Pearl GTL’s control room is the nerve centre of one of the largest and most sophisticated plants ever built in the energy industry.

The control room includes almost 1,000 circuitry control cabinets and 200 computer servers programmed with 12 million separate software codes. The system is linked to every part of the plant by almost 6,000 kilometres of cables, which would stretch from Doha to London if laid end-to-end.

The complex plant contains a vast network of pipelines, with more than one million joints connecting pipeline segments, known as flanges. Workers received specialist training in sealing the joints safely. Nothing was left to chance.

“You’ve had to go round the whole plant and test it thoroughly. You had to visit every flange, every nut, every bolt, every instrument connection,” says Stephen Johnson, Pearl GTL Plant Manager. “We had to make sure that they’re all tight, with no leaks.”

In Qatar, he brought to bear his experience of starting production at the Nanhai petrochemical plant in China, in which Shell and China’s CNOOC each have a 50% stake.

It takes 800 operators and technicians to run Pearl GTL, now that the plant is in full operation.

Desert dust

The location of the plant in a remote desert poses a unique technical challenge. A layer of desert sand as fine as dust settles on all equipment exposed to open air, and can get into the equipment. Gas turbines the size of jet engines produce power and heat to generate steam to blow through the pipes at speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour to clean them. The heat makes the pipelines expand. When they cool and contract, the dust and other deposits flake off and are blown out.

During construction, pipeline sections were tested to withstand pressures of up to 100 bar (1,450 pounds per square inch) — about the same pressure created by hydraulic crushers to flatten cars — by running water through them under pressure. Pipelines that contain gas were tested by filling and pressurising them with nitrogen and helium to detect any defects.

Shell applies a meticulous system to manage quality, cleanliness and tightness during the construction and start-up of plants worldwide.

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