How the wax in the crude impedes the crude pipeline option for Uganda

In 2011, the government of Uganda undertook a feasibility study on building a Greenfield oil refinery which Swiss Engineering firm Foster Wheeler Energy Limited conducted.  The study recommended that a refinery was commercially viable for Uganda given its benefits to citizens compared to building 1350 Km long crude export pipeline to Mombasa. The study further explained that given the waxy nature of the crude oil, it would require a number of heating stations along the pipeline.


Like Foster Wheeler other proponents of the notion that Uganda should have its own oil refinery as opposed to constructing a pipeline for the exportation of its oil usually give the waxy nature of Uganda’s crude oil as justification for their assertions. But you may wonder how and why the wax becomes the issue in this argument. Here we tell you how. In the follow up article to this we shall tell why.


The first argument that usually crops up is the length of the pipeline and how difficult it is to keep up with the heat tracing ventures along the entire pipeline. Though the Foster Wheeler Report accedes to the fact that there are waxy crude pipelines longer than 1350km that have been installed elsewhere, it is quick to note that there has never been a pipeline installed with skin effect heat tracing that stretched to that length in the world over.


The longest pipeline ever installed with skin effect heat tracing is the Barmer Salaya pipeline in India which is 400miles or rather 644 kms. If Uganda were to build one Uganda’s pipeline project would be at least double that in length and whilst there is technically no reason why it should not work, it would be the first of its kind.


It should be remembered that the Foster Wheeler study identifies heat tracing as the most effective method of facilitating the transportation of the waxy crude over that length.


Yet even then, there is the possibility, given the type of crude being transported, that the pipeline could become blocked by wax build up. “This could occur either as a result of the fluid cooling for example due to heat tracing failure or during pigging if the wax slug in front of the pig becomes too big to move.”  The report argues

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