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Petrochemical Industry

Overview


The petrochemical process industries represent a significant contribution to the world economy. Companies in this industry produce a wide variety of products, including ethylene, vinyl chloride, styrene monomer, propylene, benzene, toluene, and xylene, which are the raw materials for many plastics. Producing these chemicals involves handling hazardous materials and managing large amounts of energy. Because of these conditions, when something goes wrong at a petrochemical processing facility, it can have catastrophic consequences.

Chemical process accidents are often the result of unexpected interaction between automated process equipment and operators. In the drive to improve safety and reliability, chemical process facilities tend to rely heavily on automation using sophisticated instrumentation, computers, and programmable logic controllers to run their plants. In an effort to improve energy efficiency and reduce pollution, various pieces of equipment are interconnected in ways that complicate their operation. Equipment failures or operator errors can lead to sudden and unexpected changes in the plant operation. If these disruptions to normal process operation exceed the capabilities of the operators or the capacity of the safety systems, a severe accident can occur, potentially producing a devastating fire, explosion, or toxic release. 

With more than 40 years of experience analyzing thousands of failures, Exponent is a leader in loss investigation, including material failures, fires, and explosions. These investigations range from high-loss disasters to small incidents for major national and international oil refiners. This experience provides Exponent engineers and scientists unique insights in addressing various risk and reliability issues and assessing environmental and health impacts, to help our clients increase the safety of their personnel, processes, and facilities and minimize operational disruptions and property loss. Additionally, our expertise in risk assessment, release characterization, dispersion modeling, vapor cloud explosion analysis, industrial hygiene, toxicology, and epidemiology allows us to comprehensively examine the consequences of both hypothetical and actual releases of toxic and flammable substances.

Exponent has a wide range of in-house expertise that integrates the latest process, safety, risk, and environmental developments into our work. As a result, we can address everything from small, focused analyses to complex, multi-disciplinary projects. The capabilities of our experts allow Exponent to offer the following services:

  • Accident and incident investigation 
  • Root-cause analysis (RCA) 
  • Fire and explosion analysis 
  • Fire protection engineering 
  • Fitness-for-service evaluation 
  • Specification, corrosion control, and failure analysis of materials 
  • Evaluation of pressure relief systems, vessels, and piping 
  • Analysis of atmospheric releases, spills, and environmental fate 
  • Groundwater and soil remediation support 
  • Compliance with standards and regulations 
  • Risk and reliability analysis and quantitative risk assessment 
  • Process hazards analysis (PHA) 
  • Hazard and operability analysis (HAZOP) 
  • Failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) 
  • Review of process safety management (PSM) and risk management program (RMP) 
  • Safety and health training 
  • Environmental impact and baseline assessments 
  • Site security and vulnerability analysis 
  • Site investigation and remediation 
  • Hydrology and groundwater monitoring 
  • Project management, performance, scheduling, and construction delay analysis

Further, Exponent is actively involved in providing risk assessment services for owners and operators of onshore petrochemical process facilities. These assessments focus on naturally occurring hazards such as hurricanes and earthquakes, and also on man-made hazards such as vapor cloud explosions. The scope of services provided by Exponent includes probabilistic and deterministic hazard definitions, onsite inspections, structural and material load and stress analyses using advance modeling tools, vulnerability determinations, probable maximum loss estimations for property and business, and mitigation planning. The broad range of expertise among various Exponent practices enables us to offer clients the skills necessary to conduct such assessments in a thorough and timely manner. The benefits include better understanding of employee exposures to potentially hazardous situations, current knowledge of asset vulnerabilities, identification of opportunities for cost-effective mitigation measures to reduce potential losses, and better knowledge of loss exposures from an insurance perspective.

Exponent engineers and scientists regularly publish in leading technical journals, present at conferences, serve on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) technical committees, chair American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) conference sessions, and provide peer review for journals such as Process Safety Progress, Journal of Petroleum Science & Engineering (JPSE), and Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries (JLPPI).