CENAGAS: enhancing Mexico’s gas pipeline networkAugust 1, 2022
Abraham David Alipi Mena, general director of the Centro Nacional de Control del Gas Natural (CENAGAS), talks to The Energy Year about how CENAGAS is contributing to the expansion of Mexico’s gas pipeline system and how it is maintaining a safe and efficient operation of the country’s gas transport infrastructure. CENAGAS serves as Mexico’s natural gas grid control centre.
How is CENAGAS contributing to the expansion of the gas pipeline system via SISTRANGAS?
SISTRANGAS [the Integrated National Natural Gas Transport and Storage System] is the only integrated natural gas transport system in the country. It has a total length of 10,336 kilometres and is made up of seven independent and interconnected natural gas transport systems, under an integrated tariff scheme.
Out of the 10,336 kilometres that make up SISTRANGAS, 8,990 kilometres belong to the SNG [National Gas Pipeline System] owned by CENAGAS. This means that the Mexican State owns 87% of the pipelines in this system. The SNG serves as the central system, and is made up of pipelines ranging from 4 inches to 48 inches in diameter, nine compression stations with a total installed power of 256,400 hp, 359 sectioning valves, 142 outgoing scraper traps, 141 ingoing scraper traps and 121 metering and regulating stations that distribute natural gas to different users, and has a contracted capacity of 6,425,698 GJ per day.
CENAGAS administers and manages the transport capacity of this integrated system in its capacity as independent manager. Moreover, CENAGAS proposes the Five-Year Expansion Plan of SISTRANGAS to the Ministry of Energy, with prior technical opinion given by the Energy Regulatory Commission. The Centre prepares this plan, collecting information from various sources and carrying out rigorous analyses to determine the infrastructure required to guarantee continuity in the provision of transport services.
Subsequently, the Ministry of Energy approves and publishes the Five-Year Expansion Plan. The ministry adds, modifies or adjusts the portfolio of projects based on its powers, with the aim of aligning it with the objectives of the current administration. In this sense, the five-year plan currently contains projects whose development is not the responsibility of CENAGAS, but which are relevant for the development of the national transmission network and therefore for meeting the demand for this energy source.
Overall, by 2021 41 natural gas transportation systems were in operation in the country, giving an approximate length of 18,750 kilometres. Of this total length, 2,630 kilometres have started operations during the current administration, which means that, from December 1, 2018, to December 31, 2021, the natural gas transportation network grew by approximately 14%. Likewise, during 2022, the Tula-Villa de Reyes pipeline is expected to partially start operations.
Moreover, the Public Consultation exercise that CENAGAS carries out every year, allows to identify the needs of the participants in the natural gas market, both as users and as service providers. This information is used for the preparation of the Plan, which is complemented with the information provided by the state productive enterprises regarding their supply and demand of the hydrocarbon for their productive activities and commercialisation.
Finally, with regard to hydrocarbon consumption, it is estimated that of the national total, more than 60% was supplied through the SISTRANGAS network, which averaged 4,501 mcf [127.5 mcm] per day in 2021. The electricity sector was the most important, accounting for 38% of the consumption of this hydrocarbon in the system, followed by the oil sector, which accounted for 22% of consumption. The industrial and distribution sectors accounted for 21% and 19%, respectively.
What challenges and solutions are plausible to make the national system operate in a continuous, safe and optimal manner?
During 2021, national injections to SISTRANGAS were 1,284 mcf [36.4 mcm] per day. However, since December, they started to increase and have reached an average of 1,478 mcf [41.9 mcm] per day (average as of April 2022). In other words, we observe an increase of 15%.
SISTRANGAS has the capacity to receive imports of continental natural gas from the USA, so the challenge now is to find an outlet for this natural gas. This can be done by different means: increasing delivery to users who need more natural gas, connecting new users and/or developing niche markets. To achieve this, it is necessary to resolve bottlenecks and operational constraints in the system, and to develop infrastructure for both transmission and last-mile distribution.
In addition, another project of great relevance and importance for energy security is the development of natural gas storage. Although there are three natural gas terminals in the country, their use is commercial and the infrastructure is privately owned. Thus, the country needs to have operational storage, which supports the system to operate continuously, safely and optimally. Strategic storage is also needed to guarantee the supply of natural gas in the event of interruptions in the main sources of supply, which may be caused by external factors such as natural phenomena, international policy impacts, etc. For this reason, CENAGAS works in co-ordination with the Ministry of Energy and other relevant actors in order to identify the best storage options, with a vision in which the State maintains the stewardship of the infrastructure.
What are CENAGAS’ roles, priorities and lines of action when maintaining a safe and efficient operation of the gas transport infrastructure?
The purpose of CENAGAS is to guarantee the continuity and security in the provision of services in SISTRANGAS, in order to contribute to the continuity of the supply of this energy in the national territory. This is done through two roles: the first as independent manager, being responsible for the management and administration of the system’s capacity. The second as transporter, being the provider of the transport services in the infrastructure of which it is the permission holder, i.e., the SNG.
Since its creation, the Centre has contributed to the transformation of the country and to the strengthening of the State, including the SOEs [state-owned enterprises], so that they can once again operate as levers of national development.
One of the priorities is to put CENAGAS at the forefront technologically, both in terms of infrastructure and decision-making technology, as it is essential to have state-of-the-art technology to operate, co-ordinate and make decisions throughout the entire process. In addition, the lines of action that we have undertaken to maintain the safe and efficient operation of the transport infrastructure are several.
Firstly, a programme was established to identify the physical condition of the pipelines based on interior inspection technology, and thus address the needs of pipelines that have been operating for more than 40 years. Based on the results obtained from these inspections, CENAGAS established a programme for rehabilitation. Secondly, we have carried out the rehabilitation and modernisation of the compressor stations that enable the provision of transport services, including the Cempoala Compressor Station and the Pátzcuaro Compressor Station.
Thirdly, a work programme was launched for the modernisation of the metering equipment of the infrastructure owned by this centre. This will improve measurements, reduce uncertainty in the information gathered and allow the integration of measurement and analysis data of natural gas quality specifications into CENAGAS’ SCADA.
Also, the Risk Atlas of the SNG has been updated. It will be used to obtain information for the analysis and evaluation process of the risks related to the operation of the system. The aim is to prioritise maintenance activities, and to programme actions to rehabilitate pipelines that have been in operation for more than 40 years.
Lastly, changes to the terms and conditions for the provision of services in SISTRANGAS have been implemented. They will begin to be applied in May of this year, aimed at providing better conditions of security, continuity, quality and efficiency in the provision of services, as well as the balance and operation of the system.
Tell us about the benefits expected in the expansion of the South Texas-Tuxpan and Dulces Nombres pipeline projects.
Both South Texas-Tuxpan and Dulces Nombres gas pipeline extension projects are included in the SISTRANGAS Five-Year Expansion Plan. However, since they are relevant for the development of the national transport network, and therefore for meeting the demand for this energy source, their development is the responsibility of the CFE.
The extension of the South Texas-Tuxpan pipeline has as its objective to optimise the CFE’s contracted reserve capacity, with the benefit of ensuring supply to the CFE’s current and future generation plants in the southeast and to the industry and liquefaction terminal in Salina Cruz.
For its part, Dulces Nombres aims to increase injection capacity in the Monterrey area in order to meet demand. The benefits of its development are: an improved continuity of natural gas supply conditions by increasing the availability of the molecule in the area, due to increased import capacity. It also allows the release of transport capacity from the Ramones Phase I system to the central and gulf areas. Lastly it allows redundancy and flexibility between sources of supply of imported natural gas.
What are the main gas pipeline projects that CENAGAS is currently developing?
First of all, we are developing the Leona Vicario Headend. Its aim is to provide options that offer flexibility to the system in the face of any national supply scenario, with the aim of guaranteeing the continuity of supply in this area. The benefits it will provide are various. It will give way to improved gas supply continuity conditions in the southeast by providing redundancy and operational flexibility to meet demand in the area, in the event of significant variations in the national supply, to SISTRANGAS via injection in gas processing centres. It will also strengthen the supply of natural gas to the Yucatan Peninsula and supply to the future refinery at Dos Bocas, in Paraíso, Tabasco.
Secondly, we are working on the Chinameca Compression Station. This project will involve the reconfiguration of three compressors that will be transferred to the station, as well as fluid valve stations and related equipment. It also aims to adapt the pipeline infrastructure to make it bi-directional in its gas handling, for a flow of 550-820 mcf [15.6-23.2 mcm] per day. Its development will provide bidirectional operational flexibility in the transport systems, operating the compressor station from north to south or from south to north in the country.
Thirdly, we are actively involved in the Northwest Bypass. This venture will increase transport capacity in the Reynosa area and improve operational safety conditions. The benefits it will bring to the system are the improvement of safety conditions in the Reynosa area through low-pressure transport of the existing pipeline, and high-pressure transport through the bypass.
It will also allow it to take advantage of the available injection capacity at the Tetco import point, which is currently affected by not having the minimum pressure required to coexist with injection from the Tennessee import point. This bypass will also enable the injection of gas into SISTRANGAS of up to 60 mcf [1.7 mcm] per day from producing fields in the area. Lastly, it will provide continuity in the provision of the service and meet the prospective demand of both current and new users, allowing the development of new markets and contributing to the economic growth of the region.
What type of customers is CENAGAS seeking and what market and regional opportunities does it envision?
We are looking for customers who have natural gas consumption potential, either customers who are currently connected to the transmission network and require additional quantities, or new users who use other fuels but have the capacity to convert to natural gas.
In addition, we identify a major market opportunity in the development of markets for hydrocarbon distribution through low-pressure networks to households, businesses and small industries, or its use as vehicle fuel.
The central and northern regions of the country have the greatest potential, due to the available infrastructure, as well as the fact that they have cities with a high concentration of population, allowing them to reach a larger number of retail users through a shorter network.
What are CENAGAS’ immediate goals and what short- and medium-term strategy does it have?
The main objectives we have is the development of the Leona Vicario Headend infrastructure projects, the Chinameca Compression Station and the Northwest Bypass, as well as the start of operations to provide greater reliability, flexibility and safety to the system. This goes hand in hand with the modernisation and rehabilitation of the current facilities and infrastructure.
This is part of the strategy to address the potential markets that have been identified, and to find an outlet for the natural gas provided by the increase in Pemex’s domestic production and the CFE’s imported gas, contributing to the empowerment of the state productive companies.
Finally, we will work hand in hand with the Ministry of Energy to define a comprehensive storage strategy to meet the needs of users given the system’s operational restrictions under the principles of efficiency, honesty and transparency.