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Refinery power failures: causes, costs

and solutions
Power outages typically lead to damaging costs for refiners. Strategies are
needed to minimise them
Patrick J Christensen, William H Graf and Thomas W Yeung Hydrocarbon Publishing Company

bout 90 seconds into the second half of

the 2013 Super Bowl, the American football championship game, half of the
stadium lost power a 34-minute delay caused
by a malfunction in a faulty electrical relay that
was supposed to monitor the electrical load. This
event not only caused much frustration between
the teams, fans and workers trying to fix the
problem but also cost the broadcast network
advertising revenue. The point is that we all take
electricity for granted until the lights go out. For
most of us, we just endure until the power comes
back on. For refineries, however, there are more
serious consequences that occur when power is
lost. This article is the first of a two-part series
examining technology-driven strategies to mitigate refinery power failures and minimise
impacts on company earnings. Part 1 discusses
the causes and financial costs when a refinery
suffers a power disruption. Part 2 focuses on
mitigation technologies available to refiners for
minimising power disruptions and unplanned
shutdowns as well as overall strategies to reduce
financial impacts.

Refinery shutdowns happen on

a daily basis

average of 1.2 shutdowns per day. As Figure 1

shows, 46% of the shutdowns were due to
mechanical breakdowns, 19% were caused by
electrical disruptions and power failures, 23%
were the result of maintenance, and the last 12%
were because of other causes, mostly fires that
occurred at the refinery. While some incidences
last only a couple of hours, many last multiple
days and even weeks. About 92% of maintenance-related shutdowns were unplanned, many
due to leaks in piping and different units.

Major causes of power disruptions

As Figure 2 shows, 17.6% of refinery power
disruptions were the result of electrical equipment failures or refinery processing units having
electrical problems. This includes transformers
malfunctioning or the FCC unit suffering an
electrical failure. Some 16.4% of causes were due
to weather events. This includes hurricanes,
lightning strikes and wind causing power lines to
fall or units to be knocked out of service. While
accidents due to weather cannot be avoided,

Electrical: 19%
Other: 12%

Company collected data from
reports published by the US
Department of Energys Energy
Assurance Daily. The information analysed focused on power
failures and disruptions at US
Maintenance: 23% Mechanical: 46%
From 2009 to 2012, there
were over 1700 refinery shut- Figure 1 Overall shutdowns
downs, which equates to an 2009-2012, %


Surges: 1.9%
Breakdown: 17.6%

Weather: 16.4%

Other: 1.9%

Fire: 1.9%

Unspecified: 60.4%

Figure 2 Causes of power disruptions

2009-2012, %

July 2013 1

cause problems. Power lines can
Rotary equipment: 7.0%
processing units and electrical
be knocked down, lightning
equipment can help avoid
strikes can disrupt units, and rain
units: 24.6%
can interfere with the steam
Unfortunately, over 60% of
supply. These are a few of the
the causes of electrical
examples that show how weather
disruptions are not specified.
can cause a refinery shutdown.
Most of the unspecified
In February 2010, Valeros
power failures were listed as
Ardmore, Oklahoma, refinery
a power failure occurred at
experienced thunderstorms that
the refinery and caused flarcaused temporary power outages
ing or similar statements.
at several units, reducing runs.
Electrical equipment: 56.1%
There are multiple reasons
Valero reported that it was restorwhy the reports were so Figure 3 Breakdowns causing power ing full production at the plant the
vague: the refiner did not disruptions 2009-2012
next day. On 1 December 2011, a
know the reason at the time
wind storm caused a power outage
of the report, there are confidentiality policies and forced several units offline at Chevrons El
that prevented the refinery from reporting the Segundo, California, refinery, halting production
causes, or the refinery for whatever reason did until 7 December. Among the affected units was
not want to be very specific in its report. The a CDU that caught on fire in the aftermath of the
fact that so many are unspecified makes it diffi- electrical failure. Flaring occurred as a result of
cult to minimise power disruptions. Therefore, the incident and during the subsequent restart
any prevention and protection strategies process. Fire damage to the CDU, six days of
deployed by a refinery should include detailed inactivity and flaring all adversely affected the
bookkeeping of failed equipment so that statis- refinerys bottom line.
tical analyses or predictive analytics can be
In March 2009, Motivas Port Arthur, Texas,
performed in identifying exact causes to reduce facility experienced lightning that led to a power
future incidents, as discussed in part 2 of this outage and also stated a fire. The lightning
caused a crude unit, two hydrotreaters and a
In Figure 3, 56.1% of the failing units were delayed coker to shut down. Unlike Motivas
electrical equipment such as circuit breakers, experience, in July 2009, Pasadena Refinings
switchgears, transformers and substations. Some Pasadena, Texas, complex experienced a light24.6% of power disruptions were caused by ning strike that disabled all power to the Red
refinery processing units such as the FCC unit Bluff Tank farm, which resulted in loss of feed to
having electrical issues. About 7% of problems the refinerys crude unit. The feed was restored
were the result of rotary equipment such as with a backup generator, and the refinery was
motors and compressors having electrical prob- able to run using backup power and keep operalems. About 12% did not specify the unit or tions online despite the loss of power to the tank
equipment that was having problems.
farm. In April 2012, Valeros Norco, Los Angeles,
From 2009 through 2012, there were about facility experienced a power surge caused by
320 power disruptions at refineries in the US. In lightning, which caused the hydrocracking unit
this section, some of their experiences are to trip. Emissions of sulphur dioxide and hydroreviewed. All of these disruption events were gen sulphide were released during the flaring
gathered from the US Department of Energys caused by the shutdown.
Energy Assurance Daily publication. We chose
Although high wind and debris are the most
events that provided a clear picture of the causes commonly cited causes of hurricane damage, for
and impacts from power disruptions.
Gulf Coast refineries in the US, where hurricanes
hit most often and hardest, the greatest hurricane
Weather problems
damage is the result of flooding. Hurricane Isaac,
The most common weather event that causes which touched down in Louisiana 28-29 August
power failures is a thunderstorm. High winds, 2012, caused extensive flooding, forcing nine
lightning strikes, heavy rain and flooding can all Louisiana oil refineries with a collective capacity

2 July 2013


of 2.2 million b/d to shutter about 42% of that

capacity by 29 August due to power outages.
Backup generators are typically only used for
refineries most important units. Flood control
measures commonly employed at refineries and
petrochemical plants on the Gulf Coast include
dikes and levees to guard against rising waters,
but each storm is different. Normal shutdowns
usually take three days, but hurricanes are often
unpredictable, making it difficult to schedule a
proper shutdown procedure. Restarting after a
hurricane is determined by electrical outages on
and off-site, so it could take days or weeks. As a
result of Superstorm Sandy in late October 2012,
Phillips 66s 238 000 b/d Bayway refinery in the
state of New Jersey was idle for over three weeks
due to electrical damage sustained from salt water

Electrical equipment failures

Electrical breakdowns are nothing new to any
industry. Many units require simple maintenance
checks that can help avoid sudden breakdowns.
Fires can easily occur in oil or gas-insulated units
such as transformers. In January 2009,
ExxonMobils Beaumont, Texas, coker was shut
for unplanned electrical repairs. In July 2010,
Citgos Lake Charles, Los Angeles, refinery had a
fire break out due to faulty electrical wiring,
which led to an emissions release. In February
2012, PBF Energys Delaware City, Delaware,
plant had an electrical issue with the CDU. Two
compressors in the catalytic cracker were inoperable due to an electrical issue, which led to
flaring. These electrical problems can be easily
seen and fixed during routine maintenance before
the failures occur.
Substations, whether owned by the utility
company or the refinery, tend to break down if
not properly maintained. In October 2009,
Valeros McKee, Texas, plant had a substation
malfunction, which forced units offline.
Substation malfunctions have occurred more
frequently than many people think. In March
2010, Chevrons El Segundo, California, refinery
shut down due to fire at a substation. And, in
August 2011, Tesoros Kapolei, Hawaii, complex
had a power outage due to a failure at one of the
local electric utilitys substations.
In May 2010, BPs Texas City, Texas, refinery
had a power blip caused by switchgear failure.
Switchgear failures also occur quite frequently.


The relay that failed at the Super Bowl was a

part of the switchgear setup that supplied power
to the stadium. Switchgears operate as a protective device against overcurrent and arc flashes.
They also need to be properly maintained to
avoid failures. A few types of switchgear are oil
or gas insulated. A stray spark can cause these to
catch on fire and fail.
Then there are the obscure reasons that cannot
be predicted and happen so infrequently that it
is hard to protect against. In November 2012,
Valeros Corpus Christi, Texas, had a power loss
that led to flaring due to a rodent contacting the
primary power transformer. Transformers that
can be accessed should be protected to allow
only those working on them to get to them. In
February 2010, Western Refinings Yorktown,
Virginia, had an unidentified unit shutdown due
a temporary power blip caused by a goose flying
into a nearby power line. Unless power lines are
put underground, it is difficult to protect them
from animals and debris.

Power surges and fluctuations

Power surges also occur frequently and can be
prevented with circuit breakers or switchgear. In
August 2009, ExxonMobils Baytown, Texas,
complex had a power surge that triggered a
small fire in a pipe rack at the refinerys chemical plant. Power surges can cause fires and cause
breakdown in different units. In April 2011,
Sunocos Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, refinery
had a power surge that knocked compressors
offline. In May 2011, Phillips 66s Wilmington,
California, facility had a power fluctuation occur,
temporarily shutting down several refinery units.
Normal operations were restored the next day.

Multiple unit shutdowns

Since most refinery units are integrated and
sometimes share the same power supply, power
failures could lead to the shutdown of these integrated units and the production loss of many
refined products, thereby magnifying potential
In June 2009, Tesoros Kenai, Alaska, facility
experienced a power outage. The hydrocracker
and isomerisation unit were shut to make repairs.
In April 2011, BPs Texas City, Texas, plant experienced an external power failure that knocked
BPs plant and other refineries in the area offline.
Several units, including an alkylation unit, coker

July 2013 3

depreciation and amortisation)

of $1 a barrel and a utilisation
rate of 85% are assumed.
Depending on cash margins,
profit penalties on the refinery
could be considerable, as
projected in Figure 4. A threeday shutdown of a FCC unit
with a cash margin of $1/bbl at
the time of the incident could
cost a refinery over $200 000.
On the other hand, when the
cash margin was $5/bbl prior to
a shutdown for a week, the
Production-time lost, days
monetary penalty could be as
high as $2.4 million. Refineries
Figure 4 Net profit loss due to shutdown
on the US West Coast and in the
Mid-West can see cash margins
and FCC unit were out of commission for more as high as $20/bbl and sometimes higher. A
than a week. This amount of downtime leads to a seven-day outage during margins this high can
substantial loss in profits.
lead to a loss of almost $12 million. Of course,
exact loss for each refinery is plant specific.
Production loss and profit penalties
Nowadays, the loss is even higher, as the FCC
When a power failure occurs, a refinery unit or unit is considered an important source for polyunits, or an entire facility must be shut down mer-grade propylene and light cycle oil (LCO)
and production is lost. A refiner could post a loss for the production of middle distillates.2
instead of profit in a quarter, and adverse finan- Moreover, steam and power from the regeneracial impacts are further magnified when refining tor turbo-expander contribute part of the plant
margins are poor.
In a gasoline-centric refinery, gasoline is a
mixture of FCC gasoline, alkylate, reformate, Case study
hydrocrackate gasoline and also possibly some Phillips 66s Bayway, New Jersey, refinery was
straight-run gasoline from the still tower. down from 28 October to 20 November 2012
However, both FCC and alkylation units contrib- due to Superstorm Sandy. According to the
ute to about one half of the gasoline volumes. company, the expenses related to the storm were
According to a study initiated by the US $56 million before tax.4 This loss did not include
Department of Energy, a loss of one barrel of missed production for over three weeks. Based
FCC input will result in a loss of one barrel of on the refinerys nameplate gasoline production
gasoline based on statistical analysis.1 The capacity of 145 000 b/d and distillate production
one-for-one relationship is said to be appropri- capacity of 115 000 b/d5, an utilisation rate of
ate because of the physical tie-ins between 85% and average spot market prices of gasoline
different operating units and limitations in stor- of $2.812/gal and $3.084/gal for distillates in
age and distribution systems that transfer New York Harbor during the shutdown period,
intermediate feedstocks between units. The FCC estimated revenue loss was over $650 million.
unit is the primary production unit in a refinery, Net profit loss ranged from $5.3 million for cash
drawing feedstock from the distillation tower margins of $1/bbl to $26.5 million for cash
and providing feedstock to the alkylation unit.
margins of $5/bbl. US refineries outside the East
For a rough estimate, a US Gulf Coast refinery Coast should expect a bigger financial impact,
with an average- sized FCC unit of 80K b/d will since East Coast refiners are known to have
lose $68K a day for a downed unit if cash much lower refining margins than their peers in
margins (which is defined as gross margins other parts of the country.
minus operating costs, before interest, taxes, and
From a business point of view, missed
Net profit/loss, $000s


4 July 2013

Cash margins = 1 $/b

Cash margins = 5 $/b
Cash margins = 10 $/b
Cash margins = 15 $/b
Cash margins = 20 $/b
Cash margins = 25 $/b


shipments to retail outlets at a time of strong

demand can lead to a price surge at the pump,
resulting in public outcry and possible governmental investigations.6 Undoubtedly, both
environmental and retail price issues will generate negative media coverage and severely
damage a companys public relations.
A rapid shutdown also increases the danger of
mechanical damage. Subsequent repairs to
damaged mechanical parts as well as costs of
downtime can make power failures even more
costly than the earlier estimates. Furthermore,
unit shutdowns and restarts are known to reduce
energy efficiency and increase the carbon footprint of the operation.

Potential legal liabilities

Aside from missed production, outages prompt
unnecessary flaring of hydrocarbons to avoid
unsafe conditions. Over the past 10 years, the US
EPA has entered into settlements with 28 different refineries that are aimed at restricting
emissions by the oil industry. The EPA has
acquired consent decrees from 105 US refineries
in 32 states and territories since December
2000. All of the settlements have involved at
least one of four primary pollution types: NOx,
SOx, benzene and volatile organic compounds
(VOCs). Furthermore, all of the violations
involved one or more four key refinery components: the FCC unit, SRU, flares and heaters/
boilers. Excessive flaring can lead to environmental concerns and incur fines imposed by
environmental agencies.
The potential liability due to a prolonged flaring can cost a refiner a huge sum. For illustration
purposes, a fire caused by a corroded pipe that
led to subsequent excessive emission at its 245
000 b/d Richmond, California, refinery in
August 2012 had forced Chevron to pay $10
million to individuals, area hospitals, city agencies and the Hazardous Materials Program as of
January 2013. There are approximately
24 000 civil claims that have been levied against
the firm as a result of the flaring at Richmond.
Emergency shutdowns because of power failure can also pose safety issues. Sometimes a
refinery shutdown will force the need to evacuate workers for safety reasons. In April 2010,
BPs Texas City, Texas, plant experienced an
electrical outage that shut off all power and
steam to the refinery and forced the evacuation


of non-essential workers from the plant. Safetyrelated incidents can result in the loss of life
along with the potential for millions of dollars in
fines and civil lawsuits, not to mention any negative publicity from the event. Previously, BP paid
over $87 million in fines issued by OSHA along
with undisclosed amounts in civil suits related to
an explosion and subsequent fire at its Texas
City, Texas, refinery on 23 March 2005 that
resulted in 15 worker deaths and over 170

As previously noted, about 19% of refinery emergency shutdowns in the US between 2009 and
2012 were caused by power disruptions because
of severe weather, poor power quality and electrical equipment malfunctions. Costs to refiners
amount to millions of dollars every year due to
lost production, repairs to damaged equipment,
sending valuable material to flare, possible fines
for excessive emissions, and so on. Therefore,
equipment vendors, maintenance and reliability
servicing companies and refinery technology
developers have been seeking technical
approaches to prevent power failures, protect
equipment, speed up restarts and salvage
damaged components. A few of the techniques
available include approaches to examine transformer failure due to switching transients,
perform transformer end-of-life evaluations,
undertake early fault detection and diagnosis in
an FCC unit, reduce arc flash energy, predict and
diagnose medium-voltage switchgear and rotating machines, and other latest techniques.
Power grid reliability can be threatened by
anything from severe weather to cyberterrorism. CHP/cogeneration is said to be a good
way to preserve power reliability through natural
disasters. In the near future, microgrids will play
an important role in refinery power reliability and
security. Since there are many options available
and refiners are often limited by tight budgets,
the cost-effective strategy is first to combine electrical outage data and process reliability models
and identify the most vulnerable equipment and
units. The results assist in sound decision-making
on what options and investments to choose in
minimising power failures. Finally, disciplines
such as actuarial science and enterprise asset
management should be included in overall refinery operations management. The objective is to

July 2013 5

ensure that the plant can achieve utmost reliability and highest energy efficiency to maximise
profitability while fulfilling safety and environmental requirements.
This article is the first of a two-part series
from a white paper called Refinery Power
Failures: Causes, Costs, and Solutions from
Hydrocarbon Publishing Company. The paper is
an excerpt from a multi-client strategic report
called Refinery Power Outage Mitigations:
Latest Technologies and Strategies to Minimize
Financial Impacts, to be published in June
Special thanks to Baldwin A Yeung, PE of SAIC, who provided
technical assistance for this paper.

1 US Energy Information Administration, Refinery Outages:

Description and Potential Impact on Petroleum Product Prices,
March 2007.
2 Fluid Catalytic Cracking, 4Q2012 issue of Worldwide
Refinery Processing Review, Hydrocarbon Publishing Company
3 Carbonetto B, Pecchi P, Going green with FCC expander
technology, Hydrocarbon Processing, Jan 2011, 79.
4 www.phillips66.com/EN/newsroom/news_releases/2013

6 July 2013

5 www.phillips66.com/EN/about/our-businesses/refiningmarketing/refining/Pages/index.aspx
6 Feinstein to FTC: Investigate Spikes in California Gas
7 BP Texas City Violations and Settlement Agreements. OSHA
website. www.osha.gov/dep/bp/bp.html
Patrick J Christensen is Project Manager, Hydrocarbon Publishing
Company, with seven years refining experience. He holds a BS
degree in chemical engineering from Drexel University.
William H Graf is Technology Analyst, Hydrocarbon Publishing
Company, and holds a BS degree in physics from HampdenSydney College.
Thomas W Yeung is Principal and Managing Consultant,
Hydrocarbon Publishing Company.He is a licensed professional
engineer in New York State and holds a BS degree in chemical
engineering from University of Wisconsin-Madison, a MS degree
in chemical engineering from University of Connecticut-Storrs,
and a MBA from New York University.
Email info@hydrocarbonpublishing.com

More articles from: Hydrocarbon Publishing Company
More articles from the following categories:
Power Generation
Reliability & Asset Management


Refinery power failures: causes, costs

and solutions: part 2
Technologies are discussed to help refiners formulate strategies in managing
risks and crisis due to emergency shutdowns, thereby minimising financial loss
William H Graf, William F Vukovich and Thomas W Yeung Hydrocarbon Publishing Company

art 1 of this series (PTQ, Q3 2013) discussed balloon caused a short circuit in a substation at
how electrical disruptions and power fail- ExxonMobils Torrance, California, refinery in
ures at refineries regularly cause enormous the US resulting in the evacuation of workers
damage in terms of lost production, excessive and elevated flaring.
repair costs, and can lead to environmental and
Refineries require a lot of power to operate.
safety concerns, raising the questions of how The overall mitigation strategy primarily consists
these outages can be prevented and how an of two parts: risk management and crisis
affected refinery can be brought back online as management (see Figure 1). In handling risk
quickly as possible. In this article, vital preven- management, a refinery must install the most
tion techniques, protective devices, quick restart reliable equipment available in the market that
equipment, and supply security methods will be can withstand disruptions caused by weather,
power surges, blackouts, and any other outside
Electricity is the lifeblood of the refinery oper- elements. Since no equipment is perfect, reliabilation. Optimal design and excellent construction ity engineers and operators still need to prepare
mean nothing if the plant cannot receive a for worst-case scenarios as well as the most
consistent and reliable power supply. Plant shut- frequently occurring possibilities. This is where
downs, whether planned or unplanned, will they utilise prevention techniques to detect and
decrease production and reduce profits, as fix problems before they lead to a power failure,
shown by US refiner HollyFrontier, which and select protective equipment accordingly.
reported a loss of $98 million for Q1 2013 When a problem does arise, the second part of
because of planned and unplanned shutdowns.1
the strategy crisis management comes into
Not only is power reliability essential for prof- play. This involves the recovery technologies that
its, it is also important for
national fuel supply security
and environmental concerns.
Refinery outage
On 8 July 2013, Enis Taranto
refinery in Italy suffered a leak
of untreated fluid following a
power outage. Italys industry
ministry declared that the refinery must invest in a power feed
system to prevent further blackouts, or else the refinery would
lose its permits.2 The necessity
of flaring following electrical
failure is common, as on 30
May 2013 when a simple Mylar Figure 1 Refinery outage mitigations


PTQ Q4 2013 1

allow for safe shutdown and continued operation, and the restart methods that will not lead
to the same problem that caused the previous

Prevention and protection

One of the most important preventative measures
a refinery can take is to have an efficient maintenance programme. Studies show thatthe failure
rate of electrical equipment is three times higher
for components that are not part of a scheduled
compared to those that are.3 Accordingly, maintenance is often a high priority for refiners; at a
National Petrochemical & Refiners Associations
(NPRA) conference in the US, a Gulf Coast refinery representative said that his company spends
about 20% of the maintenance budget on proactive activities. It focuses on rotating equipment
and predictive and preventative maintenance
programmes such as oil analysis, vibration analysis, thermal imaging, and craft training
programmes. An East Coast refinery representative added that his company spends about 15% to
20% on proactive maintenance and in the long
term will have it up to 65% to 70% of the budget.4
Protective measures will keep refining equipment from being damaged or failing when
exposed to hazards such as arc flashes or short
circuits. This requires the proper selection of
distributive equipment including transformers,
switchgears, motor control centres, motors and
cables that can handle extreme conditions, and
are able to withstand dangerous events. This
also necessitates the proper selection and use of
equipment such as protective relays, circuit
breakers and grounding devices in order to
protect distributive equipment from dangerous
conditions. Good protective technology can also
protect operators and other personnel from
injury. The following sections discuss the causes
of and remedies to major equipment failures in a
refinery, with specific refinery applications to
show the latest technologies adopted.

Transformers are an essential part of power

distribution. They increase or decrease voltage for
downstream distribution and operation. A properly operating transformer keeps the electrical
system and load at optimal utilisation voltage

2 PTQ Q4 2013

Almost every malfunction is a result of the failure of the devices insulation system. The
insulation is what keeps the transformer in electrical balance and, when the insulation ceases to
function, the entire transformer is susceptible to
immediate failure. Faults, heat and mechanical
damage will lead to insulation failure, but the
electrical engineer can avoid these issues by
selecting a unit capable of withstanding expected
operating and fault conditions.
A study done by Hartford Steam Boiler during
a 20-year period showed that 13% of all transformer failures in the US were caused by
inadequate maintenance. It is important for
maintenance personnel to check the insulator
fluid. These tests will indicate the health of the
transformer. Regular testing such as an insulation resistance test, dielectric absorption test,
power factor test, dissolved gas in oil test, acidity
test, colour test, and insulating liquid test will
allow reliability engineers to track a transformers degradation and determine if replacement or
repair is necessary.3
The right transformer will provide the correct
level of power for refinery units. In May 2013, it
was announced that Siemens will be providing
35kV/10kV distribution transformers as part of
the electrical system for China National
Petroleum Corporations planned Guangdong
Petro-chemical Refinery.5

Switchgear is a combination of electrical enclosures, buses, protective relays, circuit breakers,

fuses, controls and indicating devices that are
used to distribute power to and protect other
electric equipment. Receiving power from generators or transmission cables, they will distribute
their power to other switchgear (or switchboards) and motor control centres.
Arcing is a major threat to switchgear safety
and reliability. Major arc flashes and blasts will
ruin the switchgear and nearby equipment, and
endanger nearby workers. An arcing event can
cost a refinery as much as $15 million per incident.6 Plant engineers should select arc-resistant
models that utilise quick sensing and switching
to de-energise arcs.
An easy maintenance programme can be set up
for switchgears. A maintenance engineer should
inspect insulators and conductor supports for


signs of cracking, broken pieces and other physical damage or deterioration. Operators should
examine all bolts and connecting devices for signs
of deterioration, corrosion or overheating, and
ensure that bolts and connecting devices are tight,
according to manufacturers specifications.3
Switchgear is an extremely important electrical
unit for refineries. Outdated units should be
upgraded to protect the refinery from arc flashes
and other possible failures. In July 2013, ABB
installed its 11 kV Unigear ZSI switchgear with
REA arc-quenching technology at the Total
Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR) in the UK.
Motor control centres

A motor control centre (MCC) is used to group a

number of combinations of motor controllers
together with a common power bus. A MCC
gives operators easy and safe control over a
number of different motors throughout the facility. Motor controllers serve several key
functions: starting or stopping the motor it
controls, interrupting the current of the motor,
and providing overcurrent protection.
Since its construction is very similar to that of
switchgear, MCCs can experience similar failures. This includes failure to the protective
circuit breakers and fuses, loose connections in
the cables and, of course, arcing. Manufacturers
are employing the same arc-mitigating technology used in switchgear to protect MCCs from
failing or harming personnel, so an engineer
would be wise to choose units with this feature.
Motors are the most important unit for refinery processing units to operate. The motor
control centre is even more critical in providing
protection and the right electrical levels for the
motors. Eaton was rewarded a $3 million
contract from Valero Energy (US) in July 2013
for its arc-preventative FlashGuard motor
control centres, 285 of which were installed in
new or existing units.7

As far as consumption of electric energy goes,

nothing in a refinery comes close to the amount
of power provided to motor-driven devices.
Motor-driven equipment will typically account
for 70% of energy consumption in refineries, so
special attention must be paid to their proper
selection and operation.8 The number of motors
in any refinery will be in the thousands, and the


safe operation of all of them is essential to

smooth production.
Everything from pumps, compressors, fans and
other rotary devices is considered motor driven,
and steps can be made to protect and improve the
reliability of these essential parts of any refining
process. One of the main reasons for motor failures is overheating. Overheating will degrade a
motors insulation and necessitate de-rating of
the motor. This can be a result of excessive
current from faults or frequent start-ups.
Technological considerations such as switching to
variable-speed drives (VSDs) or soft starters, and
good maintenance practices will improve
Using modern motors can help increase efficiency, which then decreases operating costs. An
April 2011 case study by Rockwell Automation
reported a 30-41% reduction in energy consumption and decreased downtime for Chinas Daqing
Refinery Plant after it switched from its throttling system to Rockwells PowerFlex 7000 MV
VSD and a 6kV inverter.9

A refinery will use miles of cable for power

distribution, motor operation and process
control. Its ability to transport signals and
current will impact the entire refinerys ability to
operate. Protection of all the cables is vital for
any part of a process.
Cables will suffer from degradation to their
insulation through heat and contamination.
Parts of a cable that heat up from excessive
current or external factors will be vulnerable to
water trees and short circuits. Cables surrounded
by polymer insulation are especially vulnerable
to the damage caused by water trees.
Cables should be inspected for sharp bends,
physical damage, excessive tension, oil leaks,
pits, cable movement, soft spots, cracked jackets,
damaged fireproofing, poor ground connections,
deterioration, and corroded or weakened cable
supports. Maintenance workers should inspect
for wear at entrance points and at supports, and
inspect potheads for oil or compound leakage
and for cracked or chipped porcelain.3
A rejuvenation technique called cable injection
is one option to fix damaged polymer insulation.
Novinium provided this service to the Hess Port
Reading Refinery in Perth Amboy, New Jersey
(US), in 2010 to rejuvenate its medium-

PTQ Q4 2013 3

voltage cable after the refinery suffered from

short circuits.10
Protective relays

Relays are essential to any electrical system.

They are used in all parts of the system, from
the generators and substation to the transmission lines and load. Protective relays detect
abnormal system conditions and direct the
circuit breakers to operate in the proper manner,
to correct any abnormality.
A condition known as hot-switching is a
common cause of relay degradation, especially in
older electro-mechanical equipment. Large differences in potential across a relay will cause this to
happen. The electrical engineer must be sure that
the relay chosen is capable of withstanding the
voltage and current levels that occur during
normal operation and fault conditions.
Inspection, maintenance, and testing of
protective relays should be done annually by an
operator to ensure proper and reliable operation.
Relays should be inspected for physical damage
and deterioration, gaskets and covers checked
for damage and excessive wear, and repaired or
replaced as necessary. Refinery maintenance
personnel must also examine and clean the relay
and enclosure of foreign materials, such as dust,
dirt and moisture contamination.3
Upgrading old electro-mechanical relays to
modern digital relays can help refineries better
protect their units and monitor their electrical
usage. Motor Oil Hellas Corinth Refineries S.A.
(MOH) in Greece upgraded to SEL PowerMAX
Power Management and Control System, a
microprocessor relay system, to boost reliability
after a 2005 power outage.11
Circuit breakers

Circuit breakers protect circuits and equipment

from current and voltage spikes. Circuit breakers
are designed to open and close by non-automatic
means and to open the circuit automatically on a
predetermined over-current without damaging
itself. The device protects other units from overload or short circuit. Its basic function is to
detect a fault condition. Unlike a fuse, circuit
breakers can be reset after they have been
Circuit breakers will face issues due to mechanical wear when overused, and dried-up lubrication
when underused. Contaminants in the insulation,

4 PTQ Q4 2013

or the insulating medium escaping the breaker,

are certain to lead to failure. Failure of a breaker
will cause false trips that can harm operation and
nearby workers.
To maintain a circuit breaker, maintenance
personnel should inspect for damage and broken
or missing parts, make sure breaker contacts are
clean and aligned, be sure that spring pressures
are correct, check for leakage, see if the oil gauge
is correct, and conduct an insulating oil test.3
Circuit breakers are the infantry of the electrical
grid. Incorporating units that are robust for any
condition and the correct setting for its position
distribution line can save the refinery from failures. Back in 2010, Petroplus Coryton Refinery in
Essex (UK) replaced LV circuit breakers with
3200A 3-pole Masterpact NW circuit breakers
made by Schneider Electric, a model more suited
to intense weather conditions.12

A properly grounded (earthed) system will

protect equipment and personnel from exposure
to fault currents. Well-placed and -designed
grounding will divert any faults to earth or a
grounded bus. It is utilised throughout an electric system for equipment such as transformers
and motors, and on conductive structures like
storage tanks and pipes.
Most electrical systems at refinery utilisation
levels will use resistance grounding, where there
is a resistor between the equipment and ground.
This resistor, through factors such as corrosion
and mechanical wear, can wear out and consequently leave a system ungrounded. Neutral
grounding resistor (NGR) monitoring will immediately detect when a NGR has failed, and
greatly decrease the amount of time a system is
vulnerable to ground faults. I-Gards Sleuth
high-resistance grounder has been installed
during projects such as PetroCanadas (now
Suncor) 2005-2009 Refinery Conversion Project.

Recovery and restart

Preventative and protective measures will make
great strides towards decreasing downtime arising from power failures. But if a failure does
occur, it is necessary to minimise loss in production and resume normal operation as quickly as
possible. Even if the units are running at
reduced rates, flaring can be reduced and
production will not completely halt. The use of


backup generators and uninterruptible power

supply (UPS) can help get units back up and
running, and get control rooms back online
without missing a beat.
Backup generators

When the power goes down, all the units have to

stop. On-site generators give operators the ability to continue running units when the primary
power goes down. These units are not usually
used as the primary power due to fuel costs.
The failure of the cooling system will lead to a
rapid deterioration of the core insulation and
conductors. Generator failures can be due to
excessive rotor coil foreshortening, electrical
grounds, mechanical imbalances and overheating.
Again, the solution for these problems is an effective maintenance regimen to spot the problems
before they occur.
Backup generators can keep the power going
when the utility fails or when maintenance
requires the shutdown of the primary feed. In
June 2012, Mid Refinery Company, part of Iraqs
Ministry of Oil, was provided with Cummins
Power Generations C3300 D5 generator set to
operate at 6.6kV for its refinery outside of
Uninterruptible power supply

UPS is a device that acts as a backup power

source. It is designed to detect power dips and
power failures, and initiate a battery backup
power once a problem is detected.14 A UPS should
only be used in an environment that it is rated
for. UPS system loads consist of digital control
systems, programmable logic controllers, critical
process instruments, fire and gas alarm panels,
safety shutdown systems, process equipment
control panels (boiler controls, compressor
controls, and so on) and other critical electrical
The battery of a UPS is the weak link in the
system. If the UPS is in a hot environment then
battery life will be reduced. Vented lead acid
batteries have an average life of 10- 15 years for
plate arrangement and 15-20 years for tubular
design. The Plante plate arrangement has
increased battery life to 20-25 years. Nickel
cadmium batteries, in vented or recombination
arrangement, can have a life time of up to 25
years. Batteries should be kept below 25C
(77F) to maintain good operation.16


Maintenance for UPS systems can be challenging and require certified personnel. Trained
workers should ensure that any areas of corrosion and deterioration are repaired as needed.
They should clean and examine all electrical
connections for signs of corrosion or deterioration, repair or replace as necessary, and ensure
that all connections are tightened according to
manufacturers specifications. They should also,
as applicable, clean and test all breakers, disconnects and relays as prescribed elsewhere in these
standards and as specified by the manufacturer,
and check all system alarms and indicator lights
for proper operation.3
UPS systems can not only provide backup
power for control units, but can also be set to
balance the electrical feed when the voltage is
fluctuating. In July 2011, Emerson provided a
UPS and generator package to Chevrons (now
Valero) Pembroke Oil Refinery (UK) for the
sulphur recovery unit as a way to operate in the
event of a grid failure and to operate emergency
shutdown procedures without environmental

Formulating strategies to mitigate power

Every processing unit within an oil refinery was
meticulously designed and planned on the
assumption that it would receive a constant
power supply. With that in mind, it is necessary
to consider the steps that could be taken to
ensure 24/7 production from every process. Risk
management and crisis management must be
practised to maximise productivity of the plant.
Understand the impacts

Plant owners and managers must understand

the lasting impacts outages will have on a
company in order to appreciate the importance
of mitigating refinery power failures. Figure 2
illustrates the impacts of refinery power failures.
The financial implications have been stated
earlier, where more downtime means less product and increased maintenance and repair
expenditures. The sudden shutdown of large
units presents a large array of safety and environmental concerns, where large amounts of
dangerous chemicals can be released through
flaring or ruptured lines; poor plant safety and
environmental hazards are certain to lead to
sanctions, lawsuits and, of course, bad media

PTQ Q4 2013 5



Plant safety
and liability

tion of its report. The survey

covers 120 companies from
around the world that provide
various technologies that are
further discussed in the report.
Six Sigma

Strategies for process improvement such as Six Sigma rely on

identifying and removing defects
within a process and carrying out
proper operational practices by
qualified personnel. This starts
concern and
with the initial design of the
power system by the electrical
engineer, where all factors such
Figure 2 Impacts of refinery power failures
as steady-state load requirements, ambient conditions, and
quantified fault conditions are
Technology suppliers surveyed
Management and engineers must
Technology Companies
ABB, Eaton, GE, Schneider Electric, and Siemens AG
also work with the vendors to be
ABB, Caterpillar, Eaton, GE, Schneider Electric, and Siemens AG
certain that all the electric equipMotor control centres
ABB, Eaton, GE, Schneider Electric, and Siemens AG
ABB, Baldor Electric Co., GE, Rockwell Automation, Siemens AG,
ment installed is rated for the

and Teco Westinghouse
appropriate operating conditions.
General Cable, Nexans, and Novinium
Protective relays
ABB, Eaton, GE, Schneider Electric, Schweitzer Engineering

Laboratories, and Siemens AG
personnel must be properly
Circuit breakers
ABB, Eaton, GE, Schneider Electric, and Siemens AG
trained and educated by the
Grounding technologies i-Gard and Littlefuse
Backup generators
Aggreko, Caterpillar, Cummins Power Generation, GE, Kohler and vendors to know how to correctly
run and check up on newly
Uninterruptible power
supply units
Ametek Solid State Controls, Eaton, and Emerson
provided equipment. Reliability
engineers should have access to
Table 1
operating and condition-based
data to assess the state of all
coverage and negative publicity. Sudden, equipment and notice any future problems.
unplanned shutdowns are never good for the
reliability of a refinerys operating units, espe- Big data
cially the larger ones. Motors and rotary Models should be developed not just for faults
equipment are damaged when suddenly taken and degradation, but also for weather tracking in
from full speed to a dead stop, and consume a case of incoming storms and lightning through
great deal of energy while restarting. But if steps cloud, temperature and wind sensing. A refiner
are taken to minimise unplanned failures, all of may want to borrow the idea from IBM, which
these consequences can be reduced.
recently announced that a combination of big
data analytics and weather modelling technology
Finding the most reliable electrical equipment
can predict the performance of renewable
Refineries need to work with electrical technol- energy.18 Since over 16% of refinery power
ogy vendors to design and construct the most disruptions were caused by weather in the US
reliable grid for each unit. This cooperation can from 2009-2012, refiners must ensure there are
help refineries improve their energy security and adequate investments in on-site weather moniefficiency. Table 1 shows a list of selected major toring equipment, and also cooperate with local
companies from those that were surveyed by weather authorities and tracking services so that
Hydrocarbon Publishing Company in prepara- steps can be taken in a quick and efficient

6 PTQ Q4 2013

Power failure



manner to prepare for any weather-related

emergency and quickly mitigate any potential
Since there are many options available and refiners are often limited by tight budgets, the
cost-effective strategy is first to combine electrical
outage data, and process reliability models and
identify the most vulnerable equipment and units.
The results assist in sound decision-making on
what options and investments to choose in minimising power failures. Disciplines such as
predictive analytics, actuarial science and enterprise asset management should be included in
overall refinery operations management.
Power independence

Onsite power generation via combined heat and

power (CHP) units and microgrids are worth
consideration. The latest CHP and microgrid
technologies can be incorporated into the design
of a new refinery power grid that can be combined
with other renewable energy generation units as a
way to improve power supply security and reduce
plant carbon footprint. This will also help refineries track the use of electricity to maximise
efficiency and discover problems before they
occur to keep power disruptions to a minimum,
instead of depending on their utility provider.
Furthermore, power grids are prone to outages
because of weather, advancing age and potential
cyber-attacks. Power disruptions due to poor
infrastructure are common problems around the
Get everybody on board to save bottom line

Refiners are advised to set a goal of zero power

failure and fastest power recovery and share
the goal with all the employees, including people
working outside the plant. When a refinery shuts
down, business profit is gone, thereby affecting
everybody in the company, from the CEO to the
maintenance worker. Any employees that offer
key contribution in terms of ideas and innovations to increased reliability and availability of a
power system should be offered financial incentive for avoiding power failures.

No refinery can afford and tolerate power interruptions, as financial costs and potential
liabilities due to environmental and safety incidents can run into millions of dollars a day. The


responsibility of keeping a smooth operation not

only lies with reliability engineers, operation
managers and maintenance personnel, but also
with senior management, who should allocate
resources to invest in advanced technologies in
protection, prevention and recovery now available in the market. Refiners are advised to take a
holistic approach by managing risks and crisis in
terms of mitigating power failures. Otherwise,
stockholders, communities near the refineries
and consumers are paying the price.
This article is an excerpt from a multi-client strategic report called
Refinery Power Outage Mitigations: Latest Technologies and
Strategies to Minimize Financial Impacts, published in September
Special thanks to Mr Baldwin A Yeung, P.E. of SAIC, who provided
technical assistance for this article.

1 Zawadzki S, HollyFrontier vows less downtime at refineries,
Thomson Reuters, 7 May 2013.
2 Paraskova T, Italy orders Eni to install power feed at Taranto
refinery, Power Market Review, 6 Aug 2013, www.powermarket.
3 Recommended maintenance practices for electrical
distribution system equipment, The Hartford Steam Boiler, 2010,
4 56th Annual NPRA 2002 Technology Q&A, NPRA, 2002 p8, 20,
5 Siemens and China National Petroleum Corporation
conclude framework agreement, 29 May 2013, Siemens Global,
6 Franklin J, De-energizing arc-flash in oil & gas facilities,
Oil & Gas Monitor, 6 Mar 2013, http://oilgasmonitor.com/deenergizing-arc-flash-oil-gas-facilities/4406/
7 Eatons press release on Jul 16 2013, Eaton to Enhance
Safety, Equipment Reliability for Valero Energy Corporations St.
Charles Petroleum Refinery.
8 Electrical installations in petroleum processing plants,
American Petroleum Institute, Jul 2004, p12.
9 Rockwell automations medium voltage drive solution helps
Chinas Daqing refinery plant reduce annual energy consumption
by 41%, Apr 2011, www.emea.rockwellautomation.com/
10 Case study: Hess Port Reading Refinery, Perth Amboy, NJ,
11 Case study: automated power management system an
economical approach to greater operational dependability.
12 Petroplus refines its technology with retrofit from Schneider
Electric, Schneider Electric, Mar 2011.
13 Cummins Power Blog press release on 6 Jun 2012, MICTA

PTQ Q4 2013 7

supplies and installs Cummins Power Generation Prime Power

Solution at third site for Mid Refinery Company in Iraq.
14 Stout M, Effects of extreme temperatures. electrical
construction and maintenance, 2012.
15 Cosse R Jr, Dunn D, Spiewak R, Is my UPS distribution system
coordinated?, IEEE, 2004.
16 Eatons Power Xpert FMX Medium-Voltage Switchgear System
optimized with SASensor for tomorrows Smart Grid, Eaton, 25
Jan 2012, www.eaton.com/Eaton/OurCompany/NewEvents/
17 Emerson
Power solution keeps Pembroke Petroleum Pumping,
13 Jul 2011, Emerson News Release, www.emerson
Pembroke refinerygets.aspx
18 IBMs press release on 12 Aug 2013, Made in IBM Labs: IBM
drives the future of renewable energy with new wind and solar
forecasting system.

8 PTQ Q4 2013

William H Graf is Technology Analyst with Hydrocarbon Publishing

Company and holds a BS degree in physics from HampdenSydney College.
William F Vukovich is Technology Analyst with Hydrocarbon
Publishing Company and holds a BS degree in chemical
engineering from Lehigh University.
Thomas W Yeung is Principal and Managing Consultant with
Hydrocarbon Publishing Company. He is a licensed professional
engineer (New York State) and holds a BS degree in chemical
engineering from University of Wisconsin-Madison, a MS degree
in chemical engineering from University of Connecticut-Storrs,
and a MBA from New York University.
Email: info@hydrocarbonpublishing.com

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