Last updateFri, 19 Apr 2019 3pm


A VMA Technical Seminar Presentation: Leak Detection and Repair

leak detection and repairAt the Valve Manufacturers Association’s Technical Seminar, held March 3-4 in Jacksonville, FL, attendees—who represented both valve manufacturers as well as end-users—heard from a diverse group of industry specialists on topics such as Fugitive Emissions Trends, Quality & Testing, and Evolving Technology. Over the next few weeks, we’ll publish a series of articles on some of those presentations.

This week, we highlight the presentation on the impact of leaking valves, a topic that keynote presenter Ken Garing of the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Enforcement Investigations Center (NEIC), knows inside and out.

As one of the consultants working for NEIC in Denver, CO, Garing, a chemical engineer, provides LDAR (leak detection and repair) services in some of the largest, most complex plants in the world. It’s a job he’s had since the center opened in 1989. With a state-of-the-art lab, he said NEIC is “kind of like the NCIS for the EPA!”

Garing explained that all the rules the agency enforces “are about keeping the stuff in the pipe!” To do this, the center’s inspectors monitor valves, flanges, connectors, compressors and pumps. Monitoring frequencies range from monthly to quarterly, semi-annually… all the way up to eight years, he said, and while there is a lot of variation “typically, 90% of things are monitored on a quarterly basis.”

leak detection and repair 2In addition, he said, companies must repair leaking valves in five days, with all work complete in 15 days. In extreme cases (such as a major leakage), the repair must be made within 24 hours. And, he noted, “many permit fees are based on emission levels.” So in addition to a healthier environment, and worker and community safety, there are monetary reasons for wanting to keep FEs as low as possible.

Recordkeeping is also an enormous task. For instance, there might be 20,000 valves in a typical refinery and as many as a half-million components that need monitoring, Garing said. And, of course, records must be kept on every one of those components.

Most enforcement actions that take place are civil; in truth there are very few criminal cases, he said, but it has happened. Contractors are usually hired to do the monitoring and typically not well paid—and that opens the door to fraud. Garing discussed a case where a contractor set up a scam to make it appear as if he was in the plant monitoring all the valves every day, while he was actually off site—he faced criminal charges.

Method 21

Garing explained “Method 21,” which he called “the heart of the whole leak inspection process… to make sure components aren’t leaking.” Factors include establishing leak definition, calibration and monitoring locations. For instance, you have to figure out how many people you need to monitor valves; if each one takes a couple of minutes, and there are 400 valves… well, “that’s a LOT of people required to do this each day.”

The leak definition that most use for valves is 500 ppm, he said, and “the leak detection instrument costs about $10,000, plus you have to have data records plus someone to look after this huge database.”

leak detection and repair 3The earliest version of the infrared camera used to detect leaks was huge, Garing said, and while the second version was an improvement, issues still existed. But today’s version is much more compact—it looks somewhat like a video camera from 5-10 years ago. The latest technology in monitoring is thermal imaging. “While not too many folks are doing this right now, you can literally see the leak.”

One of the reasons that an agency like NEIC is needed is to verify what the company reports vs. what is actually occurring. Garing showed a chart with the results reported by eight different refineries, compared to what NEIC detected. In every instance the company reported less FEs, and in some instances, the results were vastly different.

Refinery-wide comparitive monitoring results:





























Garing says he and his colleagues expect leakage of about 1%, and while “the individual leaks are small, when you add up all these small leaks, they are significant.”

Still, progress has been made in the fight against emissions. In describing the evolution of fugitive emissions, Garing said when he first started inspections back in the mid 1970s (while working for an oil company), he was surprised by how many valves were leaking--between 5 to 10%. Now fugitive emissions are in the range of 1 to 5%. "It's just amazing how things have changed from an environmental perspective during the last 30 or 40 years," he said.

A global impact

leak detection and repair 4One of the most noteworthy accomplishments of the NEIC is the work it has done in the area of global refinery settlements. The agency helps refineries around the world develop a specific plan, establish a leak definition, determine monitoring frequency and shows them how to minimize the delay in making repairs. NEIC consultants also instruct the refineries on how to keep all data electronic, prevent calibration drift, conduct training and set up audits.

This is mighty important work when you consider that many refineries outside of the U.S. and Canada operate without any kind of environmental regulations. Thanks to NEIC, we can all breathe a little easier.

Judy Tibbs is editor-in-chief of Valve Magazine. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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photos courtesy EPA/NEIC

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