Critical Fire Protection for People, Structures and Equipment at Offshore
- Doug Marti, Market Development Manager Trelleborg Offshore

Deepwater oil & gas drilling and production has been revolutionised in recent years with the help of advanced technology where the risk of fire hazards is extreme while designing and engineering offshore oil and gas installations. Thus 'Fire Protection' is a critical part of onboard safety in offshore oil and gas sector. The article details on the fire protection solutions in safeguarding people, structures and equipment in offshore & onshore oil & gas industry.

High performance and dependable solutions are more important than ever as deepwater drilling and production has been revolutionised in recent years by increasingly advanced technology. This is because in the harsh environments presented by the offshore world, 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 onboard safety and reducing the risk of fire hazards is a vital and challenging part in designing and engineering offshore oil and gas installations. Trelleborg's Doug Marti looks at why innovative corrosion-free, rubber-based solutions can be the key to ensuring that people, structures and equipment are protected.

Going Above and Beyond
Though technology has advanced to better address the changing environment, customers still require superior, cost-effective solutions with an increased focus on longer life. Customers 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, not surprisingly, becoming a more popular choice within 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, vessel movements and offers an exceptionally high durability. It is a diverse material that can damp, seal and protect, and most of all, it has an extremely long lifetime.

Safety First
In increasingly more challenging environments, it's no surprise that onboard safety is a key priority for the offshore oil and gas industry. Ensuring this is paramount and is becoming increasingly more difficult.

Critical to delivering onboard safety are advanced fire protection systems, whether it is the platform’s surface protection, an onboard 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.

So, in the offshore oil and gas sector where the risk of rapid fire spread is greater than most, firestop solutions need to provide full assurance to the onboard team that they will not fail to protect against fire. If damage is caused, costly shutdowns and repairs would be required and in the worst case scenario, the platform may fail all together.

The harsh offshore weather environment causes metal products and components to be susceptible to rust and corrosion, which is detrimental to the performance and function of the platform. Additionally, ceramic wool and similar materials used for fire protection will become less effective when wet. This simply isn’t an option as demands offshore become greater.

Passive Fire Protection
Firestop solutions are available in a series 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. With proven engineering and manufacturing techniques for protection of all types of fires, from simple cellulose to hydrocarbon and jet fire, the rubber materials are built-up of layers and meet corrosion, thermal, fire and mechanical protection requirements, protecting structures from exceeding temperature limits. Rubber has the unique capability of withstanding weather conditions, vessel movements, providing ease of inspection and fire protection over the life of a project.

It is key 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 to a maximum of +200°C to +400°C.

Similarly, in accordance with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the generation of smoke and non-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. It must also protect against chemical and mechanical conditions and ensure that it does not give in to fatigue. This is all before fire protection is considered. A flexible decking material capable of withstanding these conditions is an ideal solution. Rubber provides the corrosion protection in addition to environmental and impact protection, all while maintaining the required fire protection rating.

By avoiding hot work onboard, fire hazards and shut down requirements can be reduced. Surface protection designs that can be installed using other techniques should be prioritised. Surface tiling should feature insulation to isolate fire temperatures from areas below and should also ensure a non -slip surface for worker safety. Sophisticated coating designs can withstand blasts of up to 2.1 bars and jet/hydrocarbon fires for more than two hours.

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

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

Additionally, having an effective and reliable deluge system is vital to ensuring onboard safety. In the harsh offshore and onshore oil and gas industry, operators need the assurance of a material that delivers proven performance for their critical fire water and utility piping installations, without fail.

As new high performance and reliable materials are developed for deluge systems, the onus is on leading manufacturers to ensure their materials are tested and audited to meet the varying and necessary regulations of the different offshore regions in which they operate. With the threat of critical failure looming, this is one area in particular where benefits from new technologies and innovations will ultimately reduce fire risks and potential downtime or closure.

By utilising synthetic rubber, these systems are non-corroding and can withstand jet fires with a heat flux of 390kW/m2, temperatures above +2,552°F/+1,400°C. This makes it an ideal material choice for use in deluge and sprinkler systems on offshore oil and gas installations and ships, as well as other hazardous environments.

Due to its flexible characteristics, this rubber based technology can be used to either partly or completely replace old systems and is also an ideal solution for temporary deluge systems when high safety levels need to be maintained on new builds or during modification work to existing systems.

By installing effective and reliable firestop systems onboard, 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 fail.

It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure that they can provide high performance and reliable solutions, now more than ever. Similarly, operators should look to work with manufacturers who can provide the most advanced solutions which will guarantee performance and importantly, safety. Operators should have access to the latest and most innovative solutions that will significantly improve onboard safety and provide peace of mind to all those on board.