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White Paper

Overcoming Shale Oil Processing Challenges

With the fastest-growing production
rate in the United States,

shale oil has rapidly

become a favorite
crude feed for
U.S. refiners.

The choice certainly makes sense on first Today, those winning characteristics have landed shale oil as a
glance. Shale oil is light, low-viscosity, feedstock in an increasing number of U.S. refineries. But as shale oil
continues to gain favor, U.S. refiners are also beginning to recognize a
and low in sulfur, making it desirable parallel pattern of operational issues that they haven’t experienced so
to process. It’s abundant throughout prevalently when processing conventional crudes.
much of the country, making it a secure
Is it possible that these operational issues are related to shale oil?
source of domestic energy that enables
And, if so, how can refiners address them so that the economics of
refiners to do more accurate long-term refining shale oil make even greater economic sense?
planning. And its price differential
makes it attractive to purchase. This paper, based on the hands-on experience of Baker Hughes
technical experts who have worked with many refiners and terminals
to examine issues related to shale oil, proposes that certain unique
compositional factors of shale oil lie at the heart of the uptick in
operational issues. The good news is that these compositional factors
can be addressed at almost every step in the refining process to
optimize the economics of refining shale oil.
The characteristics of shale oil impact refinery economics
While shale oil composition varies from basin to basin throughout the United States, some of its common characteristics can lead to
significant disruptions across the refining supply chain – from transportation from the production site to shipment from the refinery.
These disruptions cost time and energy, reduce throughput, and negatively impact overall refinery economics.

Among the culprits are the following:

„„High paraffin content. Shale oils are corrosion. Replacing these moderate/ the atmospheric column and overhead
highly paraffinic (with many featuring high sulfur crudes with lower-sulfur system to deposit as corrosive salts.
waxes melting above 200°F (93°C)) and shale crudes can lead to an increase in „„Variations in composition. While it’s

can consequently create wax deposits the risk of naphthenic acid corrosion. common knowledge that shale oils vary
that can foul transportation modes, „„Hydrogen sulfide content. Shale from basin to basin, it may not be so
storage tanks, and process units. oils contain hydrogen sulfide (H2S) – a well known that even shale oil from the
„„Light paraffinic constituents. natural corrosive and a deadly gas that same formation can differ widely; for
When the light paraffinic shale oil presents significant health and safety example, an analysis of three samples of
is blended with heavy, asphaltenic issues during transportation. Eagle Ford crude delivered to a refiner
crude oil, the resulting blend can „„Tramp amines. When shale oil is within one week revealed the following:
experience asphaltene instability, treated with scavengers to curb the –– Crude density ranges from 44.6°API
creating sludge/deposits that presence of H2S, the resulting tramp to 55.0°API
reduce tank capacity in crude tanks, amines can affect economics throughout –– Filterable solids content ranges from
stabilize emulsions in the desalter the refining process. When present in 176 ptb to 295 ptb
unit and foul process equipment. the crude blend, tramp amines can –– Appearances ranging from light
„„Low sulfur content. Refiners typically partition into the oil phase at the yellow, to dark brown, to opaque red
blend a mix of moderate-to-high sulfur desalter. Once past the desalter, they can –– Bottom layers of sludge that range
crudes with higher TAN crudes to help react with hydrogen chloride (HCl) in from 10% to 15%
reduce the risk of naphthenic acid

A steady diet of shale oil can also impact margins

on the product side. The paraffinic nature and low
sulfur content of shale oil can lead to cold flow,
water separation, and lubricity issues in distillate
products. Some light ends products may experience
corrosion problems, and heavy fuel oil stability can
be negatively impacted by blending shale oil residual
materials with asphaltenic stocks.

It’s clear that, while shale oil remains a very

attractive feedstock for U.S. refiners, its composition
can impact each step in the refining process – from
transportation to final product shipment. And those
effects will certainly have a significant impact on
refinery margins.
Figure 1. Shale Oil Refining Supply Chain

The Impacts of Processing

Shale Oil
The fouling that can result from
wax deposits, asphaltene instability
or high solids content in shale oil
can significantly affect refinery
storage tanks and process units.

„„Storage tanks. Solids, precipitated

waxes and destabilized asphaltenes
can build up in refinery storage
tanks. The sludge that builds up
can lead to downstream fouling
of cold preheat exchangers and
emulsions in the desalters.
„„Cold preheat train. Fouling of

the preheat exchangers before

the desalter can occur with
the presence of precipitated
paraffins, waxes, asphaltenes
and solids present in shale oil.
The impacts of shale oil in the refining process „„Desalter. Shale oil introduces a

host of challenges in the desalting

The Impacts of Transporting paraffin dispersants and pour point process, including formation of
Shale Oil depressants to keep the crude product emulsions resulting from precipitated
Whether transporting crude via pipeline, flowing. In addition, H2S can cause waxes, asphaltenes, and solids. As
truck, barge, or rail car, shale oil fouling, metal corrosion, and pose the emulsion builds, salt removal and
composition can impact operations and serious health and safety concerns. In dehydration can be impacted, leading
constrain margins. both barges and trucks, refiners have to downstream fouling and corrosion.
an opportunity to address H2S concerns Emulsions can also lead to oil in the
„„Pipelines, the traditional and and consequently improve margins effluent brine, creating challenges for
most economic method for moving by treating the gas with scavengers. the wastewater treatment plant.
conventional crudes, are impacted by The scavengers can contain tramp „„Hot preheat train. The most

slugs of wax that increase drag, reduce amines which can lead to corrosion in significant risk to the hot preheat
pipeline throughput, and require more downstream refinery equipment. exchangers and furnaces is fouling.
frequent pigging operations. Some „„Rail cars are rapidly becoming the Blending with asphaltenic crudes can
estimates are that the requirements most favored mode of transportation lead to asphaltene precipitation. High
for pigging operations to clean out the for shale oil, with 56 new or proposed solids loading will also contribute to
pipeline have increased from twice a rail terminals underway in the United higher rates of fouling. In addition,
year to once a month! The economic States. Rail cars have the same upstream desalting difficulties will
result is clear. exposure to fouling and corrosion contribute with higher levels of solids,
„„Barges and trucks, now generally as pipelines, barges, and trucks. In water, and salt carryover.
preferred over pipelines due to addition, sulfur/H2S management is „„Crude unit overhead system. Tramp

infrastructure challenges, are affected more critical since the railcars may amines from H2S scavengers can react
by wax precipitation that can cause a travel through communities where the with HCl in the crude distillation
change in the way the crude is handled. risk of exposure is at its greatest. tower and overhead system to deposit
Shale oil demands the addition of corrosive amine-hydrochloride salts.
„„Crude unit high-temperature zones. Displacing moderate The advantages of shale oil to the refiner
to high sulfur crude oils with low sulfur shale oil can lead „„Acquisition costs are low
to an increased risk of naphthenic acid corrosion. Reduced „„A secure domestic supply enables long-term,
sulfur content in the high temperature zones can lead to more profitable planning
aggressive naphthenic acid attack (sulfur compounds help „„The higher volumes of naphtha and distillates,
passivate surfaces to prevent naphthenic acid corrosion). with minimal conversion unit processing,
can reduce operating costs per barrel of
The proper technology solutions can address all of these distillate produced
challenges and enable the refiner to take full advantage of „„The low-sulfur content allows refiners to
economically attractive shale oils. purchase additional higher-sulfur, lower-cost
opportunity crudes to blend with the low-sulfur
The Impacts of Shale Oil on Product Quality content shale oils
Shale oil is refined in the crude distillation section of the refinery
into the primary components of light ends (hydrocarbons Shale oil characteristics vary widely
ranging from C1-C4), naphtha, jet fuel/kerosene, diesel, gas „„API gravity ranges from 30°API to 55°API
oils, and residual fuel oils. Many of the refineries in operation „„High paraffin content with wax appearance
today were designed for processing heavier crudes, so temperatures greater than 200°F (93°C)
crude distillation columns and associated equipment were „„Sulfur content as low as <0.2%

designed around a higher quantity of heavy fuels (gas oils and „„Occasionally high hydrogen sulfide and

residuum) for downstream vacuum, fluid catalytic cracking mercaptan content

unit (FCCU), and delayed coker operations. The lighter shale „„Total acid number as low as <0.1 TAN (mg KOH/g)

oils, therefore, may produce an overloading in the lighter ends „„Very low asphaltene content, <0.1%

processing in the crude column and associated equipment. „„Filterable solids content as high as 295 lbs

As a result, the main crude column may operate quite (134 kg) per thousand barrels
differently than their original design. Among the operating „„Light crude with little residual material,

issues that may be encountered are the following: <10% of total yield
„„Highly variable crude quality from the

„„The amine scrubbers for the C1-C4 hydrocarbons same reservoir

may become overburdened, resulting in off spec
C3/C4 products, with copper strip corrosion failures
as well as hydrogen sulfide contamination.
„„An increase in the naphtha flow can overload the crude

tower overhead accumulator, reducing naphtha and

water separation efficiency. This can impact product
quality by corroding the crude distillation column and
adding to the potential for metal loading in jet fuels
and distillates fractions. Microbiological contamination
may also be increased due to water entrainment.
„„An increase in the jet fuel or diesel water content

may be noticed.

Solutions such as chemical additives for dehazing or

filtration equipment can mitigate these challenges. In
addition to managing the fuel quality through both
dehazing or salt drying and filtration, the intermediate
storage tanks and final product tanks need to have a
microbiological monitoring program established.
The right technology Given the right mix of expertise and
solutions can improve technology, however, refiners can take
the actions necessary to boost refinery
economics at any economics at every step in the process.
point in the process
Comprehensive solutions for
Key implications of shale oil on The good news is that refiners can shale oil
finished products effectively mitigate the threats presented Shale oil presents an excellent opportunity
The right chemical additives can by shale oil – at any point in the process for refiners to positively impact their
further enhance the profitability of – with the right technical solutions. These profitability. However, with new
processing shale oils. Some of the key solutions can include any of the following: opportunities come new challenges. A
implications for various fuel treatment working knowledge of each step of the
programs include the following: „„Technical assessments – both in the refining supply chain process [Figure 1]
field and in the lab – of the impacts of allows those challenges [Figure 2]
„„A significant decrease in the shale oil characteristics on crude storage to be met and the profit improvements
demand for NACE or pipeline compatibility, asphaltene precipitation, fully realized.
corrosion inhibitors for the shale oil and desalter emulsion stabilization
derived gasoline and diesel fuels „„Tests to identify the crude Overcome shale oil processing
„„An increased demand for additives blends likely to be affected by challenges
to meet cold flow properties due to asphaltene precipitation The introduction of shale oil into the
the increased quantity of paraffin „„Analytical tools to characterize refining industry has changed the manner
in the fuel feedstocks and analyze deposits in which refiners operate. There are a
„„A decreased demand for the copper „„Risk assessment models and number of advantages to processing
and silver corrosion inhibitor advanced monitoring technologies to shale oil feedstocks, but it is not without
programs when processing shale predict and eliminate the potential its challenges. Baker Hughes has used
crude oils for fouling and corrosion its experience, proven technologies and
„„An increased demand for lubricity „„Evaluations to determine the problem-solving capabilities to develop
improvers, due to low sulfur crude appropriate strategies and best innovative solutions that can eliminate
„„An increased demand for clay treatments for processing shale oils and/or mitigate shale oil processing
filtration of the straight run jet fuels through the refinery challenges. These solutions can be used
as well as increased dehazer usage „„Contaminant removal and fouling to improve refinery feedstock selection
for the diesel fuels due to increased control programs flexibility, allow higher rates of shale oil
water content „„Other chemical programs – such as processing, and keep finished products on
„„Cetane numbers are dependent on pipeline drag reducers to increase specification, while maintaining reliable
the shale play and the degree of the throughput of the shale oil to the operations, reducing costs, and improving
refinery processing refinery due to the limited pipeline operating margins.
„„A relatively low requirement for fuel infrastructure; wax dispersants to
stability additives reduce wax build up and pipeline Baker Hughes has a significant amount
„„Larger compatibility issues pigging frequency; and hydrogen sulfide of experience in the shale oil industry,
surrounding the blending of scavengers that control corrosion in from exploration and production through
residual fuels crude tanks, process units, and finished refining and the refined product quality
product tanks. management. As other shale oil sources
come on line, Baker Hughes is committed
None of these components, taken to providing continued new solutions for
either individually or collectively, can shale oil transportation, storage, refining,
substitute for the expert guidance and finished product challenges.
of people who know how to plan
and execute a technical strategy.
Figure 2. Understanding the process and designing the right programs to optimize refinery economics

Step in the
Challenge How to Solve It The Baker Hughes Solution
Presence of H2S H2S scavenger treatment SULFIX™ H2S scavengers

Wax build-up Wax dispersants Baker Hughes wax dispersants


Throughput Pipeline drag reducers FLO™ pipeline drag reducers

Transmix “sludging” Compatibility testing Field ASIT services™

Presence of H2S H2S scavengers SULFIX™ H2S scavengers

Barges, trucks,
Wax build-up Disperse wax, reduce sludge Baker Hughes wax dispersants, sludge reducers
and rail cars
Blending compatibility Monitor crude compatibility Field ASIT services™

Wax build-up Disperse wax, reduce sludge Baker Hughes wax dispersants, sludge reducers

Solids build-up Disperse solids XERIC™ solids conditioning aids


Crude tank farm H2S H2S scavengers SULFIX™ H2S scavengers

Field ASIT services™, XERIC™ blending aids,
Blending Monitor and increase compatibility
Baker Hughes wax dispersants
LIFESPAN™ heat exchanger fouling
Cold preheat train Fouling Antifoulant treatment
control programs
LIFESPAN™ heat exchanger fouling
Hot preheat train Fouling Antifoulant treatment
control programs
EDDA testing, Baker Hughes demulsifiers and
Emulsion build-up Destabilize emulsion
XERIC™ wetting agents

Desalter Presence of amines Amine removal EXCALIBUR™ contaminant removal program

Presence of other contaminants Contaminant removal EXCALIBUR™ contaminant removal program

Amine salt build-up Remove in desalter EXCALIBUR™ contaminant removal program

Amine salt build-up Corrosive environment simulations
Corrosion corrosion risk monitor
Increased naphthenic acid Determine mitigation strategy via SMARTGUARD™ naphthenic acid
corrosion potential risk assessment corrosion control program
TOLAD™ pour point depressants and cold
Pour point, cold flow Testing, additives
flow improvers
Salt drying and coalescing,
Finished Products

Water in distillates P2R™ services and engineering solutions

Product quality dehazers
Lubricity Lubricity additives TOLAD™ lubricity additives

H2S Hydrogen sulfide scavengers SULFIX™ H2S scavengers

TOLAD™ asphaltene stabilizer, Field ASIT
Resid blend incompatibility Additives, compatibility tests
Product terminals
TOLAD™ pour point depressants and cold
Intermediate cold flow Additives
flow improvers

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LIMITED TO ITS NEGLIGENCE. © 2013 Baker Hughes Incorporated. All rights reserved. 37336 3/2013