Making Mobile Transloading Operations Safer
With the explosion of the number of companies doing mobile transloading today a question comes into mind – is it safe? There are large companies out there with the resources to make sure an operation is safe as possible with a deep bench of EH&S and regulatory professionals to pull in as resources. There are also companies who are small start ups with limited resources and knowledge of industry practices and regulations.
There are a number of avenues to run down when talking about safety such as the safety of the operator when doing his job. That can involve ergonomics when considering lifting & bending, falls from height concerns, rotating equipment hazards and so on. However, one area seems to stump both the large and small companies – stray currents (static electricity) which can lead to a potential explosion. As many transloading operations are moving Crude Oil and NGL’s that are all hydrocarbons and are flammables, a concern exist to eliminate any stray current that may exist to earth ground. With the products flowing at high rates trough piping and hoses the potential is there to build up a static charge. That charge has to be dissipated.
The methodology to ensure a truck is properly grounded and bonded has existed for some time. NFPA 77 gives a clear method statement to achieve this. However, one area of recommendation by the NFPA is often not considered in total:
Section 4.3.2 States that many tank cars are equipped with non-conductive bearings and non-conductive wear pads between the rail car and the chassis. It states the resistance from the tank car compartment to ground through the rails may not be low enough to prevent the accumulation of an electrostatic charge on the tank car body.
It goes on further to say bonding of the tank car body to the fill system piping is necessary for protection against static accumulation. It also states, because of the possibility of stray currents and to prevent an ignition hazard as a result of such currents, loading lines should be bonded to the rails. The Figure 6 diagram shows and example of how to properly bond the tank car.
With the industry in general grounding a car by simply connecting a clamp to a random point on the rail car the question remains – is it safe? Certainly the NFPA states this is a recommendation. So when weighting the risk that can exist for a fire or an explosion according to the NFPA, due to static accumulation, it seems its a risk that can be mitigated away as there are new systems on the market for mobile transloading units to solve the issue with little cost as compared to the cost of lives and property.
So, when thinking about a transloading system or operation, consider talking to companies who have your total interest in hand and understand not only how to build a transloading unit but also understand the risk associated with the process and can help ensure you have a system that works and is safe.