Planning for off-site emergencies in oil industrial zones

For oil terminals, off-site emergency measures are crucial to ensuring that they are crisis-ready and can meet any contingency seamlessly, comments Murali G

Murali G is head of HSE, GCC, at GP Global.
Murali G is head of HSE, GCC, at GP Global.

With regional governments focusing on economic diversification, the GCC states are witnessing the evolution of a number of new industrial zones. Globally, there are over 3,500 free zones; but the concentration of such specialised economic zones is among the highest in the GCC region.

Today, with the UAE having its headquarters of the World Free Zones Organisations in Dubai, there is greater impetus in developing more specialised zones that drive diverse economic activities. Across the region, guided by strategic vision statements announced by the leadership, industrial and manufacturing activity is gaining traction at these industrial zones. Many of them are oil industrial zones associated with ports in the GCC.

From a health, safety and environmental (HSE) perspective, it is important that these oil industrial zones incorporate global best practices to ensure losses are eliminated, or minimised. The zones must also be planned in such a manner that in the event of an emergency, quick measures can be taken to minimise any adverse impact, including environmental pollution.

Considering the fluidity of liquid products that are stored and radiation heat, which generates in the event of fire, it is important to take measures of control during off-site emergencies. These measures must be adopted right from the layout planning, design and implementation phases of oil industrial zones.

Given the proximity of many industrial zones to the sea (primarily planned for logistical reasons) it is not surprising that many oil storage terminals in these zones are abutting to sea. While space utilisation and logistical convenience are valid reasons for this, it is crucial that these terminals are fully prepared and ready for any emergency.

With the region placing the highest emphasis on HSE standards and authorities outlining clear policies and guidelines regarding the construction and maintenance of these terminals, most such oil storage terminals operate to high standards of HSE.

While onsite emergency planning and regular drills are conducted as a proactive approach by all terminals of this region, it is also important to plan for offsite emergencies, considering the failure of secondary containment. We come across many tank-farm pool fire incidents, which happen worldwide and cause the failure of RCC (reinforced cement concrete) dykes. It is quite obvious, the thermal expansion of concrete and reinforced steel are not the same.

If the oil storage terminal is not set by seafront, the burning oil will flow in land, as per the gradient of soil to low lying areas. This could cause further damage to other terminals, or industries in the region, and cascade the effect.

Often off-site emergency action means simple evacuation; let us assume a situation where the roads are flooded with oil, making emergency evacuation a difficult task, or an external issue to be resolved collectively.

It is also important to note that due to the low rainfall in the GCC, there are no inbuilt storm water drains, which otherwise will take out some of the oil runoff when dyke fails, enabling occupants to safely escape from the location.

All off-site emergencies can be managed through proper HSE planning and risk assessment. As the focus on industrialisation continues, it is essential for the authorities to consider all worst-case scenarios so as to ensure adequate provisions are made to manage any off-site emergency. The inclusion of drainage facilities in the zone layout and ensuring their execution are aspects that need to be integrated as an additional step to secure watertight HSE protocols.

As more industrial zones are incorporated, and the existing ones expanded, it is not just the responsibility of the government, or authorities to outline safety guidelines; it is up to the management as well as the team of HSE professionals to adhere to the guidelines and also undertake proactive and innovative approaches to promote health, safety and the environment.

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