Increased Oil Productivity Could Come With Safety Risks

02/20/2013 |

Increased oil production may come with a unique set of challenges for facility and plant managers.

The number of safety incidents at processing plants has increased as the nation's refineries have aged.1 During the first two weeks of 2013, a total of 27 process safety incidents, including fires, leaks and fugitive emissions were reported at U.S. refineries.2   This incident rate could climb even higher as the U.S. is expected to be the world's top oil producer by 2017 and plants are pushed even harder.  To further compound these risks, the industry is experiencing a "brain drain." More than half of the most seasoned oil and gas professionals are set to retire in the next few years.3

In response to industry trends, WIKA has developed the Full Audit Service Team (FAST), a value-added program to help ensure plant safety, productivity and profitability. FAST Services are provided by a dedicated group of engineers with the expertise to investigate, diagnose and correct issues with pressure and temperature instrumentation at refineries, chemical and petrochemical plants. 

"Every component and every piece of equipment can help plants be more productive and safe," says Michael Gerster, president of WIKA Instrument, LP, one of the world's largest manufacturers of pressure and temperature instrumentation. "Failures of even the smallest component, especially the wrong instruments, can expose plants to unsafe conditions, fines, clean-up costs, and the financial burden of dealing with shutdowns and severe injuries."

In a typical plant, 25% of pressure gauges are damaged, broken or misapplied.4 That means that within 20 feet of workers there are approximately eight gauges that pose safety risks.4 A malfunctioning gauge may lead to leaks, fugitive emissions or even fires. But even more likely, a malfunctioning or improper instrument can prevent a plant from identifying larger system and process issues before they develop into safety incidents.

"WIKA's FAST Program is one-of-a-kind. It's based on industry best practices for predictive and preventive maintenance as well as proprietary data compiled from more than 250 Instrument Audits and reviewing more than 150,000 installations," Gerster says. "With FAST Services, a plant manager won't have to worry about gauges.  We'll be the gauge expert so they don't have to be."

FAST Services include the Instrument Audit, Turnaround Instrument Planning, Instrument Failure Analysis and Instrument Safety Training, helping plants to:

  • Ensure the right gauge is in the right place to reduce the risk of fire, explosion and leaks
  • Identify redundant or incorrect inventory to reduce costs and decrease the risk of misapplication
  • Improve employee productivity, reduce maintenance costs and help eliminate guesswork
  • Extend the period between shutdowns and avoid operational disruptions and unplanned downtime


1 "Aging Equipment, Repeated Safety Violations Put Refinery Workers at Risk, Say Critics." Jim Morris, Chris Hamby and M.B. Pell. ABC News; The Blotter. March 1, 2011.

2 Weekly List of Refinery Events,  January 1-10 and January 11-17, 2013.

3"Skills Shortage in the Global Oil and Gas Industry: How to close the gap" Part I. Peter Peek, Jocelyn Fenard, Patrick Gantes, Christine Theiler. December 2008. Pages 14-15.

4 WIKA internal data based on more than 250 Instrument Audits.

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