The LNG market has been extremely dynamic and exciting in the last 15 years, driven largely by the need to reduce carbon emissions. In that time, there has been a whole range of new innovative ideas, such as floating storage and regasification units (FSRUs), floating storage units (FSUs), gravity-based structures (GBSs) and floating LNG (FLNG) units, all of which are now fully developed and are implemented worldwide. We have also witnessed the introduction of game-changing new technologies through novel applications that utilise existing technologies, particularly for the storage and distribution of small quantities of LNG.
RINA Consulting has found that small scale LNG niche projects have been boosted either by the power generation or the ship fuelling markets (see Figures 1 and 2).
LNG safety record
The LNG industry, in particular regasification terminals and associated marine transport, are known to have an extremely good safety record. With the exception of the 1944 accident in Cleveland, US, which was due to materials that are not in use anymore, there has been approximately 13 accidents recorded in regasification terminals and peak shaving facilities. None of these accidents have affected the population around the facility. Three of five cases that caused fatalities or injuries to operators occurred during maintenance operations, and the remaining two were due to gas leaks. The lessons learnt from these cases (e.g. characteristics of materials to be used, better understanding of rollover, positioning of tank outlet nozzles) have made plants intrinsically safer. However, the occurrence of accidents during maintenance operations within LNG plants indicates the importance of and need for operators training with a specific focus on the specialist requirements of these LNG installations. This is even more relevant with the development of small scale LNG facilities, which are frequently located in harbour areas. As these areas tend not to be industrialised, the availability of experienced and trained personnel is not necessarily granted.
Figure 1. D’Appolonia LNG project counter.
LNG training needs to be specialised to reflect the particular requirement of the industry. For example, cryogenic liquefied gas can cause cold burns to personnel and embrittlement of materials. If it comes in contact with water, the rapid phase transition (RPT) phenomenon would result causing a sudden change of state, which is still not fully modelled and can generate shock waves. LNG evaporation causes a cloud of gas that remains heavier than air. Until sufficiently heated by air entrainment, this gas remains at a low level and can penetrate underground passages, etc. This means that precautions must be taken during startup and shutdown of LNG plants, as temperature changes could lead to excessive thermal stresses. Even a simple operation, such as the loading of material into storage tanks, requires specific attention to prevent the rollover phenomenon (a sudden mixing of layers of LNG at lighter and heavier density causing a sudden evaporation). The continuous generation of a certain amount of gas due to heat exchange (boil-over) requires proper management. The list goes on and underlines the importance of specialist operator training.
The importance of operator training is recognised and explicitly required by standards (e.g. EN 1473 and NFPA 59A). NFPA 59A, Annex D, recommends that all personnel shall be trained in the characteristics and hazards of LNG, including “low temperatures, flammability of mixtures with air, odourless vapour, boil-off characteristics, and reaction to water and water sprays.” EN 1473 explicitly links the training to the Major Accident Prevention Policy and to the European Directives on major hazards control (requirements should be based on the requests of the so called ‘Seveso II’ European Directive (Council Directive 96/82/EC of 9 December 1996 on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances) and the risk assessment of explosive atmospheres required by the ‘ATEX’ Directive).
Figure 2. D’Appolonia LNG projects by country.
In addition to the basic training on LNG characteristics and specific hazards, operators can now be trained on the specific requirements of the plant they are working on. In this way, they become efficient, effective and familiar with the operation of the LNG terminal facilities. These training programmes can also include classroom training, on the job training and practical experience in a similar LNG facility.
The theoretical part of the training should include topics such as the following:
- Properties of LNG.
- LNG fire hazards and behaviours of LNG fire.
- Design concept and process flow of LNG terminal.
- Cryogenic material of construction used in the LNG terminal.
- Unloading facilities and operation.
- Storage tanks facilities and operation.
- Boil-off gas (BOG) management.
- Low pressure and high pressure pump operation.
- Vaporisation facilities operation and metering system operation (where present).
- Utility equipment operation.
- Control system operation and principles.
- Instrumentation, automation and maintenance of instruments.
- Maintenance aspects of critical equipment.
- Risk management of operation and maintenance.
- Risk assessment and environmental considerations.
- Safety critical equipment.
- Fire protection system.
- Pre-commissioning, commissioning and startup principles.
This theoretical training, although essential, cannot be considered to be sufficient in order to ensure the safe operation of a plant. This is particularly the case for a new facility built in an area where no other similar plants or industrial facilities are present, as there will almost certainly be a lack of personnel with the previous practical experience in plant operation.
In this context, training efficiency, particularly for newly installed facilities, can be enhanced by using a virtual reality simulation, which has become a power tool for technical skills. This tool, able to simulate any hands-on experience in a risk-free environment, is highly recommended for the training of LNG personnel.
Figure 3. Interactive 3D environment – Familiarisation Scenario.
Some of the activities that can be practised and tested within a 3D virtual environment replicating an LNG facility include the following:
- Virtual visits for familiarisation.
- Routine operations.
- Operating and maintenance procedures.
- Fault-based scenarios.
- Health, safety and environment (HSE) best practices.
- Emergency procedures (including handling of fire, leaking equipment, damaged items and injuries).
Figure 3 provides an example of an immersive 3D virtual environment taken from an actual virtual reality training program. It shows the view presented to the operator as he or she navigates within the gas processing plant.
This training can often be arranged on an eLearning basis, either individually, or as a team, and can be instructor-led depending on the specific training objectives.
The screenshot in Figure 4 provides a view of the interface that simulates the operation of a valve in the plant.
RINA Consulting is delivering this type of advanced training technology, providing the realistic features that contribute to the creation of a virtual environment that looks like and behaves like the real world. The company’s technical team plays a fundamental role both in the generation of the virtual environment and in the design of the training contents, which is of the utmost importance if a truly engaging training environment is to be created.
Figure 4. Interactive 3D environment – Simulation of valves operation.
In conclusion, the LNG market is in an exciting period of change. The growth in small scale LNG plants and the thrust towards LNG as bunkering fuel will lead to an increase in the overall number of plants. Consequently, as an industry we will see growth in the requirements for trained operators. As LNG operations are quite complex, to continue in a tradition of safe operations it is crucial that this new generation of operators will be well trained and capable of responding to all situations through advanced training solutions.
Read the article online at: https://www.lngindustry.com/liquid-natural-gas/12072017/technology-and-training/