Established by Shell and Qatar Petroleum in 2006, Pearl GTL
is the largest gas-to-liquids (GTL) facility in the world. GTL
is the conversion of natural
gas to liquid fuels and other products, including gasoil,
naphtha, kerosine, n-paraffin and lubricants. Pearl GTL has a
capacity of 140,000 barrels per day (bpd) of these products and
120,000 bpd of liquefied petroleum gas.
The data produced by the facilitys quality control
program is tremendous: More than 30,000 content, volume,
emissions and equipment measurements are transmitted at any
given time. With the integrity of its brand, the safety of its
workers and the profitability of its enterprise on the line,
Pearl GTL turned to a laboratory information management system
(LIMS) to manage, analyze and integrate the data that keeps the
plant functioning securely and efficiently.
Pearl GTL has no shortage of world records. Located 80 km
north of Doha, Qatar, the site includes the largest GTL plant
and one of the largest instrumentation and control systems
anywhere on earth (Fig. 1). GTL technology enables Qatar, in
partnership with Shell, to open up opportunities in new
markets, monetizing the countrys enormous natural
gas resources through the creation of high-quality,
easy-to-export liquid fuels.
1. The Pearl GTL plant north of Doha,
The facility, which became fully operational in 2012,
processes 1.6 billion cubic feet per day of wellhead gas to
remove contaminants and refine natural
gas liquids. Using a proprietary synthesis process, Pearl
GTL converts output from the worlds largest
non-associated gas field into fuels, lubricants and other
high-quality products that it ships to markets around the
world. Pearl GTL is an integrated upstream/downstream facility
that entails the full value chain of gas extraction and
processing from offshore development through onshore refining.
The scale and diversity of Pearl GTL makes it a complex
operation. The building phase alone required the creation of a
private offloading quay in Ras Laffan City to import 2 million
(MM) freight tons of materials and equipment. More than 100,000
visas were issued to bring in workers who installed enough
steel over five years of construction to build 40 Eiffel
It was clear that Pearl GTL would need a highly
sophisticated software solution to manage the data coming out
of a quality control system that receives a constant stream of
34,000 transmitted measurements. These tests gauge well
content, volume, emissions, equipment condition and hundreds of
other parameters that are integral to the plants
operation. In addition to collection and storage, the data
needed to be organized, integrated and analyzed to ensure
product quality, plant and customer safety, environmental
protection and production efficiency.
Additionally, a solution was needed to ensure that Pearl
GTLs laboratories remained in compliance with standards
such as ISO 17025. The ISO standard sets an international
benchmark for running a testing laboratory, laying out
qualifications for supplies, training, recordkeeping, equipment
calibration and much more. Pearl GTL required the ability to
comply with ISO 17025 and other standards at all times, and to
retrieve data demonstrating compliance in the event of an
LIMS to the rescue
With so many prerequisites for success, Pearl GTL needed a
proven solution. The right LIMS would allow Pearl GTLs
sampling program to meet its designers ambitions by
presenting accurate, unbiased information to maintain the
highest standards of safety, regulatory compliance and
environmental commitment without sacrificing financial
performance. In fact, a LIMS would enhance Pearl GTLs
bottom line by collating testing data, which allows managers to
make impactful business decisions quickly.
Given the operations complexity, Pearl GTLs LIMS
would need to be fully integrated and able to communicate with
a variety of other systems, including operations management,
batch tracking and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
Without full integration of the LIMS to existing
enterprise systems, being successful with a venture the size
and scale of Pearl GTL would be nearly impossible.
An advanced LIMS was selected; it featured state-of-the-art
testing laboratories, standardizing the solution across all
laboratory equipment and production systems. The LIMS offered
unparalleled support for each of the Pearl GTL facilitys
stringent requirements, and its implementation helped drive
success from the beginning.
Automation and error elimination
One of the principal reasons for choosing the LIMS was its
ability to work with other systems. At Pearl GTL, the LIMS is
integrated with an operations management system, a process
historian, the oil-movement and batch-tracking system,
laboratory instruments and other production systems.
The way the LIMS integrates with the process historian is a
particular source of efficiency for Pearl GTL. Where some labs
manually send test results to operators, technologists and
process engineers (among other users), at Pearl GTL results
become available to all relevant parties within the process
historian system as soon as they are authorized in the LIMS.
This means that employees whose work hinges on quality sampling
are receiving the information they need in real time.
Faster production and reporting
Another critical consumer of lab data is Pearl GTLs
oil-movement and batch-tracking system. Again, the LIMS creates
efficiencies by eliminating wait times. For example, when panel
operators need to move oil to new tanks in preparation for
shipping, they do not have to wait to be notified of test
results, minimizing demurrage charges for loading delays that
can cost as much as $35,000 per day. As soon as the results
have been issued in the lab, the LIMS notifies operators
through the oil-movement system, with which it is seamlessly
integrated. Since Pearl GTL began operations, the facility has
incurred no demurrage chargesan incredible feat for an
operation of its size.
The LIMS has also enabled a paperless environment that
eliminates many human errors inherent in traditional
laboratories. Humans make an average of 36 mistakes for
every 1,000 lab readings transcribed. In a sampling program the
size of Pearl GTLs, this would amount to dozens, if not
hundreds, of errors every day. The LIMS solves this problem by
integrating with lab instruments that automatically transmit
data to the LIMS as soon as final results are produced.
The LIMS aggregates all this data and combines it with
information collected from other sampling systems, and even
from technicians in the field, enabling the vast array of data
to be collated and presented in a logical format for managers
to analyze, which makes for fast, effective
Integrating the field with the lab
The LIMS also helps Pearl GTL operators more efficiently
collect data from the field for analysis in the lab. Using the
operations management system, all sample points in the field
are marked with radio frequency identification tags. When field
operators perform sample rounds, a handheld computer guides
them to each sample point and then automatically records the
required information, whether the sampling task is routine or
The LIMS is fully integrated with the operations management
system, so the data collected in this system are instantly
transferred to the LIMS from the field for analysis by managers
or technicians in the lab, saving Pearl GTL an estimated 2,400
work-hours per year.
Enhanced compliance and safety
Finally, the LIMS makes it possible for Pearl GTL to meet an
increasingly crucial requirement of oil and gas laboratories:
regulatory compliance. ISO 17025 established an international
standard for how sampling labs manage data collection,
security, instrumentation, traceability, personnel and more. By
collecting complete data records, the LIMS ensures that Pearl
GTL is always in compliance with ISO 17025 and other standards.
The solution also guarantees that compliance can be proven in
the event of an audit.
The LIMS assists in exceeding ISO 17025 requirements by
instilling a culture of safety at Pearl GTL. By tracking
equipment conditions, well content and many other issues that
could become safety concerns at any GTL facility, the LIMS
allows managers to make real-time decisions that protect
workers and the surrounding environment.
Shell and Qatar Petroleums dedication, coupled with
the holistic LIMS solution, have led to an impressive safety
record at Pearl GTL: Despite its enormous size, in 2010, the
facility hit 77 MM hours worked without a single lost-time
Since its groundbreaking in 2006, the Pearl GTL project needed to be built with
proven, dynamic technologies. The LIMS helped manage a
sophisticated sample program by fully integrating multiple
systems within the testing laboratory, including operations
management, batch tracking and laboratory instruments.
Furthermore, the LIMS brought this integration into the field, where
the system automates data transmission via handheld devices.
Finally, the LIMS ensures that the facility constantly adheres
to the highest standards of safety and quality. Pearl
GTLs testing program enables the worlds largest GTL
facility to operate efficiently and safely while adhering to
regulations and maintaining profitability, and the LIMS is the
lynchpin that makes it possible. HP
Thurston joined Thermo Fisher Scientific in
1996. He is the director of products strategy and
process industries, and is responsible for determining
the strategy of Thermo Fishers current
informatics portfolio while identifying new market
opportunities within the process industry sector. Mr.
Thurston has worked for Thermo Fisher for the past 16
years in the sales, support and marketing of laboratory
software. A graduate of Salford University in
Manchester, UK, with a BSc degree in chemistry, Mr.
Thurston began his career working in solid-state
secondary lithium battery research.