Is the issue of gas leaks being treated seriously enough?
21 Nov 2017
Gas leaks aren’t just costly, they’re also potentially harmful to employees, the local community and environment. Is the issue high enough on UK industry’s list of priorities, asks Eriks’ David Manning-Ohren.
In November 2016, a tragedy occurred at a brewery in Northampton that led to the death of one employee, and the hospitalisation of 11 others, as well as 11 members of the emergency services. The culprit was an ammonia leak.
For any business involved in the handling, storage and transportation of volatile organic compounds (VOC), gas leaks should be high on their list of worries, but industry’s approach has historically been a reactive one.
Gas leaks are only really considered a priority once they have reached a level where it is possible to see or smell a large amount of gas escaping from a plant. The fact is that many plants could be haemorrhaging volatile substances over an extended period without anyone even realising.
Many plants could be haemorrhaging volatile substances over an extended period without anyone even realising
We have seen a noticeable shift away from cure towards prevention over the last few years. The EU Directive on Industrial Emissions (2010/75/EU) is the main regulation regarding industrial pollutant emissions. Passed in 2010, it replaced seven previous directives with a requirement for member states to enforce it by January 2013.
The industrial emissions directive states that businesses are under obligation to “control emissions using the best-possible techniques” and has adopted the “polluter pays” principle to discourage a blasé attitude on behalf of businesses towards unwanted emissions.
Slow uptake of proactive gas leak management is often largely due to the cost and capacity required to implement consistent monitoring as part of a structured maintenance routine.
Many tests exist on the market to help, such as soapy water or mechanical “sniffers”, but they also come with a range of disadvantages. Furthermore, with 84% of leaks occurring in 1% of plant, such maintenance routines can be complicated and time-consuming.
Optical gas imaging (OGI) is an alternative that works by detecting infrared light to reveal invisible gases, even at very low levels. Gas clouds absorb protons of light to reveal a grey cloud where the gas leak is taking place.
In the long term, an effective gas leak monitoring routine can increase the productivity, efficiency, sustainability and safety of a plant
Once tuned to the correct wavelength, temperature range and resolution, OGI technology is capable, not only of spotting gas leaks from joints, valves, flanges and gas lines, but also of understanding the root cause of a leak to prevent recurrence.
Although the technology has only been on the market for six years, it has already gained recognition from government bodies as one of the most effective ways to combat gas leaks.
Businesses should, however, consider partnering with an OGI specialist as part of an effective condition monitoring programme, rather than implementing it in-house. This is mainly due to the cost and complexity of such technology.
By doing this, you get expert knowledge that can interpret the findings and suggest appropriate actions. OGI service suppliers can also provide digital reports and videos, which give businesses an invaluable audit trail to demonstrate their efforts in meeting both UK and EU legislation.
In the long term, an effective gas leak monitoring routine can increase the productivity, efficiency, sustainability and safety of a plant, with no production time lost to damage, repairs, or soapy water leak checks.
David Manning-Ohren is condition monitoring manager, ERIKS UK & Ireland