Mexico’s fire and gas specialistsFebruary 23, 2022
Adrian Bisiacchi, general manager of KDM Fire Systems, talks to The Energy Year about the company’s work in the upstream sector for Pemex and private firms, the risks faced by offshore oil and gas platforms, and the key areas of opportunity in the energy industry. KDM supplies fire safety services to clients such as Pemex, CFE and Iberdrola.
What clientele have you secured in the E&P arena and what concerns do you have for the sector?
We work with Pemex, as our main customer – almost two thirds of our work is done for them. The most important component is the maintenance of their ageing infrastructure. In order to enhance production, they will have to invest in maintenance, which has been a matter of concern given the several serious incidents in 2021, most of them due to lack of proper protection of equipment.
We also work for most of the major upstream companies such as Eni, either directly or indirectly. We just supplied a variety of detection and suppression systems, and we just finished our work with Hokchi Energy for their terminal. There will be plenty of activity coming from the upstream sector and this is only going to increase in 2022.
The issue is that there is no long-term plan for private E&P firms, no clear direction. Concerns surround the possibility of private companies reaching production but then reducing or even backing out of some of their investments. This bubble-type scenario is concerning. For this reason, we are focusing most of our energy on Pemex, which will continue to be active as long as crude oil is a valuable commodity.
Tell us about the risks offshore oil and gas platforms face and the solutions you offer.
Our main focus is offshore. In offshore platforms, both production and risk are located within a much smaller base when compared to onshore. When you deal with an offshore production platform, you can have 300,000 barrels of oil and a couple of million Btu of gas flowing through that relatively smaller facility every day. Safety systems are fundamental when you have all that concentration of hydrocarbons in a single place.
As one has liquid hydrocarbons, natural gas and electrical equipment working together in a single offshore platform, there are plenty of technical problems one can encounter. There are many things that can go wrong as there are different technologies to protect. Fortunately, we have specialised in oil and gas for many decades and have the expertise to protect electrical rooms and turbines, as well as valves that may leak. The maintenance of these assets is therefore critical, but works in this aspect have slowed down due to the pandemic and budgetary constraints.
The main offshore area we are focusing on now is the Southwest Marine Region as fields in this region are not declining as quickly as in the northeast region. While there is a lot of investment in keeping Ku-Maloob-Zaap functional, the Cantarell field is declining rapidly. Most of the work that we conduct is aimed at just supporting those facilities to keep them running smoothly.
What projects are you carrying out for private upstream firms in Mexico?
Around a third of all our oil and gas work goes to private firms and most of the projects we’re carrying out for the sector are aimed at offshore platforms. However, the work we performed for Hokchi Energy is an exception as this is an onshore facility. Our upcoming E&P opportunities are with private operators, namely Eni and PetroBal.
The nature of the work we carry out with these operators is the same as with Pemex but with smaller platforms that still have many protection requirements, especially if they are to reutilise the natural gas. If a given company brings the gas out of the wells, then they have to reinject it. The reinjection turbo compressors used for this become the most critical assets to protect in these platforms.
In what ways are you involved in the protection systems of the new Olmeca refinery?
For the Olmeca refinery we will provide protection for several operational and control centres. However, it all depends on the speed of its construction works. We originally obtained the contract for the refinery’s master control room and just recently, we signed two new contracts to offer protection solutions for the sulphur plant, hydrogen plant and about a dozen substations for these plants. These are worth about USD 2 million.
The protection packages for the main reactors, coker and catalytic plant will probably come in late 2022. Based on sheer investment value and the type of protections required, the whole alarm, detection and protection packages for the refinery should be north of USD 50 million.
The complexity of servicing a downstream plant is that the different types of processes require different types of protection. While in the upstream sector one deals with flammable components and electronics that trigger an alarm based on flame detection, in a refinery one has a variety of chemicals that interact differently. So, it’s not the same work to protect a hydrogen plant or a sulphur plant; in some facilities, for example, you must install hydrogen sulphide detectors due to the hazard it represents.
How is the latest technology boosting the efficiency of sensors and materialising predictive maintenance?
Sensors are evolving rapidly and to this end, we have introduced more accurate, longer-range sensors that can accurately detect flame at up to 75 metres. These are not only more economical, as fewer detectors are required, but they also require less wiring, which reduces the overall risk. The same goes for gas detectors, which have traditionally had ranges of 40 metres but now go up to 60. There has also been a series of improvements, mainly around self-diagnosing equipment. There are sensors that diagnose a given scenario without the need for sending a technician to the field.
Yet the main thrust now is predictive maintenance, which is being enhanced by AI algorithms. We are working on a project that will allow our client to obtain full visibility of a fire control panel from anywhere in the world via a mobile device. Information goes up on a secured cloud so everything that is captured by our panels becomes immediately available, so ultimately, the health of your fire protection system can be monitored from anywhere. We will be able to diagnose any problem a platform has without even being there.
How is KDM Fire Systems unique in its offering of protection systems in Mexico?
We are a boutique firm specialising solely in fire protection systems. Other companies that work in fire suppression do it as an add-on to whatever industrial process they specialise in. Not only do we bring new products into the market, we also look at our customers’ installed base to determine what they need to keep their employees and assets safe and sound. We are known as fire and gas specialists, something very specific but elemental. We are a niche player and unique, simply because hardly anyone can do what we do and endure the risk and responsibilities it entails.
As of today, we have more than 40 certified in-house engineers. On the design side of things, our personnel diagnose what occurs at the field. We then determine the right protection for the existing assets and, accordingly, redesign a complete solution. Secondly, on the installation and maintenance side we have the ability to go in, do a field survey and figure out exactly what every site requires to protect the maximum value of their fixed assets.
How has the regulatory environment shifted when it comes to safety?
A few years back, due to the amalgam of different types of norms (local, international, etc.) there was a significant mismatch. We found ourselves working with a virtual haberdashery of regulations. There were a lot of new players coming in, and with them came their internal regulations but with no local regulations to be enforced.
The situation now is relatively different. It seems that there is no real effort to push new regulations. In addition, there is no real enforcement, which forces firms to take up the responsibility of implementing all forms of compliance from scratch. This is the case with Pemex. Despite their size and scale, their sheer challenges have stopped them from renewing their own standards or deciding which international standards to adhere to. This has given way to some of the accidents they have experienced recently, which are mainly due to maintenance deficiencies.
It is worth stating that KDM is not in charge of providing any form of services for all of the sites where Pemex has experienced incidents. Everyone thinks of KDM as synonymous with fire protection for Pemex, so it is important to clarify these things. Every Pemex site that is protected by KDM remains safe to date.
Where do you see opportunities in the power sector moving forward?
In the power sector, we’re focusing all of our efforts on turbine protection. That’s where we see the highest risk – in those big turbines generating electric power or moving gas to and from the fields. We take pride in acknowledging ourselves as the national expert in turbine protection, and we are going to take the electric power sector more seriously moving forwards, given its great potential. There are several reasons for this potential. Firstly, transmission systems in Mexico are getting very old and will require more protection. Likewise, most of the distribution facilities will have to be maintained and revamped over the next couple of years.
Secondly, we are historically very good at protecting combined-cycle power plants. CFE [Federal Electricity Commission] has announced plans to build six new combined-cycle power plants and we plan to pursue all of these projects. We have provided protection solutions for 14 of the last 20 power plants built in Mexico. We are definitely the national experts, so we want to further enhance our presence in the sector.
Lastly, on a longer-term note, we will place our bets on green energy and renewables, such as hydro, solar, wind and hydrogen generation, which will become increasingly critical. That is a sweet spot for us because all of these processes require highly specialised protection. We offer detection and mitigation solutions for every form of renewable energy production, an area which is misunderstood or underestimated by all the players in the domestic fire market today.
On a similar note, all forms of renewable energy come with storage equipment and we offer specific fire protection solutions for every storage application. Once again, KDM has proven to be one step ahead of the problem: delivering smart solutions that fully comply with a strict and dynamic regulatory environment.
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