From lightning strikes to faulty equipment and electricals, petrochemical sites are especially vulnerable to fires which can destroy facilities and cause shocking environmental fallout. Here’s how oil, gas and energy companies can protect their assets and reputation.

Fires do not come much worse than a petrochemical fire.

Invariably, they cause devastating explosions on facilities such as an offshore exploration installation, a terminal jetty or an onshore processing or storage site. Such accidents can potentially cause millions of dollars of damage to a tank facility and result in the loss of invaluable fuel supplies and other stored products.

The fallout can extend beyond such obvious factors, too. Petrochemical fires often spread rapidly and can lead to flammable fuel spillages, environmentally damaging smoke and toxic gases and high rates of heat release. The upshot is that firefighting installations must always be ready to respond immediately if a fire occurs.

The big risks
Petrochemical sites are exposed to a range of fire dangers. Lightning is the most common form of ignition and is becoming an even more significant factor given the increase of major storm events in an era of climate change.

A single strike of lightning releases up to 500 million volts and a temperature of about 27,000ºC, three times hotter than the surface of the sun. That is why it is essential to have sophisticated lightning-strike avoidance systems that can protect storage tanks from the potentially catastrophic – and expensive – consequences of lightning.

Chemical plant explosions stemming from the ignition of flammable materials such as rocket fuel, acrylic acid and crude oil represent another threat, along with faulty equipment and machinery such as furnaces that can overheat and spark a fire. Defective electrical equipment has also been linked to many petrochemical fires.

Help at hand
How can fire-safety specialists assist? It is imperative to have a mix of preventive and post-fire solutions. For example, modern lightning-avoidance systems can stop petrochemical fires before they occur and have superseded conventional lightning rods.

They combine lightning protection, grounding and surge suppression to create an ‘isolation zone’ that inhibits direct strikes to the protected site and minimises the effects of any strikes nearby. Patented Dissipation Array Systems have been installed around the world and are credited with a success rate of more than 99% in lightning-strike prevention.
Grounding is critical for personal safety and uninterrupted operations, while surge protection protects electronics from lightning that can destroy sensitive electronics.

Comprehensive protection
As petrochemical sites are often in the line of fire from extreme weather conditions, any fire-fighting systems must be made to combat hostile and highly corrosive marine environments. They must also be appropriate for the particular site and typically include robust hardware solutions and foam concentrates to safeguard high-value assets and the lives of those who work on potentially dangerous facilities.

Apart from lightning protection, an extensive array of firefighting foam systems and concentrates can counter a wide variety of fire risks, such as petrochemical and marine blazes. Foam deluge systems can protect a facility’s gas and petroleum tanks, while provision of quality extinguishers and hoses is also part of the safety mix.

Play it safe
Faced with such fire threats, it is important for oil, gas and energy companies, in particular, to partner with a supplier of proven protection solutions for petrochemical environments. Any supplier should have a history of delivering safe solutions using quality products that limit long-term maintenance costs.

The best partners offer support throughout the entire process from design to procurement through to commissioning and after-sales service. In such a volatile environment, there is no room for inaction or inexperience.

Delta Fire specialises in petrochemical fires and fire protection of high-risk, high-hazard environments such as industrial sites. Visit www.deltafire.com.au for more details.

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