Swapping D6 gas with C-Series isn't easy

Vol 14, PW 7 (23 Sep 10) Midstream & Downstream

If government ministers paid more attention to the differences between high and low pressure gas, high and low calorific value gas, rich and lean gas, they might look less foolish.

State-owned fertiliser company Rashtriya Chemicals & Fertilisers (RCF) has turned down an offer of up to 3m cm/d of C-Series gas from the ministry, as this low pressure gas is useless as raw material for urea production. On July 28, the Empowered Group of Ministers decided “Uran consumers” such as RCF should be asked to swap any D6 gas they receive with an equal amount of C-Series gas (RCF currently receives 2.13m cm/d D6 gas).

It was hoped this would resolve the glaring mismatch between actual production from D6 at 60m cm/d and what’s been ‘allocated’: 63m cm/d. On paper the idea looks wonderful, but government plans were shattered when GAIL asked RCF if it could actually take C-Series gas, and how much.

Two weeks ago GAIL sent a team to RCF’s Mumbai headquarters to explain details of the proposed swap. To its astonishment, RCF told GAIL it wasn’t interested, as it currently uses D6 gas at 40-bar pressure as ‘feedstock’ and subsidised gas at 12-bar pressure as ‘fuel’ to heat the ‘feedstock’ in the ‘reformer’ that produces 1.7m t/y of urea at its Thal factory.

“GAIL told us C-Series gas would be supplied at 12-bar pressure,” says RCF, “which means we cannot use C-Series gas to replace D6 gas as feedstock but only as fuel - and we don’t need more fuel just now!” Only after June next year might RCF make use of C-Series gas when it expands Thal capacity from 1.7m t/y to 2m t/y. But even then, C-Series gas can be used only as ‘fuel’, not to replace D6 gas as ‘feedstock’.

In short: if the oil ministry thinks RCF will give up its current D6 supplies without a fight, it had better think again.