Skip to comments.Electrical Safety Growing Focus for Oil, Gas Industry
Posted on 06/11/2013 11:48:16 AM PDT by thackney
Arc flash, a release of heat energy that includes molten metals, hot metallic oxides and toxic burning smoke, is often violent, resulting in serious injury and sometimes death, according to GE's Industrial Solutions business. Arc flash temperatures exceed 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than the sun's surface, with 700 miles per hour projectile-producing pressure, which can throw a person across a room.
An estimated five to 10 arc flashes occur each day in the United States, according to a report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. One arc flash incident can cost up to $15 million, including healthcare costs, workers compensation, replacing equipment, increased insurance premium, and lost production time, according to an Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) study.
A 2010 report from the International Oil & Gas Producers Association found that 16.1 percent of all fatalities at oil fields were caused by an electrical accident, explosion or burn.
Fires and explosions are the third most common cause of worker death in the oil and gas industry, according to a recent paper by Scorpion Protective Coatings Inc. One out of seven occupational fatalities in the oil and gas industry results from a fire or explosion. From 2004 to 2008, fires and explosions caused 18.7 percent of worker deaths in the oil and gas industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The issue of safety in the oil and gas industry will not likely subside soon. With energy demand in countries in the Middle East and in China and Brazil expected to continue growing and global oil demand expected to total 90.2 million barrels per day in 2013, oil and gas activity worldwide is expected to keep growing to meet that demand.
While the danger of arc flashes has not grown, awareness focused on preventing arc flashes has increased, said Marty Trivette, North America product marketing leader for GE Energy's Industrial Solutions Business, in an interview with Rigzone.
Arc flashes pose a particular risk offshore, where lower voltage machinery with between 480 and 600 voltages while not recommended is frequently worked on without the machinery being shut down. While no work is or should be done live on medium voltage machinery in general, work done on low voltage motor control centers and distribution boards cannot typically be shut down in a critical operation, Trivette noted, adding, "As a manufacturer we never recommend working on live equipment but the reality is that people sometimes do."
A stumble by a worker or a dropped tool may cause conductors to be crossed, creating a blast. Damaged or overheated equipment, particularly offshore, are other factors that can lead to an arc flash.
Awareness of the risk of arc flashes began to grow significantly as videos of incidents began to be posted online, and studies of security camera footage on offshore and other facilities showed arc flash incidents. The public videos really accelerated the market demand for arc flash safety information, Trivette said. The U.S. National Electric Code, National Fire Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and industry standards groups began seeking to quantify the risk and drive change.
Government-backed research efforts, particularly in the United States (IEEE standards) and Europe (IEC standards) to investigate arc flashes, also led to the release of technical information and specific videos showing the damage that arc flashes poses. Once the manufacturing community and industry standards bodies and customers became more aware of equipment dangers, they recognized the need to quantify the risks.
To quantify the risk, manufacturers have begun labeling equipment showing the arc flash energy that could be released at a particular distance. Customers have also begun training employees to understand the labels. If a piece of equipment could emit a certain level of calories per centimeter squared, they have to wear a certain level of protection equipment or deem the equipment non-approachable.
While workers wearing the right protective equipment can still sustain injury, the risk of arc flash associated with new equipment manufactured has been lowered thanks to information now available, Trivette noted. The lowered risk has been made possible by arc-resistant, arc-mitigating and arc-proofing equipment incorporating circuit breakers that work faster while not having nuisance trips, Trivette noted.
As the awareness of arc flash dangers has grown, customers and contractors are standing up and demand change, Trivette noted. North American oil and gas companies are leading to focus on more awareness of arc flash safety, implementing efforts to address arc flash throughout their operations from workplace safety to the types of equipment they purchase. However, the trend has now become a global phenomenon.
"Offshore operations should be getting safer as awareness of safety in electrical and other aspects of offshore drives change," Trivette commented.
Prevention of arc flashes really comes down to education, and helping workers better understand the risks, as well as identifying risk areas for arc flashes and identifying tools that can mitigate this risk, Trivette noted. Operators should have an arc flash mitigation plan in place both for existing equipment and new projects, Trivette noted.
To prevent arc flashes, companies should evaluate their systems for hazards, determine incident energy exposure and arc flash boundaries, and use warning labels to indicate arc flash hazards. Other steps companies can take include minimizing or preferably eliminating the amount of work done around live equipment, using remote diagnostic and maintenance tools, installing devices to reduce energy rather or in addition to containing energy, and utilizing properly designed and installed equipment for new and existing installations are also critical in mitigating arc flash hazards, Trivette said.
"The combination of efforts by standards bodies, workplace safety initiatives, and equipment design for offshore and onshore rigs, infrastructure, pipelines and refineries represent a trifecta that is making the industry safer," Trivette noted.
Static Electricity a Growing Concern in Oil, Gas Other aspects of electrical safety such as static discharge are of growing concern as the U.S. oil and gas industry ramps up its exploration and production of shale resources as well the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, according to a recent report by Scorpion, a Cloverdale, Indiana-based supplier of protective coatings for industrial applications.
Static electricity, an electric charge when friction exists between two things made of different materials or substances can be generated by repeated contact and separation between unlike materials, like a flat belt on a rotating pulley. It can also build up on an object or liquid when liquids move in contact with other materials, such as when liquids are poured, pumped, filtered, agitated, stirred or flow through pipelines. Even when liquids are handled or transported in non-conductive containers, something rubbing against the containers outside surface may cause static charge to build up in the liquid.
Static electricity that builds up on equipment can create a severe hazard for industries that deal with flammable substances, where a small electrical spark may ignite explosive mixtures.
"A fire or explosion is always a possibility in the oil and gas industry because two of the three things needed to make it happen are virtually always there hydrocarbons as a fuel and oxygen in the air," according to Scorpion. "Add an ignition source and the right conditions, and everything needed for combustion is there."
Fuel and storage tanks, propane gas cylinder processing facilities, frack tanks, fueling operation and natural gas pipelines are among the equipment and facilities that have been identified as being at risk for fire and explosion caused by static electric discharge. Non-conductive or insulating floors in work areas can also prevent the drain of charges from workers and materials and can contribute to the creation of charges. People can also carry a charge a considerable distance before discharging, and some fabrics and combination of fabrics create more static electricity than others.
To mitigate static charge, containers and storage tanks should be grounded with permanent or portable grounding devices. Oil and gas companies in particular should:
ground and bound operations that can create static charge, including blowing or agitating with air loading and unloading tank cars and tank trucks filling metal drums or containers, abrasive blasting, and hydroblasting Bonding and grounding are needed when dispensing flammable or hot combustible liquids from storage drums to smaller electrically conductive containers, Scorpion noted. The best way to bond containers is to securely attach a special metal bonding strap or wire to both containers. Only containers that conduct electricity, such as those made from metal or special, conductive plastics need to be grounded.
Natural gas flowing through a polyethylene pipeline generates static electricity inside the pipe. The negative charge will attract an opposite equal charge through the soil and to the outside of the pipe. The static electricity remains and when the pipe is uncovered, the charge outside the pipe can arc. Static charges are dissipated through ionization and grounding. The oldest dissipation method is soapy water in burlap wrapped around a pipe. Commercial systems offered by North McMurray ASG and Ionix Gas Technologies are now available.
Static-safe floor mats, anti-static coatings and dissipative paints are some of the solutions that can be used to reduce static electricity. Spark-resistant tools made from beryllium copper, aluminum bronze or tool-holding racks, trays, and troughs made of steel and treated with anti-static coatings are other solutions, Scorpion noted. Static-safe footwear for employees or conductive risk bands with cords also can be used.
Identifying static discharge control areas and removing field sources of static also are necessary to reduce the risk of static electricity, Scorpion said.
Finally, training remains critical to reducing the risk of static electricity to oil and gas operations.
"There is no single tool or material that can control all static electricity," Scorpion noted. "Instead, by understanding what static electricity is and where it comes from, simple means can be applied to reduce and control it. Processes and equipment should be examined to determine if they are part of the problem or part of the solution."
That’s why I like to work on 24 VDC.
We Power guys hardly even consider that electrical work.
Don’t you get at least that walking on the carpet in socks?
Hey now, even a 9 volt battery tingles when you put it on your tongue. ;-)
As a kid, I picked one of these up from the top. I was wearing a ring made out of chain. I unintentionally put the ring between the terminals. I had a chain "tattoo" from the burn for a long time.
You can get about a thousand times higher voltage from walking on the carpet in socks.
It was the first sarcastic comment I could think of.
I’m working on a 138,000 Volt substation expansion with 4,000 Amps ratings on the bus and breaker.
When I was working my way through college doing commerical construction, we were general contractors for construction of a large supermarket. The electricians were wiring the main panel, which carries quite a load for all of the refrigeration requirements for a supermarket. Something went wrong and the box began shooting sparks like large Roman Candles. Those guys beat feet as quickly as they could.
One of my co-workers, who was not very bright, was washing windows about ten feet away. He instinctively threw his bucket of soapy water on the box. I saw him do it even as I yelled “NOOOO!”
I thought he was gonna be “terminally grounded” but somehow he was not harmed. He got a royal ass-chewing from the foreman.
I hurt myself cringing thinking about that.