Saturday, November 5, 2022

Let's all talk about my gas problem

 So last week I mentioned that I have a...difference of opinion an issue with one aspect of how my industry handles oil. 

  Ships moving oil must inert their cargo tanks- that is, they pump oxygen-free gases into the cargo tanks so that the oil can't catch fire- you can't have fire without an oxygen source.  Usually, when discharging cargo, gases with low-to-no oxygen from engine or boiler exhausts are pumped into the tank, so that as the oil level in the tank is lowered, the gases fill the vacuum, rather than plain old air.  The end result is that with oxygen levels ideally around 1% in the void space in the tank, it gets really hard to blow up the oil during the course of the day. 

   IG systems come in all sizes but generally just one or two general shapes. Once you know what they look like, you can spot the deck seal and on-deck portion on any tanker, just forward of the house. Sometimes this is referred to as 'The R2D2' for its' shape. 

HERE's A GREAT article on how they work 

   It's an idea so good, it's now the law. 

  You can't 100% fill an oil tank. Well, I mean, you can, but you really, really don't want to. Oil changes density based on temperature, surprisingly a lot, with small temperature changes. As an example, we have to be VERY careful monitoring temperatures in my cargo tanks- and they're quite small compared to, say, those of a big ship.  We can gain or lose tons, literally,  of weight, with just a degree and a half error in temperature when calculating volumes at the end of a load. That adds up when you've got 10 or 12 or 14 tanks.  So you need to leave room to expand in a tank when you 'top off.'  I like 95%, as a round figure. Mostly because at 96% a shrill alarm goes off and it wakes up the sleepers and causes loose bowels.  98%, the red lights come on and the louder 'end of the world' alarm goes off, and at that point it's fine to just go ahead and shit yourself, because it usually means you're seconds away from getting in the news and needing a new career.  

    But I digress.  So ever since the introduction of inert gas in oil tanks, the number of tank vessels that blow the fuck up has reduced enormously. 

 But, oh, wait, sometimes in your local news you hear about a company with red tugboats whose big almost ship-sized oil barges go boom, kill the people on board and make a mess, right?  Hell, right in NY harbor, years ago, and Texas just a while back... and the little barges from other companies on the inland waterways, every year or two, also, they up and go snap crackle and pop here and there as well! 

 Barges don't need to inert their tanks. It's not legally required as it is on ships. 

      Boy howdy wasn't I discomfited by this when I went to work for a tug-and-barge company. Not only are IG systems not required, NOBODY has them and less than 1% of barge tankermen know anything about them, as there's a dichotomy between ship and tug crewing and less crossover than you might think. I'm a rare bird, I guess. 

          I don't know the reasoning beyond it being expensive and requiring running water, which barges don't always have. I know I don't like the reasoning, being as I am a huge raging fanboy of going home alive, but so be it.   For me, I avoid high vapor point cargoes like gasoline or naptha and the like, the really volatile stuff. I work black oil, the smelly, tarry gross thick stuff that is hard to light on fire either accidentally or on purpose. That's my personal risk mitigation. 

 Sure, it's definitely possible to safely move volatiles by barge, un-inerted. Odds of blowing up are up there with winning the Powerball lottery. But you know, people win that fucking Powerball sometimes. On a well-run barge in a well-run company, it's vanishingly rare, of course, But some companies like the red tugboat people cut corners and pay really well, or used to, in the case of the red boat people, until they blew up one too many tankermen lol, I mean they cost an oil company too much money, and got run out of business.  Nobody cares about crewmen, of course, that's silly.  People think SOLAS came about because the Titanic killed too many people. The Titanic cost too many life insurance companies too much money by killing the rich ones and so we got SOLAS.  Thanks heaps. 

        Anyhow, those of us without red tugboats to work on are pretty safe if we use our heads. But still, I don't like it, and I don't work gasoline, personally. I have lived among the upper-crust, the shitbox, rotten rusty old tankers on shoestring budgets that still had IG systems that worked just fine. Like the song says,  How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, once they've seen IG?  

   So it's a personal thing for me, I don't have support beyond my feels as far as my preferences go. People in hell want ice water, and I am not a crusader for expanded IG use.  And I don't speak as a rep for my company, or in criticism of it. Just giving my opinion as an overopinionated and undereducated asshole, and you know what they say about assholes and opinions. 


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