Refining Oil and Gas in Orange County, CA: Common Methods Explained

The extraction, production, refining and manufacturing of petroleum products result in highly marketable products for both domestic consumption and export, with high production. Like a simple still, in a distillation column, the liquid is heated to become vapor and rises upward to be distilled back into separate substances. This is the beginning of the refining process. Distillation takes advantage of the chemical properties of crude oil to boil at different temperatures, a phenomenon that engineers trace along distillation curves.

Unlike a still, a distillation column contains a set of trays that allow hot vapors to rise and accumulate at different levels, separating the various liquids derived from crude oil. The top of the column is colder than the bottom, so as the liquids vaporize and rise, they condense again and accumulate in their respective trays. Butane and other lightweight products rise to the top of the column, while gasoline, naphtha, kerosene, diesel and heavy direct-burning gas oil accumulate in the trays, leaving waste at the base of the column. Liquids are considered “heavy” or “light” based on their specific gravity, which is determined by their weight and density compared to that of water.

Because there is greater demand for some distillate products, such as gasoline, refineries have an incentive to convert heavy liquids into lighter liquids. The term cracking comes from the process of breaking up long hydrocarbon molecules into smaller, more useful molecules. The cracking process converts heavy, direct-flow liquids into gasoline. There are multiple versions of the cracking process, and refineries use the process extensively.

Cracking is a highly controlled process, so cracking units exist separately from distillation columns. The most common type of cracking is “cat cracking”, named for the use of catalysts, substances that are added to a chemical reaction to accelerate the process. The reform process was developed to increase both the quality and volume of gasoline produced by refineries. By using a catalyst again, after a series of reforming processes, the substances are converted into aromatics and isomers, which have much higher octane numbers than the paraffins and naphthenes produced by other refinery processes.

In a nutshell, the reform reorganizes naphtha hydrocarbons to create gasoline molecules. The reform process produces reforming, which is necessary to increase the octane rating of current fuels that burn more cleanly. Curiously, hydrogen is also produced through the catalytic reforming process; this hydrogen is then used in other refining processes, such as hydrotreatment. The last important step in the refining process is to mix several streams into finished petroleum products.

The different grades of motor fuels are mixtures of different streams or “fractions”, such as reformed, alkylate, catalytically cracked gasoline, etc. Refineries mix compounds obtained from their internal refining process operations, as noted above, or externally, to produce gasoline that meets the acceptable performance specifications of motor vehicles. A typical refinery can produce 8 to 15 different hydrocarbon streams that must then be mixed with motor fuels. Refineries can also mix additives such as octane boosters, metal deactivators, antioxidants, anti-knock agents, oxidation inhibitors, or detergents into their hydrocarbon flows.

Mixing can take place at the refinery, along the pipes and tanks that house the processed fuel, or even in external locations or on ships or terminals once the fuel has left the refinery. California's position among oil-producing states has declined somewhat in recent years, from third to seventh place, as states such as New Mexico and Colorado have increased production. Midway-Sunset oil has always been heavy and complex, requiring large amounts of energy both to extract and refine it into final products such as gasoline and diesel fuel. The recent breakdown of an oil pipeline off the coast of Orange County serves as a sobering reminder of the important presence of the climate-conscious oil industry in California.

RMI is now in the process of improving the granularity of Climate TRACE data, including emissions data for every oil produced in California, so that users can compare the emissions footprint of individual oil and gas assets. However, California remains the third largest oil-refining state by refinery capacity after Texas and Louisiana. The spill -the state's largest in nearly three decades- was due to a damaged pipeline that carries oil to the coast from an offshore oil platform. Barrel by barrel Midway-Sunset produces even more pollution caused by climate warming than even some of Canada's most notorious oil sands according to data from Oil-Climate Index Plus Gas (OCI+).

Fortunately for us all data available for comparison between oil-producing regions -and even individual oil and gas operations- is rapidly improving. The recent launch of Climate TRACE platform provides a comprehensive global inventory of greenhouse gas emissions including a country-by-country breakdown of oil and gas sector emissions. In fact California -a leader in electric vehicles solar energy and other clean energy technologies- is also one of top oil producers in United States and home to some dirtiest oil operations in world. Bringing greater visibility to this sector will allow companies investors advocates legislators and regulators take steps curb dirtiest production and refining operations reduce emissions associated with fossil fuels in state.

A broken pipeline off coast Orange County California has spilled up 126000 gallons crude oil into Pacific Ocean closing beaches threatening wildlife Southwest Bakersfield California's San Joaquin Valley Midway-Sunset oilfield has produced billions barrels oil since it was first exploited late 19th century. The impact these events configuration operations economy ownership American refineries examined Both incoming crude oil outgoing final products temporarily stored large tanks tank park near refinery. The recent events off Orange County's coast serve as reminder importance climate conscious oil industry California Bringing greater visibility sector will allow companies investors advocates legislators regulators take steps curb dirtiest production refining operations reduce emissions associated fossil fuels state.

Rufus Asa
Rufus Asa

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