February 2022, Vol. 249, No. 2


Study Finds Flowmeters Rebound Within Oil and Gas Industry

Special to P&GJ   

A new research study from Flow Research, Flowmeters in the Oil and Gas Industry, finds that worldwide revenues for all flowmeters sold to the oil and gas industry in 2019 totaled $1.64 billion.  

It goes on to forecast a solid compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.6% over the next five years, for a total annual revenue exceeding $1.86 billion in 2024.   

Oil and gas are among the largest industries for flowmeters, and the flowmeter market tends to parallel its ups and downs. Both the flowmeter market and oil and gas prices had a strong year in 2018.   

Although oil and gas prices declined in 2019, they were strong enough to help support a modest increase in flowmeter sales in 2019. However, sales of all types of flowmeters dropped in 2020 due to a decline in oil prices, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and a decline in demand for energy products.   

In 2021, both the oil and gas and the flowmeter markets were recovering, and Flow Research sees this trend continuing into 2022 and through 2024.   

Differential pressure (DP) flowmeters account for about one-third of flowmeter revenues sold into the oil and gas industry. DP flowmeters consist of DP transmitters together with primary elements such as orifice plates, Pitot tubes, Venturis, flow nozzles and other elements.   

Although DP transmitters and primary elements are quantified separately in the study, together they make up the differential pressure flowmeter market. DP flowmeters are deeply entrenched in the oil and gas industry and have the advantage of a large installed base.  

Coriolis flowmeters are second behind DP flowmeters in terms of revenues sold into the worldwide oil and gas industry, followed by ultrasonic and positive displacement meters.   

Magnetic flowmeters, which do not measure oil, gas or other nonconductive fluids, are also playing an increasingly important role in the oil and gas industry for water/brine injection, recovery and disposal. Magnetic flowmeters are widely used to measure the water and chemicals pumped into oil and gas wells during chemical injection for hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” They also measure the water that comes out of the well after the fracking operation is complete.   

Flow measurement plays a vital role in all three industry segments: upstream, midstream and downstream.  


Transporting oil or gas from the upstream oil field down to a refinery or gas processing plant (or storage tank) by pipeline, truck, railcar or ship typically involves custody transfer.   

Custody transfer of natural gas, especially for large natural pipelines, is one of the fastest-growing niches within the flowmeter markets. It predominantly uses ultrasonic, DP and turbine flowmeters.   

Ultrasonic flowmeters have been gaining ground because they are nonintrusive, with no moving parts. They are also highly accurate, and ultrasonic meters with three or more paths typically meet industry guidelines for custody transfer accuracy.   

To send natural gas by ship, it first must be transformed into liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is a rapidly growing aspect of distributing the world’s supply of natural gas. Liquefaction is a complex process and provides opportunities and challenges for flow measurement. The natural gas is measured as it enters and leaves the liquefication plant.   

Later, LNG is transferred to a ship, where it is stored in insulated tanks to maintain its low temperature. Once the ship arrives at its destination, LNG is warmed to atmospheric temperature, regasified and typically transferred to a pipeline or storage area.   

Measuring LNG at cryogenic temperatures requires a meter with no moving parts and, to avoid LNG vaporization, low-pressure drop. In addition, an LNG meter needs to have provable custody transfer accuracy. Coriolis and ultrasonic meters, which most consistently meet these requirements, dominate in LNG flow measurement.   


A flow meter in a gas refinery.
A flow meter in a gas refinery.

Once an oil well is in production, underground pressures push fluid containing the oil to the surface, where it passes through a series of test and production separators. Flowmeters measure the fluid as it enters the separators and as the separated oil, gas and water are sent to different locations.   

Sometimes multiple wells feed into a common flow stream, and the fluid amount from each well also must be measured. Depending on the ownership of the various wells, this step may require custody transfer measurement. Often, ultrasonic, DP or turbine meters make upstream measurements. Coriolis meters also can be used, but they perform better with liquids than gas and have line size limitations.  


Refineries and gas measurement plants offer many opportunities for flow measurement, both intraplant and downstream. Flowmeters approved for custody transfer typically measure the crude oil entering a refinery from pipelines, railcars, trucks or ships and the refined fuels leaving the refinery.   

Within the refinery, flowmeters measure flow at various points as the crude oil is distilled and converted into various types of refined fuels, including gasoline, diesel, kerosene, jet fuel and fuel oil. Ultrasonic, DP, turbine and vortex meters are all used for flow measurement inside refineries. In some cases, steam measurement is required, which favors differential pressure and vortex meters.  

Refined products coming out of the refinery are often stored temporarily in large tanks on a tank farm. From here, pipelines, trains and trucks carry the refined fuels to their points of use. Positive displacement flowmeters are widely used for this purpose since they excel in measuring the flow of petroleum liquids of a wide range of viscosities and flow rates.   

When trucks are used to deliver gasoline and fuels, either positive displacement or Coriolis meters are often installed on the back of the delivery trucks as part of an integrated system that includes pumps and valves.   

Natural gas and industrial gas processing plants offer opportunities for temperature and pressure measurement as well as for flow measurement. Flowmeters approved for custody transfer typically measure the gas as it enters the plant. Vortex, thermal, DP and turbine meters are often used for non-custody transfer measurement within the plant.   

“While 2020 was a difficult year for the oil and gas industry and for the flowmeter market, 2021 has been a year of recovery,” said Dr. Jesse Yoder, president of Flow Research. “This trend toward recovery can be expected to continue in 2022, with pent-up demand for travel, spending and a return to a normal life propelling the demand for energy.”  

Yoder said he expects higher oil and gas prices in 2022, and for ultrasonic, Coriolis, positive displacement and turbine flowmeters to play large roles in this recovery.  

For additional information of Flow Research, visit www.flowresearch.com.  

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