Supplying fluids that help get liquids
THE exploration and production of crude oil, and the subsequent refining into fuels and feedstocks, offers opportunities for the sale of speciality additives, an area in which Nalco-Chemserve is a market leader.
These speciality additives are used throughout the oil and gas production chain, from the drilling of oil wells to the refining of the finished product. Special drilling fluids are used when sinking an oil well, for example. The drilling fluid is circulated during the drilling operation, one of its main functions being to remove cuttings from the hole, allowing the drill bit to penetrate the rock formation. Another purpose of the fluid is to provide lubrication and torque reduction in the drilling process. Nalco-Chemserve provides a patented product, Thuslick HF, on a worldwide basis as a "downhole" lubricant and fluid loss preventer to the oil drilling industry.
Once the production wells have been sunk and the oil or gas field is producing, other chemicals are used to facilitate the production process. These include downhole corrosion inhibitors to protect steel piping and fittings from corrosion and prolong their service life, to emulsion breakers (separates water from oil), flocculants (water clarifier), scale inhibitors and biocides, used in treating water injected into a well to enhance oil recovery when reserves are depleting.
Mossgas, for instance, is a major consumer of these chemicals, supplied by Nalco-Chemserve, at both its on-shore and off-shore oil and gas installations.
The refining of crude oil produces saleable finished products such as petrol, diesel, jet fuel and industrial solvents. Chemical feedstocks are also produced for olefin production and lubricants. Nalco-Chemserve supplies additives to the oil companies for each of these processes.
Speciality chemicals provided by the company include crude oil demulsifiers (splits water from oil), corrosion inhibitors, anti-foulants, metal passivators (used to counter the poisoning effect of metal in chemical feedstock) and fuel additives.
These chemicals are locally manufactured where possible or sourced from Nalco-Exxon, a joint venture company in the US supplying speciality chemicals to the oil industry. Nalco-Chemserve has the largest share of this market in South Africa, though competition is intense. Nalco and Chemserve were the two largest players in this market before the merger. Now the combined operation represents a formidable force in the industry.
"We supply chemicals to each of the oil refineries, but we also consult to them on the use of additives, chemicals and their effect on various refining processes," says Don de Pretto, market development manager for the petroleum industry at NalcoChemserve.
"Water treatment is by far Nalco-Chemserve's biggest business, but the petroleum side is growing steadily.
"Corrosion is a big problem on a refinery. It shortens the equipment life and affects production. Fouling and foaming are related problems. There are chemicals to handle each of these so that the refinery can keep operating at maximum output."
Once the fuel is refined, other chemicals are added such as anti-oxidants, dyes to colour the fuel, metal deactivators and anti-static compounds (used in jet fuel).
"The refining and petrochemical industry is a busy area for us, and the development of new products by Nalco-Exxon keeps us at the cutting edge of development technology," says De Pretto.