If you have a blast-resistant building on your site, you know that they require occasional service and maintenance. You may not know that there are alternatives to having the service performed by the company you purchased it from and that there could be a few minor ways to get the most out of performance. And, if you are considering a blast-resistant building purchase, you may be curious about what to expect.
Right now, essential businesses are learning to fulfill business needs in ways they never dreamed. And other businesses have been put on hold indefinitely, hopefully to return in the future. These are all in an effort to keep the country running, while we flatten the curve against the coronavirus. RedGuard has been providing workplace storage and mobile office space since 1998 and started focusing on safe space in 2005, after a refinery accident necessitated the birth of the blast-resistant building industry. We championed that cause, and now you could say that, as a company, we are the leaders in providing a variety of workplace safe spaces.
This content was created for and originally published in the April 2020 issue of BIC Magazine. It was written by Dean Alcott, one of RedGuard's subject matter experts and our Market Development Manager. The bulk of blast-resistant buildings are utilized in large refinery and petrochemical facilities. Recently, there has been a dramatic increase at midstream facilities, like fractionation plants and compressor stations, of buildings for temporary use (rentals for turnaround and maintenance) and permanent use (control rooms and operator shelters). With the rapid growth of fracking and unconventional drilling in the U.S., midstream facilities have developed very quickly over the past decade. Even though these facilities were closely regulated by OSHA, EPA, local authorities and others, they seemed slow to move toward blast-resistant modular structures as a quick, affordable solution for safe space. Much of the early development of shale gas was happening in the West Texas Permian Basin or the Bakken Formation of the Dakotas, areas where operators had ample space to pull occupied buildings back out of the blast zone. Over the past five years, there has been rapid shale gas development with the Marcellus Shale Formation in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. In these hilly areas, plants can’t spread out the way they can in more remote areas, so control rooms are often placed in the blast zone. With the speed of development of these facilities and modular construction for plant processes, it often makes sense to use modular blast-resistant control rooms and operator shelters, too. This isn’t just “insurance” that will never be used. The danger is real at gas plants, compressor facilities and pipelines. An explosion at a gas plant in China last July killed 10 and injured scores of others. Let’s take a closer look at common sources of danger at various stages of midstream operations. VCE danger in fractionation At a gas fractionation plant, natural gas from wells is turned into clean, dry natural gas by removing liquid impurities along with other gases such as ethane, propane and butane. There are various methods available to accomplish this, but they all involve taking a volatile feedstock and turning it into volatile byproducts. Gas leaks can lead to a vapor cloud explosion (VCE), which is why the process areas of these plants have blast ratings identified during siting analysis and risk assessment. Compressor stations: Leaks and mechanical failures At a compressor station, the gas is pressurized to carry it through the pipeline to its ultimate storage or processing facility. There is some filtering of liquid for impurities at each compressor station. The dangers at a compressor plant are twofold. First, you have the possible leak and VCE. Second, you have the possible catastrophic failure of the pump/motors. Many compressor stations literally use jet engines to drive the pumps. Pipeline challenges Pipeline failures and explosions have made the news many times over the past few years. Corrosion, joint failure or sabotage/theft are typical causes of these failures. Planning blast-resistant facilities for pipelines is a bit more challenging, as the pipeline route is not occupied and failures could happen anywhere along the line. Conclusion: Identify and mitigate dangers The challenges of hazard analysis and mitigation in midstream facilities are different in many ways than those in downstream plants or upstream drill rigs (onshore and offshore), but the goals are the same. First, identify all dangers, including blast, gas and fire. And second, eliminate or mitigate the danger. It is difficult to eliminate blast dangers completely, so physical blast protection like blast-resistant modules must be considered. Much of the protection these days in the midstream is modular. One reason is speed to market, but speed isn’t the only advantage of a blast-resistant modular building. Overall cost, less site disruption, factory quality, and blast building experience and expertise are additional advantages of a modular blast-resistant building.
We’ve written recently about the problems with blast-resistant buildings, and one problem that we hear about sometimes has to do with blast-resistant doors. Blast-resistant doors are made of steel and weigh-in at around 450 pounds. That’s a lot of weight for a door, considering the average solid-core door on a home weighs well under 100 pounds.
Purchasing a blast-resistant building is no small responsibility to undertake. It involves months of planning (sometimes more than a year), depending on the scope of the project. Part of the due diligence on an investment of this size and magnitude is not only looking for benefits but also in looking at the challenges that one might encounter.
The following article was originally published in the June/July 2018 issue of BIC magazine. It was written by Bryan Bulling, one of RedGuard's subject matter experts and our Northeastern US Regional Area Manager. As a building designer, I watched some of last year’s disturbing events unfold with both great sadness and professional interest — Hurricanes Harvey and Irma; the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida; and the seemingly endless list of cyber-related breaches. These all revealed areas where we can and should begin to address new safety and security measures. During this critical moment in environmental health and safety, I would like to offer some topics and insights that might prompt engineers and designers to improve the safety and security for the occupants of your buildings. What Can We Take Away from These Disasters? Who in the oil and gas industry can forget the flooding, damage and subsequent costs associated with Hurricane Harvey? The storm was one of the worst hurricanes ever seen, presenting lessons for tomorrow’s engineers and designers who are developing, siting and budgeting future buildings. Refineries and chemical facilities are typically built on water sources with fluctuating levels; designs with strong environmental considerations are opportunities to address the apparent changes in climate and the seemingly escalating severity of flooding. Preserving operations and control during an event by designing to increasing environmental hazards is more relevant today than it was 30 years ago and deserves attention in the design phase. Although Hurricane Irma did not affect our industry like Harvey did, it stands as a reminder of the critical importance of sound energy and power infrastructure and the results when the maintenance of those systems is ignored. While it may seem outrageous, consider the ramifications of a massive event in which power and communications infrastructure are destroyed across a large area, like Houston, or an entire region, like the Gulf Coast. How would your facility fare during a prolonged outage? Reliable, protected and well-designed facilities with backup plans offer protection against outrageous and unthinkable events. Other Areas for Improvement Another area where safety can be improved through building design is addressing active shooter strategies. Much of my work is related to creating an on-site safe haven during toxic releases, fires or explosions. I now include at least some discussion around protecting staff against an active shooter, treating it just as I would any other hazard. To increase survivability in these worst-case scenarios, building plans could include: Hard, physical architectural elements that act as obstructions, A technology that allows for communication, And an operational plan that goes into effect during a hazardous event. In most O&G facilities, these attributes already exist; improving each element through better building design is feasible and realistic. Automatic locking doors, hardened safe rooms, and reinforced or ballistic glass throughout a building are easy opportunities to upgrade security. Facility siting also presents an excellent opportunity to address this specific safety threat. While surveillance and security measures are robust and present in most facilities these days, the ability to quickly identify a dangerous intruder is not. Using the Las Vegas attack of October 2017 as an example, how would most facilities stand up to a shooter outside the fence line? Situating a security building or control building with an active shooter scenario in mind — such as on a higher elevation, with improved sightlines, and at a distance that offers an opportunity to activate alarms and quickly lockdown — can dramatically reduce the abilities of a threatening presence. By now, we are all aware of the effects of cyber-related terrorism on various online platforms. While most of the attacks occur hidden in a digital dimension, we cannot lose focus on the vulnerability of the hard assets, including servers, networks, power/backup power components and central processing equipment typically found in facilities. While there are no absolute solutions to the rather unpredictable and sometimes horrifying situations that affect our safety and security, we do have the skills and abilities to outthink and maneuver with protective measures. For more information, or if you or your facility have any interest in starting a discussion around facility hazards, visit www.redguard.com or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.