Since joining Aubin Group as a chemist almost a decade ago, our Technical Sales Manager - Global Pipeline Business, Adam Brown, has worked extensively with a wide variety of our pipeline products. From the development of their performance testing, to how they are applied to meet our customers’ specific requirements, Adam has acquired a highly in-depth knowledge base of how these products can overcome our clients’ pipeline challenges.

With the more recent development of our Total Oil Recovery Technique (TORT), we asked Adam to share his insights and experience on what TORT is, and why it’s an essential approach for any operator’s pipeline toolbox…

What is TORT?

“TORT is a solutions based approach for de-oiling challenging pipelines, where traditional flushing or pigging is not suitable. If you have trapped oils or attic oils, or if the lines themselves have challenging geometry, TORT is a means to remove those oils without having to resort to more invasive intervention techniques, such as hot-tapping or cutting. This means you can maintain a contained, efficient, safer way of cleaning and de-oiling these lines.

“When considering TORT, it's erroneous to think of it as a product - it’s an approach which encompasses a number of tried and tested products to overcome the specific problems operators are facing when it comes to de-oiling.

“There are a lot of commonalities to some of the challenges, particularly when we're looking at decommissioning and pipeline cleaning, but at Aubin we know that almost every operation is different. We’re building on the experience that we have, both with the products that we've developed and drawing on experience gained from managing some novel applications, to develop a solution which will efficiently displace oil from high points in the pipelines ”

When did TORT first come about?

“TORT is relatively new but i we've been recommending and providing this collective approach to clients for many years.

“We've been refining our products, fine-tuning them and then using that experience to package these technologies into a solutions-based approach, which acts as an alternative to sourcing different types of materials for different functions within the pipeline. For those who are new to the oil and gas industry or unfamiliar with these types of products, they might see this as a novel application. However, each product has an established track record, what’s actually novel and new is the way we’ve brought all of that expertise into one area.

“Similarly, there might be people who are familiar with pickup and separator gels, or have used various different pigs, but haven’t necessarily considered their use in combination or for different applications. Essentially, we're trying to help bridge that gap where an operator knows that they have a pipeline that conventionally is going to be really difficult to de-oil, but are looking for alternative solutions for that operation. That's where TORT comes in.”

Is TORT mostly used for decommissioning?

“The vast majority of our inquiries and operations are from a decommissioning point of view, however TORT can have valid benefits in the whole lifecycle of the pipeline. We’re obviously more aware of it being used for decommissioning where lines are being permanently sealed and so the oil needs to be completely removed to improve recovery or cementing. That being said, there could be remediation work or repairs on a line with oil or hydrocarbons, which would need to be removed to make the line safe to open up and to do those works.

“It’s important to note that TORT is generally used because traditional methods aren't suitable. Usually you can run a standard pig down any line or you can flush everything out, but if for whatever reason that’s not possible - particularly where there are older lines connected with newer lines - TORT is an effective alternative where you're not having to directly access the line.

“In any pipeline, it all depends on what you're trying to actually do with it. You might have a pipeline that’s relatively clean, or you could be talking about a line that has been stagnant for decades. When we take all these associated chemicals - such as solvents or surfactants - they act as additional channels that we would look at depending on what the operation requires. That's where our products fall within the greater pipelines toolbox that is TORT, and we then start to have a deeper conversation with regards to what exactly our customer is trying to achieve.”

What are the current challenges when it comes to TORT and how would you go about overcoming them?

“From our side of things, one of the key challenges is that our products are rarely going to be used in isolation. If there are lines being decommissioned or de-oiled, for instance, that process isn’t the only one happening. There will be countless other operations ongoing, whether it be at an offshore platform or a site, so the management of how de-oiling a line will fit in with greater context of projects is really important to be aware of - but often a challenge.

“There's management of expectation, the deliveries and deliverables of the project and specific customer needs to be mindful of. The products themselves are very well established, so no major changes are needed on an order to order basis. The key challenge, however, is really ensuring that we can help our customer identify a solution to their problems early on, as that gives them greater scope to how they can use these products in their wider operational calendar.

“For example, a lot of these de-oiling operations might have utilised processes like huge water volume flushes in the past, which generates massive amounts of waste. With TORT, you might be using a certain volume of chemical, but it will be significantly less than the processed waste you generate using a water flushing medium. So it's not necessarily just about managing the specific challenge that happens within the operation of cleaning or de-oiling the line, it's about the wider context of what it helps the client achieve.”

What would you say are the key benefits of TORT?

“I think the key one is the fact that it's easy to use and the concept is relatively straightforward - as it ought to be. TORT is removing the need for things that are more complicated and less efficient. Don't get me wrong, those other techniques do work and that’s why they’ve been used for decades, but why would you go down that route and cause yourself more challenges and stress when you can use a simple, easy to apply solutions-based approach like TORT.

“Cost is a big driver at the moment, especially when it comes to decommissioning. Obviously there are targets for reducing the cost of operations, but how do you do that safely and efficiently? I think that's where TORT is of benefit because it can reduce the need for what can be more costly intervention techniques.”

How has TORT changed over the years?

“One of the main changes is that people have become more comfortable and aware of what TORT has been able to do. It’s becoming more established and we have a better understanding of everything involved, from the supply chain management, through to the delivery and how that will work in practice.

“We’ve successfully gone from testing the approach and the products on a small scale in our labs, to scaling the process to meet our clients’ exact requirements. That’s probably been where we've seen the biggest changes - managing the delivery of the material, seeing its use and being confident that we can manage those types of projects and move at scale.”

What do you think the future of TORT looks like? What do you think is coming next?

“My hope is that it becomes more of an accepted and well understood solution in decommissioning. A scenario where more operators and service providers know TORT is there as an option. Of course, other techniques and established systems exist, but for these challenging operations, TORT is a great alternative solution.

“We want people to know that they can come to Aubin for our expertise, they can work with us and get a plan of action in place before using our products seamlessly. Again, TORT is not an off the shelf product, it is still going to require involvement and discussion, but we want it to be seen as an established approach in an operator's portfolio.

“I think because TORT is not a product, but rather a solutions based approach, there is the scope for it to evolve and incorporate new products in the future if they’re required. We're not restricting ourselves or our customers, instead we are open to looking at how we can best deliver the answer and solutions to our customers’.”

Learn more about TORT and our innovative range of pipeline products...