When most people hear the word “farm” used, it typically applies to growing some form of crop, whether edible or for other purposes. So, it’s no wonder that many are confused by the term “fuel tank farm”. This article will take a closer look at what fuel tanks farms are, who uses them, how they are constructed, tank farm safety, as well as operational and maintenance considerations.
What is a fuel tank farm? A fuel tank farm is a facility used for the storage of oil, gas, and other petrochemical products. Fuel tank farms are a vital part of industry and government.
In most cases, the fuel tank farm is only used for storage. Processing is never done on a fuel tank farm site. Sometimes the storage facility supplies its own fuel for onsite use. But more often than not, the fuel is only stored there and is eventually taken offsite to be used elsewhere.
Fuel can be stored in tanks located aboveground or below ground. Aboveground tanks are less expensive to install, and visual inspections can be done on them. However, belowground tanks can be safer from tampering and are less prone to fire explosions.
Who Uses Fuel Tank Farms?
Tank farms are used by many different types of entities. These include:
- Local Governments
- State Governments
- The Federal Government
Tank farms are used by businesses and all forms of government. They are sometimes used onsite, and sometimes they are used before the fuel is distributed to other areas.
For example, many airports make use of their own fuel tank farms to supply their aircraft with jet fuel. This gives them the ability to refuel their planes without relying on daily shipments from their fuel suppliers.
Refineries also use tank farms to help them store crude. They may do this to ensure that the flow of oil from their refineries is never interrupted or they could do this to help with their blends.
Large agricultural farms may also make use of a fuel tank farm. They do this to store diesel fuel for their tractors and other farm equipment.
Another reason a business may store crude is to help with pricing. Traders can physically store oil when it is selling at a low price and empty out the tank farms when the oil is trading at a higher price. This type of speculation can be very profitable and does not carry much risk.
State and local governments can also make use of tank farms. This is especially true in remote areas where fuel would otherwise be inaccessible to the local population. For example, a small remote village in Alaska may need to store the fuel for when their village is inaccessible due to winter weather conditions.
The United States Federal government has one of the largest fuel tank farms in the world. According to Energy.gov, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve can hold up to 713.5 million barrels of oil. The U.S. Energy Information Administration states that Americans use an average of 19.96 million barrels a day.
This means that should the flow of oil be completely cut-off, the United States could run uninterrupted, just off of this one fuel tank farm for well over a month. Having reserves like this reduces the chances of foreign countries enacting oil import cutoffs on the country.
Fuel Tank Farm Tank Construction
The storage tanks themselves are built out of a variety of materials. They can be found in all steel, all fiberglass, or a composite of the two. The type of fuel being stored, in conjunction with, local, state, and federal laws will dictate the kind of container to be used.
Fuel tank farm storage tanks are generally much more sophisticated than what a person might find at their local Tractor Supply Company. These tanks are specially engineered and are built for high-volume situations.
For example, a fiberglass and steel tank often uses a fusion bonded epoxy coating. This epoxy is extremely sensitive to any chemical deviations and must be weighed and mixed correctly. It must also be applied at a specific temperature range. Failure to mix the epoxy to the right formula results in a coating that can delaminate over time or fail to adhere correctly from the outset.
Fuel Tank Installation
Once the tanks are created, they need to be transported to the fuel tank farm and installed. Large tanks cannot be transported intact and will need to be assembled at the tank farm. This often requires the use of heavy machinery.
The site of underground storage tanks will need to be excavated, and the site of aboveground storage tanks will need to be leveled. After the tanks are put in place, they need to be leveled once again, and steps must be taken to prevent the soil from settling.
Even the surrounding areas must be prepared appropriately before a fuel storage tank can be put into place. This is because pipelines will be run to and from the tanks and workers and inspectors will need access to the pipes as well as the storage tanks.
You will see that large tanks may have ladders connected to them so that workers can gain access to the top of the storage tank. An aluminum geodesic dome may even be installed to the top of the tank to help protect against severe weather conditions.
Hanging H is an experience fuel tank farm installer. Not only do we install aboveground and belowground tank systems, we also install the pipeline to and from these tank farms.
Fuel Storage Safety
Storage is primarily regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and secondly by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). Here’s a few of the safety concern they regulate.
EPA Regulations for Fuel Tank Farms
The tanks are governed under the EPA’S spill prevention, control, and countermeasure regulation.
Fuel tank farms need to meet all requirements of the EPA in addition to any local or state requirements. Information on EPA requirements for aboveground tanks can be found at https://www.epa.gov/ust/aboveground-storage-tanks. The EPA requirements for belowground storage tanks can be found at https://www.epa.gov/ust/underground-storage-tanks-usts-laws-and-regulations.
Tank inspections need to be done on any storage container with a capacity of 55 gallons or more. Visual inspections can be done on aboveground tanks smaller than 5,000 gallons. However, the visual inspection must be carefully documented, and a clear schedule must be followed.
Belowground tanks cannot be visually inspected on the outside, and therefore other methods must be applied to meet the EPA’s safety standards.
OSHA Regulations for Fuel Tank Farms
OSHA also plays a role in the way fuel is stored on fuel tank farms. You can view OSHA’S rules and regulations for storing fuel at https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1917/1917.156
Regardless of what the law says, it is crucial that fuel is stored correctly. Improper storage can lead to the contamination of groundwater as well as a loss of product. It’s in the fuel tank farm’s best interest to ensure their tanks do not leak and that fuel is not spilled during transport to and away from the site.
Government regulations, ethics, and a business incentive all work together to help provide an extremely safe environment for the successful storage of fuel.
Fuel Tank Gauging
The fuel tank farm industry has become more sophisticated than ever. Tank gauging can be done in a variety of ways, and automation systems can help storage facilities manage their inventory.
Tank gauging technologies include:
- Hand Gauging
- Float Gauges
- Servo Gauges
- Radar Gauges
A hand gauge is simply a measuring tape made from stainless steel. It has a weighted end that can be dipped into the liquid so that measurements can be taken. This is usually done manually and is the traditional way of gauging a fuel tank.
Float gauges are automatic tank gauges that employ an interior float and metallic tape that is connected to a pulley. The float and metallic tape work to move the pulley based on the depth of the liquid in the tank. Attached to the pulley is a monitoring gauge. This can be viewed onsite or connected to a transmitter to send the data to a monitor.
Servo gauges work similarly to float gauges, but the float is replaced with a displacer. The displacer works to send tank information to a servo gauge. The servo gauge in turn sends this information to the control room.
Radar gauges are currently the most popular type of gauges used in the fuel tank industry. The advantages of radar gauges are that they do not have any moving parts and do not require regular maintenance. Radar tank gauges are more precise than the other types of tank gauges and require very little power to operate.
For a more in-depth look at fuel tank gauges, see page 7 of Emerson’s Engineer’s Guide to Tank Gauging
The Inspection Process
A thorough inspection of a fuel tank may involve draining all of the product and creating air gaps between the connecting pipes before sending a cleaning contractor into the inside of the tank.
The cleaning contractor cleans the tank and prepares it for the next contractor who will check the floor of the tank to make sure there are no abnormalities in it.
Tools are also used to check the thickness of the tank and to identify any corrosion that may have taken place inside the tank. An inspector can scale the walls of the tank to apply these tools themselves or a small robotic machine can be run up and down the walls to do this for him.
Fuel tank farms are used to store oil and fuels safely and effectively. The government, as well as large and small businesses, make use of fuel tank farms to maintain a steady supply of fuel and to control pricing.
Local, state, and federal governments oversee this process to ensure that the fuel tank farm workers and the environment are protected. Regular maintenance and proper management are essential to ensuring tank farms are complying with safety regulations and under safe operation.
As a vital piece of America’s energy infrastructure, tank farms sit quietly in the background. Although not often spoken of, we can be glad tank farms are there to keep our houses warm and our vehicles on the road.
If you would like to know how natural gas compressor stations work, check out our industry article on this subject. You will enjoy the explanation that includes a compressor station process flow diagram and accompanying explanation, as well as a natural gas compressor station map detailing where every compressor station is across the continental USA.