Fire is a serious threat to oil and gas facilities on and offshore where a number of incidents related to fire occur every year. Fire Safe Materials in the Petroleum Industry and the use of materials with good reaction-to-fire properties constitute an important barrier that prevents small fires from starting and developing with serious consequences.
Different levels of fire risk require documentation by different fire test methods. The photos show a hot jet fire test of pipe insulation, test with a smouldering cigarette on upholstered furniture and a flame spread test of a wall lining. (Photos: Ragni F. Mikalsen, Anne Steen-Hansen, Karolina Storesund).
Fires in the petroleum industry
Consequences of a fire in the petroleum industry can be very large. Fires on offshore facilities can start in several types of equipment and sites. An analysis of the 985 fires registered in the Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority’s database between 1997 and 2014 showed that approximately 67% of the incidents were registered as fires or explosions that did not involve hydrocarbons. About one-third of the fires happened in the ancillary systems, which cover a wide range of functions. Six of the 985 events were categorized with the highest severity level, with a great potential for serious accident or fatalities – three of those occurred at offshore facilities. 66 of the incidents took place in living quarters.
This shows that serious incidents related to fires do not occur very often. However, some of the reported incidents could have developed into fires with disastrous consequences. This stresses the need for continued efforts to increase the safety and to focus on the barriers that prevent escalating events. The right choice of materials in components, construction and furnishing is an important barrier to prevent the fires from starting, and prevent small fires from developing into larger fires that will be difficult to control. The HSE regulations in the Norwegian petroleum sector are primarily performance-based. The materials used on the Norwegian continental shelf must meet the fire safety requirements given in the facilities regulations. These regulations give requirements to the performance of materials and the related guidance documents describe acceptable methods for documentation of reaction-to-fire properties.
Regulations, standards and guides for oil and gas facilities on the Norwegian shelf
The facilities regulations describe important principles in the selection of materials in or on plants, and the guidelines specify which test methods should be used to document the fire properties. This list of test methods has not been updated in many years, it contains several outdated methods, and several of the references do not set criteria for approval of products.
RISE Fire Research AS (former SINTEF NBL AS and SP Fire Research AS) published recommendations about how to interpret the regulations and other specifications (e.g. the NORSOK standards) in 2008, which have been frequently used within the industry. These recommendations for testing and documentation are now updated. They include references to new and updated test standards and are published in English. The recommendations can also be useful for other industrial applications of combustible materials all over the world, both for on and offshore plants.
Guidance for proper documentation
RISE Fire Research AS is in close dialogue with industry and suppliers about the documentation, test methods and criteria to be used for installations in the North Sea. We help the parties to meet the regulations, and to maintain a satisfactory level of fire safety. It is up to the various operators to determine which documentation they will require for different products, based on requirements given in the facilities regulations and the NORSOK-standards. We have developed guidelines and recommendations for appropriate fire safety documentation requirements for materials covering various products and applications within the oil and gas industry. The recommendations are based on an assessment of the fire risks in different areas of offshore installations, combined with our knowledge of materials’ reaction-to-fire properties, as well as knowledge of how the selected test methods can be used in a sensible way.
The report “Recommendations for the documentation of the reaction-to-fire properties of materials offshore” can be downloaded at risefr.no