Article Archive
Demystifying LNG
IFW Symposium Provides Facts on Energy Source
Vol 21 No 3

LNG always has the potential to be dramatic but, if handled properly, is not necessarily deadly in an emer-gency. That message sums up a two-day seminar on liquefied natural gas conducted by Industrial Fire World.

IFW chairman David White was one of many speakers who addressed the history, science and the correct technique for fire fighting when it comes to LNG.

"We have an emerging market with a potential problem," White said. "It's a product that is not well known. I bet if you took 100 fire chiefs from across America and asked 'What do you know about LNG?' you'd get all sorts of different answers, such as:
? "Well, it's like that propane stuff."
? "I've never heard of it."
? "I remember it blew up and killed everybody in Cleveland once."

First, the dramatic. Using a special concrete pit built at LSU's Fire & Emergency Training Institute in Baton Rouge, IFW unloaded a 10,000 gallon tanker truck full of LNG, then ignited it. Firefighters facing it for the first time applied foam to bring down the intense heat, then moved in with dry chemical extinguishers for the final kill.
Choked by the billowing dry chemical, the LNG fueled flames disappeared on cue.
Preceding the fire field demonstration was a day and a half in the classroom learning to distinguish the true nature of LNG from the urban legends that have grown up around it.

"The real answer is facts and information," White said.

Fact Number One -- LNG is cold. Natural gas or methane is put through a process that greatly reduces its volume by turning a gas into a liquid by chilling it to sub zero temperatures. This makes transporting and storing large volumes possible.
"It's kind of hard to build a pipeline from here to Algeria," White said.

Does this create problems? Yes.

"Stick your finger in LNG and it will break off like a pretzel," White said. "LNG is a supercold cryogenic liquid. That is a fact and I'm not going to deny it."
During the live fire demonstration, both a firefighter's boot and a short length of pipe were lowered into the LNG. When retrieved, both shattered when pounded with a sledge.

Important fact number two is LNG is lighter than water. If spilled from a ship, it is likely to hit the water, warm up and vaporize until it is all gone. While that vapor cloud exists it must be treated with respect.

"If you're in a vapor cloud of LNG you can't smell it, taste it and it appears as a clear liquid," White said. "At this time there is no practical way to odorize LNG in its liquid state."

Likewise, LNG vapors are not necessarily visible. Beyond the billowing condensate is an envelope of fumes well within the flammable range.

"That's why we have technology like detectors to handle the detection of these vapors," White said. "It is very important that we have these capability."

In the coming months, articles developed from the many presentations made during the symposium will appear in IFW. Safe handling of this vital energy source will be thoroughly explored.

"Natural gas is a very valuable commodity to sell on the world market," White said.


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