Skip to comments.Some companies donít want to wait for lightning to strike
Posted on 03/18/2013 5:52:09 AM PDT by thackney
Back in Ben Franklins day, no one worried about lightning causing a chemical tank to explode or shutting down the electronic controls to a nuclear reactor.
Technology has raised the stakes since Franklin invented the lightning rod lightning-sparked fires caused more than $1 billion in insured homeowners losses in 2010 alone, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
The costs can be even higher for the oil and gas industry; a 2006 study published in the Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries found lightning strikes are the most common cause of accidents involving storage tanks at refineries and petrochemical plants.
For the guys whove been around for 30 or 40 years, its not if, its when theyre going to get hit, said Matt Jones, project manager for Ashley Automation & Technology, an industrial electrical firm that works mostly in the oil fields. And while lightning is hardly the only risk for oil and gas production and other facilities, its a big one, said David Miller, director of standards for the American Petroleum Institute.
The fact that the institute first issued standards for protecting facilities against lightning in 1953 and has updated them seven times since then is evidence of the concern, Miller said.
Strikes in Houston
In the lower 48 states, the risk is highest in Florida and lowest along the West Coast. The Houston area receives more lightning strikes than anywhere else in Texas, according to Richard Orville, a Texas A&M professor who established the National Lightning Detection Network.
The lightning rod is still the most commonly used protection around the world, updated with modern materials but still based on Franklins design from the 1700s. Jones said there is also growing interest in a decidedly more modern technology as companies try to protect themselves from the elements.
Roy Carpenter was an engineer for NASA contractor Rockwell International when he came up with a different way of guarding rockets against lightning.
Lightning rods work by drawing lightning and sending the charge through a conducting wire into the ground. Carpenters system aims to prevent a strike altogether by disrupting the electrical charge, essentially making conditions less favorable for lightning to develop.
After leaving Rockwell, Carpenter started the company that is now Lightning Eliminators & Consultants.
Roy Carpenter died in 2007, but the company is still in business, based in Boulder, Colo. Carpenters son, Peter Carpenter, is chairman of the board.
Skeptics of system
While the system has its skeptics, energy companies make up a growing share of its clientele.
Twenty years ago, it wasnt as big a deal, but now oil and gas plants are so technical, company president and CEO Avram Saunders said. Lightning rods attract lightning and send it into the ground. If you had a multimillion-dollar facility, would you want to attract that much energy?
Saunders said several companies along the Houston Ship Channel use the system, including some units at Exxon- Mobil Chemicals Baytown plant. The company did not respond to requests to discuss the system.
The Tennessee Valley Authority installed the system over a portion of its Browns Ferry nuclear power plant in Alabama in 1999 and will use it at another nuclear plant now under construction, said Rick Brehm, the authoritys program manager for electromagnetic interference and instrumentation and control systems.
Brehm said the authority chose to add the protection to a 600-foot-high stack, camera towers and guard towers at Browns Ferry, areas that previously had been protected by lightning rods but still had been damaged by lightning.
When we lose security equipment, its not just the dollars of the equipment, but having to staff security officers to cover the area, so we were paying personnel costs as well as equipment costs, Brehm said.
An internal study tallied lightning strikes within a 500-meter, three-mile, six-mile and 120-mile radius of the stack for the three years before and after the system was installed.
In the years after the installation, lightning strikes within 500 meters of the stack dropped by 80 percent, Brehm said, while they held steady in the wider area. He said theres no sign the stack has been struck by lightning since the system was installed.
But such studies have done little to sway some in the lightning protection mainstream, including Bud VanSickle, executive director of the Lightning Protection Institute.
His organization, which certifies companies to install lightning protection systems, supports lightning rod systems because they work, VanSickle said.
Peter Carpenter has heard all the criticism.
He was a child when his father designed the charge transfer system as a Rockwell engineer on the Apollo program. The rockets launched from Florida, making lightning strikes a constant worry.
It seemed odd to him that they were using technology that went back to Ben Franklin to protect men going to the moon, Peter Carpenter said.
Jones, the project manager for Ashley Automation & Technology, said his company began using Lighting Eliminators system at customers request but now recommends it.
Jones said much of the current oil field expansion is funded by private investors, who are more concerned about protecting gas processing units, oil drilling pads and other investments from lightning strikes than major oil companies may have been in the past.
They dont want to lose their $5 million to a lightning strike, he said. They see it (lightning protection) as an insurance policy.
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I have used various lightning dissapators in the past.
These systems can greatly reduce lightning but the installation of these systems can be very pricey. The whole system works only as well as the ground system.
That being said they can be effective. Their was and maybe still is..a company out of Clearwater FL. called Lightning Masters who also are pretty good at this.
Interesting. Thanks for posting it.
Which is part of the problem in Florida. I've spent more than $100,000 trying to build a decent ground for Florida Gas Transmission Compressor stations.
I operate a water company. Every 4 or 5 years, we lose Well 3$ to lightning.
You lose a specific every 4~5 years or different wells?
Same darn well. It’s about 200 feet deep, but I don’t recall the casing depth. It’s near a creek. in a swampy area. Sometimes the submersible pump survives, but not without some damage. The control box is always blown to bits. Last time it happened, last Fall, I requested some sort of suppression, but the company didn’t install anything. Their problem, not mine!
So fairly certain not a grounding problem, unless the installation is messed up.
That type of repeated problem should be fixable, but it requires spending money. I would think repeated repair costs at the same location would make justification straight forward.
“Lightning rods work by drawing lightning and sending the charge through a conducting wire into the ground.”
This is a common error and misperception - a myth, and not true at all. As an electrical engineer, I was taught and believed it. I used to believe it, until I personally observed a demonstration and explanation at our Science Museum in Richmond, VA. Lightning never strikes the rod itself.
The lightning rods have to have sharp points, and are all connected to a grid of heavy copper wire that is very well grounded to earth at multiple points.
What the rods do is discharge the electrical potential in the air surrounding a building so that lightning will NOT strike it, but somewhere else. They do not allow the condition to build up where the building becomes a source for the strike.
This was clearly demonstrated using a Van Der Graf generator that was repeatedly causing lightning to strike a building. Then the well-grounded rods were installed, and Viola!, the lightning no longer struck the building.
It appears to me that these new systems do an even better job of discharging the potential in the air than lightning rods.....their multiple points would logically do this.
Thus, they would work even better than conventional lightning rods....they are an improvement on the original design of Ben Franklin’s.....it makes sense - the more points in the air, the better it is discharged.......
The small water company is owned by a huge corporation that owns water supplies all over the country. Unfortunately, they have contracted the operations out to a small company, which is incompetent. I work for the small company, and can’t get anything done, as the boss likes to present a facade of really being a “Money Saving” enterprise. The last time the well was down, it took me two years to get the small company to request it be fixed.
If sufficient rods/points are installed to generate enough streamers to dissipate the building ground charge corresponding to the opposite cloud charge, rods will prevent lighting strikes.
If insufficient streamer generations points are installed, particularly in areas with high resistive soil, the rod(s) can become an attraction point as the and become the most likely point of strike in the area.
Here’s the crippling nexus of government regulation. Guilds get to exist by right of free association in America. Yet, government will step in and grant monopolies or near monopolies on certification companies who then trap the tech.
Let the customer decide and the market rule.
Would you propose eliminating all building and electrical codes?
Yes, I’d propose eliminating them as they stand now for the most part. Why would you have to be forced to protect yourself?
Because many will buy products unknowing of the dangers involved.
Why should the Pinto have been taken off the market?