Are your fired heaters future-ready?
The Mongstad refinery is the largest in Norway, with a production capacity of around 8 million tons of crude oil per year.
Located one hour north of Bergen, the refinery is operated by Equinor and plays a key role in the treatment of oil and gas from the Norwegian Continental Shelf. It produces enough petrol to cover four times Norway’s annual consumption, with around 80% of total production exported for essential fuel for transport, heating and electricity generation as well as industrial feedstock across Europe and parts of North America and Asia.
For the past twenty years, Wood has supported Equinor across a multitude of their onshore and offshore assets which have played a critical role in the global energy mix.
As a trusted engineering partner in delivering brownfield modifications, Wood was engaged by Equinor to upgrade one of the refinery’s fired heaters, a critical component to provide heat to support the refining process which produces the petroleum products that are key to our day-to-day life. The aim was to improve the heat distribution to the convection bank and the fired heater’s ability to handle the various courses of crude flowing through for processing, thereby providing greater reliability and operational flexibility, future-proofing the aging infrastructure and extending the life of the refinery’s operations in a capital efficient manner.
The project will require two phases of modifications to ensure the fired heater is future-ready and operates at its optimal efficiency. The first phase has focused on making sure the correct infrastructure and equipment is in place – such as replacing the burner management system, redesigning ducting to ensure better heat distribution, and replacing tubes and fittings in the convection and radiant section. The second phase will involve further modifications to automate the valves in the fired heater system, reducing labour intensity and enabling smarter, predictive maintenance strategies that will improve the plant’s reliability.
The installation and commissioning of the modified infrastructure was scheduled to take place during the refinery’s annual pre-planned shutdown period. Meeting the scheduling in a turnaround is critical in order to prevent any impacts to production or ongoing operations, and to avoid any substantial cost overruns. Added to this, combustion equipment demands the utmost consideration to safety. It was therefore vital that the project team and the client maintained a close relationship to ensure all engineering, procurement and construction scopes were carried out diligently and any potential risks to safety and scheduling were identified and resolved quickly.
Collaborating to bring the best of Wood
The project was led by a core engineering team in Darlington and, in order to address specific needs and complexities at critical stages of the project, the team leveraged the expertise of Wood’s own fired heater specialists as well as the in-country operations team with their extensive knowledge of Norwegian oil and gas infrastructure and local resourcing/logistical requirements.
Collaborating and harnessing the collective expertise and capability of the teams to overcome challenges was key throughout this first phase. For instance, when all of the engineering design work had to be carried out during the height of the global pandemic, the teams were unphased by the challenge of being thrust into working from home. Bringing their passion and ingenuity, they quickly explored different technologies that would enable them to collaborate, communicate, share designs and manage deadlines, ensuring they maintained a joined-up approach with the client, with no impact to overall schedule.
During preparation for the installation phase, the Darlington team were met with the challenge of arranging travel and work permits for UK resources to site whilst still navigating the various COVID-19 rules, regulations and safeguards that were continuously evolving. The team collaborated with the Norwegian operations team, utilising their extensive experience and knowledge of local resourcing requirements, which enabled them to secure the necessary resources in time for the refinery’s shutdown period.
Success is in the details
At site, the installation of the infrastructure, including the three flue gas ducts and access platform, was carried out meticulously, with all modifications fitted to the millimetre.
One of the most complex operations involved the heavy lifting of the ducts, with each weighing around 24 tons, 12.5 metres long and lifted in at approximately 35 metres high. Due to the methodical planning by the teams, the ducts were safely lifted into place in around 20 minutes – an impressive feat given their enormous size.
Indeed, this meticulous attention to detail by all the teams involved meant the 620-day project – from FEED through to commissioning and post-turnaround – was successfully delivered with no recordable safety incidents, maintaining Wood’s exceptional HSE record.
With the upgraded fired heater now in place, heat distribution at the top of the convection bank has improved greatly, resulting in tube temperatures reducing well below 450°C and enhancing the operating life of the fired heater significantly.
Wood has commenced work on the next phase to automate the valves in the system, which will enable smarter decision-making around maintenance strategies and improve plant reliability. The teams will continue to lead the way on collaboration, workshare and cross-location working to deliver project success, future-proofing the fired heater and enabling a next chapter to Mongstad’s refinery operations.