ExxonMobil unveils first Nitrogen Recovery Unit in Texas at Hawkins facility [Tyler Morning Telegraph, Texas]By Casey Murphy, Tyler Morning Telegraph, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Sept. 13--HAWKINS -- ExxonMobil Production Co. unveiled Wednesday its new Nitrogen Recovery Unit at its Hawkins Gas Plant -- the first of its kind in Texas and one of only a few in the country.
"We're very proud of this plant," said Drew Bishop, operations superintendent for the U.S. Central Region for ExxonMobil Corp.
Bishop, of Houston, said the work done over the last two years will extend the Hawkins Field's life by about 25 years. It also upgraded the plant, making it more modern and reliable, and reduced its carbon footprint.
He said new technology was used to convert something of little value into something that will benefit Texas.
The new facilities will recover an additional 40 million barrels of oil equivalent, an amount equal to the energy needs of more than 1 million Texas households for a year, officials reported.
Randy Morrison, senior field superintendent for the East Texas Oil Region for ExxonMobil, is based in Tyler and has been working for the company for 39 years.
"We're very proud to be hosting the inauguration of the plant," he said.
The Nitrogen Recovery Unit at the Hawkins Gas Plant is the first of its kind in Texas, he said, adding that there are only a few nationwide.
Plant construction took more than 2.6 million work hours by about 900 people and moving more than 135,000 cubic yards of dirt and 150,000 linear feet of pipe.
The Hawkins Field was discovered in 1940 and was one Texas' largest, Morrison said. The plant was built in 1949 and bought in the 1960s by Humble Oil and Refining Co., which later became ExxonMobil. The company operates the Hawkins Field on behalf of more than 300 working interest owners.
Over the past 70 years, the Hawkins Field has produced more than 800 million barrels of oil, with production peaking in 1975, officials said.
Only remnants remain of the original plant, but there are still operating facilities left from the 1970s and 1990s, along with the new plant, which went online in May.
"It's amazing how far back the history goes," David Eglinton, ExxonMobil spokesman, said. "And look at it today, totally different and producing the same reservoir."
Eglinton, based in Houston, said the United States is much different from his native London, because oil is part of the fabric of society here, while in the United Kingdom, it is produced in the middle of the sea and never seen.
Morrison said the Hawkins Gas Plant, which sits on about 15 acres, has brought in revenue and jobs to the community. ExxonMobil paid about $11.5 million in property and service taxes last year for the plant. There are 65 ExxonMobil employees operating the field and plant, with about 65 additional contractors normally working there as well, he said.
Morrison said the new technology for the plant started about 2005, with early studies done around 2007. They started working on the new Hawkins Gas Plant in 2008. "It takes a while to get this off the ground," Morrison said.
Wearing impact-resistant gloves, flame-retardant overalls, safety goggles and hard hats, the ExxonMobil employees took media members on a plant tour Wednesday. An inauguration luncheon and tour for local public officials and working interest owners was scheduled for later in the day.
"There's really a lot more sophistication than you see," Morrison said.
One mile below the ground is the Hawkins reservoir, made up of oil, gas and water inside rock. He said there are about 350 wells actively producing oil, gas and water, and they separate those products at the surface. The natural gas goes to the plant to be processed and separated into methane, natural gas liquids and nitrogen.
Morrison said what makes the plant the first of its kind in the state is that the nitrogen is separated from the methane to make the methane marketable, and the nitrogen is recompressed and re-injected back into the reservoir to control pressure.
The plant also has an Air Separation Unit, which produces nitrogen out of the air to be injected into the reservoir.
"Everything we take out, we're putting back in in nitrogen," Morrison said.
He said they take out about 30 million cubic feet of natural gas per day and put back about that amount of nitrogen each day.
"We provide the fuel and the power to run the plant," he said.
The old plant had natural gas-driven compressors, and the new plant has all electric driven, reducing its carbon footprint.
There are four main electric-driven compressors that range from 7,500 to 16,000 horsepower and run on 12,470 volts. In comparison, a typical home air conditioning unit runs on 220 volts and four to five horsepower, Morrison said.
There are four steps to process gas, Morrison said. The gas is pressurized through compression, impurities are cleaned out to "sweeten" the gas, the gases are separated and they sell or use each product.
Impurities removed from the gas include carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfite and water. The gas is chilled in towers that are "like big refrigerators" to minus-100 degrees to minus-260 degrees to separate the methane from the nitrogen.
The largest tower, referred to as a "cold box," is 117 feet tall (about 11 stories), weighs more than 100 tons and was the largest load ever permitted in Texas when it was shipped from Arizona, Morrison said.
One barrel of oil contains 42 gallons, consisting of about 20 gallons of gas, 10 gallons used for jet fuel and 12 gallons used for chemical feed stock materials derived from propane and ethane and used to make plastic products.
Natural gas liquids include ethane, propane, butane and natural gas, with each sold to chemical companies, usually for plastics, he said.
Some items made out of petrochemical products include ink used on newspapers, shoes, perfumes and medicines.
"There is a huge list of things that are a part of our lifestyle that we really don't think about that are petroleum-based products," Morrison said.
Separated methane is sent through pipelines to power plants to generate power for homes and businesses.
He said safety is one of ExxonMobil's core values.
From the control room, workers can see everything and control most everything happening in the plant, he said. With one button, any operator can shut the entire plant, or a section of it, down in case of an emergency, he said.
(c)2012 Tyler Morning Telegraph (Tyler, Texas)
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