Cutting the costs of safety with wireless leak detection

Paul Boughton

Powerful, robust wireless leak detection solutions are bringing new levels of safety and functionality to the oil and gas industries. Sean Ottewell reports.

BP is using Smart Wireless technology from Emerson Process Management as part of a leak detection system that helps enhance safety at its production centre in Geel, Belgium.

The wireless solution provides a reliable, affordable way to gather information from hydrocarbon sensors that continuously monitor storage tanks, valves and pipelines throughout the plant, and deliver that data to the control system so operators can be notified of any leaks.

This automated monitoring system has enabled BP to meet the latest government regulations for storage and handling of flammable liquids - and at much lower cost than with traditional wired technology.

Leak detection on large sites can be both difficult and expensive. BP operators were making twice-daily inspection rounds using portable leak detectors, but new and stricter government regulations required continuous monitoring. A traditional online monitoring solution would require extensive cabling, together with the associated I/O, signal converters and installation costs. The wireless system installed at Geel solved these problems by integrating sensors that detect liquid hydrocarbons with Emerson's Smart Wireless technology to enable cost-effective liquid hydrocarbon leak detection even from remote locations at the site. The wireless technology eliminated the need for new instrumentation cabling and associated trenches and ducting, saving an estimated 50% of the cost and 90% of the time required to install a conventional wired system (Fig. 1).

The TraceTek Sensor cables are attached to the concrete base surrounding tanks so that leaks from the tank wall can be detected. They are also laid underneath connecting piping and draped around the tank flanges and manholes. Fast Fuel Sensors have been installed to detect hydrocarbons in sump wells and pump skids.

Meanwhile, three companies within the IST fold have also been advancing detection technologies.

First up is Oldham, which has announced that its BM 25 multi-gas monitoring system is now available in a wireless version, offering greater flexibility for a wider range of applications. The BM 25 detects up to five gases simultaneously and can include up to 30 devices in a standard network. Using a mesh network topology, the BM 25 Wireless connects peer-to-peer, allowing each device in a network to receive, send and relay data. Should a device fail or an obstruction occur, communication automatically re-routes allowing the network to remain in operation, or routes around line-of-sight obstacles, forming multiple networks when necessary. When the obstruction is removed communication quickly reverts back to one network.

Oldham says the BM 25 packs the benefits of a fixed system area monitor into a rugged, user-friendly and transportable instrument. It is designed for mobile or temporary work applications, team protection, area surveillance or locations where fixed detection systems are not suitable.

Next up is Detcon, which has introduced the Sentinel SiteWatch - an advanced networking device that provides safety-critical information on gas and flame detection systems through Ethernet or cellular communications. The Sentinel SiteWatch connects Detcon wired or wireless gas and flame detection systems to a user's smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC and provides email messaging with date and time stamps for all alarm and fault conditions that occur. The Ethernet version includes a webpage that can be accessed from anywhere in the world and allows real-time viewing of detector type, serial number, location/name, gas concentration, gas type, alarm and fault status, along with battery life and communication link quality for wireless systems. Strong SSL/TLS-based encryption is used to provide communication security over the internet. The Sentinel SiteWatch connects to Detcon Controllers X40, MCX-32, and Site Sentinel SmartWireless CXT, through RS-485.

Last is Simtronics. This company has launched the MultiFlame series DF-TV7-T and DM-TV6-T, the first triple-IR flame detectors to be certified up to safety integrity level SIL3. The devices recently underwent functional safety assessments by LCIE Bureau Verita and were found to be in compliance with IEC 61508:1-7.

The detectors provide fast and accurate detection of hydrocarbon fires while ensuring reliable false alarm immunity. Based on 3IR technology, the detectors provide one of the longest distance-to-detection ranges on the market - for example, 260ft for n-Heptane.

In another new development, GasSecure's GS01 wireless infrared hydrocarbon gas detector is aimed at demanding industrial applications such as offshore platforms, terminals, tank farms, drill sites and petrochemical plants. Installations are totally free of cabling, meaning project cost reductions of between 60% and 80% when compared with wired devices.

The detector is designed for use in SIL2 certified safety systems. According to GasSecure it provides an excellent example for the flexibility of the ISA100 Wireless protocol through creative integration of a PROFIsafe layer over the ISA100 Wireless mesh network communication layers.

Production capacities (figures end of 2012) for BP in Geel are PTA (purified terephthalic acid): 1,300,000 tonnes per year; PX (paraxylene): 700,000 tonnes per year. Total capacity is 2,000,000 tonnes per year.

"BP is committed to reducing waste, emissions and discharges and ensuring that production facilities such as BP Geel meet the highest standards of health, safety and environmental performance," said Bob Karschnia, vice president, wireless at Emerson Process Management.

The BM 25 Multi Gas Monitor also features a powerful audible alarm (103 dB @ 1m); ultra-bright flashing signal (viewable at 360°); run time of up to 170 hours; more than four-month datalogging capacity; and is easily transportable, weighing less than 7 kilos.

Novel thermal mass flow meter solution launched

Aimed at production and refinery engineers responsible for measuring, monitoring and flaring waste gas, the new ST100 Series thermal mass flow meter from Fluid Components International (FCI) with FCI's VeriCal in-situ calibration verification system combines precise air/gas measurement capability with the convenience of in-situ calibration verification.

Described by the company as a totally novel solution, it reduces flow meter operating costs in flare gas applications aboard offshore platforms, at land-based oil/gas facilities and in petrochemical plants.

The system complies with the US Minerals Management Service (MMS) mandate per final rule, 30 CFR Part 250, Subpart K, Section 250, stipulating that all domestic US offshore rigs processing more than an average of 2,000 barrels of oil per day must install flare/vent gas flow meters. These regulations are intended to protect the environment through the monitoring of greenhouse gases (GHG).

Validating flow meter calibration to meet regulatory requirements is no longer labour intensive, costly or challenging with the VeriCal in-situ calibration system. The system verifies flow meter calibration in minutes without removing the meter from the pipe or process. In the past, flow meters had to endure the cost and hassle of being pulled from the process, then returned to the manufacturer or a calibration lab for testing and then shipped back for re-installation.

FCI says the ST100 Series flow meter sets a new industry benchmark in process and plant air/gas flow measurement, offering the most feature-rich and function-rich electronics available. gas flow measurement applications for today and tomorrow.

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