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Upgrading Safety Systems in the Petrochemical Industry: Basic Guidelines

Migrating a Normally De-Energized Output Is Often Done Within a Minute per Output

| Author / Editor: Adam Howard / Dominik Stephan

Migrating a normally de-energized output is often done within a minute per output.
Migrating a normally de-energized output is often done within a minute per output. (Picture: depositphotos.com / Steve Lovegrove)

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Contrary to popular or traditional belief, installing an upgraded safety system does not necessarily require a lengthy shutdown of the facility. With careful planning and detailed, thorough engineering, a safety system can be upgraded with minimal disruption to facility operations.

Recent events in the oil and gas industry have substantially increased interest in maintaining the highest standards of safety at all times. These events have spotlighted the potential worker, environmental and business ramifications of a significant safety event. Oil and gas producers and the operators who manage their production facilities demand the highest level of safety in order to protect personnel, the environment and production assets; while maintaining maximum uptime and minimal operational disruption.

Balancing these critical requirements often comes to a head when an oil and gas producer needs to upgrade a facility’s safety system. As safety systems age and become outdated or obsolete, they not only increase safety risks when compared to more contemporary systems, but can also cause lost production time due to unnecessary trips or shutdowns.

Understanding the Role of a Safety System

In oil and gas production operations, the Distributed Control System (DCS) manages the normal operation of the plant. The function of the Safety Instrumented Systems (SIS) is to preserve life, the environment and the equipment being monitored.

The most common types of safety systems in oil and gas production are the Fire and Gas (F&G) and Emergency Shutdown (ESD) systems. The primary objective of the Fire and Gas system is to monitor for the presence of fire through smoke, heat and flame detection, as well as for potentially dangerous levels of hydrocarbons by ‘line of sight’, ‘point’ and acoustic gas detection methods. If any of these conditions are detected, the system implements appropriate alarming, firefighting and suppression measures in order to minimize the impact to personnel, environment and assets being protected.

The core objective of the ESD system is to protect people, the environment and production assets against misuse, equipment failure and against catastrophic failure in the plant. When the ESD system is activated, it may require an orderly shutdown of the production process to protect personnel and the integrity of the plant. Typically, the F&G and ESD systems are physically independent of each other and separate from the DCS.

What Drives a Safety System Upgrade?

Facility owners normally upgrade their safety systems for a variety of reasons, ranging from equipment obsolescence to the need to take advantage of the benefits of extended or more advanced functionality. Some of the major drivers include:

  • Prolonging field life – Many oil and gas reservoirs continue to generate viable quantities of product well beyond the intended life of the original field design. Consequently, the platform has to be upgraded – often on a rolling refurbishment basis – to accommodate these extended operations. These upgrades also can help reduce annual maintenance costs while simultaneously reducing unplanned downtime and unexpected repair costs.
  • Meeting current codes and standards – Currently installed safety systems were designed and built in accordance with the codes and standards in force at the time. Since then, the industry has moved forward, and legacy systems have not been upgraded to current standards and technologies. For example, while IEC-61508 was introduced in 1999, many legacy systems have not yet been reassessed to determine if they comply with this standard.
  • Meeting current codes and standards – Currently installed safety systems were designed and built in accordance with the codes and standards in force at the time. Since then, the industry has moved forward, and legacy systems have not been upgraded to current standards and technologies. For example, while IEC-61508 was introduced in 1999, many legacy systems have not yet been reassessed to determine if they comply with this standard.

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