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OTC 14132

Controlling Hydrocarbon Fires in Offshore Structures

G. A. Chamberlain, Shell Global Solutions

Copyright 2002, Offshore Technology Conference

• The Tartan riser failed on the outboard side of the
This paper was prepared for presentation at the 2002 Offshore Technology Conference held in emergency shut-off valve resulting is a full-bore jet
Houston, Texas U.S.A., 6 –9 May 2002.
fire. What protection should be applied to risers and
This paper was selected for presentation by the OTC Program Committee following review of
information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper, as
valves? Is passive fire protection (PFP) adequate?
presented, have not been reviewed by the Offsh ore Technology Conference and are subject to Will PFP age with time and then be less effective
correction by the author(s). The material, as presented, does not necessarily reflect any
position of the Offshore Technology Conference or its officers. Electronic reproduction, against fires? Is a sub-sea isolation valve effective
distribution, or storage of any part of this paper for commercial purposes without the written
consent of the Offshore Technology Conference is prohibited. Permission to reproduce in print
against rise fires? How close to the platform should
is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied. The it be located?
abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of where and by whom the paper was
presented. • The water deluge system did not operate. How
effective are water-based systems in controlling
Abstract different types of fire?
This paper reviews improvements in the understanding of fire • How effective are blowdown systems against
hazards and protection in offshore structures since the Piper different types of fire? What strategies should be
Alpha disaster in 1988. Important new knowledge on fire adopted?
development, spread and escalation have come about through The Blast and Fire Engineering for Topside Structures
a number of industry sponsored initiatives, which have also (BFETS) Project [2,3] started in 1990 was the first major
demonstrated how to control and mitigate fire hazards by good initiative to provide interim guidance on how to reduce the
design and effective protection. The most notable gains in potential for such disasters. This project also identified gaps
knowledge have been in the areas of unconfined two-phase in knowledge and recognized the need for full-scale
hydrocarbon jet fires, confined jet and pool fires (compartment experiments and further guidance, which have been addressed
fires), and understanding the value of area deluge for fire in numerous follow-up studies and other Joint Industry
mitigation. Projects. In this paper I review the considerable progress
made to address the questions raised above.
The Piper Alpha disaster was a tragic milestone in influencing Fire Hazards
the Safety Case regime [1]. Since then there have been a An accidental release of flammable hydrocarbon results in a
number of Industry sponsored initiatives, which have variety of fire consequences, dependent on the type and initial
contributed to significant advances in the science and state of the hydrocarbon. There are essentially three fluid pre -
understanding of the consequences of accidental hydrocarbon release conditions determining the "source term" for the fire
fires in offshore structures and the engineering of safe design. events:
While some uncertainties remain, the application of this 1. Liquid at ambient pressure, e.g. diesel, gasoline or oil tank,
knowledge, via a Hazards and Effects Management Process or 2. Liquid at pressure above ambient, e.g. separator contents,
appropriate Standard (e.g. ISO 13702:1999), is normally pumped crude oil, oil-well blow-out,
sufficient to improve design and operation of plant in a cost 3. Gas or vapour above ambient pressure, e.g. gas pipeline,
efficient way. vapour space in separator, gas blowout.
A short review of the fire hazard aspects of the Piper Complete definition of the source term then requires
Alpha disaster helps to focus on credible scenarios. Next to calculation of the outflow rate, and the physical form and
each event are some pertinent questions asked of the main fire dimensions of the release.
hazards and the effectiveness of possible protective barriers For example, a flammable liquid release from an
that could be brought to bear in safety studies and design: atmospheric storage tank will always result firstly in the
• The initial blast ruptured oil lines in the adjacent formation of a liquid pool, immediate ignition of which results
module. How severe was the resulting fire? To what in a transient fireball which burns back to a spray jet fire and
extent does the surrounding congestion and
burning pool.
confinement affect the severity? How toxic is the

A liquid release from pressurised storage initially leads to subject of ongoing research, discussed later. The main hazard
a spray jet. The spray would consist of both vapour and liquid from a free jet fire is thermal radiation to the surroundings. A
phases, in the form of droplets, if the liquid is volatile e.g. simple expression for the radiation flux received by an object
condensate, or simply droplets for non-volatile releases e.g. q is q=tVS, where t is the atmospheric transmissivity, V is the
stabilised crude oil. Mechanical and thermodynamic forces view factor of the flame surface and S is the flame surface
both play a role in causing the jet to break up in to droplets. emissive power. For most calculations the Shell jet flame
Just a few bar is required for atomisation of the jet [4] model [13,14] which represents the flame as a solid body - the
independent of any flashing processes that may be occurring. frustum of a cone radiating uniformly over its surface -
The effect this has on subsequent dispersion, degree of liquid adequately predicts the incident flux for safety engineering
rainout and fire behaviour is critical to an assessment of the purposes, and is considerably more accurate than single point
hazardous consequences, and hence the extent and type of source representations (e.g. in API RP521) for objects close to
protection system required. Jet and pool fires can occur on the flame.
immediate ignition after an initial transient fireball, but liquid The applicability of empirical models is however limited
rainout is unlikely if a released liquid, such as LPG, readily by the range of experimental data on which they are based.
flashes to vapour in the atmosphere. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) models have been
A pressurised gas release normally results in a improved in recent years but require considerable computer
dispersing gas jet, which may contain aerosols if the gas cools power, computer time and expertise. Some results however are
sufficiently during release to allow condensation of some or remarkably good [15]. Additional output from the model
all of the components. Entrainment of air normally is includes such important information as convective and
sufficient to re-evaporate the aerosol droplets. Ignition creates radiative components of heat flux within the flame and
the classic jet fire, typified by refinery flares. In extraordinary external radiation field, which have been validated by
cases the release of hot gas containing heavy components experiment for natural gas and propane gas flames.
could lead to condensation and agglomeration of droplets and
a rainout pool. Jet fire internal heat flux. An accidental ignited release is
likely to impact on adjacent objects. Thus the thermal loading
Jet Fires. A jet fire is a turbulent diffusion flame resulting is required to assess the risk of escalation by failure of
from the combustion of a fuel continuously released with pipework, or vessels, or structure. The object surface is
some significant momentum in a particular direction. In subjected to convection from the high velocity hot combustion
principle any pressurised fuel has the potential to generate a products and to radiation emitted by the flame. These
jet fire. components of total heat flux not only vary along and across
the flame but also vary in time due to the turbulent nature of
Jet flame stability. Not all releases give rise to stable flames. the jet and fluctuations in wind. Measurements [16] in sonic
A correlation [5,6] derived from extensive experimental data natural gas jet flames up to 10 kg/s indicate maximum time -
[7,8,9], shows that for unobstructed releases of natural gas averaged total heat fluxes to a cold surface of about 250
from orifices less than about 30mm diameter, certain drive kW/m2 split roughly equally between convection and
pressures will not sustain a stable flame. Thus accidental radiation. Hazard analyses often make use of these data
damage to small-bore high pressure fittings might reasonably extremes to predict the temperature rise of engulfed plant.
be expected not to result in a stable flame in open Good agreement with experiment is found if a gas velocity of
environments. In highly congested industrial plants however, 40 m/s and a flame kinetic temperature of 1200 o C are used in
the likelihood of flame stabilisation by impact on adjacent the heat transfer calculation. In some treatments [17] the
surfaces is high. convective heat transfer coefficient and flame radiative
The increased burning velocity associated with higher temperature can be derived experimentally and combined in
hydrocarbon gases results in greater stability and smaller physical models to predict the thermal load to fire engulfed
critical diameters. On the other hand, jet releases of liquid objects. An alternative approach is to use the direct
kerosene up to 2.5 kg/s are unable to sustain stable flames measurements obtained from large scale experiments taking
when released as a horizontal jet because of insufficient care not to extrapolate too far from the
droplet evaporation [10]. Similar self-extinction was evident in experimental conditions.
the crude oil jet releases in Phase 2 of the BFETS. [11,12]. Shell [18] and British Gas [19] carried out many tests
with propane, butane and mixtures of natural gas and butane at
Jet flame size and external heat flux. In typical plant flow rates up to 28 kg/s for the single component fuels and 2.5
environments free jet fires could be considered unlikely but, to kg/s for the mixtures. In general, the flames were more
date, most predictive models have been developed and radiative than natural gas and produced more smoke. They
validated for such fires, and it is worthwhile reviewing the were also more buoyant and wind affected. For butane
progress made. Impacting and confined fire behaviour is the concentrations up to 40% the flame properties were similar to

those of natural gas. Davenport [10] carried out similar tests pool. Wind tilt drags the flame beyond a confining wall
with kerosene/natural gas jet fires. The fires were even more boundary and can bring the fire closer to downwind objects.
radiative than with butane mixtures, but pure kerosene releases Two distinct regions are created in the flame zone - a region of
could not sustain flames under the test conditions. Measured continuous burning and a smokier region where flame appears
time-averaged heat fluxes to a cold surface reached about 300 intermittently. Empirical models [21,22,23] usually represent
kW/m2 at high levels (60-80% by mass) of either butane the flame as a tilted cylinder which take into account these two
or kerosene. regions by assigning different factors for smoke obscuration.
In Phase 2 of the BFETS [3] the jet fire The external radiation field is calculated using a view factor
characteristics of unconfined releases of crude oil were and flame surface emissive power as before.
measured. Releases of crude oil and natural gas consisted of Relatively little information is available on the
separate fluid streams, which combined several diameters thermal loading from pool fires to engulfed objects. However,
downstream in the jet fire. The two nozzle arrangement was it is known that radiative heat transfer dominates (about 80%)
chosen to provide a convenient way of varying the gas-oil and that flame temperatures reach about 1000o C. The internal
ratio (GOR) and is close to but not strictly representative of a heat flux of kerosene or JP-4 pool fires is around 150 kW/m2
release of live crude, such as could occur in a well blowout. but increases to about 250 kW/m2 for large LNG or LPG
Some general conclusions can be drawn from these pool fires.
tests. The size of crude oil jet fires was similar to other
hydrocarbon liquid and two phase jet fires. All the flames
Confined fires. The behaviour of jet and pool fires can be
were highly radiative, with maximum time-averaged surface
significantly modified when walls and ceilings, such as the
emissive powers from 203 to 409 kW/m2 . Increasing the gas
boundaries of offshore compartments, confine the fire. In
content in crude oil increased the emitted radiation. The
fraction of heat radiated in the mixed releases reached about addition, hot combustion products rapidly fill ceiling spaces
0.3 consistent with other 2-phase jet flames. Increasing the gas and impose fire loadings on any objects located there. If the
content in crude oil increased the incident heat flux on an compartment openings are small or the release rate of fuel is
impinged pipe object by increasing both the radiative and high, the fire may not be able to entrain enough air for
convective components. The radiative component was, complete combustion inside the compartment. The fire is then
however, always higher at the rear of the object. Spot said to be ventilation controlled. As well as the hazards
maximum heat fluxes were around 350 kW/m2 , similar to already discussed, additional ones exist [24]. These include
other mixed releases. external flaming from compartment openings, impaired
Further experimental studies were carried out as a visibility along escape routes, increased CO hazard, explosion
separate Joint Industry Project [20] to quantify the hazards hazard from unburnt fuel if the fire terminates due to lack of
posed by realistic releases of simulated “live” crude oil oxygen, and possible increased thermal loading to objects due
containing gas and water. Live crude was prepared from to greater amounts of hot soot. Recent large-scale studies
stabilized crude oil commercial propane and natural gas. [25,26] have confirmed that fire global stoichiometry si a
GORs of 500 to 1500 scf/bbl at 30 to 100 barg were studied. useful correlating parameter. Gaseous propane jet fires
Releases of about 5 kg/s were maintained by over-pressuring burning in slightly fuel rich conditions represent a worst case
the storage vessel with natural gas. The resultant horizontal jet because they combine high heat release with enhanced soot
flames were about 20m long quite buoyant and very smoky. In production. The heat flux was about 50% radiative in the
a second phase of the project water was injected into the impingement zone of the propane jet totalling about 350
release stream to examine the effect on flame radiation and kW/m2 in near stoichiometric propane jets. The heat flux well
stability. Small amount of water had little effect on the jet fire,
away from the impingement zone was nearly 100% radiative.
larger amounts dramatically reduced smoke production and
Pool fires, on the other hand, are more severe in over-
increasing the water content still further took the flame to the
ventilated conditions. When ventilation controlled the pool fire
point of extinction. This project confirmed that jet fires from
burning rate is governed by the size of the ventilation opening
live crude releases are not more severe than other mixed
hydrocarbon releases. The flames were shorter and more and the evaporation rate tends to drop to match the lower
buoyant than those investigated in the BFETS Phase 2 study, burning rate. Thus the pool fire limits itself to the slightly
but the heat fluxes were similar. under-ventilated regime. Persaud et al [27] show that the effect
of insulation on the compartment walls is to raise the average
Pool Fires. A pool fire is a turbulent diffusion fire burning smoke temperature by 200-400o C.
above a pool of vaporising liquid fuel where the fuel vapour The results of Phase II of the BFETS project, carried
has very low initial momentum. The vaporisation of high out at SINTEF NBL, confirmed and extended these findings to
condensate jet and pool fires and larger scales [28,29]. For jet
boiling point fuels is controlled mainly by radiative feedback
fires it was found that there was no significant dependency of
to the pool surface. The hazard effects are controlled largely
scale. Gas temperatures were between 1100 and 1300o C.
by the size of the pool and the fuel type. These determine the
Maximum heat fluxes were 170 kW/m2 for fuel rich jet flames
mass burning rate and the size of the visible flame above the

and 250 kW/m2 for fuel lean flames. There was no significant tests to enable modelling of the fire behaviour and
difference between propane and condensate jet fires except extrapolation to offshore conditions.
within the impingement zone. The hot spot on the ceiling in In over-ventilated compartments, in which excess
the propane gas jet fires was replaced by a cold spot for the combustion air is present, the situation is further complicated
condensate jet fires. by the fact that soot oxidation only becomes important at the
A weak overall dependency on fuel air ratio was higher temperatures which are readily attained in the insulated
observed for jet fires, but localised effects were significant. In compartment. Since soot plays an important role in radiation
very confined regions, hot spots can occur whereby radiation heat transfer any process which changes the soot concentration
is “trapped”. Temperature rises can be rapid and, in these tests, can have a profound effect on the fire dynamics. The
high enough to melt the steel surface of pipe obstacles. These experimenter measures extremely high temperatures and heat
localised effects appear to require good local mixing of air and fluxes in over-ventilated pool fires, for example. The air-rich,
fuel and radiative feedback from nearby large hot surfaces. hot surroundings promote partial soot oxidation, thereby
Although the degree of congestion was generally not typical of releasing more heat and increasing the radiation transfer from
offshore modules, future application of techniques, such as hot soot particles. This process appears to become important
computational fluid dynamics with representative combustion when smoke temperatures reach about 1200-1300o C. In a non-
chemistry, should unravel some of these complexities. insulated compartment the smoke temperatures may never be
A split vent of equal area to a single vent greatly high enough for soot oxidation to “switch on” and the
increased the air flow to the fire, producing a “chimney” escalation to higher temperatures may not occur. The pool fire
effect, and simple models based on the “½ A root H” would then be expected to burn like a pool fire in the open.
approximation for air inflow are invalid for these geometries. Another effect of insulation is to mask some of the
The release pressure of condensate had a large effect more subtle influences of stoichiometry or scale on the
on the temperature rise of the impinged object. At low temperatures reached in ventilation controlled jet fires.
pressure, large droplets with long burn out times were Decreasing the stoichiometry by reducing the vent area at a
generated, giving a “cold” spot on ceiling. At high pressure, given scale has little effect on the smoke layer temperature in
atomisation occurred producing smaller droplets with short the insulated compartment (both in practice and theoretically
burn out times and no cold spot. over the range studied), but is expected to reduce the
The fire stoichiometry of burning pools was temperature somewhat when the insulation is removed.
controlled by the air inflow and not by the pool fire burning Increasing the scale at a fixed vent size will have no effect on
rate, confirming earlier observations. There was no difference the smoke temperature in a fully insulated compartment, as
in burning rate between pool fires on water or steel. Fuel observed, but will lead to reduced smoke temperatures in a
controlled pool fires at large scale burnt at the same rate as in non-insulated compartment, because the heat (radiation) losses
the open (for the condensate used this was 0.065 kg/m2 /s) and from the boundaries must increase with scale due to the larger
produced rapid temperature rises (up to 1300o C), and high heat surface area over which losses can occur. Quantification of
fluxes (up to 320 kW/m2 ) in the insulated compartments. these global changes is readily achieved by application of
Combustion of soot is thought to play an important role under physical models, for example [27], that properly account for
these conditions. If the pool fire became ventilation controlled, the heat and mass balances.
the heat release rate fell, the evaporation rate of fuel dropped, In summary, the general level of understanding of
and all the available air entrained into the compartment was compartment fire behaviour is now sufficiently good to assess
consumed. The fire stoichiometry settled in the slightly fuel most compartment fire hazards with some confidence for
rich regime and unburnt pyrolysis products burnt at the vent. modules having simple geometries. In particular jet fire and
For sound practical reasons the confined fire rig was pool fire temperatures, smoke layer temperatures, heat fluxes
fully insulated during all tests. Offshore modules do not have to surfaces within the module, the extent of external flaming
the same degree of insulation. Insulation of the test rig results and internal impingement zones can be reasonably well
in higher final temperatures of the boundaries of the predicted. Estimates for CO concentrations in the smoke layer
compartment and higher smoke temperatures. A true steady are also available based on empirical relationships to
state was not achieved in any test because the final measured temperature and flame stoichiometry. Future improvement in
wall and ceiling temperatures were not equal, or even similar model development should focus on evaluating the
to, the final measured smoke temperature. Nevertheless, the combustion product emissions from module vents, particularly
walls of a non-insulated compartment with radiation loss alone for CO and smoke concentrations which are both treated
from the outer surfaces would be expected to be cooler by a simplistically in most models at present.
factor of about 1.2 in absolute temperature. This extra
radiation loss feeds back to the smoke temperature, which in Control and Mitigation
turn changes the stoichiometry and hence the chemistry and Water based systems. Water spray systems are routinely
the heat release within the compartment. These feedback installed on offshore platforms for mitigation of fire hazards,
processes are complex, but not intractable, and it is reasonable but their effectiveness has only been assessed in recent years
to assume that sufficient information was generated by these [30]. A study by Shell and British Gas [31] has shown at

realistic scale that a dedicated deluge system (10.2 replicate the balance of radiative and convective heat transfer,
litres/m2/min) cannot be relied upon to prevent excessive high gas velocities and thermal shock that are major factors
temperature rise when a vessel (2m diameter, 8m long) is with regard to the performance of passive fire protection in
subjected to a high velocity gas jet fire (3 kg/s). The high actual fires and in particular, jet fires resulting from high
velocity jet readily penetrated the water film. High pressure pressure gas leaks.
water from a monitor was however more effective if aimed Following early development work by Shell Research
directly at the impinged area. [36] and SINTEF NBL [39], the UK Health and Safety
The same vessel was used to determine the effectiveness Executive, in conjunction with the Norwegian Petroleum
of a commercial directed deluge system in protecting against Directorate, set up a working group to examine jet fire testing
flashing liquid propane jet fires of various sizes and separation and to work with industry to develop a standard jet fire test
distances [32]. The deluge system was designed to deliver procedure for passive fire protection materials. Through the
10.2 litres/m2 /min in accordance with NFPA 15 but actually Jet Fire Test Working Group the early work evolved into a test
delivered 17.6 l/m2 /min, more in accordance with the design procedure, the Interim Jet Fire Test for Determining the
rules in reference [33]. It was found that a typical deluge on an Effectiveness of Passive Fire Protection Materials [40] and
subsequent Jet Fire Resistance Test [41], which reproduces the
LPG tank could not be relied upon to maintain a water film
key conditions of a large-scale (3kg/s) natural gas jet fire using
over the whole tank surface in an impinging jet fire. Where the
a 0.3 kg/s propane gas jet flame. This test is now widely used
water film breakdown results in a dry patch the tank wall can
to assess PFP coatings and systems.
reach temperatures above 120 o C but the rate of temperature
CFD modelling is becoming increasingly important
rise will be significantly less than the unprotected case by a for predicting the heat fluxes to vessels or test specimens. A
factor of 1.5 to 5.8. Releases close to the LPG tank can result recent example to predict the detailed structure of the flames
in liquid propane impinging the target vessel with local low in the Jet Fire Test and large-scale jet fires is given in
temperatures and icing on the vessel wall. High temperature reference [42]. The model enables the comparison of difficult -
gradients are created to the surrounding hotter areas. to-measure properties such as gas velocities and temperatures
A similar experimental study [34] was carried out to test at any point in the flow-field and radiative and convective heat
whether the “Tentative Rules”, originally advocated to protect transfer. The CFD model can then be used to optimise the
against pool fires, would protect a 1.2m diameter, 4.5m long design of new jet fire tests.
LPG tank against a 2 kg/s flashing liquid propane jet fire.
Similar conclusions were drawn and some extra design Vessel blow-down. Current industry guidance, e.g. API 521,
guidance has been recommended [35]. does not consider severe fires particularly impinging jet fires
Area deluge typical of the arrangement used offshore has that could lead to catastrophic failure of vessels before the
been shown [5] and confirmed by the BFETS Project [28,29] inventory has been safely removed. The efficacy of blow-
to extinguish compartment jet fires in the test conditions used. down systems can be placed under increased scrutiny now that
This however may be undesirable because of the risk of fire boundary conditions and better understanding of the fluid
further ignition and explosion. Early application of water thermodynamics during de-pressurisation are available. An
deluge while the compartment was still relatively cool did not example of such an analysis is summarised here but there is a
extinguish the jet fire, and the average smoke layer clear opportunity for extending the knowledge more generally.
temperature fell to below 200o C within 2 minutes. The main A major concern though is that there is no
mechanism of extinction is thought to be one of inerting the experimental validation.
entrained air by steam. The extent of hot surroundings play an Assume an equilibrium mixture of methane, ethane,
important part in determining the steam loading and further propane and butane at 120 bar and 45o C in a vessel 5m long
work is necessary to develop safety engineering guidance. by 1m diameter and designed to blow-down to 7 bar in 15
Pool fires do not extinguish in the same deluge conditions, but minutes. The vessel is 30% full. When engulfed by a typical
the fires are effectively controlled and burn at reduced rates. natural gas jet fire of 150 kW/m2 internal radiative flux and 40
External flames became intermittent in the case of fuel- m/s velocity gas at 1400o C, calculations using the
controlled fires, but were otherwise extinguished and were BLOWFIRE code, an extension of the BLOWDOWN code
replaced by copious smoke and steam. [43, 44] suggest that the vessel will remain intact. If the
mixture concentration is changed such that the equilibrium
Passive fire protection systems. Passive fire protection pressure is 30 bar, then the vessel is predicted to fail in 9
coatings can guarantee effective protection against offshore minutes in the same fire. Clearly a different blow-down
fires, if they are applied correctly and tested in realistic fire strategy is required in this case. Similarly, in a fully developed
conditions [36,37]. Passive fire protection materials have compartment fire, the 30 bar vessel is predicted to fail in 6
traditionally been specified on the basis of fire resistance tests minutes, but the 120 bar vessel again survives.
carried out in a furnace operating under time-temperature
conditions defined by a fire curve [38]. Such tests do not

Sub-sea isolation valves. The need for a sub-sea isolation 6. Chamberlain, G.A.: “Evaluating offshore fires and
valve (SSIV) in a pipeline can be based on an analysis of the explosions”, Proceedings of the International Conference
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Time (s) for mass flow > 8 kg/s

(34'' pipe)
2 0 0
H o l e d i a m e t e r / m m

1 5 0 200


1 0 0 400 600
200 800

600 1 0 0 0
1 4 0 0
5 0 400
1 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 1 6 0 0 1 8 0 0
800 1 4 0 0
600 1 0 0 0
200 400 600 800
200 400
0 0

1 0 0 2 0 0 3 0 0 4 0 0 5 0 0 6 0 0
Length of pipe to SSIV (inc. riser)/m

Figure 1 - Contour map of time for which release is greater than 8 kg/s as a function of hole diameter and length of closed pipe section.