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Rethinking Gas Detection

David  Wilbur's picture
Generakl Manager & CTO, United Electric Controls United Electric Controls

David Wilbur is the General Manager and Chief Technical Officer of United Electric Controls. Dave has 35 years’ experience in the design and manufacture of embedded instrumentation. He joined...

  • Member since 2021
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Safety remains a perennial issue for the oil and gas industry. The implications of failing to detect gas leaks can impact the environment and workers' health, along with incurring significant financial losses if a site has an unplanned shutdown. Therefore, ensuring the safety, integrity, and reliability of plants and pipelines is mission-critical.

With the oil and gas sector under continued pressure to increase efficiencies and control costs, many are turning to wireless automation. This has seen plants look for ways to modernize aging infrastructure and many have started to automate the process instrumentation layer. However, when it comes to gas detection, it's lagging behind with many plants relying on traditional fixed detectors or providing workers with a portable detector!

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Clearly, the safety and financial impact of utilizing these archaic methods is, at best, hazardous, not scalable, and any error could have potentially devastating consequences. Therefore, plants need to turn to smart, connected technologies when it comes to the accurate detection of odorless and invisible gases. So how can plants best deploy technology to improve gas detection? Below are five ways that automation can help operators.

1. Deploy sensors to find gas hotspots

Deploying wireless sensors is a quick way to achieve continuous monitoring and provide real-time analytics to detect and measure gas concentration levels. The devices efficiently monitor levels of flammable and toxic gases and provide automatic responses. With toxic gases, organizations should focus on placing sensors where personnel are at risk of exposure, covering high traffic areas and potential evacuation routes to ensure worker safety. In the case of flammable gases, detectors should identify areas at risk of explosion that require immediate action.


 2. Reduce the risk with gas mapping

Intelligent software can help predict the location of gas hazards and the likelihood of an emission happening. Through algorithms and computational fluid dynamics models, the solution can predict the flow of both liquids and gases. These insights then determine where the optimal location is for the gas detectors.

3. Identify gas accumulations as well as leaks

It's important to distinguish between leaks and gas accumulations. Plants should identify where accumulations and gas clouds occur as these pose the greatest threat of explosion. Every plant needs to establish the parameters for when the size of accumulating gas requires mitigation.

4. Increased visibility

Advanced wireless gas detection systems are capable of communicating through open communication protocols like WirelessHART or ISA100. This makes it easier for operators to deploy more sensors throughout the facility and information can be aggregated at the plant control system level. Users can then observe conditions from their laptops, tablets, phones, or any smart device. This ensures that no part of the production environment is out of sight and that operators always have a real-time view.

5. Reduced maintenance

By deploying gas sensors with a suitable voting logic, it reduces maintenance along with the number of false positives. An automated gas detection system can function for several years with minimal, if any, maintenance required.

As the oil and gas sector looks to reduce operating costs while increasing reliability and improving safety, automating gas detection wirelessly is a simple and cost-effective solution.


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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 8, 2021

With toxic gases, organizations should focus on placing sensors where personnel are at risk of exposure, covering high traffic areas and potential evacuation routes to ensure worker safety. 

In your experience, how often are they doing this today? 

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Jun 9, 2021

"...when it comes to gas detection, it's lagging behind with many plants relying on traditional fixed detectors or providing workers with a portable detector!"

Sad, but true. Ironically, it is not unusual that environmental considerations, i.e. requirements to monitor emissions, are the driving force toward modernization of gas detection. 

I have been informed (by management) once or twice in the past that it is physically impossible to monitor every space, every well head, where a development may contain thousands of wells, plus associated hardware.  In some cases the safety aspects are the trigger for better monitoring. In others, it is the realization that the emissions "might" have an environmental impact.  In others it is the realization that significant dollars are "disappearing".

Who knows what finally "inspires" an operator to make the capital expenditures necessary for effective gas detection?  It´s a mystery to me.

David  Wilbur's picture
David Wilbur on Jun 9, 2021

We certainly see toxic detectors in a variety of areas throughout plants. When it comes to offshore, platforms need to ensure there are no high levels of toxic gases, especially in areas where people work and congregate. Plants are similar but may also include detectors along the fence line to understand the risk to surrounding communities and around assets with a higher risk of leaking. For instance, it is not uncommon to have H2S detectors near valves.

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