Providing flexible fire protection for offshore applications

Using rubber in place of other flammable or corrosion-prone materials is increasing to prevent fires from spreading.

By Doug Marti, Trelleborg Offshore and Construction August 4, 2016

Deepwater drilling and production recently has undergone major changes by capitalizing on advanced technology making high performance and dependable technology even more important. This is because in the harsh environments of offshore, the requirement for equipment to operate safely and effectively while providing peace of mind is becoming more challenging. Fire protection is a critical part of on-board safety, and reducing the risk of fire hazards is a vital and challenging part of designing and engineering offshore oil and gas installations.

Going above and beyond

Although technology has advanced to better address the changing environment, operators still require superior, cost-effective solutions with an increased focus on longer life. End users once required products that could last 20 years, but now it’s often up to 40 years.

For optimum fire safety, choosing the most suitable material is imperative, and rubber-based material is becoming a more popular choice in the offshore industry due to its flexibility and durability. Compared to alternative materials, such as steel, ceramic wool, or fiberglass, rubber can withstand more extreme temperatures, weather conditions, and vessel movements while offering exceptionally high durability. It is a diverse material that can damp, seal, and protect, and most of all, it has an extremely long lifecycle.

Safety first

In challenging environments, it’s no surprise that on-board safety is a priority for the offshore oil and gas industry. Ensuring this is paramount and is becoming increasingly more difficult. Critical to delivering on-board safety are advanced fire protection systems, whether it is the platform’s surface protection, an on-board deluge system, or coating for the pipes and flanges, for example. The performance of these is essential for the safety of personnel, asset protection, and preventing event escalation.

In the offshore oil and gas industry, where the risk of rapidly spreading fire is greater than most, firestop technology must provide full protection assurance against fire. If damage is caused, costly shutdowns and repairs would be required, and in a worst case scenario, the platform may fail altogether.

Metal products and components are susceptible to rust and corrosion with harsh weather, which is detrimental to the performance and function of the platform. In addition, ceramic wool and similar materials used for fire protection will become less effective when wet. This isn’t an option as offshore demands increase.

Passive fire protection

Firestop technology is available in a variety of materials and products to protect personnel, equipment, critical components, and structures and to assist emergency response activity by buying time to gain control of the fire and evacuate the area. Rubber has the unique capability of withstanding weather conditions, vessel movements, providing ease of inspection, and fire protection over the life of a project with proven engineering and manufacturing techniques for protection of all kind of fires.

It is vital that any fire protection specified for use on an offshore facility provides the required fire protection throughout the fire exposure period. In addition, integrity means that protected areas between modules and decks will prevent the spread of flames and hot fumes throughout the fire exposure period.

For some projects, there can be the requirement for a protected surface area temperature not to exceed a certain level throughout the fire exposure period. For these types of requirements, insulation materials are used in conjunction with firestop fire protection. The critical temperature on the surface of a component is project-specific information, with typical values between 200 to 400°C (392 to 752 °F). In addition, the generation of smoke and toxic fumes must remain low.

Firestop applications

The platform laydown deck areas are susceptible to regular impact and abrasion due to containers being loaded onto the platform, in addition to the harsh offshore elements. Materials must also protect against chemical and mechanical conditions and ensure that the deck does not give in to fatigue. These precautions must be addressed before fire protection is considered. A flexible decking material capable of withstanding these conditions is ideal. Rubber provides the corrosion protection in addition to environmental and impact protection while maintaining the required fire protection rating.

By avoiding hot work on-board, fire hazards and shutdown requirements can be reduced. Surface protection designs that can be installed using other techniques should be prioritized. Surface tiling should feature insulation to isolate fire temperatures from areas below and should also ensure a nonslip surface for worker safety. Sophisticated coating designs can withstand blasts of up to 30 psi and jet/hydrocarbon fires for more than 2 hours.

The flexibility of a rubber-based tile means that it can withstand movement in any direction, reducing the likelihood of cracking. Similarly, as it is regularly exposed to the sun, it should ensure ultraviolet and ozone protection so that it does not damage over time.

Other topside areas that should be considered for fire resistance are nuts and bolts used in flanges—among the weakest areas of any platform. Typical fire protection, which covers the complete flange, will not allow for easy inspection. By protecting the nuts only, regular inspection can be performed, reducing installation time and overall weight. Using molded rubber-based material on just the flange nuts protects the stud bolts from elongating and the flange from breaking the seal during a fire.

Improving offshore rig safety

By installing effective and reliable firestop systems on-board, the safety of offshore oil and gas installations will be increased. In the harsh offshore and onshore oil and gas industry, operators need the assurance of a material that delivers proven performance without failing.

It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure that it can provide high performance and reliable technology, now more than ever.

Doug Marti is market development manager at Trelleborg Offshore and Construction.

Original content can be found at Oil and Gas Engineering.