September 2019, Vol. 246, No. 9


GMRC Training Committee Expands Learning Opportunities

By Suzanne Ogle, President, Gas Machinery Research Council

The Gas Machinery Research Council (GMRC), long known as a research think-tank, recently formalized a training committee dedicated to expanding the breadth of its existing training programs to include the midstream sector.

Build it and they will come is a motto that may have worked for Kevin Costner’s “Field of Dreams,” but it is also the derivation of the GMRC. Following World War II, there was a rapid expansion of natural gas pipeline facilities in the United States. 

The growth of production resulted in the construction of thousands of compressor stations, allowing natural gas to flow quickly and smoothly through the pipelines. However, due to the limited knowledge and technology used in the design, the compressor stations didn’t live up to expectations. Further research was needed to improve the quality and efficiency of the pipeline facilities and gas compressor stations. 

As a result, GMRC (initially created as the Pulsation Research Council) was established in 1952 to support the continual research of gas compression and related equipment. Early research and training focused on the pulsation issues caused by the relatively new “high-speed” integral compressors introduced into the industry in the 1940s, but also addressed the overall problem of underperforming compressor stations and improvements in the efficiency of pipeline facilities and gas compressor stations.  

The PRC branched out into other problem areas including vibration, foundation design, reliability analysis, performance monitoring and gas measurement, changing its name to the Pipeline and Compressor Research Council (PCRC) in 1963. The PCRC subsequently expanded its activities to include training courses and workshops to better disseminate the research results. 

The Gas Machinery Conference (GMC) was initiated in 1986 in order to showcase the research results and to provide a platform to bring training to the industry. The first conference had about 30 attendees – in 2018 there were over 1,100 attendees.

Just as the course of energy infrastructure changed after World War II with the need to transport natural gas, the shale revolution resulted in a surge of domestic production and a vibrant midstream sector to connect these resources with refineries and processing plants. As such, over the last 10 years, the midstream sector has been on a building spree to provide gathering and processing infrastructure required for the rapidly growing oil, gas and natural gas liquids production. 

While the principles of compression are similar for transmission and midstream, the expanded training offering will include midstream specific training to address issues with swinging fuel gas BTU, and with higher-speed/lower horsepower gathering, gas lift and process plant compressors.

The upstream and midstream sectors of the oil and gas business require compression for a number of distinctly different applications, such as transmission, storage, gas gathering, gas lift, gas export, gas injection, flash gas compression and refrigeration. 

Over the last decade, the oil and gas industry has been exposed to major and long-lasting disruptions. The shale-oil and gas revolution has completely reversed the energy supply outlook. And while a boom for supply, the dynamics of shale production bring about alternate compression challenges. Because shale gas fields, have a steep decline and often produce at low pressures, the impact to compression requirements is significant. 

Additionally, shale gas applications produce heavy liquids and debris. These significantly affect compressor life. Another aspect of notable impact is the increase in associated gas production and resulting takeaway constraints, which create both opportunities and challenges, which can be addressed with new or repurposed technology. 

Even today, with advanced technologies, in some reservoirs more than two-thirds of the oil present may not be recoverable. Operators looking to maximize returns are exploring opportunities to maximize the amount of oil or gas that is ultimately recovered.  

In the past, natural gas was often seen as a byproduct of the oil production, and may have been flared, especially if there was no infrastructure to bring the gas to potential users. However, many operators are now looking at gas lift as an opportunity to increase operation stability and reduce cost, provide an option to flaring and, importantly, as an option for enhanced oil recovery.

In parallel with an increasing need for training, there is industry workforce turnover and instability in commodity prices, this paradox results in companies being cautious to scale personnel and observant of keeping operating budgets lean. 

The result is that many companies are trying to balance a reasonable budget for training, with time restraints while delivering safe and reliable operations. GMRC recognizes this predicament and is working to create training classes in formats and venues that allow easy, affordable access to all GMRC members. We all understand that our industry is currently light on mid-career individuals and heavy on late-career individuals.

The loss of industry knowledge this can cause as more and more subject matter experts retire, coupled with the scrutiny of our industry by the general public makes it even more important to give our industry professionals the proper training they need to be successful. Long-time GMRC Board Member and current Chair Michael Smith often says, “The only thing worse than training your people and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”

The GMRC Training Committee will provide fuel for thought and a forum for action. In an industry in transition, one thing is true, things change. Jobs are evolving, as new technology and environmental regulation change the face of the industry, having an educated and well-trained staff is an industry imperative.

These new compression challenges and opportunities require a competent, well-trained workforce. And, while a safe and competent workforce has always been critical for our industry’s success, it is even more important with current social sentiment. Doing more with less is how operators and the midstream can thrive in hard times, but that requires a very competent workforce.

With adequate training the industry is not simply at the mercy of disruption. Instead of standing still, GMRC is helping member companies position better by embedding efficiency and operational excellence.

Another one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is our front-line leaders lack of credibility due to absence of technical experience. When a leader hasn’t work in a technical role, they have a difficult time establishing trust and credibility. 

The Training Committee is a collaborative platform staffed with industry experts to identify, develop and provide solutions to meet the training needs of member companies in educating and equipping employees to use the technologies that support business operations. Similar to how the GMC, GMRC’s premier conference, showcases the hundreds of thousands of dollars of research performed by the GMRC each year, the Training Committee is going to integrate the results of that ongoing research into the training courses offered. 

The GMRC research is guided by their Project Supervisory Committee (PSC) and the newly formed training committee will be chaired by Christine Scrivner from Kinder Morgan, who also serves as the vice chair of the PSC. The importance of this new training committee is emphasized by the fact that two current GMRC board members are planning to participate on the committee.  

The new GMRC Training Committee is already at work addressing questions around what courses to offer, where and how is training best delivered, and how are new technologies and changing gas characteristics impacting the training the industry needs. 

The first face to face committee meeting will be held at the GMRC’s Gas Machinery Conference, Sept. 29-Oct. 2, 2019 in San Antonio, Texas. With upstream, transmission and midstream requirements for compression and the distinctly different applications, such as transmission, storage, gas gathering, gas lift, gas export, gas injection, flash gas compression, and refrigeration there is sure to be a robust training schedule for 2020.

The GMRC Board takes pride in turning complicated issues into building blocks for the future. This training committee is one more example of operating companies working together to solve industry challenges. P&GJ

Suzanne Ogle serves as chief executive officer of SGA and president of GMRC. She received a master’s degree in educational psychology and a bachelor’s degree in business marketing from California Lutheran University.


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