Washington targets plant security

Federal actions undoubtedly will markedly impact the chemical industry. Nevertheless, we don’t know at this point whether federal chemical security legislation will happen in 2006.

By David A. Moore and Dorothy Kellogg, AcuTech Consulting Group

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The Senate bill, S. 2145, contains no explicit requirement to implement IST but does define “security measures” to include “the implementation of measures and controls to prevent, protect against, or reduce the consequences of a terrorist incident, including… the relocation, hardening of the storage or containment, modification, processing, substitution, or reduction of substances of concern.”

The House Homeland Security Committee bill, H.R. 5695, includes both the Senate language and the following:

(a) METHOD TO REDUCE THE CONSEQUENCES OF A TERRORIST ATTACK. — For purposes of this section, the term ‘method to reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack’ includes —

  1. input substitution;
  2. catalyst or carrier substitution;
  3. process redesign (including reuse or recycling of a substance of concern);
  4. product reformulation;
  5. procedure simplification;
  6. technology modification;
  7. use of less hazardous substances or benign substances;
  8. use of smaller quantities of substances of concern;
  9. reduction of hazardous pressures or temperatures;
  10. reduction of the possibility and potential consequences of equipment failure and human error;
  11. improvement of inventory control and chemical use efficiency; and
  12. reduction or elimination of the storage, transportation, handling, disposal, and discharge of substances of concern.

(b) ASSESSMENT REQUIRED. —

  1. IN GENERAL. — The owner or operator of a facility assigned to the high-risk tier under section 1802(c)(4) shall conduct an assessment of methods to reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack on that chemical facility.”

The term “inherently safer technology” does not explicitly appear, but IST underlies many of the points. Regulations implementing such requirements would have sweeping applicability and significant implications for design and operation of plants handling hazardous materials, especially facilities with EPA Risk Management Planning regulated sources (40 CFR Part 68), which may not pose significant risks or appeal to terrorists.

The anticipated regulatory benefit seems to be that IST can remove hazards entirely or reduce them to de minimis levels and so eliminate the attraction to potential attackers.

These existing and proposed regulations typically end in a goal of IST consideration “to the extent practicable” and sometimes allow cost or feasibility as a basis for justifying whether a change is practicable. There is no standard measurement of what “practicable” means. While companies may believe they are moving toward inherently safer processes, they often find obstacles to the theoretically possible complete application of the four IST strategies.

Issues with IST

The strategies are best implemented early in the process design stage; many companies have already instituted IST concepts in their process designs, particularly where there were additional benefits beyond safety, such as minimizing equipment or inventory. Unfortunately, opportunities to implement IST in existing chemical processes are practically limited to relatively minor changes that only reduce risk incrementally. In many cases, IST options that were relatively easy and cost-effective to take up (such as replacing chlorine with sodium hypochlorite for water treatment) have already been adopted.

The role of IST in chemical process security is currently being debated at a high level in both government and industry. Some proponents clearly see IST as the panacea to security concerns. Unfortunately, IST is sometimes presented as a relatively obvious and simple approach to execute or regulate while the more traditional and proven “deter, detect, delay, mitigate” strategies are disparaged as less effective or reliable.

The inclusion of IST in national chemical security legislation, such as the House bill, presents a dilemma for the chemical industry. While it is generally accepted that IST has the potential to reduce both accidental and intentional process safety hazards, implementation — and especially regulation — of IST generally is generally neither straightforward or easily measured.

There is limited feasibility to implement IST in existing facilities due to costs and other tradeoffs. Industry recognizes that IST is not a “silver bullet” to eliminate security risks and indeed frequently poses tradeoffs that can simply change (or even boost) the danger (e.g., use of smaller shipping containers may reduce the consequences of a container leak but will generally increase the risk associated with transportation and connecting/disconnecting the container from the process). At times “inherent safety” may conflict with environmental goals — inherently hazardous ammonia replaced non-toxic CFC’s in refrigeration systems. Cost also is usually a factor; the application and management of process safeguards (active, passive and procedural) for existing processes often provides an adequate and more-cost-effective level of protection.

Of course, conducting an IST review of an existing process is a worthwhile exercise to identify potential improvements that can reduce the risk associated with accidental and intentional releases, just as conducting a Process Hazards Analysis (PHA) can identify and thus lead to a decrease in the accident risk associated with process hazards. However, as with PHAs, evaluations require the sound judgment of engineering, operational, and other specialists to make informed decisions regarding safety and feasibility.

IST concepts are worthwhile as engineering design guides and as a general philosophy for designing, constructing, maintaining and operating chemical facilities. The concern of industry is that IST alternatives, once identified, will be mandated regardless of feasibility — potentially causing economic or even safety consequences to the facility or to the transportation system. As with process safety/risk management regulations (or any regulation, for that matter), the way that an IST requirement is enforced is the key to the success of such an initiative. Based on the experience in New Jersey, however, it is unlikely that requirements for conducting IST reviews and implementing such technology “where practicable” will result in large-scale risk reduction against security related risks. Exceptions exist, such as the widespread replacement of chlorine use in potable water treatment systems with sodium hypochlorite (“bleach”). However, as with other IST options, risk is not completely eliminated, as the manufacture of the bleach requires the transportation and use of chlorine, which will increase, so in effect the risk is to some extent relocated, not eliminated. As long as these ecosystem-related consequences are identified, better judgments can be made related to the implementation of IST.

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