and renewable energy. It is an efficient and relatively clean-burning fuel that has gained popularity due to its lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to other non-renewable fuels. However, natural gas as it is extracted from the ground is not immediately usable in its raw form. It undergoes a crucial process called natural gas processing, which separates impurities and extracts valuable components such as natural gas liquids (NGLs). This article will explore the significance of natural gas processing, the various steps involved, and the technologies used.

Understanding Natural Gas Processing

Natural gas is primarily composed of methane, but it also contains other hydrocarbons, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, water vapor, and trace amounts of other compounds. The composition of natural gas can vary depending on the source. It is extracted from underground reservoirs through oil wells, gas wells, or condensate wells. The natural gas obtained directly from these wells is known as raw natural gas and requires processing before it can be used effectively.

The processing of natural gas is essential to produce what is known as “pipeline quality” dry natural gas. This involves separating impurities and other hydrocarbons from the raw natural gas to meet the specifications required for transportation through major pipelines. The impurities that need to be removed include water vapor, sulfur compounds (such as hydrogen sulfide), carbon dioxide, and other contaminants. Additionally, the processing aims to extract valuable natural gas liquids (NGLs), which have various industrial applications. (shameless plug:  Rogue Edge tracks NGL processing economics PLUS you will have access to a unique processing calculator giving YOU Netbacks for future months)

The Natural Gas Processing Journey

The journey of natural gas processing begins at the wellhead, where the raw natural gas is extracted. From there, it is transported through a network of gathering pipelines to a processing plant. The processing plant is usually located in a natural gas-producing region and is responsible for the complete processing of the natural gas.

The processing plant consists of various units and equipment that perform specific functions in the natural gas processing journey. These units include dehydrators, cryogenic plants, gas processing units (GPUs), and gas sweetening plants. Each unit plays a crucial role in removing specific impurities and separating valuable components from the raw natural gas.

Dehydrators: Removing Water and Water Vapor

One of the primary steps in natural gas processing is the removal of water and water vapor from the raw natural gas. Dehydrators are used for this purpose. The most common type of dehydrator is the glycol dehydrator, which uses a chemical called glycol to absorb water from the gas stream. The glycol absorbs the water, separating it from the gas. However, glycol dehydrators release methane, volatile organic compounds, and hazardous air pollutants, which can have adverse effects on the climate and public health. To mitigate these impacts, alternative methods such as solid-desiccant dehydration using silica gel are recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Cryogenic Plants: Separating Natural Gas Liquids

Cryogenic plants play a vital role in natural gas processing by separating natural gas liquids (NGLs) from the raw natural gas. NGLs include ethane, butane, propane, and pentane, which have significant commercial value. Cryogenic plants utilize refrigerants and a system of tanks and pipes to cool the gas to very low temperatures. This process causes the heavier NGLs to condense and separate from the gas. The separated NGLs can then be further processed and used as feedstock in industries such as petrochemicals and plastics. (shameless plug:  Rogue Edge not only provides processing economic returns but also economics for Ethane Rejection for future months which gives an Edge for economic returns with Producers and Processors.  Book a meeting if you’d like to learn more)

Gas Processing Units (GPUs): Removing Condensate

Gas Processing Units (GPUs) are responsible for removing condensate from the raw natural gas. Condensate, also known as “drip gas” or “natural gasoline,” is a valuable hydrocarbon that can be used as a light crude oil or as a diluent for heavier crude oils. GPUs use a heating and absorption process to separate the condensate from the gas. It is important to note that condensate is considered a hazardous substance and highly volatile, posing risks during transportation. As condensate production has increased in recent years, proper handling and safety measures are crucial.

Gas Sweetening Plants: Removing Hydrogen Sulfide

Gas sweetening plants are designed to remove hydrogen sulfide (H2S) from sour gas streams. H2S is a highly toxic and corrosive gas that needs to be removed for safety and environmental reasons. Gas sweetening plants use ammonia-based products (amines) and a system of tanks and cooling units to absorb and remove H2S from the gas. The removed H2S can be further processed to produce sulfuric acid, which has various industrial applications.

Tanks: Storage and Handling

Tanks play a crucial role in the natural gas processing journey by providing storage for water, condensate, and NGLs after separation. These tanks ensure that the processed natural gas and its by-products are stored safely before further transportation or distribution. However, it is important to prevent leaks from tanks, as they can release methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other pollutants, contributing to environmental and climate concerns. (shameless plug:  Rogue Edge gives insight to weekly inventory levels for propane and multiple refined products)

Conclusion: The Value of Natural Gas Processing

Natural gas processing is a vital step in making natural gas suitable for transportation and utilization. It involves the removal of impurities and the separation of valuable components, such as natural gas liquids (NGLs). Through the use of various technologies and equipment, raw natural gas is transformed into pipeline quality dry natural gas that meets the required specifications. The processed natural gas can then be safely transported through pipelines to end-users, while the extracted NGLs find applications in industries such as petrochemicals and plastics.  (shameless plug:  if you want to learn more about Natural Gas Processing – email us or book a meeting – links at the end of the article)

As the demand for natural gas continues to grow, efficient and environmentally responsible processing methods are of utmost importance. By adhering to best practices and utilizing advanced technologies, the natural gas industry can ensure the production and delivery of clean and valuable energy resources to meet the world’s energy needs.

Additional Information: The natural gas industry is constantly evolving, and advancements in processing technologies are being made to improve efficiency and reduce environmental impacts. It is essential for industry players to stay informed about the latest developments and regulations in natural gas processing to ensure compliance and sustainable operations.

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial or investment advice.

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