Midstream Oil and Gas Processing: What are Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs)?

Gas Refinery

Natural gas liquids (NGLs) are hydrocarbons extracted during the gas refining process that are used to create hundreds of products, from clothing and household items to feedstock for industrial machines.

From the Field to the Plant

Energy producers begin the process of separation from the moment they extract natural gas from a well.

The initial stages of separation occur at the well site, where producers move produced crude oil, water, and natural gas through a series of heater treaters and separation tanks to separate the elements.

Producers may then pump the gas through a gas dehydration system to further process out water, thereby drying the gas.

Once these processes are complete, the gas is gathered by a midstream pipeline. Midstream companies compress and pump the gas through their network of pipelines to gas processing plants.

Extracting Natural Gas Liquids

Processing plants run natural gas through a series of tanks designed to separate impurities, water, and natural gas liquids, or NGLs. They extract NGLs using a few primary methods.

  • Compression, which adds pressure to gas, causing the liquids to fall out (natural gasoline or “drip gas”)
  • Cryogenic expansion, which separates methane from the other components by freezing them
  • Fractionation, which heats the elements and separates them using their different boiling points

Natural Gas Liquids Process

The 6 Types of NGLs

Methane is what we refer to generically as dry natural gas. End users use methane to heat business and residential buildings.

There are six primary types of NGLS:

  1. ethane
  2. propane
  3. butane
  4. isobutane
  5. pentane
  6. pentane plus

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