Heaters for Oil and Gas Considerations for Applications During Winter

Last updated on June 16th, 2023 at 02:32 pm

Winter climates can wreak havoc on oil and gas equipment, especially those used for extraction, refining and distribution purposes. The effects of freezing can be detrimental to the quality of end products and the production machinery itself. The solution to this is a preventative one—ensure there’s adequate heating and insulation to prevent freezing. This post examines the best heating methods and heaters to counteract the effects of cold conditions. 

Effects on refineries and transportation facilities

Oil and gas applications require a steady output from machinery and equipment to ensure their by-products are viable. However, low temperatures (and harsh winter conditions) often interfere with the output of oil extraction, distribution, and refining, usually bringing these processes to a halt. These disturbances can manifest in a few ways. 

Low use rates

It’s not uncommon to see oil use rates drop from 90 percent to 70 percent or lower in cold weather. Subzero temperatures and storm conditions can trigger power outages, which shuts drilling equipment off. Another reason for low use rates in cold weather is low temperatures that negatively alter oil composition and the integrity of distribution pipes. 

Reduced drilling flow

Because oil sludges in the cold (more on below), it becomes too thick to drill easily.  The consequence is a slow drilling pace, increasing the amount of time needed to extract the oil. This leads to delays in terms of when the oil gets refined and distributed in its final form. 

Freezing of railways and ethanol pipelines

Distribution of oil and gas products in itself can become a problem when the barometer drops. Snow and ice present a danger to railways and the trains that travel on them since there is a risk (albeit a small one) of derailment. 

However, a more urgent concern with snow and ice is the delay they cause with unloading train vessels. Trains moving at slower speeds in snowy conditions inevitably leads to delays. The same is true for tanker trucks on roadways. Icy conditions require slower driving which delays when oil is delivered and unloaded. Lastly, ethanol pipes lacking proper insulation may freeze, halting oil transport. 

Effects on oil products

Cold weather affects the quality of oil (and other gases). When the temperature of oil dips below 35 degrees Fahrenheit (1.6 degrees Celsius), it becomes cloudy. Oil crystallizes and clings to pipes and fuel lines when it drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 degrees Celsius). This reduces the flow of oil even more. 

However, that same crystallization is also detrimental to the quality of oil. It’s not feasible to heat frozen oil, because overheating can easily occur and damage its thermal stability. The next best alternative is to let the oil thaw on its own, but this is a time-consuming process that can result in further delays.

 Also, given the ambient temperatures of a given locale, it may be impossible to get the oil back to its original temperature. All of these issues are costly for businesses, both financially and in terms of customer satisfaction. 

Counteracting and preventing winter’s effects on oil and gas production 

Regardless of what stage an oil or gas application is in, it’s crucial to establish protocols that safeguard against cold weather. Ideally, there are three main measures for doing so. They are: 1) Insulating pipes and vessels; 2) storing oil equipment in the appropriate locations; and 3) using heaters to keep oil (and gas) at suitable temperatures. 

Ensure adequate insulation

Adding insulating materials is the first step to preventing oil pipes and equipment from freezing. This prevents natural heat loss and retains heat so the oil (or gas) remains at an appropriate temperature. Insulation also reduces the need to increase the heater’s output, which lowers heating and energy costs. 

Store equipment in warmer locations

If pipes, vessels, and machinery are mobile, moving them to a location with higher ambient temperatures is ideal. An area with higher temperatures will counteract any heat loss from the equipment and keep the target medium warm. A suitable location may be an underground storage space or an above-ground heated facility. 

Install suitable heaters

Industrial heaters attached to pipelines or drilling equipment are vital for many oil and gas applications. They deliver a direct or indirect heat stream to prevent oil freezing. They can be configured to ensure no overheating by adjusting watt density and adding temperature controls

Here at Wattco, we offer various heaters, including over-the-side heaters (OTS heaters) and screwplug heaters, which are ideal for preventing oil freezing in cold climates. As mentioned above, we can adjust the wattage and add temperature control panels if you choose a screwplug or over-the-side heater for outdoor oil applications. 

Maintaining a flow state for oil applications in winter 

A steady oil flow is the lifeblood of a sustainable and viable business in this industry. Any hindrances or obstacles during oil production processes can compromise its quality. Worst, it can have a ripple effect of affecting customer satisfaction negatively. 

However, the right combination of freeze-prevention steps and heating equipment will preserve the oil’s most viable state. We offer the best-customized heaters, including over-the-side heaters, and screwplug heaters to help you keep your oil at a suitable temperature. 

We customize your heater based on factors ranging from the orientation of your equipment to the average temperature of your locale and more. Ultimately, your ideal heating solution for oil applications will be unique to your challenges, not a run-of-the-mill fix. 

Get a quote for your heater today. Our representatives will help you find the exact setup needed for your industrial needs.