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Energy & Utilities careers

Refining, Processing & Transportation

What happens to oil and gas once it’s been gathered?

So you thought you’d done the hard bit, having dug it up, drilled it and collected it all. Well unfortunately, ladies and gents, that is only the end of the first chapter: you still need to refine, process and transport it to the many destinations crying out for fuel. Oil needs to be refined from crude oil, raw natural gas needs to be processed and minerals need to be extracted from their ore. Don’t forget though, it all needs to be nicely packaged and safely transported too.

Both terrestrial and maritime routes are required to ship these precious goods, which pose a variety of safety, security and environmental issues that must all be addressed. Everything must be done to prevent spills at sea and ruptures in pipelines over land.

In short, anybody who works in this area of the energy and utilities industry plays a part in providing the whole world with the energy it needs.

Pretty much anything you encounter these days requires energy. Your car, the heating, your bedside lamp and virtually any other mechanical object you can think of is at the mercy of the various forms of energy that this industry gets out of the ground and turns into something tangible.

Where does oil refining take place?

Refining is reserved for the world of oil. Crude oil turns up to an industrial process plant and is transformed into a variety of more useful petroleum products. Crude oil is passed through a furnace into a huge container where the various products are separated depending on their boiling points. It’s at this point that diesel fuel, asphalt base, kerosene, heating oil, paraffin wax and many other products appear.

Once everything has been separated and purified, the various fuels are sent on their travels to power the world’s many machines.

How do you refine oil?

Oil refining begins with the raw fossil fuel, crude oil, an unprocessed source packed with hydrocarbons (the molecules that contain all of the energy that makes oil such a useful commodity). Crude oil is effectively a big muddle of different types of hydrocarbons that, unless separated, are not a whole lot of use to anybody.

Crude oil is heated and different hydrocarbon chains are removed as they reach their different vaporisation points. Oil refineries must also be able to store whatever they produce before they can be transported elsewhere, often meaning that plants resemble sprawling mini-metropolises.

What materials can be processed?

Gas processing occurs in fractionators, a fancy word for the more commonly known ‘processing plant’. They take raw natural gas from underground gas fields, oil wells or condensate wells and process gas to be used for industrial, commercial or residential purposes. The various hydrocarbons and fluids are heated up in a similar way to the process that is employed in oil refineries. This produces ‘pipeline quality’ gas, which is then pumped out and distributed.

Things are slightly more straightforward when it comes to mineral processing, where the process effectively involves grinding, crushing and breaking ores up into little pieces. This is known as comminution.

How do you process gas and minerals?

Gas processing begins with raw natural gas that is collected from adjacent wells. This process starts with the removal of any free liquid water before the serious stuff kicks off. In a similar way to oil refining, all of the various hydrocarbons are then separated before being sent elsewhere via extensive pipeline systems. There will often also be ‘straddle extraction plants’. These are areas along pipelines that continue to process the gas before it arrives at the point of consumption.

Turning ore into useable minerals can involve four different types of process: comminution, concentration, sizing and dewatering. The first is particularly straightforward, involving reducing the size of the ore. Sizing involves the separation of different particles and concentration uses a variety of methods, such as ‘shaking tables’ or using gravity to achieve the same thing. Dewatering simply involves the process of separating solid from liquid.

How do you transport oil and gas?

When it comes to transportation, oil and gas can be moved by rail, pipeline, barge, ship or lorry. This part of the process is fraught with huge logistical and safety issues, not to mention the huge environmental impact it can have when things go wrong. It’s a worldwide business, with precious resources often being extracted from the most inhospitable places and transported to every corner of the world.

What are the different methods of transportation?

When it comes to gas and oil, pipelines usually lead the way for transportation. There are three types: gathering, transportation and distribution pipelines. The gathering variety assist with the collection of crude oil or gas at the source; transportation pipelines do the heavy work, shifting the goods across continents; and distribution pipelines deliver the product to the end user.

Tankers also contribute greatly to the movement of oil, gas and minerals throughout the world with over 4,024 currently in service!

With all this, individuals are required for a huge variety of roles: from building the pipelines and overseeing the refining and processing stage, to manning the tankers and brokering the deals that involve pipelines crossing potentially hundreds of different jurisdictions.

The refining, processing and transportation area of the energy and utilities world is really big business and the careers opportunities are plentiful. So, if any of this intrigues you, beyond what on earth a ‘shaking table’ is, you want to be part of the comminution community, or you’ve got nothing else in the pipeline (har har), then this might be the career path for you!