July 2017 Special Report: Fire safety vital to getting credible HSE
Chris Gill of Fire Protection Systems provider Viking, believes that achieving laudable HSE standards in oil and gas operations is reliant on adoption of effective fire safety mechanisms
In your opinion, how equipped is the GCC oil and gas industry in terms of fire protection? How prepared are major oil and gas producers to efficiently detect fires and avert accidents?
I would say extremely equipped. Considering the industries that we deal with, the oil and gas industry is extremely well-prepared. Their specifications are quite detailed. The industry engineers and consultants we talk to are very well educated.
We sell to fire protection contractors, who design and install the systems into buildings, industrial locations, onshore facilities, etc. We sell our products directly to these companies. Aikah Establishment in Dubai is our major client. You will have Viking fire products in most petroleum projects in the region. We are the third largest company in the region selling fire safety products. Our main business is selling directly to the contractors, although in some territories we do sell to companies, which in turn sell to contractors.
You can pick any of the large end-users like Aramco, PDO, etc. They certainly know our products. For example, we have been making deluge valves for nearly a 100 years now. In many cases these are included in their specifications.
Occasionally the end-users will approach us directly if they need some technical support. We offer training support to them. We also approach them directly if we have a new product or a system. We may go and visit them and explain what it is. But that is always helpful when we do that with the contractors, because we sell directly to the contractors.
With crude oil prices below $50 a barrel, do you think regional NOCs and other major oil and gas producers are spending enough to address HSE issues? As major energy companies cut their
operating costs, are they still investing enough in fire security systems?
The oil and gas and fire protection industries go hand-in-hand. Maybe in terms of exploration and production they might cut down on costs, but when a decision has been made to build a project facility, they have to have fire protection. So we certainly don’t see much of a downturn in that industry or our business. I would say less oil and gas projects are being financed today, but those projects, nonetheless, do need fire protection. So we haven’t seen a big impact.
2015 and 2016 were fantastic years for us, especially in the Middle East. We did better than we ever did before in terms of sales of valves, nozzles, and the likes.
How can fire safety standards and combat readiness in the regional oil and gas industry be improved? What are your suggestions?
In the oil and gas industry, you can’t prevent every fire accident. Those will happen. However, the industry is well equipped; it understand the typical risks; and it understand the need for fire protection. So I don’t think we can preach any more. We can help them (oil and gas players) do it better and faster and with less water; things like that. In that situation, more dialogue with the end-user and the guys who are on the site, who are using and maintaining the system, can be helpful in improving standards. Our products are exclusively fixed fire-fighting equipment.
Can you talk about an innovative concept that has revolutionised fire detection and protection? Alternatively you could also talk about a solution/service by your company (being developed or in use), which you think is path-breaking and is helping (or will help) your customers in securing their operations.
We have a new deluge valve out called FSX. It has been engineered and manufactured in Germany. It’s a valve with a UL listing so we have submitted it for local approval; so for example with Aramco and PDO. Our applications are already there with these companies to get these valves listed and specified for some of their projects.
That valve is fairly unique in its size; it is very small and compact. It has its advantages and companies have shown interest for it. Those kind of valves are usually big and maintaining those can be cumbersome, so we have worked to try and shrink it down a bit to make it easier to install.
The fire protection industry is a very conservative one in general, in terms of development, and rightly so. In most cases you won’t see massive leaps forward, because in such cases you need to prove that. When we launch a product or service we need to prove that on the field, so we are very careful to make sure that it is well-tested; we have to ensure third party certifications and testing. So it is a long process.
Having said that, yes there are new things coming up. For example there is this water mist equipment. This is a relatively new technology. It is still water-based; water still really is the best firefighting equipment. Two main benefits there: it helps users cut down on their water usage. You need to store less, or if you have less, like here in the Middle East, it is a great benefit. Also, as a consequence, water put into the building, that might damage it, is also reduced. It is a very sensitive equipment.
For example you may have an IT suite, having sensitive set of equipment. With the water mist system you are putting less water onto the fire. If you can combine that with the system that can put it off when the fire is doused, which is available, then you are using the minimum amount of water onto the asset and therefore reducing damage. You also end up conserving more water, which is important for regions like the Middle East.
A recent industry report predicts that the global FPS market in the oil and gas industry will grow steadily at a rate of close to 4% during 2016-2020. What is your take on that? What would you say does the future hold for fire safety in the regional oil and gas industry?
The prediction is fairly consistent. The fire protection industry always grows quite steadily. It is inextricably linked to the construction industry; when construction is down the fire protection industry is down too. The year 2008 was a classic example, when the fire protection industry was hit badly. However, I would say that we survived better than most. Fire protection is an absolute need in most cases, so it tends not to be written off in projects. We also recovered faster than the construction industry. Plus, of course we were helped by the oil and gas industry. Thankfully, we are a global company, so we are able to balance a few shortfalls in some territories.
We still see a lot of potential to grow in the region. We have strong sales in the GCC countries and ensure we have new products coming out. Plus, we are extremely well known in the water business. We are relatively new in the gas systems. I think happy times are here.
We end the Report with an opinion piece from an industry leader...