Author(s): Defriend S, Dejmek M, Porter L, Deshotels B, Natvig B
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Abstract Flammable gas detectors allow an operating company to address leaks before they become serious, by automatically alarming and by initiating isolation and safe venting. Without effective gas detection, there is very limited defense against a flammable gas leak developing into a fire or explosion that could cause loss of life or escalate to cascading failures of nearby vessels, piping, and equipment. While it is commonly recognized that some gas detectors are needed in a process plant containing flammable gas or volatile liquids, there is usually a question of how many are needed. The areas that need protection can be determined by dispersion modeling from potential leak sites. Within the areas that must be protected, the spacing of detectors (or alternatively, number of detectors) should be based on risk. Detector design can be characterized by spacing criteria, which is convenient for design - or alternatively by number of detectors, which is convenient for cost reporting. The factors that influence the risk are site-specific, including process conditions, chemical composition, number of potential leak sites, piping design standards, arrangement of plant equipment and structures, design of isolation and depressurization systems, and frequency of detector testing. Site-specific factors such as those just mentioned affect the size of flammable gas cloud that must be detected (within a specified probability) by the gas detection system. A probability of detection must be specified that gives a design with a tolerable risk of fires and explosions. To determine the optimum spacing of detectors, it is important to consider the probability that a detector will fail at some time and be inoperative until replaced or repaired. A cost-effective approach is based on the combined risk from a representative selection of leakage scenarios, rather than a worst-case evaluation. This means that probability and severity of leak consequences must be evaluated together. In marine and offshore facilities, it is conventional to use computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling to determine the size of a flammable cloud that would result from a specific leak scenario. Simpler modeling methods can be used, but the results are not very accurate in the region near the release, especially where flow obstructions are present. The results from CFD analyses on several leak scenarios can be plotted to determine the size of a flammable cloud that could result in an explosion that would generate overpressure exceeding the strength of the mechanical design of the plant. A cloud of this size has the potential to produce a blast pressure or flying debris capable of causing a fatality or subsequent damage to vessels or piping containing hazardous material. In cases where the leak results in a fire, rather than explosion, CFD or other modeling methods can estimate the size of a leak that would cause a fire resulting in subsequent damage to the facility, or would prevent the safe escape of personnel. The gas detector system must be capable of detecting a gas release or vapor cloud, and initiating action to prevent the leak from reaching a size that could cause injury or severe damage upon ignition.
This article was published in J Hazard Mater
and referenced in Journal of Geology & Geophysics