STAR Program Seeks Better Testing for Separation Technology

By Trent Jacobs 30 Jul 2014

A project spearheaded by ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has been established to advance separation technology through improved testing methods and collaboration between users and suppliers. 

The main driver behind the creation of the Separation Technology Research (STAR) program is the industry’s need to separate oil, natural gas, and water from the production stream using technology that is lighter, smaller, and less costly than conventional separation systems. To achieve its goals, the joint-industry project must bridge the gap between the test results of separation components in controlled environments and their performance in the real world.

“A lot of operators are looking for performance data on separation equipment under field-like conditions, but many of the equipment manufacturers do not have that data directly available,” said Chris Buckingham, the manager of the STAR program and a program director in SwRI’s fluids and machinery engineering department. “What we are really trying to understand is how equipment performs under identical situations using standardized test procedures.”

The startup of the multimillion-dollar program was announced in July and also counts several contractors and equipment manufacturers as members, including FMC Technologies and Aker Solutions. SwRI is a nonprofit organization whose work involves the advancement of oilfield science and technology using its research facility in San Antonio, Texas. 

Membership to the STAR Program for the initial three-year charter ranges from USD 75,000 to USD 450,000, depending on the type of company. Buckingham said the program, which is looking for more companies to join, was created with a long-term vision, and that companies will be invited to re-join after their initial memberships end. 

“We’ve initially started off with a (three-year) program, but we are looking at research plans that go well beyond three years,” he said.

Buckingham added that the STAR program presents operators with a new opportunity to collaborate on learnings and separation data that would otherwise be held as a closely guarded proprietary secret. 

“Sometimes the operators will embark on their own research project to analyze separation system internals, but since they paid for it, they do not readily share that information,” he said. “They want consistent data from the different types of equipment, but they also want to share data from the different fields they are developing together.”

By participating in the STAR program, companies will not only have access to testing facilities and data, but they will also be charged with deciding what technologies and testing methods to research. The technologies involved in the research and testing program include all three primary application areas: onshore, offshore, and subsea. 

Testing and research of the different systems will be carried out at SwRI’s facility in San Antonio, including testing in their Multiphase Flow Facility. The program will examine gas-liquid and liquid-liquid separation. Three-phase separation technologies will also be included in the research program.

Trent Jacobs is a Technology Writer for the Journal of Petroleum Technology.