Rugged, reliable and safe are essential characteristics to all equipment operating in this industry, and valves are certainly no exception.
Historically, the oil and gas industry has presented equipment suppliers and production personnel with difficult and demanding operating conditions. For valves, that has translated into an ever-increasing need for tougher, longer-lasting, better performing valves.
Demand for oil and gas grew tremendously during the industrial revolution and grew even further to fuel the development of western economies. This demand spurred the need for deeper wells, longer pipelines and lower production costs, which required drillers and refiners to select equipment more carefully. As production, transportation and processing technology advanced, equipment performance requirements became more and more stringent to support increasing operational efficiencies. Today, performance expectations are higher than ever because the variety of operating conditions has expanded, and the protection of personnel and the environment have been added to the list of requirements.
Valve service environments and operating conditions within the oil and gas industry are unique and extreme. From exceptionally high temperature (greater than 1,500° F or 816° C) and high pressure (greater than 25,000 psig) to cryogenic (-150° F or -101° C) or cryogenic for LNG (-260° F or -162° C ) and very low-pressure applications, valves must be engineered to perform dependably. In addition to this wide range of conditions, the remote locations of valve services also present unique challenges. Examples include deep sea valves operating 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) below the sea surface and pipeline valves exposed to the extreme temperatures found in a desert. Valves in these tough environments may stay open or closed for extended periods of time, yet they are expected to operate reliably even when they have not been cycled in many years.
Each segment of the oil and gas industry—upstream, midstream and downstream—offers its own examples of extreme conditions for valves. In the upstream segment, valves control the flow of crude oil and natural gas from high-pressure injection systems to choke valves and blow-out preventers at the top of wells. Valve systems are asked to perform over the many years of a producing well’s life—a life that depends on different factors such as economies and new recovery techniques. New-found sources of oil and gas from tar sands and shale formations have added to the complexity of valve specifications because they require placing oil and gas into pipelines taken to processing facilities that can be many miles away.
The midstream segment—storage and transportation of oil and gas resources from remote sources such as the deepwater fields of the Gulf of Mexico or the frozen tundra of Alaska—has another unique set of conditions. Long pipelines require compressors along the way to keep the product moving, and valves are asked to protect equipment while offering minimal restriction to the flow. Extremely low temperatures are required for converting natural gas into natural gas liquids in preparation for transportation from isolated gas fields to gas-consuming markets. Cryogenic service demands that valves be made of materials for low temperatures and other special designs. Midstream solutions for loading/offloading terminals and storage tanks for oil and gas products offer more opportunities for valve suppliers.
The third industry segment—downstream—brings challenges to find solutions for the refining process of crude oil, as well as the sale and distribution of both the refined product (i.e., gasoline, fuel, asphalt, etc.) and natural gas. This sector is made up of industrial, retail and distribution businesses and is the segment that provides products such as heating and transportation fuels to consumers and businesses. Additionally, this segment feeds raw materials to a variety of petrochemical industries that use petroleum-based products to make plastics, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals and more. The valve requirements for the downstream market include higher-pressure designs and metal-seating technology and metallurgies to accommodate the temperatures at which modern refineries operate.