Explosion Proof Oil Rig Lights: Special Considerations for a Growing Industry|
Article- April 2012 By Larson Electronics.com
Larson Electronics Marine Use Suitable Oil Rig Light
The current trends in energy production show no sign of reaching a stable medium, with oil and gas prices continuing to fluctuate heavily due to markets being influenced by abnormal factors including political tensions and domestic unrest in many oil producing countries. However, the main constant in energy production has been a solid consensus that despite moves toward energy efficient technologies and the development of alternative energy sources, demand for fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas will continue to increase. Much of this demand is being driven by the rapid raising of economic and societal standards in underdeveloped nations. Other nations such as China and India also continue to pour resources into domestic development and are experiencing rapid increases in energy demands as a result.
Although natural gas has maintained a steady importance on the world stage as a reliable and clean energy source, the demand for oil has outstripped that of natural gas, and as a result, oil continues to show a marked trend towards rising base costs for a barrel of crude with occasional fluctuations marked by new base averages. The result has been a decline in the efforts to develop natural gas resources, and increases in efforts to maximize production of oil. With the increased demand for oil and the accompanying rise in cost per barrel, the number of oil rigs in operation globally has increased as well. Currently, the number of offshore oil rigs in operation is at a markedly high level, with projected increases in their numbers expected to prove accurate. This is a development that impacts a great many industries and markets as the demand for new platforms increases and efforts to improve production and safety on existing platforms also escalates.
Offshore oil platforms are an effective means for developing the offshore oil deposits that otherwise would be difficult or impossible to utilize. Once established over a promising field, oil rigs operate almost 24 hours a day and can maintain operations indefinitely until the resource has been exhausted. However, due to the demanding environmental conditions offshore platforms are subjected to, a great deal of effort and expense must be expended to ensure the safety of not only the surrounding ecosystem and nearby populated shorelines, but those of the workers aboard the platforms as well. Around the clock oil rig operation requires illumination and lighting equipment designed not only to withstand the harsh conditions of the marine environment, but the specialized hazardous conditions created by the presence of flammable and volatile petrochemicals as well.
Under normal conditions, lighting in petrochemical operations is required to be approved for use in hazardous locations. The highly flammable nature of the materials handled and the large quantities present in these operations makes control of ignition sources a critical concern for operating safety. Oil rig lighting takes on even greater importance as not only must the concerns for ignition control be addressed, but the punishing and corrosive effects of the marine environment taken into consideration as well. Any lighting to be used on oil rigs must not only be able to meet federal and international hazardous location safety standards, but be able to resist the effects of the marine environment which could potentially erode the ability of lighting equipment to meet compliance as well.
With the number of operational oil rigs rising, the demand for explosion proof lighting equipment suitable for use on these rigs is also increasing. Manufacturers of industrial grade hazardous location lighting gear such as Larson Electronics have over the last several years developed a wide variety of such lighting that takes into account not only the standard requirements for oil rig illumination, but also adds improvements born of new technologies such as LEDs, electronic fluorescent ballasts, backup emergency lighting systems, and hot re-strike capable Metal Halide ballasts.
Effective oil rig lighting equipment also incorporates newer composites and proven materials into their construction which allows them to withstand the wet and corrosive marine environment. While standard explosion proof lighting equipment may be suitable for a land based petrochemical refinery, the corrosion that takes place in the marine environment poses additional hazards in the form of fast paced equipment deterioration. Exposure to salt water and high humidity on a round the clock basis can quickly erode seals, eat through housings, and expose energized contacts, resulting in a loss of device integrity and non compliance.
Powder coated aluminum housings, stainless steel, brass, high impact nylon polymers, heat resistant silicone gasketing, and watertight connectors are just a few of the additional safeguards incorporated into explosion proof rig lighting fixtures that help to not only provide regulation compliance, but the ability to maintain fixture integrity and compliance over extended periods when exposed to abusive environments. Although these added features do increase the costs of these fixtures somewhat, their ability to survive and provide effective and compliant illumination for longer periods without overhaul or replacement helps to offset these higher initial expenses.
We already know from some recent examples just how dangerous offshore drilling and oil production can be. With the increased number of oil rigs currently in operation projected to continue rising, the potential for serious incidents will also increase despite efforts to maintain safety simply due to the larger number of rigs. The best recourse here is for operators to effectively address all potential sources of ignition to prevent accidents related to fires and explosion. Aside from catastrophic leaks and uncontrolled well heads, fire and explosion represents the single greatest threat on an oil platform, and the single best way to address this if through the removal or control of potential ignition sources.
It is not enough to simply incorporate standard explosion proof and intrinsically safe lighting designs into rig illumination plans. The potential damage that corrosion and dampness can erode the integrity of explosion proof housings and fixtures must also be taken into consideration as well. As a result, explosion proof oil rig lighting must be specifically designed to meet marine use compliance as well as NEC, ATEX or IECex compliance if safe operation over long term use is to be ensured.