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Fugitive Emissions: How Can You Detect Something You Can't See Or Smell?
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In the best case, accidental leakage from operating equipment and the release of substances into the resulting atmosphere is limited to an unpleasant odour on the site and its surroundings, or discomfort to the neighbourhood.
odourless but harmful gas leaks are, on the other hand, very disturbing.
For example, the emission of gas rich in H2S (i.e. sulphurous gases, which usually rises from gas stripping facilities) can be cited. While these types of leaks can meet the limits of concentration imposed by law (which vary significantly from one region to another and are sometimes contradictory), the long-term impacts of these concentrations are, however, unknown. Even gas concentrations below 5-10 ppm (parts per million) can have significant and immediate effects on the human body. In addition, it has been shown that continuous exposure to quantities of H2S significantly below a 1-ppm limit could result in long-term serious illness among production site staff and residents living close to them.
A study conducted by the University of Southern California found that depression, anger, fatigue, tension, confusion, and respiratory problems were much higher in people exposed to H2S than the average. It is therefore essential to limit emissions of pollutants to the atmosphere, not only for health and safety reasons, but also to reduce the risk of legal action by trade unions and individuals residing in the vicinity of Gas and oil production sites.
Fugitive Emissions Management
Research undertaken by the European Sealing Association (ESA) on the major sources of leaks in refineries revealed that up to 70% of atmospheric emissions originated from non- Controlled or leak-prone.
In this area, the intensive-use control valves are the most critical, as the quarter-turn and all-or-nothing types are subjected to less manipulation and wear at the trim. It is therefore absolutely vital to detect the leaks of these valves continuously.
Leak Detection Techniques
Current maintenance techniques to reduce emissions are based on regular checks ("Accidental maintenance"), carried out using olfactory detectors, infrared cameras and ultrasonic leakage detectors. Nevertheless, none of these techniques can be considered as reliable and objective at 100%.
Olfactory detection, for example, can approximate the concentration of a given pollutant in air, but the measurement of this concentration is greatly influenced by factors such as wind, type of mass spectrometer The position of the detector and the outside temperature. Given these factors, it is virtually impossible to correct the measurement values below 10 ppm, or even in some cases to locate the origin of the leak. For this reason, olfactory detectors are often used in conjunction with specialized infrared cameras for leak detection and clogging (LDAR). Ultrasonic leakage detectors and infrared cameras cannot be considered as quantitative measurement methods and provide only a vague indication of the origin of the leak.
The cost of these systems is very high in terms of investment, but it is mainly labour costs, as well as the qualification and the need for training of staff that make them even less viable.
Despite these drawbacks, when the checks are carried out at remote intervals, a leak occurring between two successive checks can create serious security problems on the site. For this reason, some factories set up restricted access areas, which are necessarily equipped with vents and where only suitably trained personnel can enter.
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