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Next Generation Environmentally Friendly Foam Technology for Offshore Oil and Gas Operations Next Generation Environmentally Friendly Foam Technology Fighting Oil Rig Fires in the 21st Century A More Environmentally Friendly Way to Combat Fire Choosing the Right Fire-Fighting Foam The Future of Firefighting on Oil Rigs

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Published by Global Business Media



Next Generation Environmentally Friendly Foam Technology for Offshore Oil and Gas Operations Next Generation Environmentally Friendly Foam Technology Fighting Oil Rig Fires in the 21st Century


A More Environmentally Friendly Way to Combat Fire Choosing the Right Fire-Fighting Foam The Future of Firefighting on Oil Rigs

Foreword 2 Tom Cropper, Editor

Next Generation Environmentally 3 Friendly Foam Technology Dr. Jan-Erik JĂśnsson and John-Olav Ottesen, Dafo Fomtec AB

A New Process

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Published by Global Business Media

Published by Global Business Media

Impacts on Health The Changeover to C6-Based Fluorosurfactants Years of Research

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Fighting Oil Rig Fires in the 21st Century

Publisher Kevin Bell

Versatile Performance

Tom Cropper, Editor

The Drive for Safety New Challenges and Threats

Editor Tom Cropper

Trends in Firefighting Foam

Business Development Director Marie-Anne Brooks

A More Environmentally Friendly Way to Combat Fire

Senior Project Manager Steve Banks


Jo Roth, Staff Writer

Advertising Executives Michael McCarthy Abigail Coombes

Alternative Products

Production Manager Paul Davies

Formulating Products for the Offshore Industry

For further information visit:

Choosing the Right Fire-Fighting Foam

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A Toxic Product?

Material in advertisements and promotional features may be considered to represent the views of the advertisers and promoters. The views and opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily express the views of the Publishers or the Editor. While every care has been taken in the preparation of this publication, neither the Publishers nor the Editor are responsible for such opinions and views or for any inaccuracies in the articles.


A More Environmentally Friendly Solution


James Butler, Staff Writer

Coping in Offshore Conditions

The Future of Firefighting on Oil Rigs


Tom Cropper, Editor

Next Generation Fluorine-Free Foams C6 Foams A New Generation of Products

References 14

Š 2015. The entire contents of this publication are protected by copyright. Full details are available from the Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. WWW.OFFSHORETECHNOLOGYREPORTS.COM | 1


Foreword A

SK ANY oil rig worker about their biggest fear

Traditional fire-fighting foams containing fluorine have

and they’ll come up with the same thing: fire.

been effective for decades, but their manufacture can

An oil rig is a perfect storm from a fire-fighting point

be extremely toxic. Fluorine-free products are more in

of view: a remote platform full of flammable liquids

tune with the marine environment, but until now they

in a tightly enclosed space. Extinguishing any fires

have had a reputation for low performance and have

quickly and effectively is a major challenge.

also struggled with toxicity. The latest, generation

Firefighting foam is vital for the type of fires likely to

of technologies, though, promise the ideal world

be faced in an offshore environment, but in recent

of environmentally friendly products which offer

years operators have been forced to walk a delicate

the best performance.

tight-rope. On the one hand the safety of crew is

We’ll also look at the multiple pressures coming

paramount. Foam needs to offer the necessary

onto oil and gas producers. With oil exploration

performance to ensure fires can be safely extinguished.

happening further from the shore and with safety a

On the other the environment is a growing concern

growing concern, there has never been a greater need

and, in this respect, traditional products have an

for effective fire-fighting equipment.

extremely poor track record.

Finally, we’ll look to the future. Development is

In the first article in this Report, Dr Jan-Erik Jönsson

moving forward rapidly. We’ll see how innovative

and John Olav Ottesen of Fomtec, one of the leading

technologies are being used to aid fire-suppressing

providers of fire-fighting foam and equipment,

strategies now and for the next few decades.

explain the latest developments affecting the industry. They show how the environment has dominated discussions in recent years and the challenge of finding an environmentally friendly alternative. Elsewhere in the Report, Jo Roth examines the transition to more environmentally friendly products.

Tom Cropper Editor

Tom Cropper has produced articles and reports on various aspects of global business over the past 15 years. He has also worked as a copywriter for some of the largest corporations in the world, including ING, KPMG and the World Wildlife Fund.



Next Generation Environmentally Friendly Foam Technology Dr. Jan-Erik Jönsson and John-Olav Ottesen, Dafo Fomtec AB

AFFF and AFFF AR have become the industry standards for protection against flammable liquid fires, with their proven track record of successful protection on large fires for almost a half century. New C6 Fluorotelomer Surfactant chemistry now secures the future for these successful and effective products.


HE RECENT years, the discussion regarding firefighting foams has predominantly been around environmental concerns. The discussions have been valid since there have been doubtful components used in firefighting foams. In the early days of AFFF-foams during the 1960s, fluorinated components like PFOS were greatly appreciated due to their high fire performance. Not infrequently the amount of PFOS could go up as high as 20-25% with excellent fire performance as a consequence – but with a huge cost. It turned out that components like PFOS is of greatest environmental concern since they are toxic and bioaccumulative – a sinister combination for life and nature. Today, PFOS is classified as a PBT-pollutant according to the Stockholm Convention. PFOS was produced by a method called electrochemical process, a not very specific process when it comes to molecular control. Surprisingly, foam concentrates that contained PFOS were allowed to be used until July 2011. Even more surprisingly, we still meet PFOS containing foam in appliances. Products containing PFOS are obliged to be destroyed by incineration.

A New Process

important feature besides their molecular control. They do not contain a fully fluorinated carbon chain (as with PFOS) but a part of the chain is un-modified with carbon and hydrogen atoms. Normally, two carbon atoms are kept with hydrogen and the rest of the chain is fluorinated. It is a different chemistry from PFOS and with completely other properties. This is a feature possible to achieve with telomerization but impossible to reach with electrochemical fluorination. It might seem a small change, but as we shall see, not insignificant. These kind of telomer produced fluorosurfactants have been produced with different numbers of fluorinated carbon atoms – from four up to ten. These substances do not contain or can be broken down to PFOS. However, if the number of fluorinated carbon is eight or higher, there is a possibility that they can break down to PFOA, another disputed substance very closely related to PFOS. Therefore, the industry decided to stop producing so called “long chain fluorinated surfactants” containing eight fluorinated carbon atoms or higher, effective from January 2015. The fluorinated surfactants containing less than eight carbon atoms (this means in reality six carbon atoms) are called short chain and are also referred to as C6-surfactants, C6-technology etc.

However, there are more ways to produce fluoro¬chemicals with accurate and controlled molecular design. Today a process called telomerization is used. In this process, the molecules are built up step by step and terminated when the desired chain length is accomplished – giving full control over the molecular design. These new type telomer produced fluorosurfactants have another WWW.OFFSHORETECHNOLOGYREPORTS.COM | 3


Short chain fluorinated surfactants have been extensively investigated in numerous health and safety tests. The conclusions from all investigations are that they possess a good environmental and safety profile when it comes to how the foam is applied, what fire performance is needed and post fire security.

The Changeover to C6-Based Fluorosurfactants

Impacts on Health Short chain fluorinated surfactants have been extensively investigated in numerous health and safety tests. The conclusions from all investigations are that they possess a good environmental and safety profile. They do not contain and cannot break down to PFOS, PFOA or similar homologues. They are low in toxicity and are not bioaccumulative. Nor are they, or their breakdown products, considered to be POP (Persistent Organic Pollutant). Without doubt, short chain fluorosurfactants with six or less fluoro-substituted carbons and with two “normal” carbons in the molecular chain exhibit several magnitudes times better environmental profiles. Unfortunately, not all authorities have understood this but still convey the message how dangerous these substances are and refer to investigations done with PFOS and PFOA. There are worrying examples where even national chemical authorities are doing this and do not bother to look at the latest investigations performed on C6-surfactants. Why are fluorosurfactants used in firefighting foams? Are there no alternatives that can do the job? There are no simple answers to such questions. It all depends on what is expected 4 | WWW.OFFSHORETECHNOLOGYREPORTS.COM

It is undisputable that fluorosurfactants greatly improve firefighting performance, and the prime reason is its ability to create what is known as film formation on liquid fuels. However, it is only on flammable liquids that fluorosurfactants are useful and facilitate firefighting. In most other cases the fluorosurfactants are of no use and in many cases are counterproductive. Film formation is a very effective feature when combating a fire. What it does is create a very thin and closely packed film layer on the surface of burning liquids. The film consists of a single molecular layer of the surfactants, about a 10 millionth of a millimetre thickness – invisible to the naked eye. This layer acts as a membrane that does not allow transportation of fuel vapours and oxygen through the membrane. This results in quicker control of a fire without having to cover it with a thick foam blanket. The key parameter to achieve film formation on hydrocarbon liquids is to have a surface tension of the foam solution that is very low, i.e. below at least 20 mN/m. With such low surface tension we can reach what is called a positive spreading coefficient, which means that the molecules spread spontaneously over the surface yielding the molecular thin membrane. The only components that can provide this property are fluorosurfactants. The changeover to C6-based fluorosurfactants has been known for several years and has been a challenge for the whole industry. Early, it was quite clear that there will be need for extensive reformulation of existing foam


UL 162 and FM 5130 on both regular sprinklers and special foam nozzles , IMO, MED, ICAO and Lastfire. They have been proved to work in different fire scenarios even at very low expansion ratios around 3:1.


concentrates in order to meet the expected fire performance. There were no short-cuts or plugin fluorosurfactants that could easily do the job. Hence, it has led to a lot of formulation work by firefighting foam producers and extensive testing to reach products with expected performance. In the end, it has been necessary to carry out re-approvals for the new C6-formulations since old approvals became obsolete.

Years of Research Dafo Fomtec has spent several years of labtesting and several hundred large scale fire tests per year in order to obtain the right formulations. It has been a long and challenging process, but during its course we have gained a lot of important and valuable knowledge. Quite early on It was that the change to full C6-formulations would not be an easy step to take. There was simply no plug-in C6-fluorosurfactant that magically fixed the formulation. The formulations did extinguish fires, but not to the performance and safety level that was expected and required. We simply had to re-build the formulations and examine the whole package of components in the formulation. After much research, we have come up with new all C6-formulations with high fire performance that meet the international standards, like EN 1568,

Examining the formulation of a foam concentrate, it is quite striking that such a small number of components can give such high fire performance. The main constituent of the concentrate is water; then it contains about 3% hydrocarbon surfactants that give the foam it foaming properties. To give film formation and enhanced fire performance, about 1% of fluorosurfactants are needed. Finally, the formulation contains about 10% of other compounds, mainly for foam boosting. In total, around 15% of the formula are active components and the rest is water – and this is to be diluted almost 100 times to the premix. Hence, the total amount of active ingredients in the premix, that is actually put on the fire, is less than 1%.

Versatile Performance Then next generation of firefighting foams based on C6 fluorosurfactants formulated carefully and tested extensively provides firefighting foams with a safe environmental profile, and with a fire performance needed to protect life and property in the high-risk industry. The new all C6 AFFF and AFFF ARC foams recertified to meet UL and FM and other industry standards, enable engineers to design systems based on current and proven design standards, without questioning the foams capability when applied at very low expansion, forceful or gentle application, through sprinklers or foam chambers. The new C6 AFFF and AFFF ARC foams are valid replacements for all systems where proven fire performance is paramount. WWW.OFFSHORETECHNOLOGYREPORTS.COM | 5


Fighting Oil Rig Fires in the 21st Century Tom Cropper, Editor Manufacturers of foam have a difficult challenge with the often conflicting pressures of safety, the environment and cost informing the latest trends.

The recent decision to grant Shell permission to drill exploratory wells in the Arctic was greeted with widespread opposition especially considering the company’s patchy record in that part of the world


ULY 6TH, 1988 and in the North Sea, Occidental Petroleum’s Piper Alpha oil platform is ablaze. An explosion in the control room had set off an oil fire which blazes throughout the structure. By the end of the day, 167 of the crew will have perished with only 61 surviving. Never before or since has any disaster illustrated the lethal threat posed by a fire on board an oil rig. The legacy of the incident is still being felt to this day with enormous resources being invested in developing more robust and effective fire prevention technologies.

The Drive for Safety All major oil rig disasters have a transformative impact on the industry from Piper Alpha, to Exxon Valdez and more recently BP’s Deep Water Horizon explosion. They trigger reviews into operations, soul searching and inject an impetus into the development of fresh technologies. In the case of the Piper Alpha disaster, the subsequent Cullen Inquiry identified a host of changes including greater information and alert systems in the control room, more effective decisionmaking processes, evacuation procedures and emergency protocols. Most importantly, the disaster illustrated the importance of having effective fire-fighting measures on board the rig so that, if necessary, it would be able to combat the blaze alone without the help from outside forces. Today’s rigs, therefore, have complex and sophisticated fire-fighting systems, incorporating automated alarm systems, evacuation protocols, sprinkler systems and sophisticated deck integration fire-fighting systems. These often involve drainage systems in the surface of the deck to remove built up pools of fuel which present a serious fire risk.

New Challenges and Threats Such systems are vital thanks to the evolving nature of the oil exploration and production 6 | WWW.OFFSHORETECHNOLOGYREPORTS.COM

business. The age of easy oil is coming to an end. From now on, drilling companies will have to explore new areas of the world, tap wells at increased depth and move further from the shore. Existing wells are seeing their lifespan expanded considerably thanks to the development of novel enhanced oil recovery solutions. What represents a profitable opportunity for the oil companies, though, is a serious operational risk. Infrastructure is aging far beyond its original service life, heightening the strain on equipment. Deep water drilling exposes infrastructure to unprecedented stresses and strain. Defects are not always detectable on the surface, increasing the chances of leaks and accidents. At a time when the risk is growing, the consequences of accidents are becoming that much greater. One of the hottest topics in the oil industry at the moment is the proposed exploration of the Arctic. The recent decision to grant Shell permission to drill exploratory wells in the Arctic was greeted with widespread opposition1 especially considering the company’s patchy record in that part of the world. A previous foray into the region resulted in no hydrocarbons being extracted, but hefty fines being imposed for violations of air quality laws2. In order to gain clearance for the rig, Shell have had to provide reassurance that they have made precautions to prevent accidents, clean up spills and ensure crew safety. That is no easy task. Greenpeace have already argued that cleaning up a spill in such a remote region would be almost impossible, while securing safe evacuation for platform crews would be equally challenging. Never before has the need for effective integrated fire-fighting systems been greater.

Trends in Firefighting Foam This, then, is the background against which manufacturers are developing the latest generation of firefighting foam products. The margin for error is slim and the demand is for the very highest level of performance. At the



same time, there is the further issue of the environment to consider. As mentioned elsewhere in this Report, traditional firefighting foam which uses fluorosurfactants is being phased out in favour of less toxic alternatives. Many of these, though, have struggled to exhibit the same fire-fighting qualities as traditional products. Manufacturers will therefore have to find new techniques and innovations which can improve performance within these constraints. In particular they are focusing on the following areas: Burn-back: The ability to resist direct flame is crucial in oil and gas operations. Producers are marketing their products as having improved burn-back resistance even in the harshest of conditions. Storage: The long term nature of offshore oil exploration means products need to be stored for prolonged periods of time. The newest products exhibit life-expectancies of four years or more during which time they should, in theory, experience little if any degradation in condition or performance. However, conditions on board rigs are harsh and unpredictable. Even the best products require regular checks. However, the more robust and long lasting the solution, the lower the chance of wastage.

Delivery: In addition to the make-up of the foam, companies are looking at the delivery mechanism with attention focusing on the design of sprinkler nozzles. The environment: Fluorine-free technologies do not break down into PFOS and PFOA in the same way as traditional foams. However, early products were inferior and those which used hydrocarbon surfacants were even more toxic. The latest technologies are producing new fluorine-free foams as well as less toxic versions of traditional fluorosurfacant techniques. One thing is clear. The pace of improvement is considerable. Foam technologies have undergone a challenging period as manufacturers struggle to square the circle of producing high performing products which minimise their impact on the environment. After a number of false starts, there are signs that C6 and fluorinefree foams are producing the required results. This has to be positive news for the industry, but with such change and evolution there remains considerable variation in quality with differences of opinion about which products work best for which situations. Buyers need to understand the entire spectrum of what’s on offer, what companies are doing to ensure adequate testing and analysis and where this technology is heading in the future.



A More Environmentally Friendly Way to Combat Fire Jo Roth, Staff Writer Regulations put pressure on the oil and gas industry to develop more environmentally friendly fire-fighting foams.

The thought of a major fire on board an oil rig is stuff of nightmares. A remote tightly contained environment containing numerous highly flammable elements represents a serious hazard.


HE IMPACT on the environment of oil and gas operations has long been a cause for concern, but with public pressure mounting and regulatory oversight increasing it has never been a more important operational issue than it is now. Operators are constantly torn between the need to deliver systems which work and the necessity of complying with higher environmental standards. Nowhere is this conflict felt more keenly than in firefighting systems. The thought of a major fire on board an oil rig is stuff of nightmares. A remote tightly contained environment containing numerous highly flammable elements represents a serious hazard. Nowhere was this shown more clearly than with the Piper Alfa disaster in 1988 in which 167 workers were killed3 or more recently with the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 when 11 workers were killed and 16 injured as the rig burned uncontrollably and sank4. On a less catastrophic scale, fire represents an ongoing risk, which not only poses a threat to life, but also significant cost, as work is powered down and workers evacuated. Take the example of a recent fire on board a platform in the Gulf of Mexico in which operations were interrupted and 28 people evacuated5. As such, all firefighting measures need to conform to the highest possible performance to safeguard the wellbeing of rig crew and to minimise downtime while the fire is fought. The downside is that many of the most important ingredients in fire-fighting foams can also be extremely toxic to the environment.

Alternative Products Of these the most important are fluorosurfactants, which reduce surface tension and allow the foam to spread more evenly over the fire. 8 | WWW.OFFSHORETECHNOLOGYREPORTS.COM

These form critical components in the operation of most traditional fire-fighting foam, but they also have a significantly negative impact on the environment around them. Those with more than eight carbons in the perfluorinated chain (C8) have a tendency to degrade into perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). As a result, regulators have been driving to outlaw such chemicals by 2015. The challenge is to develop fluorine-free foams which are less toxic to the environment, but still maintain the highest fire-fighting capabilities. However, this is far from straightforward.

A More Environmentally Friendly Solution The response of the industry has been a new generation of fluorine-free technologies. In 2006, a voluntary directive from the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA called for a 95% reduction in fluorochemical ingredients by 2010 and a total elimination by 2015. Eight manufacturers signed up to the program and have been powering ahead in developing a new generation of more environmentally friendly products which are capable of matching the firefighting performance of fluorochemicals while also achieving the desired improvements in environmental profile. The most environmentally friendly option has been to develop a range of firefighting products which are fluorine-free. However, this presents challenges. In order to maintain performance, developers needed to find a new way to reduce surface tension and improve foam spread. One way to do this is to increase hydrocarbon surfactant levels to compensate for the absence of fluorine, but this has a couple of major deficiencies: it can reduce effectiveness and does not have a particularly environmentally friendly-profile.



The early generations of fluorine-free products, therefore, were not as good as their predecessors and were liable to be more toxic. As such, they failed on two levels. As environmentally friendly replacements, they still provided unacceptable levels of toxicity while also being less effective at combating fire. To address this situation, the industry began investigating a new generation of fluorinefree foams which made use of ingredients not previously used in firefighting foams. This has turned out to be an exhaustive process with numerous new products which failed to pass necessary performance hurdles, and a huge investment in terms of research and development.

Formulating Products for the Offshore Industry In the oil and gas industry, the task is complicated further by the need to generate products with the qualities to cope with the individual characteristics of the kind of fires encountered on board an oil rig. Doing this requires considerable knowledge and experience, together with comprehensive and effective liaison with the end client. An effective conversation is vital to increase awareness of what these products can do among clients and also an understanding of the end-user’s needs among producers. Those companies which have best utilised experience from within the oil industry and have

a good track record of working with the oil and gas industry have a crucial competitive advantage. These products also have a reputational disadvantage. The poor quality of early fluorinefree products lingers in the mind. The perception exists of products which fail to achieve the required fire-fighting capabilities while also being highly toxic and dangerous to the environment. In selling these products, developers need to emphasise how they are manufactured and how they have addressed the problems previously experienced. This requires exhaustive testing in numerous different environments to illustrate the effectiveness of the products in fighting every kind of fire they might encounter on board an oil rig. The need to create a truly environmentally friendly, but viable fire-fighting foam has been immense and this is an issue which will be an ongoing challenge for the industry. It’s also one which is going to become more important. As oil and gas drilling operations venture further from the shore into deeper and more remote environments, the dangers of oil exploration are growing exponentially. Not only are the risks of a fire greater, but so are the consequences should something happen. The deeper and more remote the drilling prospect, the more challenging it will be to evacuate personnel safely. The need for high quality and effective fire-fighting technology is only going to grow in the future.



Choosing the Right Fire-Fighting Foam James Butler, Staff Writer Firefighting foams have changed a great deal over the past few years. Choosing the right one is far from straightforward.

All foam products will need to be subject to continued and regular inspections. These can either be carried out by the manufacturer themselves or a recognised provider of testing solutions


N COMBATING rig fires, oil and gas operators must balance numerous conflicting demands. On the one hand is the safety and security of personnel; on the other the potential toxicity of any foams used to combat the blaze. Add to that the real financial cost of any downtime or evacuations and the choice of foams becomes an important decision. Getting it right can have important implications to the well-being of crew and the viability of the ongoing project. This article will investigate the major considerations buyers will need to make before settling on any single option. The function of a foam is to form a film which rapidly cuts off oxygen supply to the fire and prevents the release of flammable vapours. It should be capable of cooling down the fuel surface, extinguishing the fire and preventing reignition. On oil and gas platforms, fire-fighting strategies have often relied on drenching the fire with briny seawater drawn from the surrounding environment, but this is not always capable of extinguishing an oil or fuel fire and, in some cases, suggestions have been made it can even make matters worse! For example, in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, investigators suggested the decision to attack the blaze with water rather than fire retardant foam could have contributed to the sinking of the platform. Water overwhelmed the ballast hastening the platform’s demise6. Rigs often incorporate foams as part of a water-foam deluge system triggered by a set off automatic alarm in the case of fire. Although there are numerous suppliers on the market, quality varies and not every product performs well in every single situation.

A Toxic Product? The dominant subject in recent years has been the environmental credentials of fire-fighting foams. The use of fluorosurfacants with chains 10 | WWW.OFFSHORETECHNOLOGYREPORTS.COM

of eight carbon atoms or more has been linked to the build-up of toxic PFOS and PFOA. Across the industry, moves to phase out such technologies have been underway for many years with a move into fluorine-free technologies or those with six carbon atoms or less. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency organised a voluntary programme to address the toxicity of foams by converting to 99% C6 technologies or less by 20157. While these products reduce the toxicity of the foam, maintaining fire-fighting performance has been a major challenge. Fluorine is vital in helping the foam form a film and cover the fire effectively. Fluorine-free technologies have had to search for alternative options which match the filmforming capacity without reducing performance. In turn, these have had their own issues with the environment. Hydrocarbon surfacants, for example, can exhibit an even worse toxicity than old fashioned fluorosurfacants. The alternative has been to opt for C6 surfacants. But while some of these technologies have exhibited good results, they are not automatic replacements for old systems. Earlier formulations of the chemistry also failed to match the fire-fighting qualities of former products. Therefore, manufacturers were left with a choice; increase the quantity of fluorosurfacants in the product thereby increasing the cost of the solution and the environmental risk or accept a lower fire-fighting capacity. In an enclosed, remote environment such as an oil rig that latter option is unacceptable. The good news is that the technology is undergoing a process of rapid evolution. The chemistry is improving and as it does, these products are proving themselves in the real world. Buyers are therefore able to specify products which comply with the EPA guidelines without necessarily risking the safety and integrity of their fire-fighting system. Even so, with development in this fluid stage, there is



considerable variation in the market in the sophistication of the products available. As such, operators need to be comfortable that any system they choose conforms to the strictest quality and environmental standards.

Coping in Offshore Conditions Operators need to be comfortable that solutions will be able to cope with any challenges thrown at them. They must undertake a risk assessment to determine the type of fires they are likely to face on board, their risks, and a worst case scenario of the scale of the emergency they may be facing. Disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill often exhibit problems in the emergency process because they exceed the scale of worst expectations, with the result that existing systems are unable to cope. Any product must demonstrate that it is able to quickly extinguish any fire on board a rig. The conditions of offshore drilling must also be taken into account. Rig operations are taking place further from the shore, over longer timescales and in more hazardous environments. Products will have to be storable over prolonged periods of time. Foams, represent a good option in these scenarios. Their long shelf life means they can be kept for years. Even so, degradation can occur so a regular plan of inspections is vital in ensuring products maintain their integrity. International standards such as NFPA11, BS5306 and V11OOA/HSE make the following recommendations: “At least annually, an inspection shall be made of foam

concentrates... for evidence of excessive sludging or deterioration.” “Samples of concentrates shall be sent to the manufacturer or qualified laboratory for quality condition testing.”8 All foam products will need to be subject to continued and regular inspections. These can either be carried out by the manufacturer themselves or a recognised provider of testing solutions. These need to provide the very best laboratory conditions capable of accurately replicating the conditions and scenarios most likely to be faced on board an oil rig. Testing will focus on many different factors including pH, viscosity, Burn-Back Performance, freeze point and fire extinguishing qualities, among others. There are then a number of considerations to take into account. For drilling operators it remains a challenging issue of balancing requirements of cost, performance, toxicity and safety. Variations across the market mean the choice of manufacturer will be crucial. Those who can exhibit a good track record of developing products specifically formulated to the demands of oil and gas operators – and those with comprehensive testing regimes – will be at a considerable advantage. The technology is also in a fluid state. Within the next few years new products will most likely be available which can outperform those currently on the market. Allowances will need to be made for this, and operators may need a system which can be easily and cost-effectively upgraded in the near future as these technologies become perfected.



The Future of Firefighting on Oil Rigs Tom Cropper, Editor In searching for the next generation of fire-fighting foam manufacturers are pushing the boundaries of innovation.

The result of all this research and development is that we are now witnessing the emergence of a new generation of firefighting foam which can claim to have achieved the difficult task of balancing environmental concern with fire-fighting performance


S EXISTING oil reserves become more depleted, the offshore oil and gas industry is becoming more aggressive. Advances in technology are allowing it to drill in areas which were previously considered out of reach. Improved oil recovery techniques are increasing life expectancy of existing oil fields. Both developments mean oil exploration is higher risk. Aging infrastructure is prone to failure increasing the possibility of explosion and fire. Drilling in more extreme and remote environments not only increases the danger but also the consequences if something should happen. All this means an effective fire protection system is more important now than it ever has been. At the same time the fire protection industry is undergoing substantial change. Traditional fluorinated fire-fighting foams are being phased out. They contain PFOS and PFOA which can have a harmful impact on the environment. Since the early 2000s, moves have been underway to phase out their use as soon as alternative environmentally friendly methods can be found. The European Union banned the marketing of PFOS products in 2008. To replace fluorinated foams, the industry began developing fluorine-free options (also known as F3) foams. These do not contain PFOS, but come with their own problems. Early solutions did not exhibit the same fire-fighting capabilities as traditional products while others replaced fluorosurfacants with hydrocarbon surfacants. While this improved the performance, these hydrocarbon surfacants were shown to exhibit an even greater aquatic toxicity than their predecessors. Moving into the future, therefore, the industry has to find new products which match or exceed the performance of traditional fluorinated foams, while removing the threat to the environment.


Next Generation Fluorine-Free Foams While the initial generations of defluorinated foams were not up to the task in hand, advanced techniques have developed a new generation of advanced products which are able to provide the requisite performance without the environmental drawbacks of the hydrocarbon surfacants. They achieved this by using protein-based foams which some believe offer superior performance over and above other F3 foams. These combine more effectively with sea water making them ideal for foam/water systems used on board oil rigs; and can have superior burn-back resistance capabilities which can be crucial when dealing with fuel spill fires. In addition, these offer a far superior environmental profile than others. The naturally occurring proteins are more biodegradable than synthetic products and they produce neither PFOS or PFOA.

C6 Foams While much of the focus has been on fluorinefree products, not all of them have a negative impact on the environment. Those manufactured using a process called telomerisation do not contain PFOS and have only trace amounts of PFOA. Research discovered that fluorotelomers with six carbon atom chains or shorter are not bioaccumulative, genotixic, nor do they exhibit any harmful effects. They comply with the US EPA PFOA Stewardship program, while maintaining an effective fire-fighting performance. As such, these are increasingly being used in modern firefighting foams and exist in a class of their own quite apart from other fluorinated chemicals. This, then, is a best of both worlds solution. C6 and C4 products have the film forming



properties of traditional fluorine based foams, which make them so effective in tackling oil and fuel fires. However, they possess none of the toxicity associated with products consisting of eight carbon atom chains and more. They are the most effective products in fighting flammable liquid fires; they provide the best extinguishment and burn-back performance, have minimal environmental impact, low toxicity and biopersistence profile. After extensive scientific research and testing of new C6 products, they are now approved by global regulatory agencies. The emergence of C6 products, therefore, offers a reprieve to fluorosurfacants. The prospect of a ban was enough to send mild shockwaves through the industry as it struggled to develop alternatives. However, this new generation of fluorosurfacants complies with all regulatory attempts to improve the environmental profile of oil and gas operations. It is, then, a little bit of back to the future. For some, the search for an effective product to replace fluorosurfacants has come full circle. Even so, there is still some debate and extensive research continues into C6 foams. Controversy has focused on the main breakdown product they contain, commonly known as the 6:2 fluorotelomer sulfonate. There have been suggestions in conferences and some articles that it is a PFOS analog, but so far the scientific data does not support this. Studies so far have shown it to be low in toxicity. Even so, research continues.

A New Generation of Products The result of all this research and development is that we are now witnessing the emergence of a new generation of fire-fighting foam which can claim to have achieved the difficult task of balancing environmental concern with fire-fighting performance. One such is the AFFF 3% solution from Fomtec. This uses both fluorocarbons and hydrocarbons blended with a range of stabilisers and preservatives. The result is a foam which exhibits strong firefighting performance against class B oil fires, measured against a range of internationally recognised standards. The use of specially selected raw materials means it is biodegradable and does not exhibit the same toxicity challenges present in many traditional fire-fighting foams9. Lastly, the company claims it is rated with a lifespan of more than 10 years, in many cases making it an ideal fit for oil and gas exploration. The accepted narrative within the firefighting foam industry has changed considerably. For years it was believed manufacturers had to make a choice: did they accept the inevitability of harmful environmental impact from traditional foams or did they use environmentally friendly options which would reduce performance? With the chemistry involved in the formulation of such solutions becoming ever more sophisticated, the industry is finally beginning to have their cake and eat it. The future is one in which high performance firefighting technology needn’t necessarily come at the expense of the environment.



References: 1

Shell gets permit for Arctic drilling:

Drilling company charged with environmental and maritime crimes in Alaska: 2


Piper Alfa Disaster:


Deepwater Horizon explosion:


Oil Platform Fire in Gulf of Mexico:

BP spill: did firefighters help sink the Deepwater Horizon Rig?




NFPA 11:




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Offshore Technology Reports – Environmentally Friendly Foam Technology for Offshore Oil & Gas Op's  

Defence Industry – Special Report on Next Generation Environmentally Friendly Foam Technology for Offshore Oil and Gas Operations

Offshore Technology Reports – Environmentally Friendly Foam Technology for Offshore Oil & Gas Op's  

Defence Industry – Special Report on Next Generation Environmentally Friendly Foam Technology for Offshore Oil and Gas Operations