Severe Weather and Effect on Refining

By: Andrew Veri | On: September 14, 2016

Whether it’s the bitter cold of winter in the Midwest or the hurricane season of the southeast, severe weather impacts refining in the United States. These refineries must be prepared to weather the storms. Over the past few years, many refineries have seen issues due to severe weather, and many more would see them if not for the preventative measures that can be taken to keep things running smoothly.

Throughout the United States’ diverse mix of climates, perhaps no refineries have it worse than those operating in the Midwest. With the brutally frigid temperatures in winter over the past few years, more than a few refineries have run into issues. Refineries in Chicago, Detroit, and Toledo have all had unexpected shutdowns in the past couple winters due to the extreme cold.

Plunging temperatures can result in many different malfunctions in a refinery that might require a shutdown, such as flaring issues, flow control equipment failure, or frozen product within the piping system. Steam and heat are essential in almost every refinery process. For example, crude oil needs to be kept warm or else it will thicken and clog up the piping. When temperatures get too low, it may be impossible for the refinery to keep the crude and other liquids flowing efficiently. Often times the refinery must wait until the severe weather passes to end the shutdown, causing major issues for the local and national fuel supplies when the weather refuses to let up.

“Dead legs”, which are sections of piping where liquid is not flowing, are often created when piping systems are reconfigured. When the temperature drops, the liquid freezes in the pipe and will expand. This expansion can cause the pipe to crack, and once the temperature rises, the pipe will start to leak. The chemicals that may be contained in these pipes can become a fire hazard. There have been multiple incidences with dead legs in the last 15 years that have resulted in death, injuries, shutdowns, and gasoline shortages.

traced-and-jacketed-assemby-drawingsIn the past, government agencies have urged the refineries to use proper winterization practices to try and prevent these unexpected accidents and shutdowns from occurring. Surveying the piping systems is simple yet important when it comes to winterization of a refinery. Isolating or removing dead leg runs of pipe is a key step in winterization. Those are the areas of the refinery most likely to cause issue first.   Any piping that may be susceptible to freezing should be insulated or traced, where heating elements (hoses, wires, blankets, etc.) keep the process liquids flowing freely, to prevent the liquid from freezing. Creating a winterization program and protocol can go a long way in keeping workers safe, avoiding shutdowns, and maintaining an area’s gasoline supply.

Meanwhile, the southern and southeastern parts of the United States face a different climate related problem. When hurricane season arrives, the refineries in this region need to be ready to handle the heavy rains and high winds that could hit them from one of these massive tropical storms. Also, as the climate continues to change, there is likely to be even more extreme weather.

The equipment in these refineries is usually built to withstand the storms, but it still does not prevent shutdowns. Major hurricanes like Katrina and Ike can force dozens of refineries to shut off operations, causing millions of dollars in lost production and raising gas prices for the region or country. With the large amount of oil and gas production that takes place along the coast, specifically in the gulf region, any problems in this region could spell trouble for the rest of the country and beyond.

Every refinery is different, even ones within the same geographical area. For this reason, it is impossible to prepare each refinery using the same techniques and methods. Each location should have a unique plan in place that breaks down what to do in the event of extreme weather native to their geographic area.

Even with the best planning, unforeseen problems can arise during severe weather events. To minimize downtime and prevent production delays, Hose Master offers the best lead times in the industry along with 24-hour Emergency Service for critical demands. Contact Hose Master today for customer-driven flexible metal solutions.


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