Fearing that the recent ITC tank fire in Deer Park could happen in Sealy, the city council invited representatives from Enterprise Products to attend the May 14 meeting and discuss safety and fire prevention at the tanks on the southeast side of town.
“As part of Enterprise’s emergency response plan for tanks, Enterprise operates approximately 600 large storage tanks and taking action quickly in the event of a tank fire is one of the critical success factors and we do that in a variety of different ways,” said Mike Retif, operations manager for Sealy station.
Retif spoke at length and presented a PowerPoint slide show talking about the safety measures and fire prevention capabilities of the local station. He assured the council that a fire here would be a lot less devastating than the ITC fire.
“We look at what’s in the tanks, so here at Sealy station, we operate with crude oil. So our response is to the basic product hazards of crude oil. With ITC, that was a little bit different. … They had tanks with refined products with benzene in it,” he said.
Retif said Enterprise Products produces crude oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids. Sealy only accepts crude oil.
“We operate in the vast majority of the United States with a high intensity in the Gulf Coast and Houston area,” he said. “Sealy station is comprised of 11 tanks of approximately 3 million barrels of storage capacity. Right now under construction, we have three additional tanks with about a 900,000 barrel capacity. Sealy basically is a focal point of barrels coming in from the Eagle Ford area and those barrels then get sent off to Houston.”
Retif explained that there are three types of tank fires.
“The first tank fire is a ring or seal fire. That basically occurs in between the shelf tank and the roof of the tank, where there is a seal system,” he said. “The next fire is a full liquid surface fire. That happens when the floating roof either sinks or the tank design does not incorporate a roof. The third one is an overfill pond fire. Basically the tank overfills and finds an ignition source.”
Retif said there are multiple ways to respond to a fire at the Sealy tanks. Any response is coordinated by an incident command structure, either locally or from Houston.
“The fixed system is an engineered system where a pipeline technician gives the command. On a semi-fixed system it means you’re kind of half-way, you have a system installed but you have somebody else come in, whether it’s an emergency response team or the City of Sealy Fire Department. The other system has no foam and requires purely a mobile response,” he said.
He said foam is essential for extinguishing oil fires and the tanks are rimmed with foam extinguishers. There are also mobile foam extinguishers on site and available from Houston.
“At Sealy station, what is the water used for? The water is not used for putting the fire out,” Retif said. “The water is actually used to cool the adjacent tanks if a tank catches on fire to prevent other tanks from catching on fire. Here at Sealy, we have a water tank and it’s the big tank closest to I-10. It holds about 2.6 million gallons of water.”
In addition to the tank, there are two fire hydrant lines on site. Retif explained to the council how the fire response program works.
“Basically, we receive an alarm. There is a fire string installed on each of the tanks. When that fire string breaks in the event of a fire, an alarm is signaled both to our control center that’s local and our control center in Houston. At that point in time, our operators would confirm the presence of a fire and we would start our incident command process.
“They would make notification and then there is a trail of other phone calls that would happen by a variety of other people. It would be requesting additional support or the City of Sealy, or whatever it ends up being. While that’s happening, we would be injecting foam into the system and activating our foam systems. By that point in time, the response teams are going to be there and we’re also going to start cooling the adjacent tanks if the fire is still going.
“Some of our assets that are available in the Houston area are a pumper truck, additional foam and foam concentrate trailers. So, we have the ability to pull upon our assets both here and the assets in the local area,” he said.
After his presentation, Retif took questions from the council. Councilman Larry Koy went first.
“I was wondering about the domes. Under high winds will they be blowing off and all this other stuff? You can come up with a lot of different things sitting at the Whataburger and talking with a bunch of different people. The main thing is the safety is our responsibility to the citizens of Sealy.”
“The domes are designed for emissions. Basically, the domes reduce the amount of emissions given off of the tank. When the sun hits the top of a tank roof it just heats it up and the dome basically reflects that and keeps the heat off,” Retif said. “If you’re building a tank now in Harris County or surrounding counties you’re likely to be building a dome as you get a permit to build those tanks.”
“It’s also lightning resistant?” Koy asked.
“So, the way the system is designed, is the tanks are grounded,” Retif said. “So if a lightning strike hits a tank roof, it will go down the tank. If lightning hits the dome, it will go down the dome and down the shell of the tank to where the ground wire is. On our tanks that don’t have domes, the lightning suppression systems are a little bit different. There are metal shunts that push against it. So if the lightning were to hit the floating roof tank, it would hit the roof and jump across the seal area and hit the shunt and down the shell to the ground, so they’re designed for lightning strikes.”
Retif was asked about the release of contaminated water from dikes around the tanks. He said ITC overfilled their dikes with water.
“Our tank dikes are designed to hold the volume of the tank itself. So if a tank were to collapse, we could hold that entire volume in that dike area,” he said. “These dike valves will hold the water also. We wouldn’t be releasing that until you check the quality and then you let it go.”
He said they also do mock disaster drills in conjunction with the city.
“The safety of our personnel and the community around us is of the utmost importance.
We operate within the communities and we need to make sure we’re a good community partner also,” he said.