PetroSA : Fuelling the Country’s Transformation Ambitions

One of the most significant policies in South Africa in recent years has been the drive to create training and job opportunities for people in previously disadvantaged areas. At the same time the challenge to find alternative fuels has taken a priority. At PetroSA, those twin challenges are being met head-on.

PetroSAPetroSA is South Africa’s national oil company and is registered as a commercial entity under South African law. It was formed in January 2002 from the merger of three previous entities: Mossgas (Pty) Limited, Soekor (Pty) Limited, and parts of the Strategic Fuel Fund Association. PetroSA is a subsidiary of the Central Energy Fund (CEF), which is wholly owned by the State and reports to the Department of Energy.

PetroSA is committed to the exploration and production of oil and natural gas; while the business sells petrochemical products to the country’s major oil companies and exports petrochemical products to the international markets.

The company has over time acquired a number of sites, giving it a portfolio of assets that spans the petroleum value chain, with all operations run according to world-class safety and environmental standards.

The primary business functions at PetroSA are the exploration and production of oil and natural gas, but beyond that the company acquires local and international upstream petroleum ventures and aims to develop domestic refining and liquid fuels logistical infrastructure. The company is also responsible for the marketing and trading of oil and petrochemicals.

Its aim is to become a fully integrated, commercially competitive national oil company, supplying at least 25 per cent of the country’s liquid fuel needs by 2020.

PetroSA believes it can achieve this by sustaining its Mossel Bay Gas To Liquid (GTL) refinery as a profitable operation and by using it as a platform to sustain the company, with safety, health, quality and environmental standards set to play a key role in this long-term vision.

The Mossel Bay facility is one of the world’s biggest GTL refineries and produces synthetic fuels from offshore gas. The refinery produces ultra-clean, low-sulphur, low-aromatic synthetic fuels and high-value products converted from natural methane-rich gas and condensate using a unique GTL Fischer Tröpsch technology.

Among the main products created are unleaded petrol, kerosene (paraffin), diesel, propane, liquid oxygen and nitrogen, distillates, eco-fuels and alcohols.

Work started at Mossel Bay back in 1992, making the plant the world´s first GTL refinery. Today the facility is still the third largest GTL refinery among the 5 now operating globally. The site’s specialist teams are dedicated to producing some of the cleanest fuels on the market using some of the most environmentally friendly processes ever developed.

PetroSA operates the FA-EM, South Coast gas fields as well as the Oribi and Oryx oil fields. The producing gas fields provide feedstock to the Mossel Bay GTL refinery, while beyond South Africa’s borders the company has exploration acreage in Equatorial Guinea and Namibia.

In June it was announced that Mossel Bay operations were to be suspended for 37 days for a statutory maintenance shutdown.

The maintenance shutdown, which will start on 22 September, will affect the Mossel Bay Gas-To-Liquids (GTL) Refinery and the offshore FA Platform. During the 37-day period, PetroSA will cease all production activities. Products which will not be available during the shutdown window period include Liquefied Petroleum Gas, Propane, Carbon Dioxide, Liquid Nitrogen and Liquid Oxygen.

The statutory shutdown is aimed at ensuring the integrity of equipment and systems omn-site, in compliance with the Mine Health and Safety Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. PetroSA’s operating permit also requires the company to undergo routine statutory shutdowns in order to inspect and repair critical equipment in order to ensure their integrity.

The shutdown takes place every 4 years and is expected to impact the combined workforce of approximately 4,000.

Ms Nosizwe Nokwe-Macamo, PetroSA’s Group CEO, said the shutdown was an important opportunity to optimise the functions and reliability of its facilities.

As always, PetroSA is committed to ensuring the success of its shutdown. For the forthcoming shutdown, we have adopted the slogan ‘if you see it, you own it’. We intend to improve on the standards and records we set in the 2009 shutdown. These are complex projects, with many unknowns, but as PetroSA we have developed a highly unique approach that is effective in ensuring success,” she said.

The GTL Refinery is of strategic importance to South Africa. Therefore, we have to ensure that we meet all our timelines, without causing disruptions to the supply of products in the country,” she added.

Whilst the work this winter aims to maintain standards at the refinery, Project Ikhwezi, which started in 2009, has the express aim of extending its shelf life while consolidating PetroSA’s position at the heart of South Africa´s transformation.

Commenting on this ongoing project, the company stated:

Ikhwezi is the Nguni word for ‘morning star’. As one of the most strategically important initiatives PetroSA has ever undertaken, Project Ikhwezi marks the start of a new dawn for our business.

Formally approved by the PetroSA Board in March 2011, Project Ikhwezi is set to play an instrumental role in sustaining the life of our GTL refinery in Mossel Bay.

It involves tapping into gas reserves in Petro SA’s F-O field, which is located 40 kilometres south-east of our F-A production platform off the south coast of South Africa. First gas was scheduled to flow from the F-O field in May 2013 and we estimate that production will continue for around six years.

Further development of other gas prospects near the F-O field could potentially help to sustain the life of the Mossel Bay refinery until 2025.

In May last year PetroSA also announced the opening of South Africa’s first multi-million rand Fuel Research Centre. The country’s first academic facility offering research on improving the quality of diesel, the R36 million PetroSA Synthetic Fuels Innovation Centre (PFSIC), was officially opened by the Minister of Energy, Ms Dipuo Peters, today.

The PFSIC houses a pilot plant-size reactor for the study of the conversion of olefins to distillate (COD), an essential part of the intricate Gas-To-Liquids (GTL) process.

PetroSA, South Africa’s National Oil Company (NOC), has provided funding to the value of R36 million to establish and operate the PSFIC at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), for an initial five-year period.

At the opening, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters underlined the benefits of PetroSA’s work for society, commenting:

South Africa is faced with enormous challenges with regards to developing the human capital required to meet the needs of knowledge-based industries which are the core of a modern economy. Natural gas reserves represent a vital energy resource for South Africa and the African Continent as a whole, thus the identification and monetization of those reserves by PetroSA and UWC is of major national interest.”