Winter is Coming. Is Your Facility Protected?
As the seasons change and temperatures cool down, the impacts of freezing weather should be on the top of everyone’s mind—even for those who historically did not have to worry.
In February 2021, for example, a cold snap brought frigid temperatures to Texas, leading to some 250 reported deaths. In January, Florida battled record freezing temperatures, with millions waking up to unprecedented temps in the 20s on some mornings.
Weather like this can affect any industry, from chemical, manufacturing, and construction to oil and gas. Any facility that has outdoor piping, storage, or cooling towers can be at risk. While most colder regions have facilities equipped to deal with cold weather, many central and southern locations are not adequately designed and protected for such low temperatures. Extreme weather events can create conditions that could lead to failing components, if proper protocol is not followed. Failure can depend on equipment exposure to the elements, weatherization, and the combination of cold temperatures, moisture, and precipitation.
We need to realize that a lot of facility equipment can be in danger of extreme cold temperatures. Some chemicals can expand when they drop below their freezing points, which increases the likelihood of their containers rupturing. There could also be damage to the substances themselves, making them harder to use. Some chemicals can even become more volatile due to the cold or cause ingredients to separate. Lines can become permanently blocked when chemicals that typically are pumped throughout the facility become cement-like due to exposure to freezing temperatures. Even though ice problems are rare with natural gas and propane pipelines, they can still exist from alternate sources.
There are multiple NFPA codes and standards that address how to protect equipment and processes from freezing temperatures. A few of those documents—and the relevant requirements found within them—are listed below.
NFPA 2, Hydrogen Technologies Code (2020 edition)
Components shall be designed, installed or protected so their operation is not affected by freezing rain, sleet, snow, ice, mud, insects or debris [10.3.1.1]
Pressure relief valves or vent piping shall be designed or located so that moisture cannot collect and freeze in a manner that would interfere with the operation of the device [184.108.40.206.1 and 220.127.116.11.6]
NFPA 51, Standard for the Design and Installation of Oxygen-Fuel Gas Systems for Welding, Cutting, and Allied Processes (2023 edition)
Generators shall be protected against freezing. The use of salt or other corrosive chemical to prevent freezing shall be prohibited [18.104.22.168]
Where (acetylene gas holders) not located within a heated building, gas holders shall be protected against freezing [22.214.171.124]
NFPA 58, Liquified Petroleum Gas Code (2020 edition)
All regulators for outdoor installations shall be designed, installed or protected so their operation will not be affected by the elements (freezing rain, sleet, snow, ice, mud or debris) [126.96.36.199]
NFPA 86, Standard for Ovens and Furnaces (2023 edition)
Coolant piping systems shall be protected from freezing [188.8.131.52]
If pipeline protective equipment incorporates a liquid, the liquid level shall be maintained, and an antifreeze shall be permitted to prevent freezing [184.108.40.206]
Pressure relief devices or vent piping shall be designed or located so that moisture cannot collect and freeze in a manner that would interfere with operation of the device [220.127.116.11.5.6]
While we cannot always predict if an extreme cold event will occur, we can prepare. As we enter the time of year when we get colder temperatures, ensure that your facility is identifying past and future extreme cold weather events. Research cold events that have happened in warmer regions and identify what NFPA codes and standards can be applied to ensure that your facility is prepared. Inspect your facility to detect and document any deficiencies in cold weather preparedness for equipment. Lastly, when planning, make sure to check out NFPA 1600, Standard on Continuity, Emergency and Crisis Management, for more information.