Revised fire consequence models for offshore Quantitative risk

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Revised fire consequence models for offshore Quantitative risk

    Revised Fire Consequence Models for Offshore

    Quantitative Risk Assessment

    1Ravichandra Pula, Faisal I. Khan*, Brian Veitch, and Paul R. Amyotte

    Faculty of Engineering & Applied Science

    Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John’s, NL, Canada. A1B 3X5

     1Department of Chemical Engineering

    Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada. B3J 2X4


    Offshore oil and gas platforms are well-known for their compact geometry, high degree of congestion, limited ventilation and difficult escape routes. A small mishap under such conditions can quickly escalate into a catastrophe. Among all the accidental process-related events occurring offshore, fire is the most frequently reported. It is therefore necessary to study the behavior of fires and quantity the hazards posed by them in order to complete a detailed quantitative risk assessment. While there are many consequence models available to predict fire hazards varying from point source models

    to highly complex computational fluid dynamic models only a few have been validated

    for the unique conditions found offshore.

    In this paper we have reviewed existing fire models and selected the ones most suitable for offshore conditions. The selected models were further revised by including the impact of wind, overpressure caused by hot combustion gases and by adopting a grid-based approach to enable better modeling and analysis of radiation impact. A comparison of the performance of the revised models with a commercial software package being used for offshore risk assessment was also carried out and is discussed in the paper.

    Keywords: Fire modeling, Quantitative risk assessment, Offshore risk modeling.

    * Corresponding author; Phone: 709-737-8939, Fax: 709-737-4042,


1. Introduction

    An offshore oil and gas platform is usually divided into a number of modules for operations such as separation, water injection, high-pressure compression, and seawater de-aeration, as well as local and main electrical rooms and an accommodations block. Most of these modules are highly congested with the presence of obstacles in the form of pipelines and other equipment necessary for process operations. The level of risk in such conditions, while operating in a remote and harsh marine environment, is very high.

    A study by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE, 1996 and Mansfield et al., 1996a) showed that process and structural failure incidents account for almost 80 % of the risk to personnel offshore. Potential risks offshore include: blowouts, riser and process leaks, fires, explosions, vessel collisions, helicopter accidents, dropped objects, structural failures, and capsizing. An examination of incidents such as Piper Alpha in the

    North Sea and the P-36 production semi-submersible off Brazil reveals that most

    offshore incidents are in fact process-related.

    An offshore development can never be completely safe, but the degree of inherent safety (Mansfield et al., 1996b and Khan & Amyotte, 2002) can be increased by selecting the optimum design in terms of the installation/field configuration, layout, and operation. This is done in an attempt to reduce the risk to a level that is As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP) without resorting to costly protective systems. This requires the identification and assessment of major risk contributors, which could be accomplished using Quantitative Risk Assessment (QRA) techniques early in the project life cycle. If a structured approach of identification and assessment is not carried out early in the project, it is possible that the engineering judgment approach will fail to identify all of the major risks, and that loss prevention expenditures will be targeted in areas where there is little benefit. This may result in expensive remedial actions later during the life of the project (Vinnem, 1998).

    Quantitative risk assessment (Khan et al., 2002) involves four main steps: hazard identification, consequence assessment, probability calculation, and finally risk


    quantification. Consequence assessment, which is central to QRA, involves quantification of the likely loss/damage due to any possible eventuality. Among the various possible loss-producing events in offshore production facilities, fire is the most frequently reported process-related incident (Chamberlain, 2002). A fire may result in anything from no damage/loss, up to catastrophic damage/loss, depending upon the fire characteristics (type of fire, mode of occurrence and potential of escalation). Therefore, fire consequence modeling is a key element of consequence analysis in quantitative risk assessment. Even though mathematical models to study the characteristics of process-related fires in offshore process facilities are reported in the literature, only a few have been validated for offshore conditions. Considering the importance of fire modeling in

    offshore QRA and the available knowledge gap, the current work was undertaken with the objective of revising available fire models for offshore operations.

    The work is ongoing and has been planned to enhance existing knowledge of fire consequence modeling through the following advancements:

    ; Fire characteristics: Available fire models have been reviewed and the most

    appropriate ones selected and revised by incorporating wind and confinement

    effects which are unique to offshore process platforms.

    ; Overpressure impact: The importance of overpressure caused due to fire in a

    confined or semi-confined space has been highlighted by Wighus (1994).

    However, there appears to have been no attempt to quantify this phenomenon. In

    the present work, a model has therefore been developed to study the overpressure

    impact. This model is embedded in the basic fire consequence modeling

    methodology described herein.

    ; Radiation modeling: Instead of point/area modeling, a grid-based approach has

    been employed to enable better modeling and analysis of radiation impact at

    different locations, the impact of obstacles, and the effects of flame impingement.


2. Current Status of Fire Consequence Modeling

    There are many predictive models available for the assessment of fire consequence hazards varying from point source techniques to more complex

    computational fluid dynamic (CFD) calculations. Such predictive models can be categorized as follows into: semi-empirical models, field models, integral models and zone models.

2.1 Semi-empirical models

    2.1.1 Point source models

    Point source models (Lees, 1996) do not predict the flame geometry, but rather assume that the source of thermal radiation is a single point in the flame and that a selected fraction of the heat of combustion is emitted as radiation. These models generally over-predict the heat flux for near-field conditions; however, they can be used reliably beyond approximately five pool diameters from the flame. The use of point source models within offshore structures is limited.

2.1.2 Solid flame models

    Solid flame surface emitter models assume a fire to be a solid flame with heat being radiated from the surface of the flame (Johnson et al., 1994, Cracknell et al., 1994, and Rew et al., 1997, 1998). They rely mainly on correlations for flame geometry estimation, average surface emissive power (SEP) of the flame, atmospheric transmissivity and view factors. The various surface emitter models differ in their methods of assessing atmospheric attenuation of the heat flux, view factors, and the SEP. Well-validated solid flame models provide a better prediction of flame geometry and external thermal radiation for offshore fires than is possible with point source models.

    In general, semi-empirical models are task specific, are designed to address specific hazard consequences, and incorporate correlations fitted to large-scale experimental data. These models are mathematically simple and can be easily computer programmed with short run times.


2.2 Field models

    Field models are CFD models (Johnson et al., 1997) based on numerical solutions of the Navier-Stokes equations of fluid flow (i.e. a description of the conservation of mass, momentum and scalar quantities in flowing fluid, by means of a set of partial differential equations.) To predict fire behavior, these models incorporate various sub-models to account for the physical and chemical processes occurring in a fire. All such models require validation against experimental data before using them as predictive tools to estimate the hazards of open or compartment fires. Limiting factors in the applicability of these models are related to high CPU demands and user expertise.

2.3 Integral models

    Integral models are a compromise between semi-empirical and field models, and are formulated mathematically in a manner similar to field models. Thus, integral models also solve the conservation of mass and momentum equations and contain sub-models for combustion and heat transfer. The mathematical treatment is simpler than in field models, thus reducing computer run times. Some integral models that have been validated against laboratory-scale experimental data are available (Wilcox, 1975 and Vachon & Champion, 1986).

2.4 Zone models

    Zone models (Chamberlain, 1996 and Chamberlain & Persaud, 1997) divide a module or a compartment into a number of zones that are assumed physically distinct, but coupled by empirical heat and mass transfer equations. Even though this is a traditional approach to model compartment fires, very few zone models have been validated quantitatively for offshore applications. Zone models have wide applicability and validity for the purposes for which they are designed, i.e. buildings with reasonably small rooms and predominantly small vertical vents. However, they encounter severe limitations in modeling large offshore compartments. Further research in this area of modeling would be beneficial.


    Provided they are used within their range of applicability, validated semi-empirical solid flame models are well-suited for the prediction of heat fluxes to objects outside the flame. These models have been successfully used for fire consequence analysis and further, for QRA (Rew et al., 1997, 1998, Johnson et al., 1994, and Cracknell et al., 1994). However, they are not directly applicable to the study of fire characteristics in offshore facilities without revision by incorporation of sub-models as described in the current work.

3. Characteristics of Offshore Fires

    The characteristics of a fire depend on factors such as the type of fuel, release conditions, local geometry, ventilation, and air access. Potential fuels handled offshore include crude oil, natural gas, and gas containing condensate and water all of which are

    continuously produced, processed, separated, dried and stored. These fuels pose a significant amount of risk to personnel, equipment and the environment.

    Fires on process plants onshore differ from offshore mainly in the level of confinement. The harsh marine environment offshore dictates the need for process areas to be enclosed and shielded against the weather. It is well-established that a fire inside a confined volume develops differently from an open fire. The restriction in air supply is often the limiting factor with respect to fire size, and a severely under-ventilated fire environment can develop. Burning of hydrocarbons under such conditions may be more intense than in open fires, as the mixture of air and fuel may be closer to an ideal stoichiometric mixture. Additionally, heat losses from the fire to the surroundings are reduced, leading to higher flame temperatures.

    Major hazards associated with compartment fires include those normally associated with open fires, such as external thermal radiation and direct flame impingement on objects. In addition, other hazards exist due to the effect of confinement (Chamberlain, 1996 and Chamberlain & Persaud, 1997). Some of these additional hazards to personnel are impaired visibility along escape routes due to excess smoke,


    toxicity from the release of carbon monoxide due to incomplete combustion, and overpressure impacts from the hot combustion gases.

    Consideration of smoke and carbon monoxide generation requires detailed chemistry calculations which are outside the scope of the current paper. An important aspect mentioned above, and often neglected in fire modeling, is overpressure due to fires in confined spaces. With only small openings in a compartment, the highly energized combustion products released from these fires can generate pressures greater than ambient. This condition may further lead to an explosion creating blast wave and missile effects. Therefore, overpressure effects have to be taken into account when analyzing the hazards from offshore fires. In the present work we have developed a set of equations for overpressure quantification, which are discussed in detail in the following section.

4. Revised Fire Models

    Leakage or spillage of flammable material can lead to a fire that is triggered by any number of potential ignition sources (sparks, open flames, etc.). These fires are broadly classified into four types, namely pool fires, jet fires, fireballs and flash fires, irrespective of offshore or onshore conditions. The available models for each of the four fire types are now reviewed, and the ones most suitable for offshore environments are identified. Model revisions are also discussed.

4.1. Pool fires

    A pool fire is a turbulent diffusion fire burning above a pool of vaporizing hydrocarbon fuel where the fuel vapor has negligible initial momentum.

    The probability of occurrence of pool fires on offshore platforms is high due to continuous handling of heavy hydrocarbons onboard. Liquid fuel released accidentally during overfilling of storage tanks, rupture of pipes and tanks etc., forms a pool on the surface, vaporizes, and upon ignition, results in a pool fire.


    Consequence models for pool fires in open spaces have been well-documented over the past few years (Rew et al., 1997, Pritchard & Binding, 1992, and Johnson, 1992). Although there has also been significant work done on compartment fires, most of these efforts deal with CFD modeling. There are also a few physically based zone models that have been developed for compartment fires (Chamberlain, 1996 and Chamberlain & Persaud, 1997).

    After reviewing the pool fire models available in the literature, the model described by Rew et al. (1997) was judged to be most suitable for offshore conditions, with the modifications described here. First, the effect of wind on flame length was accounted for by means of the work of Thomas (1963); second the effect of confinement in the form of overpressure generation was also considered. A brief description of the selected radiation model for pool fires (Rew et al., 1997) follows.

    Using a solid flame approach, a pool fire is modeled as a sheared elliptical cylinder which is assumed to radiate in two layers a high emissive power, clean

    burning zone at the base, with a smoky obscured layer above as shown in Figure 1. The radiation heat flux received by a target depends on the atmospheric transmissivity, geometric view factor and surface emissive power of the fire. The correlation used to quantify heat flux, q, is as follows:


    where is atmospheric transmissivity, VF is the geometric view factor and SEP is the

    average surface emissive power. The subscripts L and U refer to values calculated for the

    clear lower layer and smoky upper layer of the model flame shape, respectively.

    Atmospheric transmissivity is calculated using an algorithm developed by Wayne (1991). This calculation is based on the assumptions that the flame is a black body source at 1500 K, with CO and HO vapor being the only molecules that absorb 22

    radiation in the pathway between the fire and the target.


    The view factor (Davis & Bagster, 1989) represents the fraction of the overall heat output that strikes the target, and is dependent upon the geometry of both the flame and the target. For radiation from a finite flame to a differential receiving element, the view factor is given by the integral over the flame surface:

    coscos12VF (2) 2(ds

    where and are the angles between the normals to the fire surface and the 12

    receiving element, respectively, and d is the distance from the receiver point to the flame center.

    The surface emissive powers for the clear lower layer and the smoky upper layer are correlated separately as follows:


    kDm (4) ;SEPSEP1eL

    where Uis the unobscured ratio, SEP is the surface emissive power of smoke, is SEPR S

    the maximum surface emissive power of a fuel, is the extinction coefficient, and D is km

    the pool diameter.

    Overpressure calculation

    The model described so far predicts only the radiation heat flux received by a target object. A model for the estimation of overpressures generated by highly energized combustion gases in a compartment is given by a combination of the ideal gas law and radiative heat transfer equations with the following assumptions:

    a) negligible convective heat transfer,

    b) ideal gas behavior of the combustion gases,

    c) small compartment openings, and

    d) linear distribution of temperature variation within the defined space.


    The algorithm for overpressure calculation is as follows:

    , using the surface emissive power 1. Calculate the flame temperature, Tflame

    estimated from the radiation model described earlier:

    44 (5) ;;Q TTradoflame

    2. Similarly calculate the temperature at one corner of the compartment, T, and cc

    using assumption d) above, estimate the average temperature of the gases, T: gases

    TTflamecc (6) Tgases2

    3. Finally, use the ideal gas law to estimate an approximate value of the

    overpressure, P, generated by the gases in the compartment: o

    nRTgases (7) P oVroom

    where Q is the heat emitted by the flame per unit area, is the Stefan-Boltzmann rad

    -824constant (5.669*10 W/mK), Tis the initial compartment temperature, n is the moles o

    of combustion gases in the compartment, R is the gas constant, and V is the volume room

    of the compartment under study.

    This overpressure impact model is embedded in the pool fire radiation model as well as in the other fire models described in subsequent sections.

4.2 Jet fires

    A jet fire is a turbulent diffusion flame resulting from the combustion of a fuel continuously released with some significant momentum in a particular direction.

    Jet fires represent a significant element of risk associated with major incidents on offshore installations, with the fuels ranging from light flammable gases to two-phase crude oil releases. Between horizontal and vertical jet fires, the former is the most dangerous because of the high probability of impingement on objects downwind (Carsley, 1994). This can lead to structural, storage vessel, and pipe-work failures, and can cause further escalation of the event (i.e. domino effect). The heat fluxes released


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