The devil truly is in the details. Level indicators and temperature measurement devices are classic examples of the kind of small—but important—instrumentation that people in the oil and gas industry must be ever vigilant about. Instruments must provide accurate level measurement and temperature measurement readings to ensure plant safety and operations.

You have to throw these considerations into the mix:

  • Where the instruments are 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 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 proper readings, there is no warning that issues are building – issues that can lead to explosions and fires. That’s what happened in Texas City, a disaster that killed 15 people and cost 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 high-level measurement indicators. 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 indicator would have signaled that the splitter had exceeded its safe capacity and an alarm would have gone off. Later, accurate temperature measurement instrumentation would have sounded an alarm that the liquid had overheated, the operation needed to be shut down, and, moreover, that anyone who didn’t need to be there should leave, pronto. Inaccurate pressure gauge readings were the culprit on the more recent Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in April 2010.

When gauges deep below the sea provided conflicting readings on well pressure, the people in charge made the wrong decision and a disaster of fatal and epic proportions ensued. In March 2013, a failed pressure gauge at a gas-processing plant in Parachute, Colorado, caused a spill. This threatened the safety of the area’s groundwater and nearby Parachute Creek, which flows into the Colorado River. Groundwater benzene levels 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 more than 60 years of expertise in instrumentation. WIKA’s FAST engineers will audit your gauges, identifying which ones are working, which are not, and provide recommendations to help bring you into compliance with your specifications and industry best practices. They can also help you to standardize your instrumentation and reduce the number of SKUs on your stockroom shelves. And that’s just for starters. Call them today.

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