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31 October-3 November 2010, New Delhi, India

Paper ID : 20100483
Troubleshooting in Sour Condensate Fractionation Plant
Rajesh Tiwary, Manoj Kumar Agrawal
ONGC, Ahmedabad, India
Email : rtiwary@mail.com
troubles which disturb Sour condensate fractionation plants are under operation all over world. The
fractionation plants operate on the philosophy of stripping of H2S and fractionation of condensate to produce
different Value Added Products. Various principles are applied for the fractionation at different stages. The
objective revolves around reduction of Hydrocarbon losses during stripping of H2S and minimization of
slippage of butane and lower carbon products in the bottom product. A study is carried out where commonly
occurring troubles with diagnosis, are explored. Possible convenient and technically correct solutions are
also elaborated. Solutions to problems have been practically applied and results have saved huge amount
of revenue. The troubleshooting study is based on practical experience and technical diagnosis. This
troubleshooting exercise would benefit organizations in the business and would be able to provide optimum
conditions, would help in increasing longevity of equipments, would reduce hydrocarbon losses, would help
in achieving desired quality of products. Few innovative suggestions are also given for specific problems.
These suggestions have been practically applied and have helped in mitigation of troubles. Few important
the normal operation and which have been included in the study, are given below:

Difficulty in maintaining level and pressure in the inlet surge drum.

Undesirable flaring / blow down of Condensate from the Off-gas compressor K.O. Drum.
Difficulty in maintaining pressure, level and temperature profile of Stripper Column.
Difficulty in achieving sufficient stripper reboiler outlet temperature.
Difficulty in maintaining pressure and temperature profile of LPG Columns.
Frequent leakages in steam and steam condensate lines, traps and flanges.
Detection of contamination of condensate by black particles, early removal of black particles and
cleaning of U tube heat exchanger inundated by black particles.
Sour condensate fractionation plants are under operation throughout world .Hydrocarbon Condensate
produced from wells may contain H2S. When H2S is present in the condensate, condensate is called
sour condensate. H2S is toxic and very corrosive, so it becomes necessary to remove H2S from
condensate as early as possible. This job becomes easier due to high RVP of H2S. Condensate
fractionation plant produces value added products through fractionation. The main objective of a
Condensate fractionation plant revolves around minimization of propane loss in the CFU-off gas and
minimization of butane slippage in the NGL or the bottom product.
A brief description of a Condensate Fractionation Plant is given below.
Condensate from Slug Catcher / Separator is preheated in a pre heater where its temperature is
maintained between 350C and 400C. It helps in flashing of lighter components, mainly Methane,
Ethane and H2S. From this pre heater, condensate is received in a surge drum V-701. Here, sufficient
space is maintained above liquid level for the liberation of lighter components. Liquid from this vessel,
is passed through filters and coalescer filter for removal of free water and solid particles. Liquid
condensate is then fed to stripper column where H2S is stripped off. Along with H2S, some amount of
Methane, Ethane and very small quantity of Propane and other heavier hydrocarbons also get
liberated. This gas is called CFU Off- gas. The stripped-off vapor from the stripper along with flashed
vapor from the inlet surge drum are compressed to 55Kg/cm in Off-Gas Compressors K-701, and
added to the main gas stream for sweetening in Gas Sweetening Plant. Water droplets accumulated
& coalesced in the boot of surge drum and filter units are drained off to PWS/OWS. The stripper
column operates with bottom and top temperature profiles as 135 -140 C and 29 C respectively. The
Stripper column top pressure is normally maintained in the range 18-20 Kg/cm . Hydrocarbon
Condensate produced from the bottom of the stripper column, is further fractionated in the LPG
Column. In LPG Column, from the top of the column, LPG is separated out and from the bottom,
Natural Gasoline (NGL) is produced. The LPG column operates at top pressure 9.7 Kg/cm with
bottom and top temperatures 180 -200 C and 55 C respectively. The column is provided with a
thermo-siphon type reboiler (using HP Steam), reflux drum and reflux pumps P-702 A/B. The top
product i.e., LPG is cooled to about 380C in a water cooled condenser E-703 and pumped to caustic

31 October-3 November 2010, New Delhi, India
wash unit for removal of residual H2S (about 5-20 ppm) before sending to storage sphere. NGL is
withdrawn as a bottom product, and sent to Kerosene Recovery Unit.

Fig1: Flow Diagram of Condensate Fractionation Plant

In case the Kerosene Unit is under shut down, the NGL is cooled in E-705 with cooling water and sent
to NGL storage tank. The flow diagram shown in Fig: 1 would further simplify the process and the
diagram is self explanatory.
1. Difficulty in maintaining level and pressure in the inlet surge drum : Inlet Surge drum is a
cylindrical drum which is placed horizontally. As the level increases, the surface area of the
liquid increases and so allows more and more flashing of lighter hydrocarbons. Due to this,
pressure increases in the surge drum which restricts flashing. This situation remains same till
the level reaches 50%. Thereafter, when level increases, the surface area starts reducing and
so less flashing is observed. When less flashing takes place, pressure in the surge drum
decreases and more inflow of condensate and less outflow of condensate is observed. In this
situation, level increases very fast. So, when level starts increasing, it increases fast and
when level starts decreasing it decreases fast. This effect disturbs stripper column also as the
flashed vapor from surge drum goes to the outlet of stripper column off-gas line. If level in the
surge drum is not controlled properly, a carryover may occur which will cause tripping of Offgas Compressor K-101 due to high level actuation in Off Gas Compressor suction knock out
drum. The best way is to maintain the level between 40% and 50%. It will allow maximum
evaporation which will cause lesser load on stripper column reboiler E-702. This level range
allows optimum flashing and keeps the safety margin for sudden level rise. Although level
controller tries to adjust the level according to the set value given to Level Controller, but
sudden increase in the battery limit pressure at the inlet end pushes high quantity of sour

31 October-3 November 2010, New Delhi, India

Fig 2: Inlet Surge Drum arrangement in CFU

2.Undesirable flaring / blow down of Condensate from the Off-gas compressor K.O. Drum.:
After some time of operation (usually in 4-5 Hours) some quantity of liquid hydrocarbon gets accumulated in
Off-gas Compressor K.O. Drum (V-703 in the diagram). There are two possible ways for arrival of this liquid
hydrocarbon; either from stripper column top or from surge drum. The existing designs of CFUs have
provided a drain line connection from this K.O.D. to flare K.O.D. (Knock Out Drum). It was found that the
condensate to the extent of about 5.83 M3 /day was getting accumulated when the feed to CFU was at the
rate of 70 M / Hr. Composition analysis of the condensate indicated that the condensate contained about
25% LPG fractions. Further, about 40% of the condensate were C5 to C7 and they also were getting flared.
At the present cost of LPG and NGL, per year losses could be to the tune of about Rs.7.5 Crore per annum.
A detailed study carried out to explore the possibility of recovering the valuable hydrocarbon condensate
from the suction KOD and thus for preventing this condensate vapors from undesired flaring. The possible
options were:
1. Pumping the condensate back to stripper column.
2. Evaporation of condensate by heating and routing the vapors generated to the CFU off gas
3. Routing the liquid to LPG column.
After analyzing the abovementioned options, third option was found most suitable. To implement this
option, a 2 dia, and 30M long line was laid connecting the bottom drain line of suction KOD to the
feed line of LPG Column at its feed sampling point. An SDV, operable with a push button was locally
installed. This SDV could be opened only after getting permit from Control Room. A globe valve and
a 10 mm dia RO (Restricted Orifice) were incorporated in the line for throttling, in order to take care of
the pressure difference between suction KOD and LPG column, the pressures being 18.5 Kg/cm2 and
9.7 Kg/cm respectively.
The operating procedure for the modified system is as follows:
As soon as the Level High alarm signal is actuated in the suction KOD, permit to open the SDV is
given from C/R. The SDV is opened locally. SDV remains open for 2 minutes or till the Low level
alarm signal is actuated, whichever is earlier. After two minutes if C/R operator finds that SDV is
closed but Level Low alarm is not actuated, he again presses the permit button in control room and
the whole sequence is repeated. This operation enables mixing of condensate with the feed of LPG
column. After installation of this modified system, TRENDS of LPG column parameters were taken to

31 October-3 November 2010, New Delhi, India
check the performance of the column. It was found that there were almost nil fluctuations in the
parameters, and operation was smooth and steady. This modification is briefly shown in Fig:
3.Encouraged by the result, this modification was incorporated in another train also and result was

Fig3: CFU Off gas condensate reprocessing modification scheme.

3. Difficulty in maintaining pressure, level and temperature profile of Stripper Column.: Stripper
column is a type of distillation column where only stripping takes place and there is no rectification
section. An important aspect of CFU Stripper is that it not only removes/separates lighter
hydrocarbons but at the operating pressure and temperature, separates H2S also. Higher temperature
and lower column top pressure are the favorable conditions for stripping of H2S. But these are the
favorable conditions for vaporization of heavier hydrocarbons also, which is not desirable. So, a need
arises to optimize pressure and temperature in the stripper column in such a manner that maximum
H2S is removed and maximum propane and heavier components are retained in the bottom product of
the column. To achieve this condition, reboiler out let temperature should be increased gradually till
no condensate is observed in the Off gas compressor K.O. Drum (a practical approach). To be more
accurate, off-gas sample should be tested to find C3 concentration and stripper column bottom
product should be tested for H2S concentration. When temperature (column top) is increased, H2S
concentration in bottom product decreases and C3 concentration in column top vapor increases.
When pressure is increased, H2S concentration in bottom product increases and C3 concentration in
column top vapor decreases. These statements presume that there is no disturbance (like flooding,
weeping, entrainment etc) in the stripper column and stripper column is correctly designed. The effect
of change in one parameter is favorable for one component while, is not favorable for another
component. So, it is essential to attain optimum values for temperature and pressure. Once these
values are attained, it becomes very easy for operator as these values work as reference values also
and when the feed composition changes, operator can regain the optimum values very fast by making
necessary adjustments in pressure and temperature. The temperature profile of the column is a good
reflector of change of feed composition. At a constant pressure and feed, the change in feed
composition has a very distinct effect on temperature profile. While installing APC (Advance Process
Control system) good values can be recorded as the reference values and system can negate bad
values and can use these good values. Operator finds greater degree of problem when instruments
start malfunctioning. So, it is essential for the operator to see the temperature and pressure profiles in
totality and should not totally rely on reference parameters only. It helps in the identification of
malfunctioning instruments also.
4. Difficulty in achieving sufficient stripper reboiler outlet temperature:
This is a chronic problem for CFU Stripper columns. Due to various reasons, stripper reboiler outlet
temperature fails to increase in spite of fully opening steam control valve. And it affects product quality
very badly, increases H2S concentration in LPG, increases LPG column pressure resulting flaring of

31 October-3 November 2010, New Delhi, India
hydrocarbons etc. To control the effect of this problem, column feed is reduced and CFU processing
capacity falls. This problem requires immediate attention and reason is normally diagnosed
conveniently after analyzing few parameters. Most commonly occurring troubles are given below.
 Low Steam pressure: It can be due to leakage, problem at boiler house, non availability of steam
condensate level in the steam condensate pot, etc.
This is the most common problem. First of all steam pressure, steam flow control valve opening,
steam condensate pot level should be checked. If these things are correct, feed quality of stripper
reboiler should be checked. If water or some other material is going to stripper reboiler, outlet
temperature falls very sharply. When feed quality also is satisfactory, fouling of stripper reboiler can
be a possible reason. Cleaning of stripper reboiler is a cumbersome process. It is very difficult to
clean U-tubes from shell side. Steer method of cleaning of this type of exchangers has been found
very useful and cleaning of stripper reboiler shell side can be carried out through Steer method. In
Steer method, Heat exchanger is online internally washed with water and then is purged with steam
for a long duration which helps in dislodging of black particles from tube bundle. Repeated purging
followed by washing removes black particles and efficiency of U-tube Shell and tube heat exchanger
increases. Surfactants in diluted concentration may be used for improved cleaning. Acids should
never be used for shell side cleaning as the thickness of the tubes is very low and acid can get
trapped / lodged and severe local corrosion may happen, causing tubing leakage.
5. Difficulty in maintaining pressure and temperature profile of LPG Columns:
Like any other distillation column, in LPG Column also, change in one parameter affects other
parameters. For example, if reboiler outlet temperature increases, top temperature and column
pressure also increases and after a while reflux drum level increases and when reflux increases
column temperature and pressure fall and a cyclic affect is created. To minimize the disturbance, it is
always suggested that all changes to be made are required to be done at very slow rate. For
example, if feed is required to be increased, it should be increased slowly so that steam to reboiler
may be increase to meet the additional load requirement. The best way to control the parameters is to
keep the Column top pressure controller in auto mode and the column bottom level controller also can
be kept in auto mode and then other parameters should be changed slowly. This effort helps in
keeping the column parameters in the desired range and product quality is optimized. It is necessary
to maintain the bottom temperature sufficiently high so that minimum amount of butane slips to bottom
product. Whatever butane slips, that is lost forever as being a lighter hydrocarbon, it gets evaporated
in storage tanks. This causes hazard and is bad for environment also. But if temperature is very
highly, the column top temperature will also be high causing excess load on LPG condenser due to
which the total vapor may not get condensed and high reflux drum pressure would require
undesirable flaring of precious hydrocarbons. Due to prolonged use of the condenser, scale may get
deposited in the tubings. This causes difficulty in bearing vapor load and consequently direct loss of
hydrocarbons. So, periodic cleaning and leak testing should be done. Condenser tubings are prone to
leak causing ingress of LPG in the cooling water, contaminating return cooling water, and this water
may be potential source of fire and explosion
6. Frequent leakages in steam and steam condensate lines, traps and flanges:
Steam and steam condensate leakages are the chronic problems for any Condensate Fractionation
Plant. It needs frequent shut down and costly repairs. Downtime increases and a lot of hydrocarbons
and steam are lost in the depressurization and pressurization process. A lot of hammerings are
observed in steam and condensate line weakening other structures. A lot of studies have been done
and a lot have been spent in injection of Ph correcting chemicals but no significant improvement has
been observed. At many places on-line leakages are repaired and these repairing materials get
dislodged from its place when next shut down/cooling of the line is done. These materials travel along
the line and enter steam traps and damage steam traps. Steam traps become useless and either
permanent leakage starts or steam condensate does not pass through steam traps causing
accumulation of steam condensate in the line and two phase flow. In most of the places culprit is two
phase flow. Saturated steam is used for reboilers etc and due to condensation of steam, at many
places, specially at flange connections localized temperature fluctuation takes place and leakage
starts. Once leakage starts, within minutes leaking steam cuts the flange and leakage increases. This
problem can be minimized if proper arrangements are made at the design level itself. In line
condensation can be minimized if super heated steam is used. Although saturated steam is better
heating medium than superheated steam but most of the two phase problems and leakage problems
can be minimized through use of superheated steam. Practically it has been found in other plants
inclusive of fertilizer plants, superheated steam is very less likely to condense in the steam flow lines.
7. Detection of contamination of condensate by black particles, early removal of black particles and
cleaning of U tube heat exchanger inundated by black particles.
Sour condensate is a good source for corrosion of pipelines. Although special alloys are used as material of
construction for pipe lines carrying sour condensate. Many other anti corrosion chemicals are also used to

31 October-3 November 2010, New Delhi, India
minimize corrosion. But in spite of many arrangements, a good quantity of black particles which are mainly
inorganic come along with condensate. Various activities at Well Head Installations and in case of off-shore,
various cleaning operations at platforms may also lead to generation of good amount of black particles.
These materials whenever detected, should be removed at the earliest possible stage. These black
particles along with water can be drained from slug catcher. If it reaches surge drum, surge drum boot
should be drained under supervision. These black particles are so fine that they cross filter cartridges and
reach stripper reboiler where severe deposition takes place and heat transfer reduces drastically and the
unit capacity reduces significantly.
The Newly Used Cleaning Method for Stripper Reboiler (Steer method)

In the newly used cleaning process, the shell was depressurized, purged with IG (Inert Gas).
Then LP Steam was introduced from strategically decided points and steam pressure inside the
shell was maintained at around 1 Kg/cm2 through venting from strategically decided point.
This arrangement was continued for 16 Hrs. after that, from different points, water was introduced
and was boiled with steam. Then water was drained in full force.
This method was repeated for many times.
Steam pressure was increased to 4 Kg/cm2 and then same method was repeated.
In the next stage, some turbulence and vibration was developed in the shell side by bubbling steam
in the water filled shell. Water drained and operation repeated.
The train was started and feed was gradually increased. It was found that there was marked and
sufficient improvement in the performance of the Stripper Reboiler and it was able to run at
designed capacity. Before cleaning, the train could be operated at the feed rate not more than 40
M /Hr. After cleaning, the train could be run satisfactorily at the rate of 70 M /Hr. and still there was
enough margin to go to 75 M /Hr.
No production loss because one of the CFU trains normally remains stand by, the cleaning
operation can be taken for stand by train.
Risks involved are practically nil.
There is no need of involvement of any outside agency, no extra resources like: Cranes,
manpower, equipments etc are required.
In the earlier used method, there were potential risks involved as pulling out and pushing in
operations of tube bundles involved two cranes and very careful and accurate operation was
required. In spite of all precautions, some damage to Baffle plates, tubes etc always took place
which could affect longevity of tube bundles.
Better cleaning: Steam and water percolate deep in to the tube bundle and repeated actions
remove more quantity of black materials than the traditional cleaning method.
Flexibility: The cleaning operation can be started and terminated at a very short notice. If urgency
arises, the exchanger can be taken back in to operation within eight hours.
The cost involved in the cleaning operation is negligible.
This method can be used for future cleanings. It is cost effective, the risks involved are negligible,
there is no chance of damage to the equipment; while in the pulling out operation of the tube
bundle, a lot of risks are involved and normally during pulling out/ pushing in operations some
damage to tubes, ,baffle plates etc take place.
This paper is based on experience and studies carried out by authors. These studies and
results may be partly or totally wrong. Authors are not responsible for whatsoever is
mentioned directly or indirectly in this paper. Authors are in no way responsible at any time, at
any place and in any way for this paper.
Authors withdraw inspiration from leadership of Shri Anil Johari, ED-Asset Manager, who has
always encouraged technical studies and has been a true force to performance. Our
esteemed Surface Manager, Shri N.K.Saxena has always guided us at every stage and his
technical and analytical potential has an induction effect and we have always tried to learn
from him and we wish that the phenomenon goes forever. Authors are really thankful to
everybody who has directly or indirectly helped them in this effort.