World Without Pumps – Oil & Gas

These anecdotes are the result of a campaign launched to raise awareness of the importance of pumps and the pump industry in all of our daily lives.

Pumps Fuel Our Lives

In a world without pumps, we would get nothing but dust and moths coming out of the fuel nozzle at the gas station. The oil wells would be dry, and there would be no way to refine and process the petroleum that powers our vehicles. From the wellhead to the nozzle, pumps play an important role in delivering gasoline and diesel fuel to our vehicles and enabling the numerous other ways oil and gas are used worldwide.

Centrifugal pumps, reciprocating plunger pumps, progressive cavity pumps, gear pumps, diaphragm pumps, and metering pumps are part of the ecosystem of pumps used in the extraction, processing, and distribution of petroleum and its derivatives.

Because there might not be sufficient pressure at the well for crude oil to flow all the way to surface, underground piston pumps are installed at the oil-bearing level, driven by a pumpjack at the surface. Powered by an electric motor or internal combustion engine, the pumpjack creates a reciprocating motion to pump the oil to the surface. In some cases, high-pressure water or acid may be pumped through the well pipe to clean and fracture the subsurface rock and encourage the release of hydrocarbons. Once at the surface, the oil is sent to a refinery for processing. The U.S. has more than 200,000 miles of pipeline where pumps provide the pressure for transporting crude oil, refined products, and natural gas liquids. Tanker trucks, rail cars, barges, and vessels are also used for this purpose, all of which require pumps for loading and unloading.

While mechanical pumpjacks dot the landscapes of oil-producing states such as Oklahoma and Texas, hydraulic fracturing (also known as “fracking”) is now being used in many areas to crack open rocks deep below the earth’s surface and release trapped fossil fuel deposits. Shale and other sedimentary rock formations lock in oil and gas, so large quantities of water, chemicals, and sand are pumped into these formations under pressures high enough to crack the rock and allow the oil to flow to the surface. The fluid used may consist of up to 97 percent water but also includes chemical additives and small solid particles known as proppants. These particles, often special sand with uniform size, shape, and strength, keep the fractures in the rock open after the injection pressure subsides. Special high-pressure, high-volume pumps that can also handle the fracking fluid are used for the process.

Pumps are also widely used within refineries and processing plants to move the liquid through the stages of production. The commonly used pump types for these purposes are positive-displacement pumps and centrifugal pumps. Single-stage centrifugal pumps are primarily used to transfer low-viscosity fluids that require high flow rates. They are also used throughout the industry as part of a larger pump network that includes other centrifugal pumps, such as horizontal multistage pump units for crude oil shipping or water injection pumps used in secondary oil and gas recovery.

Many different types of pumps are used in downstream production, which refers to any activity that occurs after oil deposits are located and identified, wells are drilled, and raw materials are recovered from underground. Centrifugal pumps are commonly used for this application because their design is suitable for a wide range of applications. They are preferred for processes that handle low-viscosity liquids and require high flow rates. On the other hand, positive displacement pumps do not use impellers like centrifugal pumps. Instead, they use rotating or reciprocating parts to transfer a specific volume of fluid within a closed chamber or rotation of the shaft. Positive displacement pumps are ideal for transporting higher viscosity liquids at a lower flow rate but higher pressures. Transfer pumps are generally used to transfer fluids to a holding tank or during phases of the oil refinement process. These pumps are safe to use with flammable or corrosive liquids because their components are made from corrosion-resistant metals suited to hazardous environmental conditions. Diaphragm pumps are positive displacement pumps that use both a valve and a diaphragm to draw oil into a refinery chamber during the refinement process. They can transport large volumes of liquid, making them ideal for refineries located near sizable oil resources. Because they have fewer moving parts than conventional positive displacement pumps, they are much more resistant to wear.

Once the oil is refined and converted into a wide range of products, pumps facilitate the final delivery of bulk products such as gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, natural gas, and various petrochemical compounds. In the early 1900s, gasoline was sold from portable tanks that included hand pumps, as well as from stationary hand-operated pumps typically located in front of general stores. Customers would pump 5 or 10 gallons into a glass container at the top and fill their cars by gravity. Today, different grades of gasoline and diesel fuel are stored in underground tanks and pumped to dispensers at a service station. This process requires either a submersible pump situated in the tank or a suction pump that removes air above the fluid, enabling it to flow.

The tank trucks responsible for transporting fuel to filling stations, as well as those delivering heating oil and other bulk petroleum products, are loaded using pumps at a tank farm and have onboard pumps to dispense their liquids.

Natural gas is also extracted from underground deposits through drilling and fracking.  As it exists as a gas at normal ambient temperatures, it must be chilled to cryogenic temperatures below -260 degrees Fahrenheit, where it transforms into a liquid known as liquefied natural gas (LNG). Pumps are utilized extensively throughout the processing phase and the liquefaction process. Special types of pumps (cryogenic pumps) designed to withstand the extremely low temperatures are required to process and transport natural gas to the market. As a liquid, it can be transported through pipelines or by cryogenic tankers and finds widespread use for heating homes and businesses, generating electric power, cooking, and various other purposes, including powering some fleets of commercial vehicles. Utilities closer to the end consumer employ trucks equipped with special leak detection technology that includes multiple hanging cones and vacuum pumps to identify high-pressure gas line leaks while driving slowly through city streets.

Pumps also find widespread application in the closely related field of petrochemicals, which encompasses chemical compounds derived from petroleum or natural gas. These compounds include olefins such as ethylene and propylene, as well as aromatics such as benzine and toluene. They serve as the fundamental building blocks for a wide range of materials that include solvents, detergents, and adhesives. Olefins are also crucial in the production of plastics, resins, fibers, elastomers, lubricants, and gels. Centrifugal pumps, along with other types of pumps, generate the necessary flow and pressure required throughout the processes involved in manufacturing these materials.

Check out the other World Without Pumps!

LinkedIn | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Facebook