offshore plant fire

Safety Systems and Procedures for Offshore Operations

When discussing operations and use of any form of machinery or high-risk material, one factor remains paramount, and this factor is safety. Operations would be useless if the safety of the officials, and equipment involved cannot be guaranteed. This explains why concerted efforts are put in every year by governmental regulatory bodies, organizations and individuals alike to ensure productivity while enhancing the safety of high-risk machinery operators, especially those who operate offshore.

Compared to onshore operations, offshore machinery tend to be more expensive, and may require a great deal of technical know-how to operate. It goes without saying then, that safety procedures for these operations would be a bit more technical too.

While discussing safety systems and procedures for offshore operations, we would be dealing with safety procedures which can lessen the risk of fire outbreaks, and forestall a fire outbreak in time to avoid heavy damage offshore.

 

Safety procedures:

One of the most efficient methods of ensuring safety in highly technical, and risky environments such as offshore operations heavily includes the use of fireproofing materials. These materials can very easily be the difference in figures with regards to loss of lives, and property as the case may be.

However, the bigger question remains – what type of fireproofing material would be best for the differing offshore machinery and operations especially as it relates to the oil/gas industry?

The preferred fireproofing safety systems and procedures for offshore operations would naturally depend on factors such as the cost, availability of materials, general logistics, and performance of the material among a number of other factors.

 

Fireproofing Safety systems for offshore operations

As it relates to the oil/gas industry, there are usually three (3) major types of fireproofing materials that are considered when sourcing for fireproofing options for offshore operations and they are:

  • Cementitious products
  • Intumescent Coatings
  • Thermal Insulation

 

Cementitious products

As the name suggests are made of cement or concrete. Concrete is a known low-conductor of heat, and has been used as a precautionary material to manage the effects of a fire outbreak over the years. These concrete-made products are designed to mitigate the risks of a fire outbreak by either boiling up trapped moisture that in turn regulate the temperature of the steel machinery to prevent it from burning up during a fire outbreak, or by utilizing its low conductivity of heat advantage to reduce the heat which the piece of machinery would ordinarily be exposed to.

Intumescent Coatings

On the other hand, refer to materials which expand and change form in a bid to protect set areas or machinery from excessive heat caused by fires. Intumescent coatings are very light products by nature, however, they become thick carbonaceous chars when exposed to high temperatures.

Thermal insulation

The third type of fireproofing material involves thermal insulation. These materials help to reduce the impact of fire outbreaks on the machinery. 

Thermal insulation fireproofing materials/procedures are tested and trusted materials used for the protection of machinery in offshore operations depending on the needs and regulatory requirements.

The use of mineral fibers like mineral wool and cellular glass have been proven to be the best applications of fireproofing materials due to the special qualities that they possess which makes them easily adaptable. They are light-weight, stable, cost-effective, non-combustible and environment-friendly.

Typical examples of such materials usage:

ProFlex

which is made of layers of mineral fiber such that it is customizable and provides protection of main equipment from high temperatures, and other factors such as UV, and harsh weather conditions.

ProCab

On the other hand, it is quite the functional piece of fireproofing required by most oil and gas systems. Specially designed for rounded and critical equipment which are notorious for damage during blast overpressure and fires.

 

How to use affordable backup procedures for maintenance operations in petrochemical Facilities

There are a couple of backup procedures to employ to ensure human and machine safety during maintenance operations in petrochemical facilities, however, most of these procedures are not cheap. It is of paramount importance that operators are abreast with how to use these procedures to ensure that impending fire outbreaks are adequately forestalled and timely too.

When conducting maintenance for petrochemical facilities, it is important to firstly understand that some materials, equipment or machinery have a higher propensity to fire outbreaks than others, and should be carefully checked or paid more attention to during maintenance procedures. These equipment are called fire potential equipment and include:

  • Air coolers handling flammable liquids
  • Vessels
  • Heat exchangers
  • Compressor
  • Generally, any other material containing flammable liquids

For proper and standard maintenance of facilities in petrochemical industries, the following backup procedures should be considered:

  1. Equipment (especially those made of steel) should always be fireproofed to the highest levels possible, and this includes all the structures within which collectively contribute to the support of vertical load.
  2. Air coolers that are within fire-risk areas and contain flammable materials/liquids must be effectively fireproofed irrespective of their elevation above grade. Their support structures should also be fireproofed if they are also within the risk areas.
  3. As regards fire heaters, proper fireproofing ought to be applied to all the supporting structures that are attached to the steel floor plate of the firebox.
  4. All cables should generally be fireproofed, especially the critical ones and those which enable power-supply and instrument cabling for ESD, F&G, and emergency communications systems.
  5. All safety regulations from the relevant regulating bodies should be strictly adhered to, and be put into consideration when choosing fireproofing materials for different equipment.
  6. Safety experts should always be consulted where there are areas of doubts, and all machinery should only be operated by specialized personnel.

Conclusively, the safety of equipment and humans should be of utmost priority, especially as it relates to offshore operations in petrochemical industries.

Below is a recent statistical report analysis of the number of recorded fire outbreaks between the years 2011–2015:
FIRE CLASSIFICATION
CASUALTY
LOSSES
Industrial 289 $1.2 Billion
Unclassified industrial fires 41 $265 Million 

 

Some of the notable oil and gas fires over the years include:

 

Name of Event
Date of Event
Casualties
Cost
The Natchitoches explosion March 4, 1965 17 dead, 9 injured
Explosion in Newark January 7, 1983 1 dead, 22-24 injured
Romeoville, Illinois, Union Oil refinery explosion July 23, 1984 19 dead
San Juanico Disaster November 19, 1984 hundreds
Norco, Louisiana, Shell Oil refinery explosion May 5, 1988 7 dead, 42 injured US$706 million.
Piper Alpha disaster
(Arguably worst disaster till date)
July 6, 1988 167 dead US$3.4 billion
Texas City Refinery explosion March 23, 2005 15 dead, at least 100 injured
Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal fire December 11, 2005 None  £750 million
Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico April 20, 2010 11 dead

The statistics above are testament to the dangers of uncontrolled fire outbreaks especially in industrial settings. Since petrochemicals are highly inflammable, it goes without saying that such industries are armed with the right facilities, procedures and technological knowledge to forestall these cases of fire outbreaks more than any other industry.

Special care should be taken when considering fireproofing materials for the different equipment. Also, appropriate standard requirements for operations set by the necessary regulatory bodies should be strictly adhered to the letter.

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