February 26, 2024

The Role of Process Audits for Natural Gas Operations

Process Audits in the Natural Gas Sector

At Siege Engineering, we understand the unique challenges in the natural gas sector, which is why we focus on conducting thorough process audits to uncover and resolve potential problems before they escalate into costly shutdowns or even disasters. Additionally, these audits are not only essential for maintaining safety and adhering to regulatory standards but also for enhancing productivity and profitability.

The Role of Process Audits

Process audits in the natural gas sector are crucial for optimizing operational efficiency and ensuring compliance with safety and environmental standards. The review of plant design specifications, equipment datasheets, P&IDs (Piping and Instrumentation Diagrams), and past maintenance records form the foundation for understanding the unique challenges of a facility, which is pivotal in identifying potential areas of inefficiency or non-compliance.

Customized audit protocols for on-site inspections are meticulously developed to focus on addressing the specific processes and equipment used in major process units of natural gas operations. During these audits, key areas such as process flow efficiency, energy use, emission levels, and waste management are examined in detail to identify performance gaps and provide actionable insights that align with industry best practices and regulatory requirements.

Our expertise in conducting these audits comes from a deep understanding of the complexities and regulatory landscape of the natural gas sector, and by systematically collecting and analyzing data, we have seen noticeable improvements in natural gas facilities from operational efficiency, reduced costs, and mitigated risks associated with compliance and safety. This approach not only improves the current operating conditions but also positions the facility for sustainable future operations, adapting to evolving industry standards and environmental considerations.

During multi-day visits, teams of our engineers analyze critical systems hands-on. This includes activities like:

  • Inspection of critical production equipment like boilers, valves, and pipe fittings
  • Examination of water treatment systems
  • Testing cooling tower water quality
  • Verification that safety features and alarms are all functioning properly
  • Checks to ensure compliance with environmental regulations
  • Evaluation of operational efficiency

Why Process Audits Matter

Neglecting these regular audits can lead to efficiency losses, unplanned outages, and heightened risk exposure. Some major issues we help clients mitigate include:

  • Equipment Failures: Specialized equipment such as inlet separators, dehydrators, amines units, cryogenic processing trains, and mercury removers. Outdated or degraded internals like demister pads, contact tower trays, or heat exchanger tubes can cause unexpected failures, leading to emergency shutdowns and plant fires if gas leaks or combustible liquids spill.
  • Regulation Issues: Environmental regulations like 40 CFR 60 Subpart OOOO impose strict limits on volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutant emissions from reciprocating compressors, turbines, storage vessels, and other sources. Exceeding designated concentration thresholds triggers fines and operating permit revocations. Similarly, violating pipeline safety codes on maximum allowable operating pressures carries severe penalties.
  • Performance Gaps: Natural gas processing facilities have interconnected systems with narrow operating windows. Falling below expected inlet throughput or recovery rates points to issues like compressor fouling, debutanizer flooding, stuck isolation valves, or declining amine solution quality. Unresolved, these performance gaps cascade into efficiency losses, off-spec production, and, ultimately, costly shutdowns for repairs.

By conducting regular process audits, plants not only stay compliant with evolving industry regulations but also operate safely, sustainably, and profitably, avoiding major disruptions and accidents.

Siege Engineering's Audit Experience

With decades serving the oil and gas and chemical production industries, Siege Engineering brings extensive process knowledge to auditing initiatives. Our goal is always to optimize plant operations while minimizing associated risk factors.

Past project examples include:

  • Improving the steam efficiency by doubling production capacity and saving the client a substantial amount in annual energy costs.
  • Adjusting cooling tower cycles to reduce equipment fatigue and Legionella bacteria concerns.
  • Validating proper emissions monitoring systems function as intended to maintain environmental compliance during regulatory inspections.
  • Suggesting safety procedure changes after a site incident review revealed shortcomings in training protocols and alarm response plans.

Trust Our Process Audit Experts

As highlighted in our related article, being proactive with process optimizations and safety reviews is vital for success in the natural gas industry. Siege Engineering has the hands-on experience to evaluate current plant conditions and procedures to mitigate risk while maximizing profits. 

Contact our office today to discuss how our engineering team can help your organization by conducting a comprehensive process audit. We serve companies throughout Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and beyond.

Helpful Links:

  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO) - ISO 14001 Environmental Management: For those involved in managing environmental aspects of natural gas operations, ISO 14001 provides a framework for an effective management system (EMS). Understanding these standards can help in aligning process audits with environmental performance objectives. ISO 14001 Environmental Management
  • American Petroleum Institute (API) Standards: The API offers a wide range of standards and recommended practices for the oil and gas industry, including those relevant to natural gas processing and safety. Access to these documents can help engineers stay abreast of industry standards. API Standards
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - Natural Gas STAR Program: The EPA's Natural Gas STAR Program is a voluntary partnership encouraging oil and natural gas companies to adopt proven technologies and practices that improve efficiency and reduce methane emissions. This resource can be valuable for understanding environmental compliance and best practices. EPA Natural Gas STAR Program
  • Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) - Regulations and Compliance: PHMSA oversees the safe and secure movement of hazardous materials, including natural gas, by pipeline. Their website offers resources on regulations, compliance guidelines, and safety standards relevant to natural gas pipelines. PHMSA Regulations and Compliance