BY JOZEF JACHNIAK, P.ENG.
President, ENEFEN Energy
Efficiency Engineering Ltd.
In 1999, a fatal accident brought the Alberta government
face-to-face with liability issues involved in the safety
of gas-fired equipment used by the petroleum industry.
A gas safety code developed by the Canadian Standards Association
was supposed to prevent such accidents, but it was not
until July 2001 that it was included into Alberta’s
This law was additionally reinforced in November 2003, when
the House of Commons passed Bill C-45, which amends the Criminal
Code of Canada by establishing rules for attributing criminal
liability to organizations, including corporations, for the
acts of their representatives which affect the safety of
workers and the public.
Owners of gas-fired equipment are worried about the law's
implications for several reasons. They say it is difficult,
if not impossible, to fully comply with the code. Firstly,
there is a limited selection of certified components and
a lack of flexibility regarding interpretation of layouts
and control system requirements.
Secondly, the certification and approval process and infrastructure
are not adequately developed. And thirdly, the process is
both costly and time consuming.
The B149 Code was first published 46 years ago then rewritten
a few times, first by the Canadian Standards Association,
then by the Canadian Gas Association, and most recently by
the CSA again, which published the latest version in January
Two important definitions in the code need to be explained – "gas" and "appliance.”
Although the original code was written only for natural gas
and propane installations, the latest code defines gas as
any mixture of natural gas, manufactured gas, propane, propane
air, propylene, butane (normal butane and isobutane), and
butylene. The new amendment to the code will most likely
expand the definition of gas to include field gas.
The term appliance, which to many may mean a household appliance
such as a water heater or heating furnace, is currently used
in the code in a much broader context, referring to any device
used to "convert gas into energy that includes any component,
control wiring, piping, or tubing required to be a part of
These two definitions cover practically any appliance from
a small device comparable in size to a portable domestic
barbeque (20,000 BTU/hr) to a 50,000 times larger field-erected
industrial boiler or furnace (1,000,000,000 BTU/hr).
Excluded from the definitions are gas-consuming devices installed
in marine pipeline terminals, new appliances which already
have an approved standard, small manually operated appliances
with an input rating of less than 20,000 BTU/hr, gas used
as a refining or petrochemical feedstock, gas destined for
processing at liquefied natural gas bulk plants, gas used
as a vehicle fuel or any other fuels used in combination
Contrary to popular belief, the above definitions do not
exclude refinery equipment, but only devices or their portions
which use gas as a feedstock for chemical reactions. It is
the function of an appliance which determines the applicability
of the B149 Code and not its location in the refinery.
Enforcement Takes its Time
Why haven't you heard about the B149 Code before? The answer
is quite simple: its implementation has never been enforced
in the petroleum industry – until now.
The code originally made its way, on a voluntary basis, to
various larger industrial and utility projects for which
it was promoted simply as good design practice. With time,
it has been used on smaller projects and has become a standard
for all industries, except for the petroleum industry.
The reason for slow implementation of the code was the fact
that, until adopted by legislation, B149 was just a standard
and not a legal requirement. Provinces generally set their
own safety standards, and developed their own rules and regulations
covering gas consuming installations. As the CSA developed
its own safety codes, they slowly replaced provincial regulations,
with the penetration so complete that eventually most provinces
adopted some of them in their entirety.
The petroleum industry, with its own standards and fixed
appliance designs, has not been exposed to this "code
evolution.” Hence, little impetus for change.
The landscape shifted, however, with the 1999 fatality and
several close calls in the following two years. Litigation
was brought against the province, and its subsequent investigations
revealed that the number of incidents related to unsafe gas
practices was higher than originally believed and poised
to climb even higher.
In order to limit its liability exposure, Alberta's government
had no choice but to legislate improvements to safety related
to gas appliances, and the B149 Code was identified in July
2001 as one way to reach that goal. The gas safety regulations
are now included in the Alberta Safety Codes Act and are
enforceable by law.
According to the Gas Code Regulation: "No person may
manufacture, install, sell or offer for sale any equipment
related to gas systems for use in Alberta unless it has been
(a) tested and certified by a certification organization
accredited by the Standards Council of Canada, or (b) inspected
and accepted by a certification organization ...."
A first-time violation of these rules carries a maximum penalty
of $15,000 plus $1,000 for each day the offence continues
and/or a six-month jail term. Second and subsequent offences
carry a maximum penalty of $30,000 plus $2,000 for each day
during which the offence continues and/or a 12-month jail
Delivery Does Not
In an ideal world, all gas-fired appliances would be delivered
from the factory certified for use by one of the recognized
certification bodies, such as CSA, ULC, Intertek Testing
Services, Entela, or Quality Auditing Institute. However,
the reality – particularly in the petroleum industry – is
that almost none of the appliances currently installed or
available on the market are either certified, or identical,
since to do so unit by unit would be prohibitively expensive.
The certification process is designed for large quantities
of consumer products, but it tends to be costly and time-consuming
for the one-off production of industrial appliances, which
are often custom-designed and custom-fabricated. The level
of repetition in equipment layouts or component selection
is very low due to process requirements, space restrictions,
or simply because of operator's standards or preferences.
This means that almost every industrial appliance is different
and must be custom-approved.
There are an estimated 20,000 uncertified industrial appliances
in Alberta, and there is little commonality in their design
and components. If all of these appliances had to be modified
and certified at an average cost of $30,000 each, the total
cost to the industry would be in the range of $600 million.
Due to the sheer magnitude of the problem, it is likely that
the upgrading and certification of existing appliances will
have to be spread over a long time, perhaps until existing
appliances are in need of modification or replacement.
Compared to B.C. or Saskatchewan, which both still have Provincial
Gas Safety Services, Alberta is in a unique situation. After
having privatized these services in 1995, the Alberta Government
does not have the flexibility necessary to manage the certification
process and currently has to rely on certification bodies
to provide this service.
But these bodies are not structured to handle such non-repetitive
situations. They don't have testing standards, facilities
or experience to deal with oilfield equipment, and they don't
have the engineering flexibility to accept variations from
Room for Flexibility
Petro-Canada Oil and Gas, however, has developed what it
believes might be a better approach.
The company successfully negotiated with the province to
provide a variance from the code, which allows it certain
flexibility in interpretation based on an engineering assessment
of each specific application. If certified components cannot
be found, the company is allowed to use suitable non-certified
components as long as an equal or better level of safety
Approval is based on past good track record, international
approvals or test reports, while interpretation of the code
and application of any variances must be done by a professional
engineer registered with the APEGGA.
The goal of this "variance approach" is to make
the appliance approval process workable while maintaining
the basic intent of the code – to improve gas safety.
Petro-Canada Oil and Gas is obliged to use the code to the
extent possible, and only vary from it when certified components,
layouts, burner management or control systems are not available
or prescribed installation, testing, or commissioning practices
are not possible, or if the application of any code requirement
would jeopardize the integrity or safety of the process.
Compliance with the B149 Codes is now required by law and
is a reality in Alberta. The variance approach developed
by Petro-Canada Oil and Gas is a practical alternative to
full code compliance.
Not only is it in compliance with the legislation, but it
fulfills the general intent of the code to improve the overall
safety of gas-fired equipment, while at the same time assuring
the continuity and viability of petroleum operations.