5 Safety Features to Look for in Flow Meters for the Oil and Gas Industry

Tragic events like the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion of 2010 that left 11 workers dead and 17 others injured are hard to forget. Of course, whenever an incident such as this one occurs, investigations usually reveal root causes that serve as a warning for others who work in the industry. In the case of Deepwater Horizon, reports show that at least six tests, operations or equipment functions went wrong prior to the incident, and at least four of these had to do with flow measurements. Taking into account the serious implications of inaccurate readings, poor equipment reliability or lack of maintenance, consider some of the safety features available in some of the top flow meters.

High and Low Flow Alarms

Industry experts will tell you that it is not just high flows that they worry about – low flows have also proved dangerous. Setting alarms and having them sound off locally or via a SCADA system help plant operators stay on top of changes and investigate anything unusual before it becomes a problem.

User-Programmable Features

You may have heard about NASA’s 1999 loss of a $125 million satellite due to the engineers neglecting to convert units between the imperial and metric systems. As shown by this incident, although some persons may not think of it as a safety feature, being able to set display units to the system in use by employees helps prevent calculation errors. Humans are often distracted or forgetful, and because they often have many other tasks to fulfill within a procedure, it helps to put the burden of calculation on the equipment.

Multiple Power Options

  • Battery – When your operation has charging stations and a procedure to regularly change batteries, all is well. If you have meters, however in remote locations that are not visited regularly, pure battery power can leave you hanging when you need data the most.
  • 4-20 mA Loop – Although it requires an external power source, loops are standard for many control and measurement devices because of their simple design, minimal wiring and consistency over long distances.
  • Direct Current – Most models can connect to AC power that is converted via an adaptor. In case of power interruptions, lithium batteries can be used as a back-up.

Hazardous Environment Certification

Regulatory authorities around the world test and certify equipment for use in areas with hazardous liquids and vapors. It is a good idea to check if your flow meter has been certified by one of these agencies. The following are some of the most well-known certifiers:

  • CSA Group (North America, including the USA and Canada)
  • Cenelec (Europe)
  • SAA (Australia)

Heavy-Duty Enclosures

Not all explosions are fatal, but if an unexpected combustion occurs with the power to damage equipment, it is prudent to protect meters so that data can be pulled after the fact. The same goes for fluid damage, which you can prevent with a watertight enclosure.

Equipment designed with safety in mind brings benefits to your organization. Obviously, each environment is different, so you may not need all of the above features. In any case, if you will be involved with purchasing, it is good to know what is available.