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BASICS A clear blue


sky over a
refinery

A Primer on Fugitive
Emissions
BY GREG JOHNSON Fourscore and seven years ago, no one had ever heard the Executive Summary
term “fugitive emissions.” Today, many people wish they’d
never heard the expression. Most of us, however, fall somewhere between SUBJECT: Fugitive emissions
“never heard of” and confusion. and their effects on the world
Fugitive emissions (FE) have nothing to do with gifts left by toddlers in are on the tips of everyone’s
their diapers overnight, although “volatile” chemical compounds are
involved. In the world of industry, FEs are undesired releases of hazardous or
tongue these days. But what
environment-damaging gases from mechanical equipment including flanged does it mean?
connections, pumps, compressors, storage tanks and valves found in refiner- KEY ISSUES:
ies, chemical plants, pipelines, wellheads and even some sewage treatment
plants. 䡲 A history of the issues
VALVE MAGAZINE WINTER 2017

The initial push for clean air that got the ball rolling in U.S. industrial
plants resulted from the killer “Donora Smog,” which afflicted a small Penn- 䡲 Some offenders
sylvania steel mill town in October of 1948. Donora is a steel manufacturing 䡲 The solutions
community near Pittsburgh that was home to many industries pouring out
tons of pollutants into the atmosphere every year. The fog, which was a mix- 䡲 Testing here and abroad
ture of unmoving toxic gases and moisture, sat over the town of Donora for
about five days. Before the week was out, 20 persons were dead and thou- TAKE-AWAY: While FE issues
sands were sick from the ugly noxious air. cause many people to groan,
The Donora incident led to the creation of the first clean air program in the world has already felt the
the U.S., although its initial focus was the metals industry. The Clean Air effects of mandates on
Act, addressing air pollution, would be created in 1963. It has been amended controls.
and toughened up several times since its inception. The Environmental Pro-
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tection Agency (EPA) was created
under the Nixon administration in
1970 as the department to direct the
country’s clean air and water efforts in
the United States.

LINEAR VALVES: WORST OFFENDERS


As far as valves, the emissions are
released through two primary sources:
gasketed-joints and packing systems.
The biggest offenders are linear valves
(gates and globes), which use a rising
or rising and rotating stem motion
through a packing system. This rising
and rubbing motion is harder to seal
properly than the short, 90-degree
rotary motion of a stem in a quarter-
turn valve. Gasketed joints are some- 䡺 Preparing for a fugitive emissions test on a large valve
what easier to seal since the seal is
static. valves. The first requirement is that packing area. It, too, must be aligned
Because linear valves are cost-effec- sealing surfaces have the proper sur- perfectly with both the packing gland
tive flow control devices, particularly face finish. In the case of linear valves, area and the handwheel bushing.
for on-off service, they are present in that means the stem and the stuffing The best low-E packing in the world
large numbers in nearly all refineries box. The stem itself must be straight will fail to contain potential emissions
and chemical plants. This means that and true and not have any deviations if tight tolerances between all these
fugitive emissions control in linear in diameter where it passes through components are not met. This means
valves is receiving a huge amount of the packing. If it is not, the packing repeatability in manufacturing is even
attention. can be reamed out slightly, causing an more critical for valves in low-E appli-
Why is controlling fugitive emis- unsealable leak path. cations: Only time will tell if this com-
sions in linear valves difficult? Most of Alignment of the bushings above ponent machining repeatability issue
today’s premium low-emission (low-E) and below the packing also is critical will be successfully met.
packings have been tested in accor- for sealing success. The upper bush- When all the components are in
dance with the American Petroleum ing/bearing, which is called the stem correct alignment and within toler-
Institute’s (API) Standard 622, Type bushing, must be machined in perfect ance, the next consideration is that
Testing of Process Valve Packing for alignment with the packing gland low-E packing must be installed cor-
Fugitive Emissions. The tests consist of area. The second bushing, which is the rectly. Low-E packings generally
mechanical and temperature cycles, backseat bushing, is found below the require a lot more torque to seal than
while the candidate packing is con-
tained in a precision-machined test
fixture. These graphite-based packings A SUMMARY OF THE ISSUES
usually do very well in testing, with 䡲 Linear valves are harder to seal than quarter-turn valves.
leakage rates well below 100 parts per 䡲 API 622 is the graphite packing testing standard.
million (ppm). The real test occurs 䡲 API 624 is the linear valve FE testing standard.
when an API 622 tested packing is
installed and tested in an actual valve. 䡲 API 641 is the quarter-turn FE testing standard.
For linear valves, this test is API 624, 䡲 ISO 15848-1 is the ISO (generally non-U.S.) FE valve testing standard.
Type Testing of Rising Stem Valves 䡲 Methane gas is used as the test gas in the U.S.
WINTER 2017

Equipped with Graphite Packing for 䡲 Helium gas is used in other parts of the world as a test gas.
Fugitive Emissions. (For quarter-turn
valves, the test standard is API 641, 䡲 Helium leakage cannot be correlated with methane leakage.
Type Testing of Quarter-turn Valves for 䡲 Dimensions and tolerances must correct for low-E valve packings to work.
VALVE MAGAZINE

Fugitive Emissions). 䡲 Consent decrees are agreements between the EPA and offending plants, dic-
tating what steps must be followed to correct emissions problems.
CRITICAL FIT & FINISH 䡲 The industry is currently aiming for 100 ppm maximum leakage.
Although packing may perform well in
a test fixture, when it’s put in place, it 䡲 Pipeline valves and wellheads are now being scrutinized for FE leakage.
must function in concert with the 䡲 Very high pressure (above 10,000 psi) methane or helium gas testing is
dimensions, tolerances, fit and finish problematic.
found in assembly-line produced
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non-low-E types, and the packing
manufacturer’s instructions must be
followed to the letter.

FE TESTING
For a manufacturer to qualify his line
of valves as “low-E compliant,” the
design must be verified through the
testing of prototype valves. In the
U.S., this testing is performed with
methane gas. Testing with elevated
temperature methane carries some
risks, but the EPA currently only rec- 䡺 Most of the U.S. uses methane in testing.
ognizes results performed with
methane. In Europe and some other ing of all new valves or they may 1.5X operating pressure testing is hard
parts of the world, type testing is per- require a change in valve designs to to contain if a gas such as methane or
formed with helium in accordance meet the best available control technol- helium is used as the test fluid. At
with the International Organization ogy. Included in many of these consent more than 10,000 psi pressures, the
for Standardization’s ISO 15848-1, decrees is the requirement that valves helium will permeate the elastomeric
Industrial Valves−Measurement, Test be guaranteed to meet low-E require- seals and show leakage, and at those
and Qualification Procedures for Fugi- ments for a period of five years. This pressures, testing with methane is too
tive Emissions. While ISO 15848 recog- five-year warranty requires a confident dangerous. As a result, the upstream
nizes methane testing, no direct corre- valve manufacturer that is also very wellhead industry is looking into the
lation exists between helium and comfortable with its packing vendor. feasibility of testing with argon if they
methane leakage. That fact bears Because of advancements in detec- can correlate the leakage rate of argon
repeating—there is no correlation tion technology, the EPA now can use to that of the EPA-approved methane.
between methane leakage rates and mobile plant-perimeter monitoring
helium leakage rates. systems to detect in-plant leakage WHAT NEXT?
Just recently, API published its API from outside the fence. If suspected Although the EPA has focused on the
641 quarter-turn testing document. It leakage is observed, a detailed compo- chemical, petrochemical and refining
is fundamentally different from the nent specific test is then performed in industries, other industries may be
linear testing document (API 624) in the plant to confirm the actual leak- just over the agency’s horizon. The
that it covers testing of elastomers and age rate. wastewater industry, with its
also has a range of test temperatures. methane-gas-rich sewage treatment
Passing the API 641 test procedure is THE EPA LOOKS UPSTREAM plants, could possibly be the next EPA
expected to be much easier because of Until recently, valve FE control has target.
the limited amount (90-degree) of focused on the downstream refinery But while much grumbling about
stem movement. sector as well as petrochemical and the EPA and their regulations occurs,
chemical plants. Now, the EPA is look- those who have lived in the Gulf Coast
CONSENT DECREES ing at upstream and midstream appli- area have seen a big difference in the
A buzzword in the valve industry cations as well. This new focus days before and after regulation. As a
these days is “consent decree.” A con- includes wellheads and pipeline valves, life-long resident living within a dozen
sent decree means the EPA has found a which have been exempt from FE miles of the Houston area petrochemi-
plant guilty of exceeding the emis- inspection until now. cal complex, I can report that it used
sions amounts it should be releasing Linear pipeline gate valves manu- to be the best way to tell the wind
and must make changes to stay in factured under the API 6D design stan- direction at home was to go outside
business. An analogy would be this: dard will now have to face the same and smell. Today, the air around those
VALVE MAGAZINE WINTER 2017

You take permanent markers away issues that refinery gate valves have plants is clear, and I need to consult
from your four-year-old (who has just overcome. The ambient operating tem- the weather forecast to determine the
re-painted the kitchen floor) and perature of these valves and their use correct wind direction. VM
sternly say that: “from now on you of non-graphite packings should help;
GREG JOHNSON is president of United Valve
must use erasable markers if you are however, this study and implementa- (www.unitedvalve.com) in Houston. He is a
going to paint. And you better not tion of any necessary design changes contributing editor to VALVE Magazine, a past
paint the floor anymore either or you is just beginning. chairman of the Valve Repair Council and a
will be in big trouble!” Wellheads face a unique set of prob- current VRC board member. He also serves as
chairman of VMA’s Education & Training
Consent decrees usually dictate spe- lems. While they generally operate at
Committee, is vice chairman of VMA’s Com-
cific steps that must be taken by the ambient temperatures, the pressures munications Committee and is past president of
offending plant to keep operating. As required to contain them under oper- the Manufacturers Standardization Society.
far as valves go, they may require test- ating conditions and especially under Reach him at greg1950@unitedvalve.com.
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