Without electricity, our facilities would be utterly incapable of functioning.

I currently work in the upstream oil and gas industry, for a crude oil exploration and production company in the Bakken oilfield of North Dakota. My role is Electrical and Instrumentation Technician, and as such, I work with electrical systems every day.

Our oil producing facilities run almost exclusively on electrical power. On newer or more remote facilities, this is supplied by large generators and/or solar panels. When utility power becomes available and supplied, a series of transformers step down the voltage from 4160Vac line voltage to 3-phase 480Vac. This is where it becomes useable for the facility. There are a number of applications that utilize this voltage; 200-500hp electric motors being the most common. This can also be stepped down by a transformer to 240Vac. 240Vac is used for building heaters and smaller pump motors. 120Vac is used to for electric heat trace to keep pipes from freezing in the winter. It is also utilized as a control voltage for certain electric valve actuators and is typically used as incoming power to the 24Vdc power supplies that feed all field instruments and sensors, control panels, PLCs, networking components and LCD screen HMIs. 24Vdc is also used to actuate switch gear (solid state relays, motor starters) that close circuits in order to send higher voltages to field devices.

Without electricity, our facilities would be utterly incapable of functioning. With some quite old facilities (from the 50’s or 60’s) that I have visited in the past, there was almost a complete independence from electrical use. Pumping units would run on old diesel engines that were configured to run on propane or even produced natural gas. Pressure was regulated by using mechanical switches and hydraulic emergency shut-down valves. They are actually quite intriguing to me. But electrical power systems have completely revolutionized how the industry functions, and now so much more production with far fewer man-hours can be realized through nearly fully-automated control systems.

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