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Researchers Uncertain About Lightning Fires At Tank Batteries

Preliminary research into 55 tank battery fires caused by lightning in the last five years revealed there is still uncertainty over whether certain tank materials are to blame.

While fiberglass tanks were believed by some experts in the field to be more susceptible to attracting lightning strikes and subsequent fires, there is no firm data putting blame on certain materials, according to the Energy & Environmental Research Center.

“The EERC found no peer-reviewed scientific data proving tank materials is the only factor influencing failure due to lightning strikes,” it said in a report to the ND Industrial Commission.

The EERC said lightning fires occurred at 28 oil and gas production facilities, 23 saltwater disposal tanks, and four central tank batteries.

One company, OWL Salt Water Disposal Services, decided earlier this year to replace all of its fiberglass tanks with steel tanks, after lighting struck a facility near Watford City and caused an explosion and fire.

“What’s very common in these cases is someone made a determination that it was a lightning strike but they weren’t actually there when it happened,” ND Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said. “They arrived shortly after, so they don’t have any information about which tank was struck or which was the first on fire.”

The ND Petroleum Council is also leading efforts to study the cause of these fires.