Chernobyl – a powerful safety message to the world

The recent Sky Atlantic TV series Chernobyl sent out a powerful message about the catastrophic and far reaching consequences of radiation gases, both to people and the environment.

The series is based on true events from the 1986 nuclear disaster in the then USSR; the largest uncontrolled radioactive release into the environment ever recorded. The accident resulted in an untold number of fatalities, as well as serious social and economic disruption for large populations within the USSR and beyond.

The Chernobyl explosion resulted in a radioactive gas cloud which travelled across Europe, including the UK; falling to the ground in the form of ‘nuclear rain’.

There are many disturbing facts we read about. Not least that according to the British Ministry of Health, 369 farms and 190,000 sheep in Britain still contain traces of radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl disaster.

Both human and mechanical error contributed to the disaster and thankfully safety standards, regulations, awareness and new technologies have significantly improved since the disaster.

The principal of safety, whether a huge nuclear facility or small manufacturing plant, must remain the same. Here at Crowcon we are dedicated to keeping people and the environment protected. Our technologies support organisations across multiple industries, including nuclear plants, improving plant and personal safety. Our technologies help our customers be protected from the dangers of gases.

At Crowcon, we welcome shows such as Chernobyl which document historical disasters such as this and highlight in a dramatic but real way, the importance of ensuring companies understand the need for safety measures, however big or small, are in place.  Protecting their people, the environment and the world.

#DetectingGasSavingLives

#SaferCleanerHealthier

Identifying Leaks from Natural Gas pipelines at a Safe Distance

The use of natural gas, of which methane is the principle component, is increasing worldwide. It also has many industrial uses, such as the manufacture of chemicals like ammonia, methanol, butane, ethane, propane and acetic acid; it is also an ingredient in products as diverse as fertilizer, antifreeze, plastics, pharmaceuticals and fabrics.

Natural gas is transported in several ways: through pipelines in gaseous form; as liquefied natural gas (LNG) or compressed natural gas (CNG). LNG is the normal method for transporting the gas over very long distances, such as across oceans, while CNG is usually carried by tanker trucks over short distances. Pipelines are the preferred transport choice for long distances over land (and sometimes offshore), such as between Russia and central Europe. Local distribution companies also deliver natural gas to commercial and domestic users across utility networks within countries, regions and municipalities.

Regular maintenance of gas distribution systems is essential. Identifying and rectifying gas leaks is also an integral part of any maintenance programme, but it is notoriously difficult in many urban and industrial environments, as the gas pipes may be located underground, overhead, in ceilings, behind walls and bulkheads or in otherwise inaccessible locations such as locked buildings. Until recently, suspected leaks from these pipelines could lead to whole areas being cordoned off until the location of the leak was found.

Precisely because conventional gas detectors – such as those utilising catalytic combustion, flame ionisation or semiconductor technology – are not capable of remote gas detection and are therefore unable to detect gas leaks in hard to access pipelines, there has been a lot of recent research into ways of detecting methane gas remotely.

Remote Detection

Cutting edge technologies are now becoming available which allow the remote detection and identification of leaks with pinpoint accuracy. Hand-held units, for example, can now detect methane at distances of up to 100 metres, while aircraft-mounted systems can identify leaks half a kilometre away. These new technologies are transforming the way natural gas leaks are detected and dealt with.

Remote sensing is achieved using infrared laser absorption spectroscopy. Because methane absorbs a specific wavelength of infrared light, these instruments emit infrared lasers. The laser beam is directed to wherever the leak is suspected, such as a gas pipe or a ceiling. Because some of the light is absorbed by the methane, the light received back provides a measurement of absorption by the gas. A useful feature of these systems is the fact that the laser beam can penetrate transparent surfaces, such as glass or perspex, so it may be possible to test an enclosed space prior to entering it. The detectors measure the average methane gas density between the detector and target. Readings on the handheld units are given in ppm-m (a product of the concentration of methane cloud (ppm) and path length (m)). In this way, methane leaks can be quickly confirmed by pointing a laser beam towards the suspected leak or along a survey line, for example.

An important difference between the new technology and conventional methane detectors is that the new systems measure average methane concentration, rather than detecting methane at a single point – this gives a more accurate indication of the severity of the leak.

Applications for hand-held devices include:

  • Pipeline surveys
  • Gas plant
  • Industrial and commercial property surveys
  • Emergency call out
  • Landfill gas monitoring
  • Road surface survey

Municipal Distribution Networks

The benefits of remote technology for monitoring pipelines in urban settings are now being realised.

The ability of remote detection devices to monitor gas leaks from a distance makes them extremely useful tools in emergencies. Operators can stay away from potentially dangerous leak sources when checking the presence of gas in closed premises or confined spaces as the technology allows them to monitor the situation without actually gaining access. Not only is this process easier and quicker, but it is also safe. Moreover, it is not affected by other gases present in the atmosphere since the detectors are calibrated to only detect methane – therefore there is no danger of getting false signals, which is important in emergency situations.

The principle of remote detection is also applied when inspecting risers (the above-ground pipes carrying gas to the customers’ premises and normally running along the building outside walls). In this case, the operators point the device towards the pipe, following its route; they can do this from ground level, without having to use ladders or access the customers’ properties.

Hazardous Areas

In addition to detecting gas leaks from municipal distribution networks, explosion-proof, ATEX approved devices can be used in Zone 1 hazardous areas such as petrochemical plants, oil refineries, LNG terminals and vessels, as well as certain mining applications.

When inspecting an LNG/LPG underground tank, for example, an explosion-proof device would be required within 7.5 metres of the tank itself and one metre around the safety valve. Operators therefore need to be fully aware of these restrictions and equipped with the appropriate equipment type.

GPS Coordination

Some instruments now allow spot methane readings to be taken at various points around a site – such as an LNG terminal – automatically generating GPS tracking of the measurement readings and locations. This makes return trips for additional investigations far more efficient, while also providing a bona-fide record of confirmed inspection activity – often a prerequisite for regulatory compliance.

Aerial Detection

Moving beyond hand-held devices, there are also remote methane detectors which can be fitted to aircraft and which detect leaks from gas pipelines over hundreds of kilometres. These systems can detect methane levels at concentrations as small as 0.5ppm up to 500 metres away and include a real-time moving map display of gas concentrations as the survey is conducted.

The way these systems work is relatively simple. A remote detector is attached beneath the aircraft’s fuselage (usually a helicopter). As with the handheld device, the unit produces an infrared laser signal, which is deflected by any methane leakage within its path; higher methane levels result in more beam deflection. These systems also utilise GPS, so the pilot can follow a real-time moving map GPS route display of the pipeline, with a real-time display of aircraft path, gas leaks and concentration (in ppm) presented to the crew at all times. An audible alarm can be set for a desired gas concentration, allowing the pilot to approach for closer investigation.

Conclusion

The range of remote methane detection systems is increasing rapidly, with new technologies being developed all the time. All these devices, whether hand-held or fitted to aircraft, allow quick, safe and highly targeted identification of leaks – whether beneath the pavement, in a city or across hundreds of kilometres of Alaskan tundra. This not only helps prevent wasteful and costly emissions – it also ensures personnel working on or near the pipelines are not exposed to unnecessary danger.

Because the use of natural gas is increasing worldwide we foresee rapid technological advances in remote gas detection in applications as diverse as leak survey, transmission integrity, plant and facilities management, agriculture and waste management, as well as process engineering applications such as coke and steel production. Each of these areas have situations where access may be difficult, combined with the need to put personnel protection at the top of the agenda. Opportunities for remote methane detectors are therefore growing all the time.

 

Servicing for safety… A visit to the oil refinery

Working in the office makes it easy to focus on the individual tasks and get detached from how our products are making a difference to people’s lives. One of our customers was kind enough to facilitate an onsite visit so that Andrea (our Halma Future Leader on a marketing placement) could see first-hand how our products are used and who the end users are. This meant a visit to an oil refinery to see where our Crowcon portable gas detectors are used.


“The main thing that surprised me was the sheer size of the site. The oil refinery was very spaced out and it took us 10 minutes to walk from the entrance of the site to where the Crowcon engineer’s based. The engineers and employees around different parts of the refinery wore Hi Vis jackets, big safety boots, hard hats and all appeared to have personal gas detectors. During a quick site tour, I learned the products of the oil refinery are not limited to gas or petrol, but also tar, asphalt, lubricants, washing up liquid, paraffin wax and much more.

The products are all stored in big containers with pipes all over the site. Most of the products are highly flammable which explains the big focus on safety. In the distance, there were a few dome shaped containers which are pressurised vessels. If one of them were to explode, it would have a 10 mile blast radius. Suddenly I had the urge to leave and drive about 10 miles.

Crowcon’s engineer base was full of orange T4s, Gas-Pros as well as an army of “Daleks”, I mean Detectives, awaiting calibration and service. While the harshness of this industrial environment was evident from their appearance, they were otherwise in good working order, and the service engineer worked through the devices quickly.

The end users think of them as a simple device they have to wear to do their job, and they like the simplicity and reliability of Crowcon devices. The Detectives get thrown around and Gas-Pros are almost black is comparison to the usual orange, which just showcases how important the robustness of our devices is. The dangers of this working environment are not generally a big concern to the users, this is everyday life to them. Our devices help ensure they go home after a tough shift. Ensuring the devices are functioning properly is down to the service engineers, and they need to think for the users to ensure that the devices are being used properly.

Seeing Crowcon’s devices being used and the number of times someone enquired if the devices are calibrated and ready to go back into action, highlighted just how important use of portables as part of the safety regime  is considered. “Quality” and “robust” is how users describe Crowcon products and even though they may now treat them like the life saving devices they are, the devices are regularly used and valued. They make a very flammable and dangerous environment a safer place to be.”

Complacency – the biggest sin of all

We recently ran a series of articles under the guise of the Seven Deadly Sins of Gas Detection, which talked about gas detection and common mistakes of different kinds that could cost you your life or someone else’s life. However, the real deadly sin that sits at the root of all is complacency – not taking gases and gas hazards as a serious and present danger.

Continue reading “Complacency – the biggest sin of all”

Sapphire hunters saved!

The Mine Hunters are on the search for sapphires. In this episode they head to South Western Madagascar, to one of the few places in the world where a single mine can produce sapphires of every color of the rainbow.

After a wall collapse, oxygen depletion is the biggest danger they face in these dangerous environments – tunnels which have been sealed off for some time, are long, narrow, and go deep under ground.

Unfortunately miner Fred runs out of Oxygen whilst inspecting the first muddy pit mine. His Tetra 3 gas detector goes in to alarm, allowing his friends to pull him out quickly and safely. Although the team here is on a budget, the one piece of kit they can not go without is clear – a life saving gas detector!

View the video here

Read more about the Mine Hunters series and watch other episodes.

Find out more about the Tetra 3 Gas Detector and other interesting applications such as Volcano research

Life Offshore

Many of you may have wondered what life is really like offshore? To fly in a helicopter to work in the middle of the sea? To work 12-hour shifts for 14 days straight, surrounded by dangerous equipment and hazardous materials?

Continue reading “Life Offshore”

Bump Testing: What do you need to know?

There are many reasons why a portable gas detector may not react to gas, some of which are not visibly evident to the user.  When an instrument is turned on, you can see that the battery and display are working properly, but what about the internal electronics which play a critical role in protection? Do the sensors and alarms all work, have they been inhibited by using the wrong cleaning solution or have their openings become obstructed by mud? How do you know?

Continue reading “Bump Testing: What do you need to know?”

The Health & Safety at Work Act is celebrating 40 strong years

By Louise Early, Strategic Industry Manager

Protecting millions of British workers and reducing incidents of occupational death, serious injury and ill health, The Health & Safety at Work Act is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health & safety in Britain.

Continue reading “The Health & Safety at Work Act is celebrating 40 strong years”