Steel storage tanks are the cornerstone of many industries in the United States. The manufacturing, agriculture, sanitation, and oil industries are just a small example of industries that rely on above ground storage tanks. Above ground storage tanks (ASTs) have a wide range of sizes and shapes. Some are horizontal, bullet shaped tanks where others are round vertical tanks. Sizes range from 50 to 10 million gallons. Tanks that range up to 50,000-100,000 gallons are normally built in a steel tank manufacture’s shop whereas the larger tanks, normally round vertical in shape, are field-erected.
The larger field-erected above ground storage tanks are the backbone of many industries world-wide because they permit storage of large quantities of liquid in a confined space. Look around while you fly or drive in the countryside or if you are near a port. You will see these circular giants everywhere serving various industries. Most ASTs are strategically located along transportation lines of rail, river, sea, or truck routes for efficient transfer of the liquid from a manufacturing plant. These locations create hubs for distributors to sell the product to end users or retailers.
Needless to say, AST units are critically important to the success of American industry.
You would think that the critical nature and vast storage capacities of large ASTs would prompt federal law to regulate these steel storage tanks. However, federal law only regulates ASTs based on the type of liquid stored in the tank. If the liquid is categorized as a hazardous chemical, then federal law regulates the construction and maintenance of AST.
If the liquid stored in the AST is not considered a hazardous chemical, it is left to the individual states to determine any regulations on the AST. Most states have regulations for ASTs, but recently we have seen some states who do not, such as West Virginia.
The international standard for construction of field-erected ASTs is the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) 650. The corresponding standard for inspection and maintenance of an AST for continuation of a tank in service is API 653. These standards work together to ensure proper engineering techniques are used to keep an AST operating safely. The standards address construction of ASTs to withstand various issues, such as earthquakes, flooding, high winds, etc.
Even if an AST is not regulated by federal or state law, API 650 and 653 are highly recommended to use on all field-erected steel storage tanks, because their use prevents failure of a liquid storage tank. While regulation fees and penalties are used to make tank owners comply to create safe tanks, the impact of a tank failure, whether a leak or a catastrophic failure, is what every AST owner wants to avoid. As recently demonstrated by the environmental contamination caused by a leak in just one of Freedom Industries tank in West Virginia, the ultimate price is the bankruptcy of a business and criminal convictions for the business owners.
This is just a high level overview of the API standards for field-erected ASTs. For more information, feel free to leave a comment or question below.