Plants Look Harder for Leaks

More sites are adopting enhanced leak detection and repair strategies

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

3 of 4 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 View on one page

"BASF is working cooperatively with U.S. EPA to continuously reduce the instances of leaking equipment subject to LDAR requirements. This process is commonly referred to as an enhanced LDAR program. These efforts include preventive maintenance practices, ensuring that equipment is properly specified for the expected service and monitoring for leak-free performance," says a spokesman at BASF's global headquarters in Ludwigshafen, Germany. "BASF is currently working with its third-party supplier to implement and manage the program," he adds.

One person who has been taking a keen interest in the evolution of LDARs is Jim Drago, senior manager, market intelligence, Garlock, Palmyra, N.Y. He says EPA's July 31, 2009, settlement with the Lanxess/Ineos facility in Addyston, Ohio, is the first example of the agency demanding an enhanced LDAR.

"Enhanced LDAR is being imposed when existing LDAR is found not to be working effectively. The most progressive part of an enhanced LDAR program is the demand to use low-leak valves and packings: 100 ppm — as opposed to current 500 ppm — for five years, plus a guarantee and test report from the manufacturer to ensure the target is being met," he notes.

He also has noticed that recent decrees focus particularly on quality programs, repair timing and management of change — although a typical enhanced LDAR program has 14 elements, including: monitoring frequency; leak detection and repair action levels; leak repairs; equipment upgrades, replacement and improvement; training; record keeping; and reporting.

Drago adds that infrared (IR) cameras (Figure 2) now are accepted as tools to find leaks, in addition to EPA-Method-21 organic vapor analyzers (Figure 3) that were first specified for use in supplemental environmental programs (SEPs) in the late 1990s. "Lo and behold, just over a decade later and they are law, part of standard regulations as an alternative to sniffing. The point here is that they started out as being included in consent decrees, but are now — with time and use — simply part of 'business as usual.'"

One company making good use of IR cameras is LyondellBasell, Houston, which deploys such cameras at its sites in Channelview and La Porte, Texas, and Morris and Tuscola, Ill. The firm adopted the IR camera technology after it proved very effective in ground and aerial surveys.

"The use of IR cameras has enabled us to pinpoint the exact location of leaks that might have remained hidden using traditional fugitive monitoring techniques. In only minutes, an operator can aim, pan and zoom as far as several hundred feet away from an area and check for leaks without leaving his feet. Traditional methods for identifying fugitive emissions required placement of an instrument probe directly on the component, a challenge for components high in a pipe rack," notes the company.

Another advantage of IR cameras is their ability to detect particularly elusive emissions that come from corrosion beneath insulation. Historically, it's been challenging, if not impossible, to pinpoint these leaks because the vapors often exit a considerable distance from the source. The IR camera very easily can detect the source by simply following the trail of the plume.

ConocoPhillips Canada, Calgary, also is a fan of IR. The company, which claims to be the first Canadian firm to use an IR camera to detect fugitive emissions in upstream oil and gas facilities, says the technology rapidly, accurately and safely identifies hydrocarbon gas emissions in realtime: "This has a much higher degree of accuracy compared to conventional methods and has proven to be a cost-effective, efficient and successful method of reducing fugitive emissions," it says.

3 of 4 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 View on one page
Show Comments
Hide Comments

Join the discussion

We welcome your thoughtful comments.
All comments will display your user name.

Want to participate in the discussion?

Register for free

Log in for complete access.


No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments