Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 17:30 EDT

Unapproved Lightning Protection Devices Fail to Prevent Fires at Oil Refineries

October 3, 2013

HARTFORD, Conn., Oct. 3, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) is reminding engineers and building planners to carefully review their specifications for lightning protection to make sure they comply with recognized safety standards of LPI, NFPA and UL.

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A series of crippling fires caused by lightning at Venezuelan oil refineries during the last two years raises serious concerns about nonstandard lightning protection systems installed at the facilities. They were equipped with a type of nonstandard lightning protection device that allegedly is capable of preventing lightning from striking specific locations. The device is marketed under the name “Dissipation Array System” (DAS) or “Charge Transfer System” (CTS.)

Last month, a lightning strike sparked an explosive fire at Venezuela’s 187,000 barrel-per-day Puerto La Cruz oil refinery. In two separate incidents less than a month apart in 2012, lightning also sparked blazes on storage tanks at the 146,000 barrel-per-day El Palito refinery. Both refineries are operated by the Venezuelan government.

The theory that lightning protection devices with a specific geometry can effectively prevent or re-direct lightning strikes is not accepted by U.S. or international safety codes or standards for lightning protection. The DAS/CTS devices have been researched by independent authorities, including NASA, the US Air Force, the FAA and a number of universities since their introduction to the marketplace in the 1970s. In both laboratory and field tests, the devices have not successfully diverted or prevented lightning strikes.

Vendors of DAS/CTS have continued to seek industry approval for the devices, but the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standards Council repeatedly rejected requests that these systems be added to NFPA lightning protection safety standard requirements. In 1989, 1991, 2000 and 2005, the NFPA Standards Council denied vendors requests to begin standards development for DAS/CTS technology. Each time they based their decisions on a lack of physical or theoretical evidence to support the vendors’ prevention claims. The IEEE similarly dropped a proposed project to draft a standard for DAS/CTS systems in 2005.

Following the string of refinery fires, leading experts on lightning are weighing in to highlight the potential for danger when structures opt for nonstandard lightning protection.

“I am opposed to CTSs because the underlying theory lacks scientific credibility and because every independent study demonstrates that they do not prevent lightning strikes,” said William Rison, professor of electrical engineering at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, N.M. Rison is also a scientist at the Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, which has been conducting lightning research in its high-lightning, mountain-top environment for the past 35 years.

“NASA did an extensive study of CTS in the early 1970s, when it was looking for a way to protect the Space Shuttle and other launch pad vehicles. The studies found that the frequency of lightning to the towers with CTSs was not significantly different than those without CTSs–the CTSs did not prevent or significantly reduce the probability of lightning strikes to the NASA tower,” explained Rison.

“The fact that the claims of DAS/CTS devices don’t comply with U.S. standards should raise serious questions with every architect, engineer or facility manager responsible for selecting lightning protection systems,” said Bud VanSickle, executive director for the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI). “Vendor claims of ‘new technology’ do not equate to evidence of performance or scientific record. Lightning can generate 100 million volts of electricity, so experimenting with lightning protection could pose a real danger.”

LPI is a not-for-profit, nationwide group founded in 1955 to promote lightning safety, awareness and protection education. The organization provides a certification program to qualify competence in lightning protection installation, design and inspection. Information about lightning protection design in accordance with safety standards is available at www.lightning-risk.org or www.lightningsafetyalliance.org. Visit the LPI website at www.lightning.org for more information.

SOURCE Lightning Protection Institute

Source: PR Newswire