Lecture Series Highlights the Roles of Facilities Engineers

Facilities engineers are being replaced with a combination of project engineers, package engineers, and other specialists, leading to an increase in complexity in upstream projects.


As engineering companies and operators further define the scope of project engineering efforts, the facilities engineer is being phased out of operations. This role is being replaced with a combination of project engineers, package engineers, and other specialists, leading to an increase in complexity in upstream projects.

The SPE Gulf Coast Section Project, Facilities, and Construction Study Group’s fall lecture series, “The Role of the Facilities Engineer in Upstream,” defined the role of facilities engineers and the contributions they make to successful project execution.

Overall Value

In the first presentation of the series, “The Value of Facility Engineers,” James Deaver spoke about the skills facilities engineers need to develop in order to complement and support the project manager. Deaver is an engineering adviser at Oil Field Development Engineering.

Deaver said the expertise of facilities engineers falls under three categories: mastered, conversant, and aware.

Mastered disciplines are specialty disciplines in which an engineer has expert-level knowledge. These include process knowledge such as phase behavior, fluid flow, and chemical injections. They may also include regulator issues, or project control issues such as budgets, schedules, and documentation.

Conversant disciplines are those in which a facilities engineer has a basic working knowledge. Deaver said the facilities engineer should be able to solve 25% to 50% of all issues that fall under this category, which include flow assurance, power management, controls, and construction (applied to equipment capacity and capability).

Aware disciplines comprise issues that rarely fall within the scope of a facilities engineer’s workload, but Deaver said an engineer must still be prepared to react to them when the situation arises. These issues include economics and finance, drilling and completions, marketing, human resources, and community relations.

Controls and Safety Systems

In his presentation, “Setting Up Controls and Safety Systems from an Overall View,” Lew Skaug discussed the influence of facilities engineers in the development of control and safety systems. Skaug, a principal engineering consultant at Oil Field Development Engineering, also outlined his philosophy on the design and installation of these systems.

Skaug said the design basis document is of critical importance to a facilities engineer because it encapsulates the engineer’s safety and controls philosophies. As it is typically issued and approved by a project’s upper-level management, it often cannot be changed without significant effort. Because of this, Skaug said the document presents an opportunity for the facilities engineer to put a personal stamp on a project.

“If you can get your configuration ideas and your philosophy captured in your design basis document, that saves a lot of arguments later on,” he said. 

The design basis should include boundary conditions for incoming and outgoing pipelines as well as their associated parameters. Skaug said it was important to know the fluid composition in the incoming pipeline as well as the flow rates, pressure, and temperature. Moreover, facilities engineers must determine if there is any deviation of these conditions from the original design point by using computer simulation software such as HYSYS.

The value of this software is in its ability to examine a facility’s behavior when boundary conditions change. Skaug said that, through a simulation, engineers can examine a range of operating conditions and check on their first-case design to determine if the equipment chosen for installation is still suitable for use.

For the outgoing pipeline, the design basis must account for the allowable temperature range and the maximum pressure, as well as the filling rates for truckloading and the purchaser’s quality specifications. As with the incoming pipeline, the conditions at initial startup are also a key component to any safety and control system.

The process configuration is normally determined prior to front-end engineering design and, therefore, is “set” by the time a facilities engineer begins work on a project. However, while they do not handle process configuration, Skaug said facilities engineers must recognize that HYSYS is a steady-state model, and as such, its real value is in evaluating a wide range of operating scenarios.

Skaug said that a simpler controls philosophy is better for a project, and complex controls systems are only needed to the extent necessary for successful operation. Facilities engineers should consider the end device when crafting a controls philosophy. A single-variable control valve may require local pneumatic control. A simple pump may require local start/stop. It is important not to have a master control system for every type of end device, and package and system controls should be independent of each other.

Operations and Maintainability

Bill Capdevielle discussed the critical design activities that take place during a project’s facility operability process in his presentation, “Design with a View of Operations and Maintainability.” Capdevielle, an oil and gas consultant, said having operability and maintainability as design criteria is essential to developing a strong business asset.

A facility’s operability is defined by the characteristics that enable safe and efficient operations. Operations activities include the startup and shutdown of facilities and equipment, the control of access to and work on the facility, the isolation and de-isolation of the plant and its equipment, and the monitoring and optimization of facility performance.

Maintainability is defined by the characteristics of facilities that allow preventative maintenance, predictive maintenance, breakdown maintenance, and inspection to be performed safely and efficiently. Maintenance activities include the monitoring of equipment performance; the removal, repair, or replacement of broken equipment; the performance of preventative and predictive maintenance; the specification and stocking of spare parts; and the inspection of the plant and its equipment.

Capdevielle said that it is easier for facilities engineers to make an impact on a project early in its life cycle and that, when done properly, a facility operability plan does not increase project cost or delay its construction schedule. He said facilities that have poor operability may experience significant downtime or lost production after startup, so thorough planning and implementation of operability activities can lead to a more financially efficient project. 

“The business unit is eventually going to attain facility operability,” Capdevielle said. “The earlier you plan and execute and design for facility operability, the less expensive it’s going to be. In my opinion, a good operability and maintainability program pays for itself.”

Projects require some form of capital project gate system to formalize the operability review process. Because facility operability is the operating organization’s responsibility, Capdevielle said the organizaation should be brought into a project at an early stage. He said project teams may lack the operational experience needed to provide stability on a project, particularly with regards to optimizing capital costs vs. operating expenses.

“There’s a constant contest that occurs within a project about long-term savings vs. short-term costs, and the project operations people are going to have a lot of energy in terms of making sure that gets done correctly,” he said. OGF

This webinar series is available at https://webevents.spe.org/products/pfc-fall-lecture-series-the-role-of-the-facilities-engineer-in-upstream.