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LNG Safety: How to Reduce Gas & Fire Risks

LNG Safety: How to Reduce Gas & Fire Risks

Liquified natural gas (LNG) is used across the globe in homes, commercial building and industrial plants. Today, natural gas accounts for roughly 25% of electricity generation around the world.1 To make LNG, natural gas is cooled until it becomes liquid (liquification), which shrinks its volume; this makes it easier to store and transport. Before it can be used, it must be warmed until it becomes gas again (regasification).2 LNG is colorless and odorless.

The top three worldwide exporters of LNG are Australia, the U.S. and Qatar. The U.S.’s exports of LNG increased 8% in 2022, in part due to disrupted supply chains in Europe stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.4 Historically, some of the largest global importers of LNG have been South Korea, China and Japan.5 Most LNG is transported by sea in carriers using cryogenic tanks, though it can also be transported by rail, truck or barge.6

The complete LNG value chain, starting from upstream gas field production, liquefaction, shipping, storage and regassification all the way to distribution to the user contains many risks and challenges. For example, a fire at the second-largest LNG facility in the U.S. in 2022 kept the plant offline for more than eight months.7

Keeping LNG workers, facilities and processes as safe as possible and operations up-and-running efficiently are top priorities for the LNG industry. Flame and gas detection solutions are essential to mitigate risk, particularly in the following areas:

Extraction Activities

Natural gas extracted from the ground contains varying mixes of Hydrocarbon components, mostly methane, along with ethane, propane, butane, carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and other impurities. Natural gas workers exposed to H2S from drilling and refining can experience respiratory problems, convulsions, headaches, dizziness, insomnia and upset stomachs. In addition, exposure to high levels of methane can cause slurred speech, vision issues, memory loss, vomiting and headaches, among other symptoms.8

Liquefication Plants

The liquification process involves high-risk operating conditions. After the natural gas is cleaned from impurities, it is liquified by cooling the gas to approximately -162°C (-260°F), and its volume is reduced by 600 times. This could cause thermal expansions and increase the risk of gas leaks. Additionally, any contact with a cryogenic liquid or a cold surface from a tank can cause a cold burn. Inhaling cold vapors can also potentially damage lung tissue.

Loading Terminals

During the loading process, where LNG is transported through pumps from storage tanks to vessels, there is increased potential for gas leaks.

LNG Vessels

When tanks on a vessel are loaded with LNG, some of the tanks can have LNG vapor above the liquid. In these areas where potential exposure to leaks is present, it is essential to use gas detection systems to help protect both workers and vessels.

Confined spaces are also commonplace on these vessels. Quick evaporation of released LNG into vapor can displace air and even lead to asphyxiating conditions for workers in a confined space.9 Before entering an enclosed area, workers should test the atmosphere with portable gas detectors to ensure that no flammable or toxic gases are present. 

Vaporization and Vapor Clouds

Another hazard can be flammability after vaporization into a gaseous state. A vapor cloud—typically ground-hugging and white—could be formed when the LNG warms, which can potentially be dangerous and flammable. If a vapor cloud ignites, a flash fire can form and spread upwind to the source of vapor.10

Ways to Increase Worker and Asset Safety

The LNG environment and its workers are exposed to many hazards, including flammable and toxic gases. Portable and fixed gas detectors as well as flame detectors are essential parts of the solution. A quick and accurate response is critical when monitoring flammable gases in the atmosphere. Further, using multiple layers of detection significantly increases the likelihood of detecting flammable gas leaks before they escalate into catastrophic fires and explosions.

Honeywell gas and flame detection solutions can detect various combustible and toxic gases, helping you keep workers safe in this challenging environment. We have long-term experience in this growing market. Our infrared sensors, for example, aim for high-speed response with minimal false detection alerts. Contact us today to learn more about how we help enhance safety in the LNG industry.