We spoke with our Strategy Development Manager, Shawn Rampy, for his insight into the impacts of weather on steam cushion in downstream facilities.
Many of the operations at downstream O&G facilities — both refineries and petrochemical plants — run off steam power. Steam creates pressure, which needs to be maintained within correct thresholds in order to keep the plant running smoothly. In addition to a minimum pressure requirement, a certain amount of surplus, or cushion, is stored. If a plant falls into a steam deficit, operators must decide which parts of the plant to shut down, which can not only cause huge loss economically, but can also damage the mechanics of the plant, which are engineered to run continuously. Transporting this steam to different areas of a plant is critical and requires miles and miles of pipe.
Operators at these plants observe that the greatest threats to maintaining sufficient amounts of steam power for their facilities most often occur during periods of high rainfall rates. The theory is that high rainfall cools down the steam pipes to the point that the steam in the pipes becomes water, greatly reducing the pressure and therefore the power available for critical plant processes. The exact rainfall rate threshold, however, is unknown and is likely unique to each facility. Additionally, operators agree that other weather factors such as temperature, wind, rainfall accumulation and/or cloud cover are likely also having an effect on their ability to maintain sufficient amounts of steam pressure.
One of StormGeo’s major U.S. refining clients has reported that the financial losses associated with a loss of steam can be in the “tens of millions of dollars.”
Operators agree that other weather factors such as temperature, wind, rainfall accumulation and/or cloud cover are likely also having an effect on their ability to maintain sufficient amounts of steam pressure
A typical O&G downstream facility has hundreds of miles of steam pipe on-site. Material and labor to insulate these pipes is simply too cost prohibitive to be a feasible option. Insulating just 10 miles of steam pipe, for example, costs millions of dollars. With over 140 refinery and 50 petrochemical plants in U.S., most of which use steam to some capacity, the costs to the U.S. Downstream O&G industry to (re)insulate all steam pipes would easily run into the billions of dollars.
The business challenge of maintaining steam requires the collaboration of a plant and Business Risk Response team. The end goal of this methodology must be to provide business stakeholders specific and actionable recommendations when weather threatens their business. StormGeo does this by engaging with the client in three steps:
Click here to go through a hypothetical example of the above workflow.