Volume: 1 | Issue: 6

Selected Reading for Facilities Engineers; ATCE Reveals PFC Performance Shortfalls

I have spent some time recently working in the nontechnical world of career planning and management. I have been looking at how to create development maps for those interested in pursuing a career in subsea engineering—an increasingly important subdiscipline of facilities engineering related to projects, facilities, and construction (PFC). The career maps include the  levels of skill mastery required and the resources available for acquiring them, be it experiential learning in an assignment, course, or textbook. 

During my quest to select resources, a debate started about choosing 10 books to recommend to subsea engineers.  However, the selection expanded to a wider category—“must reads” for facilities engineers. A consensus could not be reached, so here is a list of seven books to help guide your development into a well-rounded facilities engineer. No doubt, you will be able to add three of your own favorites to round out the list to a Top 10.

  • Arnold, K. and Stewart, M. 1999. Surface Production Operations, Volume 2: Design of Gas-Handling Systems and Facilities, second edition. Gulf Professional Publishing. A classic coauthored by Ken Arnold, a longtime PFC pioneer and friend to many of us, that effectively outlines the keys to designing, operating, and optimizing production facilities. Learn the concepts in this book to build a foundation for a good career in our business.
  • Perry, R.H. and Chilton, C.H. 1973. Chemical Engineers’ Handbook, fifth edition. McGraw-Hill. It presents all the process and chemical engineering you could want and most of the mechanical engineering you need to know. This is a reference book, stacked full of equations, design principles, and equipment used outside and inside our industry.
  • Allen, T.O. and Roberts, A.P. 1979.
    Production Operations: Well Completions, Workover, and Stimulation, Volumes 1 and 2. Oil & Gas Consultants International. All the basic petroleum engineering you need to understand our production engineer brethren’s work.
  • Jensen, W. 2001. Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster. Basic Books. A manifesto for simplicity that yields value and improved performance. A key business principle from which we can all benefit.
  • Zemansky, M.W. and Dittman, R. 1997. Heat and Thermodynamics, seventh edition. McGraw-Hill. When your job seems difficult, just pick up this book. Project engineering, facilities design, cost estimating, water management, and compliance with API/ISO standards won’t seem so bad after all.
  • Link, P.K. 1987. Basic Petroleum Geology. Oil & Gas Consultants International. A simple, well-written book that delivers a basic understanding of the subsurface and how it drives our business.
  • Svarovsky, L. 1984. Hydrocyclones. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. A book that covers the basic engineering principles applicable to a compact separation technology. If you work in oil/water separation or solids management, you should read this book—even if you do not use cyclones.

The selection is not an exhaustive list for facilities engineers. It reflects the roles that most facilities engineers play in today’s energy industry and illustrates the broadness of the discipline and the PFC constituency. We are a group resulting from an impromptu mix of the traditional engineering disciplines—chemical, electrical, mechanical, and civil—sprinkled with materials scientists, ocean engineers, naval architects, production chemists, subsea engineers, and other specialties. For me, it is this diversity that makes our community interesting and enables us to have multifaceted careers, touching most of the value chain of energy delivery.

ATCE Panel Reveals Shortfalls in Major Projects and Separator Design

I would like to turn your attention to two disturbing observations shared at the 2012 SPE ATCE in San Antonio, Texas, in October. As an industry, we do a poor job of managing major capital projects (MCPs), and we do not know how to design separators. Both of these bombshells, the consensus of several renowned experts, were dropped during well-attended panel sessions.

I understand the underperformance of an MCP. Few of our MCPs are completed on time or within budget, or achieve production attainment (planned hydrocarbon production in the first year). Many MCPs fail by these metrics, and the expert panel was unanimous in the view that we can do better, citing leadership and multifunction integration as key opportunities for improvement (Merrow). Read more about the megaprojects panel session on page 25 in this issue.

To me this was disappointing, because SPE has been championing the “project” part of PFC for several years now, and I have been on a personal crusade to bridge the gap between the surface and subsurface for most of my career. Obviously there is more work to be done. We can use SPE’s meetings, workshops, and publications to share our knowledge and improve industrywide capabilities in both leadership and cross-functional collaboration.

The second revelation about our inability to design separators came as a shock to many attendees during the panel session, which was the Separations Technology Technical Section’s inaugural meeting.

Serving as an expose about how little we know about designing the core of the production facilities that are used daily, this session featured well-known and widely respected facilities engineers admitting that we do not fully understand the physics of separation, and that some of the basic design equations we use are, at best, an educated guess.

It seems our only saving grace is that we are experts at squeezing the best performance from equipment, wizards at retrofitting technology to improve separator performance, and masters of engineering “fudge factors” into designs—we make everything bigger than necessary.

During the session, I identified familiar areas: I have played with the Stokes Law, actively researched coagulation, flocculation, and coalescence, dabbled in high G-force technologies, and developed production chemicals to destabilize emulsions. So my question is: so what?

Does it matter that we do not understand everything needed to design the perfect separator? After all, we have millions of barrels being treated in imperfectly designed separators every day, and for the most part, the separators work just fine. We also continue to challenge separator performance with operating environments in terms of temperature, pressure, fluid composition, and location, such as on the seafloor. So far, our designs have worked.

The real question is: What is the cost of the imperfect designs, not only in terms of metal or real estate, but in terms of production flexibility, human factors and exposure, and asset integrity and reliability?

I encourage you to join the Separations Technology Technical Section as we search for the answer to this question and develop the understanding and capabilities to “right size” our separators and deliver the performance needed in the production systems of the future. Learn more about the section at www.spe.org/network/technicalsections


For Further Reading

Merrow, E.W. 2012. Oil and Gas Megaprojects: Our Recent Track Record. Oil and Gas Fac. 1 (2): 38–42. SPE-153695-PA. http://dx.doi.org/10.2118/153695-PA.


Paul S. Jones is the subsea manager at Chevron and a past SPE technical director for Projects, Facilities, and Construction. He is a member of the Editorial Board of Oil and Gas Facilities.


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