In recent years, sabotage missile or drone attacks on tank storage farms and refineries have become more frequent and significantly more dangerous. These attacks have already caused billions of dollars in damages to the affected countries and the oil and gas industry.
The newest incident happened in June 2018, at the Fida Oil Farm in Ras Lanuf, Libya. Since 2014, oil tanks in Libya have been regularly destroyed due to sabotage attacks. In June 2018, violent clashes between the forces of rival armed groups resulted in another incident that once again destroyed precious property. Three oil tanks at the Fida Oil Farm, west of the Ras Lanuf oil terminal were hit and caught fire, as a result of the heavy shelling. The ensuing fire was so intense that the smoke was easily visible from outer space.
These incidents are putting extreme pressure on the already ailing economy. Reports indicated that tank No. 2 held 200,000 barrels of crude before it was hit while No. 12 held 240,000 barrels. Later, as events unfolded and escalated, a third tank caught fire. Local reports from the site claimed that firefighters were running out of foam quickly and without proper equipment and safety measures in place, they had no real hope of extinguishing the blaze. Industry experts estimated the damage to be around USD 100 Million.
One would think that these types of events are extremely rare; yet in reality, they happen more often these days than ever before.
On July 18, 2018 the Yemeni army attacked a refinery of the Saudi oil company Aramco in the capital Riyadh, using a new drone, with the kingdom confirming the fire at the plant. Luckily, no personnel were injured and there was no impact on the operations. Border cities in Saudi Arabia, including vital military and economic facilities, have been the most targeted in Houthi missile attacks, with the majority to have allegedly been intercepted. In May, the Houthis fired a missile at the distribution center of the oil giant Saudi Aramco company in the Saudi border city of Jazan, but the missile ended up falling into a desert near the city.
Without implementing the right defense systems, the damage such an attack could inflict on a refinery or massive storage tank facility ranges from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars. Unfortunately, despite continuous and strenuous research efforts throughout the fire protection industry, it has presented a challenge to identify a solution that could prevent such events from escalating into catastrophe.
Where risks are involved, one must take responsible actions to mitigate such risks and ensure that suitable emergency arrangements are in place and work effectively. Knowing that a fire can be put out quickly and efficiently is an integral part of the control of hazards. One of the challenges of providing adequate fire suppression systems is the power needed to activate them, as well as the time they can take to work.
Now it seems that there is finally hope on the horizon. A company from Sarnen, Switzerland called Swiss Fire Protection Research and Development AG has realised the threat that these attacks are posing to the oil industry and has consequently developed a complex system to save these facilities in case of sabotage attacks.
New generation foam fire suppression systems
“During the past 3 years, SFPRD has been developing the fourth generation of the Pressurised Instant (Pi) Foam fire suppression technology, which, compared to the previous versions is far more efficient and economical,” explains Andras T. Peller, Director of Swiss Fire Protection Research and Development AG (SFPRD).
“This most recent version of the Pressurised Instant Foam fire suppression technology is capable of extinguishing a full surface fire on a tank in merely 3.14 (pi) minutes. When it comes to storage tank firefighting, the first 5 minutes following the ignition plays a crucial role. Usually, this is the time frame in which the structure wall of a storage tank above the product level will reach 500 degrees Celsius, which can result in significant structural damage,” adds Andras.
“Implementing a fire suppression system that works as rapidly as the Pressurised Instant Foam will give you the best chance of mitigating risks and protecting your storage facility from extensive damages, as well as costly downtime and repair. Most importantly, by addressing and extinguishing fire in such a timely manner, you maximize the chance of protecting both people and the environment from harm.”
“Traditional foam technologies require a large capacity water supply to produce the foam, as well as powerful pumping stations to allow for adequate pressure. However, our Pi Foam technology differs from the previous ones in the sense that it doesn’t rely on water source and pump stations in times of crisis, so there is no need for a high-pressure water system at all”, explains Andras.
Instead of using foam generators, the foam is created by using soluble gas – and when it is released the foam expands by itself. Unlike traditional foam technologies where the mixing occurs at the time of the crisis, this new technique allows for serious preparation and time-saving as it occurs in advance in a calm environment. After mixing, the foam is stored in a pressurised vessel and is ready to be used immediately if needed. Moreover, if stored under the right circumstances, the foam premix can keep its condition and characteristics for at least 5-10 years.
A self-propelling and independent system
This pre-mixed foam then becomes a self-propelling and independent system that doesn’t require any external, machinery-generated force to work. After simply opening the valve of the storage vessel, the foam runs through the pipes and expands, while the pressure pushes the foam out.
This feature underlines another advantage of this technology, which is the fact that it doesn’t require sophisticated machinery to work; hence, it is without the high installation, operation and maintenance costs that usually accompany such machinery, or the risk of potential failure at the time it would be required to run perfectly: at the time of the crisis.
Effectiveness and simplicity go hand-in-hand
The latest generation of the Pi Foam disperses foam directly to the fire, resulting in no spillage or soil contamination, and any excess foam can be collected after use, which makes it a more environmentally friendly alternative, as well. In addition to this, the foams that are being developed by SFPRD are of non-toxic nature. This new, self-propelling system offers a simple, yet extremely effective solution as it doesn’t rely on water supplies, external power, infrastructure or even personnel. Being available to use at all times and with relatively low installation, operating and maintenance costs, this new technology is not only more efficient but also more cost-effective.
Upward and downward scalability
The Pressurised Instant Foam system also allows scalability: the new technology yields much higher quantities of foam in significantly shorter time frames, thus allowing to meet the needs of your oil or chemical storage facility more easily. In merely 3 minutes, the new system is capable of producing the same amount of foam that a more traditional system would yield in hours.
This new foam technology offers limitless possibilities when it comes to the size or type of tank that needs to be filled, ranging from small fixed-roof containers to large tanks with floating roofs, offering equally effective protection to all of these, as well as advanced coping-mechanisms when it comes to simultaneous fires.
At the same time, the system allows for downward scaling as well: among others, it has been installed on fire trucks in South Africa and has also been used during the Hungarian Formula One Circuit, where the foam has been dispersed in hand-held fire extinguishers.
An efficient fire-extinguishing system
The new Pressurised Instant Foam doesn’t only provide for a swift solution but is also effective in addressing a wider range of fires than previous technologies. The system allows for a high-level of customization: with a diverse set of foams available to be used with different products and in different environments, the new technology can be adapted to meet a wide variety of needs.
Some of the foams can be used without mixing them with water, which is ideal for suppressing fires where water-based foams should not be used, such as those caused by the ignition of vegetable oil, for example.
The technology is particularly adaptable and flexible, and has already been put into place for use with oil storage tanks and vehicles, as well as in airports, military sites, mines, petrol stations and factories.
A powerful and versatile choice
Unlike previous systems on the market, the Pi Foam is adaptable to all kinds of terrains, temperatures and weather conditions, ranging from 30 below zero to a desert climate, thus providing for an unparalleled choice.
By being self-propelling and operating completely without external forces such as water, electrical network and energy input, this independent system reduces the complexities that were associated with previous models, thus offering a simple, yet effective solution.
Due to the fact that the system is fully independent of outside supplies and human interventions, it is an excellent choice for remote sites. One such installation was designed for an unstaffed Libyan site with no water supply, where 3 storage tanks were installed in the middle of the desert – a challenge that few other fire suppression systems would have the ability to tackle.
Some energy companies around the world are already choosing Pi Foam for protection to great effect. These include Chevron and Oiltanking, among many others.
SFPRD is offering free construction budget planning for first time customers (partners) in sabotage affected areas. The company has made it their mission to research, evaluate and improve industrial fire prevention, protection and emergency systems in the most endangered parts of the world.