Fortín readies for winter

Argentina's main shale gas field is now ready for the onslaught of peak demand. Two employees describe the tasks carried out as part of the daily routine at their operations, ranging from gas pipeline cleaning to compressor maintenance.

“Winter is coming,” is the title of the first episode of the famous fantasy TV series Game of Thrones which anticipates the challenges lying ahead for House Stark (although we won't spoil what that’s about!). Bridging the gap with the landscapes of this fantastic medieval world, in our operations south of the Equator, winter also presents us with great challenges. It’s when domestic energy demand peaks, requiring us to ramp up resources and production. As with every great goal we set for ourselves, preparation is the key to getting this right. That’s why in Fortín de Piedra, the shale play or unconventional field where Tecpetrol sources over 15% of the gas used by Argentine consumers, the company is following a detailed plan to optimize wells, treatment plants and pipelines in time to be ready for the most challenging months ahead.

Coordination and preventive work.The keys to optimizing the functions of the pipeline transporting our gas to the Argentine gas grid.

“We carry out all these types of tasks in line with a central Tecpetrol value, which is to perpetually aim for maximum safety,” says Andrés Dip, Maintenance Engineer, when asked about preventive safety work at the site. “This means that we can make all our assets available with the peace of mind that each intervention is being carried out with the appropriate margin of time and resources.”

One of the main actions envisaged by the plan was to clean the 24-inch export pipeline that transports gas from Fortín de Piedra to the point where it joins the Argentine gas grid. This task involved the Maintenance, Transport, Deliveries and Operations areas, and was split into two main areas. The first was the work done in the field, and involved running a cleaning tool known as a scraper or “pig” along 33 km of the gas pipeline; the second was about monitoring this process remotely from the Monitoring Room, enabling Andrés Dip to oversee the entire route travelled by the pig using fiber-optics.

Andrés DipFrom the room where he monitored the path taken by the cleaning pig.

Iván Barrientos, Integrity Engineering Expert, goes into detail about how the team plans the run. “In order to carry out these cleaning tasks, we first need to reduce the gas flow. In this case, it meant reducing nominal output to 20% of capacity, sending less energy flowing into the national grid during the nine hours that the cleaning run lasted. It’s crucial to plan things properly in advance, because that way we can be sure that the pipeline can transport more gas at a lower cost and without creating bottlenecks during the months of greatest demand,” he explains.

Cleaning the gas pipeline.It involved over 30 people from different areas of Tecpetrol and as well as external service providers.

The cleaning tool run is complemented by another crucial action that’s also part of the plan to make production in winter more efficient: maintenance work on the compression engines and turbines, which are responsible for pressurizing the gas to maintain flow rates through the pipeline. To achieve this, the team led by Juan Ignacio Simonetta, Mechanical Maintenance Manager, has been working since the summer to replace plant valves and optimize dehydration, fractionation and desalination trains, among other tasks.

“All of these actions require very tight coordination and the need to be up to speed with all the risk assessments as well as contingency and mitigation measures. It’s a source of great comfort that we can now say that everything went well, because it means that we have successfully notched up another milestone thanks to our service attitude and teamwork,” concludes Iván Barrientos.

The accumulated dirt scraped off by the pig.The cleaner the pipeline, the greater its capacity to transport gas.

Experience at Fortín de Piedra

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