Building Shell’s biggest engineering project to date in Ras Laffan, a vast industrial zone on Qatar’s coast some 90 kilometres north of Doha, was a major feat. It took one million hours — the equivalent of 500 years of full-time work for one person — to complete the conceptual design of the world’s largest gas-to-liquids plant. It took five years and 500 million hours to build it. Tens of thousands of workers were trained to make sure all the sections of the plant were well built and started up smoothly.
In designing and constructing Pearl, Shell drew on the experience of building major projects all around the world. Thousands of supervisors and craftsmen at the Pearl GTL plant were trained to make sure the lessons learned were applied during construction and commissioning of the plant.
Despite the massive number of workers involved and the complexity of Pearl’s construction, a strong safety culture helped Qatar and Shell achieve a record-breaking 77 million hours worked onshore without injuries leading to time off work.
Sixty kilometres offshore, natural gas from the North Field — discovered by Shell in 1971 — is now flowing from two platforms standing in water up to 40 metres deep to feed Pearl GTL. Eleven wells were drilled for each platform in record drilling times for the field.
Two underwater 76–centimetre (30-inch) diameter pipelines carry the natural gas to a gas separation plant onshore that extracts natural gas liquids: ethane for industrial processes, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for domestic heating and cooking, and condensates as a feedstock for refineries. The separation process also removes contaminants like metals and sulphur. The sulphur is turned into pellets and shipped to the nearest market to make hydrosulphuric acid, fertiliser or other valuable products.
Turning gas into liquid fuel
The pure gas, or methane, that remains then flows to the GTL section of the plant, where it is converted in a three-stage process into a range of gas-to-liquids products using Shell proprietary technology.
Finally, the liquid hydrocarbon wax is upgraded, using specially developed technology involving new catalysts, into the range of products. It takes some 2,000 steps to prepare all GTL systems for production.
In Qatar, summer temperatures exceed 40°C (104°F) and rainfall is slight. Conserving water is critical. Pearl was designed to be self-sufficient in its use of water.
Pearl, the largest investment by Shell in any single project, is a fully integrated project spanning production from an offshore gas field to finished marketable products. Shell funded 100% of the development costs under a profit-sharing agreement with the State of Qatar.
Related press releases
June, 13 2011 - First cargo of Pearl GTL products ship from Qatar
March 23, 2011 - Major milestone: first gas flows from offshore into the Pearl GTL plant in Qatar