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Gas Stations and Lightning Protection Systems

Special Risk Factors:

Lightning is a hazard to all types of structures. Fueling and service stations, however, are at special risk of lightning-related damage due to:

  • Flammable and Explosive Materials: Fuel, lubricants, tires, and batteries
  • Environmental Hazards: Releasing fuel or other toxic products into the earth or community can require expensive clean-up efforts.
  • Large Footprint: Buildings, fuel islands, tanks, signage, lightning, and other structures on site provide a large “target’ for a lightning strike.
  • Damage to Electronics: The American Petroleum Institute warns: “The electric current and energy deposited by a lightning stroke can be sufficiently high to melt thin metallic components and destroy electronic components…”
  • Regulatory Liability: When lightning sparked an explosion of a petrochemical storage tank in Texas, for example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessed fines against the owner for failure to meet the General Duty provisions of the Clean Air Act.
  • Lost Revenue and Customers: Some locations will not recover from closures for repair.

Examples:

gas station lightning strike

Photo: The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Creative Commons license.

A lightning strike on a gas station in Deltona, FL damaged the canopy and pumps and ignited an explosion in the fuel storage tanks.

The headlines tell the story:

  • “Lightning blamed for fire at Houston-area gas station.” (KTRK, 2014-07-08)
  • “Lightning strike ignites a fire on Citgo gas station roof in Hopewell Township.” (nj.com, 2015-04-23)
  • “Lightning causes gas station explosion.” (clickorlando.com, 2018-08-22)
  • “Lightning sets fire to North Augusta gas station.” (The Augusta Chronicle, 2018-07-16)
  • “Crews access damage after lightning strikes Kroger gas station.” (WSB-TV, 2014-09-04)

Lightning strike at an Ohio gas station that, “…sparked a fuel tank explosion that left a crater 40 feet wide.” (Insurance Journal, 2015-08-05)

 

Design and Installation Considerations:

Lightning protection systems must comply with nationally-recognized standards, including LPI 175, NFPA 780, and UL 96.

Additional standards relating to fueling stations include:

  • API 545 — Lightning Protection for Aboveground Storage Tanks for Flammable or Combustible Liquids.
  • API 2003 — Protection Against Ignitions Arising Out of Static, Lightning, and Stray Currents.
  • NFPA 30A — Code for Motor Fuel Dispensing Facilities and Repair Garages.

API 2003 says, “Perhaps the most significant property of lightning is its complexity.” In the light of this cautionary note, gas station designers and owners should seek professional design assistance and installation services from individuals and firms certified by the Lightning Protection Institute (www.lightning.org). Installations should also be certified by the LPI-Inspection Program to assure they function as required, and recertified whenever new equipment is installed and at two to five-year intervals.

 

Case Studies:

Bucees Gas Station Bucees Gas Station

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Hicks Lightning Protection

The Buc-ee’s Travel Center north of Fort Worth is equipped with a comprehensive lightning protection system. The air terminals (lightning rods) on the canopy roof are connected via lightning conductors (special heavy-duty braided cables) to steel columns that act as down conductors and then, at grade, additional cables lead to earth electrodes buried in the soil; the goal is to create a low-resistance path that allows lightning to safely pass from sky to ground without damaging the structures or equipment. Other cables bond the system to each pump and storage tanks and interconnect with the electrical system and equipment grounds to create equal electrical potential throughout the facility. Power, data, water, and other utility lines are equipped with lightning surge protective devices to prevent the lines from transmitting lightning into the structure or equipment. The system was designed and installed according to nationally recognized standards by a Lightning Protection Institute-certified contractor.

unprotected gas station

Photo: Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores, an installation by Storm Shield Lightning Rods

Some operators require a lightning protection risk analysis as part of their corporate-wide building program.

 

Final Thought:

As the automotive industry transitions to electric vehicles, the service stations in our future will also need lightning protection systems to protect charging equipment.

 

Further Information:

Lightning Protection Basics: ecle.biz/lightning-protection.

Lightning Protection Risk Assessment: ecle.biz/lightning-risk-assessment-guide.