Overview of Natural Gas Leak Detection

This consulting company prepares natural gas leak detection and repair programs as well as fugitive emissions studies for industrial firms. LDAR, as we often call this type of program, involves inspection and maintenance of pipes, fittings, valves, flanges and other features from which gas leaks may spring, causing both loss of valuable product and environmental issues. As time progresses, government standards have become more stringent and new developments in pinhole leak detection have us fixing problems like never before.

Natural Gas Leak Detection

The regulations may go something like this: plant operators shall start a program to mitigate leaks, one that at least meets certain protocols for managing fugitive emissions and reducing air pollution. The protocols may be outlined by government or other boards presiding over industry practice.

Hazardous Gas Detection

An LDAR program enables energy facilities to find and catalogue large leaks, from which significant amounts of methane and its equivalents (all of which are greenhouse gases) are lost. The possible leak points are first recorded and then they are tested for leaks. Big leaks that may cause problems with health, safety, odours or environmental impact should be fixed immediately if simple enough. If not, the costs of both the gas loss and the repair must be compared so that economically feasible repairs shall be made as soon as practicable (such as during the next facility shutdown.)

Natural Gas Leak Detection Methods

What is a good way to do this? We start with this comparison of leak detection methods. One technique is to compile a survey of emissions on all equipment and connections on site and flag them for repair.

When using this method, program costs are minimized, but no data that would allow for strategic planning and preventative measures is kept. So planning a schedule for future natural gas leak detection surveys and ongoing quality control might remain quite cumbersome.

A second method used by groups of gas leak detectors assigns a code to each component before testing and classifying fugitive testing results using the well-known three-stratum system. It uses one category for small leaks, resulting in less than 1000 ppm of methane equivalent, a large category for greater than 10000 ppm and a medium layer for leaks between these two levels. With the three-stratum approach, all leaks are estimated and the data used by operators to keep up a maintenance program, thus catching leaks before they grow. It is a costly program. However, once the database is established, it can be reused efficiently for a variety of purposes.

Calvin Consulting Group Ltd. of southern Alberta, came up with an effective intermediate plan. As the plants in this geographical area need to report greenhouse gas emissions annually to the government, they had been using previous LDAR information to support the GHG calculations. This practice has been deemed inadequate, so Calvin Consulting put forth that companies use the less-expensive scanning survey method, so that they get the data plants can use to make economic feasibility decisions on whether to repair the leak or not.

Other regulations are: 1) A quantified leak needs to be repaired only if the annual value of the lost gas is greater than the repair costs. 2) All detected but non-quantified leaks need to be fixed in no more than 45 days after the natural gas leak detection reveals their existence.

What does Calvin Consulting do?

First of all they come up with LDAR Quality Assurance Plans for plant operators who need to implement and maintain the Program on the site. These plans are relatively convenient for regulators to audit, making THAT undesirable step quite painless. QAPs, as they are known, spell out plan objectives, data control systems, LDAR program descriptions, lists of targeted components, a description of the natural gas leak detection methods, gas detection meters and schedules. Then quality control procedures are outlined in great detail to ensure a foolproof plan for each facility.

Environmental Leak Detection Methods

Secondly, the environmental consultancy staff come to the site with natural gas leak detection instruments to perform a survey. Each team consists of two people, a scientist and a technician, and a portable gas monitor, a TVA 1000 Flame Ionization Detector. This safe, inexpensive and easy-to-use device gives empirical data obtained in accordance with Method 21 spelled out by the United States EPA, thereby satisfying the demands of the Canadian governing bodies as well. The leak inventory is extracted from the gas detection equipment display, and important leaks are photographed and recorded by the team.

Thirdly, leak detection reports come from from the data processing team, who forward them to facility staff. All major leaks on site are identified and leak repair tracking forms are ready for the plant operator to use and complete for each leak.

Each form gives a photo and an extensive list of required data for each leaking item, such as the date and location, the quantity and cost of the leak, a record of actions taken and a space for staff signature. From the form, an operator can know when and how the leak was repaired or why it was not fixed.

Several Calvin Consulting teams have gone out to hundreds of oil and gas facilities in Western Canada. Although facilities should now have their programs fully in place by now, Calvin can help companies catch up and maintain the programs. The unique approach was designed to allow consultants to use the data for other regulatory programs, saving substantial costs for multiple regulatory compliance programs in the long run.

Please Call Barry J. Lough at Calvin Consulting Group Ltd. at 403-547-7557 or email - barry.lough @ calvinconsulting.ca (remove spaces).

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