June 2, 2015

Shale Media Group: From Mining to Shale - Keeping Workers Safe

Strata Worldwide is a company known for their global safety products and technologies for the mining industry. However, similar needs in the shale oil and gas industry influenced the company to expand their services for these other energy sectors. Strata joined with Trolex, a UK-based company that provides safety monitoring solutions and gas detection equipment, to develop a safe, wireless gas detection system for drill rigs, called RigGuard™. This monitoring and early detection warning system is a completely wireless, battery-powered system that was developed specifically for oil and gas drilling rigs.

Shale drilling sites must rely on detectors to monitor various gases from a number of different sources that could potentially harm the site’s workers. For example, for many years hydrogen sulfide has been a well-known hazard for the industry. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “Hydrogen sulfide is a flammable, colorless gas that is toxic at extremely low concentrations. It is heavier than air, and may accumulate in low-lying areas. … Oil and gas wells can release hydrogen sulfide and expose workers to hydrogen-sulfide gas. The three best practices to help prevent injury and death are: active monitoring for hydrogen-sulfide gas; good planning; and training programs for workers.”

Aware of the potential risks, the industry has worked diligently to follow and go beyond these OSHA guidelines to keep its workers safe. However, the shale oil and gas industry is growing and companies must evolve with it in order to continue to keep workers safe. For instance, since 2010 the similar fatalities of nine oil-field workers over a four year period in the central US drew attention to a previously unknown, but potentially harmful situation on well sites. All nine workers were working alone in similar jobs near production tank hatches. Initially the explanation was thought to be natural causes. However, taking note of the similarities, the industry and government organizations began to investigate to see if there might be a connection and if there were, a way to protect workers. Though still under study, it is believed that these fatalities involved toxic fumes; however, hydrogen sulfide doesn’t look to be the cause, but rather benzene.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for these cases, “When hatches on production tanks are opened by a worker, a plume of hydrocarbon gases and vapors can be rapidly released due to the internal pressure present in the tank. These gases and vapors can include benzene, a carcinogen, as well as low molecular weight hydrocarbons such as ethane, propane, and butane. In addition to asphyxiation and explosive hazards, exposure to high concentrations of these low molecular weight hydrocarbons can have narcotic effects, resulting in disorientation, dizziness, light-headedness, and other effects.”

Situations with gases like these are reasons that companies, such as Strata Worldwide, develop new products like RigGuard™ to keep the industry safe. During drilling operations, RigGuard™ alerts drill rig personnel of up to 64 toxic and combustible levels of gases, including hydrogen sulfide (H2S), carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), oxygen (O2), and benzene (C6H6). “The gas detectors can monitor up to 64 different gases by simply switching out the e-Module sensor inside it. It then automatically reconfigures to the new gas. RigGuard™ is there to detect these harmful gases and provide an early warning for personnel to evacuate the area,” explained Rob Albinger, Product Manager, Strata Worldwide.

Prior to RigGuard™, other systems did transmit data wirelessly; however, the systems were electrically powered, which involved power cords and 110v plugs—items that aren’t always conducive on a drilling rig. The huge benefit of RigGuard™ is that it is completely, 100% wire and cable free. Strata Worldwide’s battery-powered  system leaves the units completely untethered and employs magnetic mounting, which means the sensors are immediately operational and could utilize numerous locations for set-up.

“Strata is committed to the design and development of technologies that are beneficial for today and that lay a foundation for improved solutions in the future. With a strong in-house engineering team driving product development, Strata has both the ability and the versatility to create specific solutions to meet customer and market demands across any industry. Such is the case with Strata’s completely wireless, battery operated, harmful gas monitoring system RigGuard™. RigGuard™ is not only an on-site warning system, but also an overall rig gas monitoring system,” informed Mike Berube, President and CEO, Strata Worldwide.

“The system’s quick and easy installation enables the sensors to be moved and relocated at will. Strata’s RigGuard™ gas detectors magnetically mount directly onto the drill rig. Each unit monitors the concentrations of a specific gas. If concentrations exceed the specified limits, the units emit warning alarms by flashing tri-colored LED lights and sounding audible horns at 90dB. The color of the LED light indicates which gas has been detected,” explained Albinger, who added, “Stainless steel sensor shields guard the sensor modules and provide additional protection. In addition, the sensors are powered through commercially available D-cell batteries, which last an average of 40 to 50 days.”

All data is automatically transmitted from the sensors over Strata’s secure StrataConnect™ networks to the operator’s RigGuard™ Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) display, which includes a central processor and screen. “The PLC display features a full color digital touch-screen display that requires no external antennas or data cables. The PLC is typically located in the central control room, also known as the doghouse, which is often on the rig or at a nearby office and is powered by a standard 120VAC. From here, operators can monitor all areas of the rig simultaneously in real-time and receive immediate notice of any alarms,” expounded Albinger.

Albinger pointed out, “Continuous gas concentration levels, battery-life, and warning alarms are also monitored. In addition, the information can securely be sent off-site to a central RigGuard™ Control Center by interfacing with the Internet via a cellular, satellite, or intranet connection to enable remote, mobile, and centralized data collection across multiple rigs and provide remote monitoring, alerting, historical data, and trending analysis.” This means the data on the PLC display could be viewed anywhere around the globe. Albinger says, “All site data, even from multiple sites, is collected and viewable in one central location. It can be displayed on any Internet-enabled device including computers, tablets, and smartphones. This capability is ideal for operations with multiple drill rigs in vastly remote locations.”

Strata has incorporated the RigGuard™ software with Google Maps, enabling operators the ability to manipulate the display to view everything from the exact locations of each individual rig sensor to the overall map location of all rigs. Sensor icons on the display are labeled according to the respective monitored gas and are color-coordinated according to their operating status. Albinger relayed, “As a design standard, sensors in normal operating mode appear green while those in alert mode appear red.”

“Strata Worldwide provides RigGuard™ as a turnkey, full service product for gas drilling operations. Certified Strata technicians will be on-site to install and configure the system as well as provide training for all personnel. Technicians are also available on-site to complete routine inspections, maintenance, and any potential system repairs,” expressed Albinger.

The system is also available on a rental basis too with no upfront costs. This includes all of the equipment, installation, set-up, and ongoing maintenance, which is provided by certified Strata personnel and is all a part of the one set monthly fee. “It works out being a completely hands-off, hassle free system for the customer,” relayed Albinger.

There is a lethal risk for a number of gases during drilling operations in the shale oil and gas industry. Early detection and warning is crucial to the safety of rig workers. Strata Worldwide will be exhibiting RigGuard™ at DUG East at booth 701. Albinger added, “We are going to have a fully operating demo system on display in the booth, showing the detectors registering rising gas levels, emitting warning alarms, and transmitting data to the central control unit. The software interface will be displayed on a screen for attendees to view.”