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Focus On Improving Lightning Protection & Safety on Petroleum Storage Tanks!

 By, Roy "Chip" Whitten, Senior Applications Engineer & Education Specialist

Safety Standards

In the petroleum industry, we extract, transfer and store a myriad of extremely volatile and poisonous liquids and gasses. During each phase of the process, we are required to maintain some of the strictest safety protocols known to man. We wear protective personal equipment like respirators, flame retardant/chemical proof clothing, and eye protection. We carry personal gas monitors that alert us when the level of flammable/poisonous gasses and the oxygen level in the air is unsafe. We have procedures where we review each task we undertake prior to the initiation of that task. These reviews identify the risks associated with every task. We then formulate a maintenance plan to follow in the performance of this task. This plan addresses all the hazards and reduces the risks to their lowest level. We have daily safety briefings where our supervisors go over the maintenance plan and reinforce the importance of safety. Although, even with all this preparation, we can never eliminate the risks completely. We all understand that every time we dawn our protective clothing and go to work, we are placing our lives in the hands of our co-workers. We approach each day with the philosophic hope that we all return home to our families at the end of our shift.

Fire Hazzards in the Petroleum Industry

A major hazard in the petroleum industry is fire and explosions. To mitigate this risk, we reduce the number of man-made ignition sources by using intrinsically safe radios and electronic equipment, spark proof tools, etc. But there is no way to eliminate the possibility of ignition created by lightning, electrical surges and static electricity.

Personnel Safety is First & Foremost

Lyncole recognizes that the safety of personnel is first and foremost. We also understand that even if no one is injured, fires or explosions cost the industry millions of dollars every year. Lyncole strives to help save lives and money by protecting the personnel and sites through proper training and the installation of specialized and technologically advanced lightning, surge, and static control equipment.

3 Main Causes of Fires & Explosions

In the following paper, I will provide a brief description of the three main causes of fires and explosions, (Static Electricity, Lightning, and Electrical Surges) in petroleum industry. Static Electricity, the most prominent, can be caused by many conditions. Windblown dust particles, fluid transfer and storage, and friction to mention a few. Our conversation will be focus on the transfer and storage of fluid at a natural gas fracturing well-head. The natural gas is expelled from the well contaminated with liquid containing fracturing fluids, sand, acids and other impurities. This mixture is called natural gas liquid. The contaminated natural gas goes through a purification process which strips it of all the natural gas liquid. This liquid is transported through a series of pipes to on-site holding tanks where it is stored until it can be transferred to trucks and transported to the recycling/disposal locations.  As the volatile natural gas liquid is transferred through the pipes, it becomes electrically charged by the friction.  Many of today’s natural gas liquid holding tanks are made of fiberglass and do not allow the electrical charge to dissipate. As the holding tank fills, the charge grows and the difference of potential between the liquid and other conductive materials is created. If that potential difference reaches a certain point, an electrical arc occurs and the results are catastrophic.

Common Practices

There are many recommended practices that can reduce the rate of the buildup of the static charge in the natural gas liquids. Slow fill rates, filling from the bottom of the tank, not allowing the liquid to splash, reducing the turbulence in the liquid and similar practices only slow the buildup and delay the inevitable.      

Lyncole's Reccomendation

Lyncole recommends that a grounded brush type element be installed in the tank. This element extends from a weight at the bottom of the tank to the top of the tank and is covered with thousands of tiny metallic pointed bristles. These bristles act as miniature receptors that absorb the electrical charge and transfer it to the elements center core. This core is then bonded to a grounding electrode system providing a low resistance path to earth. By creating this low resistance path to earth, we dissipate the charge as it occurs, before it has a chance to buildup. These “Brushes” come in differing lengths and with multiple sized weights, can be configured to fit any size/shape tank, and are corrosion resistant.