Solutions in preventing a tank fire disaster

03 July 2019 | Web Article Number: ME201915236

Fire Protection
Instrumentation, Measurement & Control
Solutions in preventing a tank fire disaster
Buncefield Oil Depot on fire

THE enormous potential costs – human, financial and environmental - of tank overfill protection failures at facilities that store and handle flammable products came under the spotlight in Durban recently.

In a presentation to the local branch of the Society for Automation Instrumentation Measurement (SAIMC), Prinesh Mari, Senior Electrical Engineer at leading engineering contractors Proconics, detailed the causes of two major international incidents - the Buncefield oil depot fire in Hertfordshire, England in 2005 and the Caribbean Petroleum Company (CAPECO) refinery fire in Puerto Rico in 2009 - and their relevance to South Africa.

These, he said, were just two 22 incidents over the past 50 Years where there was either inadequate or no tank overfill protection, resulting in 59 injuries and 54 fatalities, with the total cost of damages exceeding USD 50 billion (R705 billion).

“Such incidents have a massive impact on the environment and the surrounding communities,” Mari said, adding that South Africa has six major refineries which produce a combined refinery volume of 703 000 barrels per day.

“South Africa has 186 licenced storage sites, 1 541 storage tanks and over 12 million cubic meters of storage volume. This illustrates that tank overfill protection is a critical control in preventing major industrial incidents.”

Mari made several recommendations to prevent such incidents occurring locally.

  1. Ensure that the design and implementation of process safety critical equipment is carried out by competent personnel supported by an equally competent organization.
  2. The Design of any safety system should done with the operations and maintenance of the system in mind.
  3. Maintenance and operations of high-risk facilities should done in accordance with the applicable standards and regulations.
  4. Audits should not be a paper exercise but rather a process where the management systems are tested and verified.
  5. Ensure that there are management systems that audit and review the process described above.

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