Taking Fossil Fuels to the Next Level - Standards Underpin Extraction, Processing and Distribution

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Courtesy of ASTM International

To the average person, the oil and gas industry may appear simple — a matter of literally tapping into a natural resource and distributing it to customers. Of course the matter of extraction is rarely simple, and in the case of emergent hydraulic fracturing technology, it is particularly complex and capital-intensive.

In fact, the world of petroleum and natural gas extraction, distribution and use is an activity surrounded by a thicket of vital standards and standards-making activities. For instance, in the case of natural gas, standards for measuring and categorizing gas in its variability from location to location are critical to ensuring its marketability and safe use. Without the lingua franca provided by standards, the industry would be impossible to sustain globally.

Today, some of the most important issues facing the oil and gas — and other gaseous fuels — sector span from the underground reservoir to the ignition point in an engine or an industrial process.

Thomas Kurth, a partner with the law firm of Haynes and Boone LLP, Dallas, Texas, outlined some of the challenges in a recent Oil and Gas Journal article.1

According to Kurth, those challenges stem in part from the industry’s success, with production in the United States expanding at the highest rate in the industry’s history. Indeed, the first of the top concerns that he identified is dealing with government policies relative to both climate change and sustainability goals. In addition, Kurth says the industry must pay attention to air and water pollution, along with water use and conservation.

With concerns widely expressed, particularly within regulatory agencies, about pollution in general and carbon emissions in particular, the need to measure and control all aspects of the processes surrounding fuels continues to grow. Similar complexities are also emerging relative to the use of fuels manufactured through biological processes, such as methane.

Measuring Liquid Assets

Among the ASTM technical committees focused on the area is D02 on Petroleum Products, Liquid Fuels and Lubricants. It has a wide purview, a large body of members – more than 2,300 — and dozens of subcommittees. “We are working on so many things that it’s hard to summarize,” explains Randy Jennings, chairman of D02 and program operations director, Department of Agriculture with the State of Tennessee, in Nashville.

In fact, D02 dates back to 1904 and over the years has worked to craft more than 800 international standards. The committee has been instrumental in developing specifications that provide for cleaner gasoline and better automobile performance.

Although every subcommittee has important and relevant work under consideration, some of the more familiar projects are occurring in the product specification subcommittees, notes Jennings.

Subcommittee D02.J0 on Aviation Fuels has recently passed a significant revision to ASTM D7566, Specification for Aviation Turbine Fuel Containing Synthesized Hydrocarbons. This revision to the specification permits the use of synthesized iso-paraffins, produced from hydroprocessed fermented sugars for use as a synthetic blending component in aviation turbine fuels, and enhances the opportunity for commercial airlines to increase their use of biomass-based renewable components in jet fuel. Additionally, Subcommittee D02.J0 has developed recent specifications for a new grade of unleaded aviation gasoline certification and test fuel (D7592) and high octane unleaded test fuel (D7719).2

Likewise, Subcommittee D02.A0 on Gasoline and Oxygenated Fuels has a number of significant items under consideration. One initiative focuses on the strong potential for butanol, which can be produced through fermentation, to be used as a biofuel.

Additionally, subcommittee members are considering data for possible revisions to ASTM D4814, Specification for Automotive Spark-Ignition Engine Fuel, for a variety of property updates. Among the steps being considered are as follows, according to Jennings.

  • One task group is considering revisions to the specification to include requirements applicable to gasoline-ethanol blends containing up to 15 percent by volume ethanol.
  • Another group will be analyzing data under development to consider possible changes to the vapor pressure limits of gasoline and gasoline-oxygenate blends.
  • A third task group, a joint undertaking of ASTM and the National Conference on Weights and Measures, is investigating the possibility of amending the ASTM D4814 specification to include limits on metallic additives.

Jennings says Subcommittee D02.E0 on Burner, Diesel, Non-Aviation Gas Turbine and Marine Fuels is analyzing data that could possibly lead to a new grade of fuel oil that permits between 6 and 20 volume percent biodiesel. In addition, Subcommittee D02.H0 on Liquefied Petroleum Gas recently developed a new standard, D7901, Specification for Dimethyl Ether for Fuel Purposes, which covers the product intended for use in purpose-built diesel engines.

In support of all of the product specification changes, at any given time, D02 may have as many as 100 new standards registered as work items under development with even more registered for updates or revisions.

Gaseous Fuels

Committee D03 on Gaseous Fuels is another area with a wide range of ongoing activity, according to chairman Raul Dominguez Jr., Ph.D., senior air quality chemist at the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Diamond Bar, California.

Natural gas — newly abundant thanks to new extraction technologies — is getting a lot of attention. The main focus for Allan Morrison, as a committee member and as senior environmental scientist at the California Department of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento, is a natural gas standard for motor vehicle fuels. “We were initially looking at trying to include the use of natural gas in trains and marine uses, but for now we are focusing just on vehicles; our goal is to have a worldwide standard,” he says. A primary difficulty is that there are different regional tariff standards for pipeline gases and significant seasonal variability. “The motor vehicle manufacturers would like to be able to have one fuel product because it makes their job much easier; our approach is to look into setting up classes of fuels to cover the broad regional differences in natural gas,” Morrison says.

There are two main factors for engineering and design to consider. One is the Wobbe Index, which is used to compare the combustion energy output of different composition fuel gases. The other is the methane number — used much like the octane number or cetane number in rating, respectively, gasoline and diesel fuel. Although there are currently a number of different methods, some of them are proprietary to organizations in Europe and some are more open. “Because of the difficulties of measuring the methane number, it is necessarily a derived number and there is no worldwide standard for how it should be measured — so we are working on choosing a method,” notes Morrison.

Original equipment manufacturers have been driving this effort because they are the ones most interested in using what the pipelines suppliers have been delivering for heating and for operating gas turbines, Morrison notes.

Andy Pickard, Ph.D., a retired chemist in Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, Canada, and chairman of Subcommittee D02.H0 on Liquefied Petroleum Gas (which has had a historic and ongoing role in working with liquefied gaseous products that are used for fuels in heating and transportation), notes that standards are vital for defining what is required for specific applications. “While the natural gas pipeline operators will limit things like sulfur content on natural gas to control emissions and corrosion, they are not likely to embrace new specific requirements for the motor fuels market because it is a tiny part of their business,” he says. Still, he expects to see more use of natural gas in the form of compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas. (Specifications for CNG and LNG fall under the responsibilities of Committee D03 on Gaseous Fuels.)

Dominguez agrees that the natural gas specification development work will help vehicle OEMs standardize engine design and should not only help boost sales by standardizing minimum fuel quality but also may reduce some of the barriers related to building fueling stations. “I have great interest in seeing the attainment of healthful air quality, and when you go with natural gas instead of petroleum you reduce the emissions of air toxics and other pollutants,” he adds.

With regard to making biogas (methane) into a more viable fuel, another area of focus and an ongoing challenge has involved impurities. For instance, says Dominguez, methane generated within landfills typically contains substantial amounts of siloxanes, a class of compounds that include a silicon–oxygen–silicon linkage. When methane containing siloxanes is burned, it generates solids that can damage engines, turbines and other mechanisms. Standards are critical for measuring impurities in and assessing fuel quality for biogas and other gaseous fuels used in engines, burners and other applications, he says.

Work is also under way related to the emerging use of hydrogen as a fuel. “In the case of hydrogen, SAE International has become the chosen organization for establishing a fuel specification for hydrogen, but Committee D03 has done the instrumentation and test method specifications to help meet the requirements of the SAE specification,” says Morrison.

Tools for the Extraction Revolution

And what of the technology that has recently helped make oil and gas so readily available? Hydraulic fracturing is another area getting standards attention, under the auspices of ASTM Committee D18 on Soil and Rock and, in particular, Subcommittee D18.26 on Hydraulic Fracturing.

John T. “Jack” Germaine, senior lecturer and senior research associate, civil and environmental engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, is now chairman of Committee D18. He was formerly chair of the subcommittee. Germaine says that D18.26 held its first meeting in January of 2013. The originally stated goal of the subcommittee was to develop consensus standards relative to the various activities that are associated with hydraulic fracturing operations. This included monitoring in the broadest sense, site infrastructure, injected and return materials, and documentation, he says. “Since then the meetings have been very well attended by a wide range of stakeholders. We have membership from the petroleum sector, the government regulatory agencies, manufacturers, engineering consultants, testing laboratories, academics and lawyers,” says Germaine.

“Over the past two years, it has become clear that hydraulic fracturing is one small operation in the more general drilling and hydrocarbon extraction enterprise. As such, I expect many of the products coming out of this subcommittee will serve the general drilling sector,” he adds.

At present the subcommittee has about 250 members. Given the size of the subcommittee and the fact that a very large percentage of the members are new to the ASTM process, Germaine says it has taken some time to develop traction and identify useful topics for standardization. “We organized a workshop on site investigations and monitoring at our January 2014 committee week to gain visibility and generate standardization topics,” he says.

So far, the subcommittee has one standard in the balloting process, a guide for sampling and analysis of water wells, which could be used to establish base levels for contaminants of interest prior to any drilling operations as well as to assess changes over time. “We also have several standards in draft form to characterize various parameters of proppant materials,” he says. Proppants are solids (often sands) that are injected into the fractures to keep pathways open and provide flow paths to the borehole.

The document now in draft form is a guide for data management and reporting, which would provide a template providing a unified format to archive important information about drilling activities. That effort again showcases how critical the details are — and how critical standards and standardized methods are in a field as important to the economy as liquid and gaseous fuels.

Additionally, an ASTM International subcommittee, D19.09 on Water – Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids, part of Committee D19 on Water, is focusing on developing standards that will be used by contract laboratories, water utilities and others requiring or developing methods used for hydraulic fracturing. The standards will be used to assess water quality and determine impacts of a spill or possible contamination.

Richard Jack, North American environmental marketing manager, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Sunnyvale, California, and a member of D19, explains that so far the committee is validating one method — for dissolved gases in water. The subcommittee is also looking to establish a liaison with Subcommittee D18.26 on Hydraulic Fracturing, and to work closely with the D19 executive subcommittee section D19.90.04 to continue to coordinate communication with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on fracturing water issues.

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