Energy Production - One Hot Topic

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Burner management technology provides new efficiencies and critical safety for the energy sector.

May 18, 2012
Wally Harkness

Earlier this year, the President of the United States talked about the importance of the energy sector during his State of the Union address. It appears to be a hot topic for all voters across America this coming fall. However, it is the field technicians or pumpers in the oil and gas patch who can tell you lighting a burner can be very hot, literally, if not frightening. In fact, after reviewing the standard procedures and outdated technology of most companies, it becomes evident that production processes require updating per regulatory guidelines and current code with the technology provided by a burner management system (BMS). A BMS manufactured by Profire Energy provides auto-ignition (making it safer for the field operators) which is better for the environment while improving efficiencies of operation; thus reducing costs and improving company profits while hopefully keeping energy costs lower for consumers.

Burner management technology is a concept whose time has truly arrived. According to industry data, there were more than 530,369 oil wells in the United States at the conclusion of 2010; moreover, with the estimated number of gas wells, the total number of wells exceeds one million. Today, there are some 5,000 oil and gas companies (public and private) drilling in the United States (Source: Each well requires at least one burner to heat the vessel. The burners, as production experts know, play a vital role in heating the liquid or gas as it flows through the pipeline at the end of the upstream process. However, what happens when any of these thousands of burners blowout or fail to heat? Burner failure occurs frequently owing to wind alone (as easily as losing the pilot light on a furnace or stove), but the results are far more extreme. Potentially dangerous fuels can escape to the surrounding environment, polluting the atmosphere. Efficiency of the pipeline slows to a halt, or in some cases, there could be a disastrous spill. Technicians come out to correct the matter after discovery. Worst of all, the individual responsible for re-lighting the burners, with a fire stick and rag, is walking into a considerably dangerous situation. Most operators will tell you they are frightened to re-light the burner. The fire-stick method of burner management is still predominant throughout the United States, causing injuries and even occasional fatalities.

However, burner management technology, as provided by Profire Energy, Lindon, UT, team members grew tired of using that fire stick and rag method to light these vessels, but there were no reliable methods available.

In Northern Canada, temperatures may drop to -30°C.

Burners play a vital role in heating the liquid or gas as it flows through the pipeline at the end of the upstream process.

“One has no idea how cold and uncomfortable the experience can be of working on a vessel operating under these conditions,” states Brad Kent, a technician for Profire in Canada.

Nevertheless, this prompted Profire’s team to design a controller that would auto-ignite a burner and make certain there was a flame; if not, it would light the burner again. If that failed, the controller display would communicate a flame failure on the liquid crystal display (LCD) after shutting-off the fuel source so no gas would escape into the environment.

The first models were designed and tested in various parts of Canada, leading to the creation of the PF1100, which eventually developing various models for different applications. Canadian regulations call for the use of burner management systems on most vessels with safety valves on fuel trains and various inspection sign-off before units receive commission. It would come as no surprise in the coming years if the United States were to follow suit.

Experience, customer feedback, and demands led to the creation of a controller (part of the BMS) that now does more. Some of their requests included:

1. Control the process temperature in the bath of the vessel or somewhere further downstream of the vessel, the separator for example.

2. Shut-off the fuel if the temperature becomes higher than needed, in turn preserving fuel (reducing operating costs) but turn on again if the temperature drops below the requested level.

3. Have an Emergency Shut-Down (ESD) in the event of an accident or sudden rise in temperature.

4. Interface with the control center via SCADA, so an operator goes to the location only when needed.

The PF2100, introduced in 2010, does all this and more. Controllers coupled with secondary fire gates and the electric valve train accentuates dramatic improvements to the combustion process of these vessels. For example, Chevron had a separator just outside of Evanston, WY, that took 2½ hours to reach the desired process temperature once lighting the burner. Before installing the PF2100, analysis of the unit was to determine its efficiencies. It was only 39% efficient with more than 100% excess air passing through the fire tube. The fuel was at approximately 20psi and there was more than 15% oxygen coming-out the exhaust stack; ideally, this should be somewhere between 3% to 6%. First, there was installation of the controller, the fuel train modified, the secondary fire gate placed, and the vessel retested. Therefore, the unit was now operating at 79% efficiency, a 50% increase.

The unit only takes 20 minutes to reach operating temperature, only operating on extremely hot days when necessary. The excess air passing through the fire tube reduced to appropriate levels thanks to the secondary fire gate.

Finally, someone does not have to be frightened to light the burner.

The Chevron field operator Simpson comments, “The simplification to this process is wonderful and we are saving money. The PF2100 controller has also diminished big safety concerns.” Simpson indicates they would be installing more units this year.

BMS’ auto-ignition is better for the environment while improving efficiencies.

The reliability provided by the BMS also means the reduction of call-outs to vessels, eliminating other potential operating costs. A major benefit includes a safer environment, while the consumer benefits from many vantage points.

Lack of overall awareness is still a barrier to widespread BMS use for companies in the U.S. Companies that know the benefits of burner management are generally eager to use the technology – the cost of implementation is relatively low and the immediate savings and increase in productivity makes the use of a BMS an obvious choice. The simple act of employing BMS technology can make a profound difference in the productivity and profitability of any organization using or depending on oil and gas. It adds margin to a company’s bottom-line. It is safer for the operators in the patch and keeps the environment green.

“I look forward to the day I do not hear stories of fret and concern when conducting a demonstration for field operators,” remarks Wally Harkness, overseeing sales in the United States. “I have heard many times…lighting those burners can be frightening and hot.”


Profire Energy
Lindon, UT