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Health & Safety Executive Guidelines for Elastomer Usage

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have published elastomer guidelines developed by MERL for the oil and gas industry.

Elastomers for Fluid Containment in Offshore Oil & Gas Production: Guidelines & Review
As noted in the previous newsletter, the UK Health and Safety Executive last year commissioned MERL to write a Guideline document on the requirements for elastomers in upstream oil and gas operations. The second part of this document comprises a detailed review. The HSE have now made this an online public domain document – for details on accessing, see below.

Damage to O-ring due to rapid gas decompression

In a little more detail, the role of all polymers in the harsh environments associated with gas/oil extraction is critical for acceptable service lives to be achieved by the various components involved. Nowhere does this apply more than with elastomers (rubbers) when employed as seals of all shapes and sizes, manufactured from a variety of elastomer types (depending on application conditions). Hence “the seal” is used as the basis for demonstrating the behaviour of elastomers across a wide range of environments. Furthermore, any mechanisms applying when seeking good seal service performance in any such environment are also likely to govern other components in the same environment; in addition, other mechanisms might apply as well to these components – due, for instance, to their particular construction or their role in service. The other components considered in this way include hoses, bonded flexible pipes (i.e. “subsea high pressure hoses”), flexible joints, valve sleeves and rubber bellows

It is essential that components used offshore exhibit a long and uneventful service life, so that oil/gas production can proceed efficiently, without the risk of failure. For this to be the case, all personnel associated with offshore installation design need to know at least the basic attributes (and weaknesses) of every type of elastomer utilised within the oil/gas production industry.

As already indicated, the document consists of two parts. Part 1 is a set of guidelines for the use of elastomers offshore, including selection of the appropriate design and operating strategy. Part 2 is a review of the use of elastomers offshore – involving key materials, mechanisms, failures, standards, etc. - that supports the guidelines.

The report underwent peer review by Oil and Gas Industry representatives, including its being presented at a workshop hosted by the HSE in early October 2004. Dr. Bob Campion, Principal Specialist at MERL and a lead author, said “The editing by the industry was an important step to the wider acceptance of this document”.

Under the heading “Elastomers for Fluid Containment in Offshore Oil & Gas Production: Guidelines & Review", the document was published on 24 February 2005 by the HSE. The link www.hse.gov.uk/flist/february.htm leads you to the HSE abstract describing how to purchase from HSE Books a hard copy of the full report, designated RR320, currently for £15. Alternatively, the link www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr320.pdf leads you to its online pdf version.

Training course for Statoil
In another initiative to help operators with elastomers, MERL also offers bespoke training courses on seals and/or other elastomeric components. A major example for seals was the course held at Statoil in Norway in May 2004. This was an intensive 2-day course given directly to the company’s engineers. Bjorne Melve of Statoil said “The training course at Statoil was an effective way for our staff to learn about some of the background issues regarding seals”.


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