With the January 2020 International Marine Organization deadline for further reductions in sulphur in marine fuels looming, continued advances in emissions monitoring in new vehicles and the ever-present pressure on refining margins, South Africa’s ageing coastal refineries have a renewed focus on cleaner fuels.
“The days of waiting for government to incentivise upgrades for cleaner fuels are gone,” says consulting firm Turner & Townsend’s oil and gas director Michelle Jackson.
The now decade-long policy uncertainty around recovering the capital cost of investing in cleaner fuels, has resulted in only one of the four coastal refineries being fully geared to refining 50 parts per million diesel. This has, in some aspects, forced the hand of the refineries and recent and upcoming turnarounds allow for a focus on the installation of new equipment for this purpose.
Further, most oil refineries shut their refineries down biennially for a turnaround period to conduct planned maintenance, upgrades and tie-ins. Jackson states that, in addition to its continued work on capital projects for refineries and its global experience on multiple shutdowns, in the past 18 months, the company has completed two such turnarounds in South Africa.
“Most of our refinery projects currently are focused on efficiency and environmental improvements that will reduce air emissions, water use, among others.”
We are taking advantage of multiple advances in technology to influence the efficiency and management of projects, which ultimately reduces cost and time while improving safety and overall outcomes, says Jackson.
The predictability of the project’s outcome has always been a critical and constant issue for oil refineries, as they are being pushed to find better ways of maximising output and realising operational efficiencies without reducing equipment reliability and relaxing compliance with health, safety and environmental regulations, she explains.
“This is becoming increasingly challenging, as these projects have more aggressive schedules, are of greater scale and are growing in complexity, which significantly increases the risk of not delivering objectives on scope, on schedule and within cost.
“Good turnaround maintenance and efficient shutdowns depend on experienced people and good data. Collecting this data can be expensive, and the tasks are time-consuming and present a number of risks. Our focus regarding oil refineries is to provide people, data and technology that improve project efficiency. Technology, such as drones, virtual reality and the Internet of Things (IoT), allows us to operate in brownfield sites with limited accessibility and stringent health and safety requirements with greater accuracy, better safety and more efficiency.
“The greater complexity of working in brownfield situations, especially in the plant environment, requires accurate as-built data because prefabrication often takes place off site and must fit (without alteration) once it is on site.
“The technology is not really expensive and if you use legitimate service providers that have all the right licences and processes in place – you can get a really professional service,” she asserts.
Moreover, Turner & Townsend has a dedicated cost and schedule management team that works on oil refinery turnarounds. The company is establishing itself as a leader in this space, where one of its key drivers is data and providing an end-to-end solution.
This ranges from four-dimensional planning to five-dimensional cost management, and technology-based change management for measuring progress on site.
“Our combination of experienced people and appropriate software that ties into three-dimensional (3D) models allows for cost, schedule and change management across the whole life cycle of the project. The creation of 3D point cloud models, which form the basis for an intelligent 3D model, and the use of drones and scanning technology, combined with state-of-the-art measurement and control tools, allows turnaround teams to provide a unique control environment with a solution tailored to the specific needs on the project and the desired degree of accuracy at any stage in the project cycle.”
Jackson notes that the IoT reduces the high number of bodies on site, which further aids health and safety. Virtual reality enables remote teams to work together in the same room and resolve issues quicker, which works well on remote sites that are expensive to reach and where the workforce lacks the required skills.
“We are currently working on a project in West Africa where most members of the professional team are in the UK. We use technology to monitor what is happening on site, rather than sending the team all the way there. It makes it easier for remote teams to work well together while reducing your footprint,” she concludes.