Protecting Storage Tanks From the Unknown

By Paul Nazzaro | July 31, 2014

Whether buried underground, positioned above ground, or exposed in a basement, fuel-storage tanks have kept millions of cars and trucks, as well as businesses, industries, aircraft, homes and the like adequately supplied with fuel. For as long as liquid fuels have needed some form of bulk storage, they have been filled with gasoline, diesel fuel, aviation fuel, biodiesel, ethanol and home heating oil. Generally, the consumer rarely notices these tanks, nor does the consumer think about how their fuel could be impacted by factors such as quality and tank design.  

Over the past few years, a great deal of attention has been given to what appears to be an increase in premature filter plugging and corrosion activity in the underground storage tank systems across the country, which can affect every type of liquid fuel.

To appreciate what could be happening to these fuel-storage systems, we need to understand how the petroleum supply chain functions and how quality standards maintain fuel quality from the point of manufacture to the point of sale. It is interesting to contrast fuel quality management practices between the aviation and the pleasure-craft industries. In the case of the former, the airline industry worldwide has invested millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of hours to develop a fuel management program that ensures that jet fuel maintains stringent fuel quality standards by filtering and dewatering it every step along the distribution network. From production, transport, and storage to fueling the aircraft, industry practices ensure optimum fuel quality, resulting in reliable aircraft operation and, in turn, passenger safety during flight.

In contrast to the aviation industry is the marine retail market, selling diesel fuel, gasoline and E10. These fuel storage tanks are typically near a body of water, subject to temperature fluctuation and humid conditions. Over time, these elements lead to the formation of sediment and bottom water that remains with the stored fuel until the tank is physically cleaned and dewatered. Let’s face the facts. Even if the fuel you are buying and selling meets an ASTM specification, this represents “minimum” standards. That doesn’t mean it’s a super fuel, nor does it mean the vessels storing that ASTM-specified fuel prior to consumption are clean and dry.

In the fast-paced world of liquid fuels marketing, in which I include biodiesel, one thing is certain: Sellers sell, buyers buy, but neither party frequently focuses on managing the storage tanks that store their purchases and sales. People often ask why petroleum terminals across the nation still have not begun investing more in infrastructure to accommodate efficient and economical blending of biodiesel, even with the success of the renewable fuel standard now in place. The simple answer centers around uncertainty with the blenders tax credit as well the EPA’s current position on holding production values at 1.28 billion gallons. Interestingly, last year was a banner year for the biodiesel industry as we endured the coldest winter on record and still produced and delivered nearly 2 billion gallons of biodiesel to the marketplace. The industry demonstrated it could deliver.

Millions of gallons of liquid fuels will have changed hands during the time you read this article. The question is, how many of those gallons passed through to consumption without enduring negative impacts of challenged storage tanks containing water, sedimentation and degraded components of countless tank transfers? Adhering to ASTM standards and BQ-9000 fuel policies is a good start to minimizing fuel performance consequences, however, it’s not enough. Those in the supply chain who move or consume fuel need to adhere to tank management policies that can help preserve the quality criterion of the fuel to maximize investment in each gallon consumed.

Author: Paul Nazzaro
President, Nazzaro Group
978-258-8360 ext. 301
[email protected]

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