Wrong Level and Temperature Readings? It’ll Cost You in the Long Run
The devil truly is in the details. Level measurement and temperature instrumentation in processing plants are classic examples of the kind of small—but important—components that people in the oil and gas industry must be ever vigilant about.
And you have to throw these considerations into the mix:
- Where theyare installed
- How often they are checked and by whom
- Their current condition
- Their service history
Losing sight of any of these can be costly to your operation, even downright disastrous.
The 2005 BP refinery explosion in Texas City, Texas, is a case in point of what can go wrong when faulty instruments provide inaccurate liquid level measurement and temperature measurement, or, worse, when people fail to follow safety protocols. Liquid levels and their temperatures are of critical importance in the oil and gas industry because such substances are potentially combustible. Without tight seals, explosions and fires can result.
That’s what happened in Texas City, a disaster that killed 15 people and cost BP billions of dollars. Among the numerous culprits that led up to the disaster were poorly functioning instruments, overfilling of the refinery’s splitter tower by as much as 40%, and the failure of the splitter’s level measurement indicator.
What’s more, this was a brand-new process and management did not clear the area of nonessential personnel before firing up the splitter. Those who died were working inside an adjacent trailer—a dangerous place to be in an explosion. Had the systems been working properly, a level measurement instrument would have signaled that the splitter had exceeded its safe capacity and an alarm would have gone off.
Later, accurate readings on the temperature measurement instrument would have indicated that the liquid had overheated and an alarm would have sounded an alarm that the liquid had overheated and the operation needed to be shut down.
Inaccurate pressure gauge readings were the culprit on the more recent Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in April 2010. When two gauges provided conflicting readings on well pressure, the people in charge made the wrong decision and a disaster of fatal and epic proportions ensued.
BP should not be singled out: Other companies in many industries have experienced plenty of problems from overlooked instrumentation. In March 2013, a failed pressure gauge at a Williams Company gas-processing plant in Parachute, Colorado, caused a spill. Groundwater benzene levels in nearby Parachute Creek reached 1,000 times in excess of state health standards.
If all this sounds a bit overwhelming, help is available. Through WIKA’s FAST (Full Audit Service Team), you can tap the company’s 60 years of expertise in gauges and instrumentation.
WIKA’s engineers will audit your gauges, identifying which ones are working, which are not, and which ones might have been put in the wrong place. In many cases, they can help you to streamline your instrument stockroom, too. And that’s just for starters.