white huge storage tanks

Containing Flames: Preventing Storage Tank Disasters

Researchers reviewed 242 industrial storage tank accidents that occurred in the past 40 years.  According to the results, 74 percent of the incidents happened at facilities, like petroleum refineries and storage compounds for oil products. Further analysis revealed that 85 percent of the accidents involved fire and explosions. A whopping 72 accidents, or 30 percent of the total number of accidents, were because of human errors.

These errors include failure to maintain the integrity of the tank.  This means that thorough maintenance or construction could have prevented 72 costly accidents. Regular API 653 inspections and storage tank repairs can help mitigate accidents and disasters.  Proper construction of the facility itself is invaluable in preventing conflagrations.

Storage Tank Considerations

The two main components of a storage facility that prevent fires are the tank and the dike.  The proper construction and maintenance of both these components may help avoid a major disaster.

Someone building a storage tank can benefit from knowing that lightning strikes are a major cause of fires and explosions. A bolt of lightning can hit the roof of a tank and ignite flammable vapors coming out of vents. These so-called vent fires are less severe than rim-seal fires, one of the most common types of storage tank conflagrations.

Facilities that install lightning protection systems may avoid a direct hit from a lightning strike. Failing that, these systems can also diffuse the damage should the disaster still occur. Grounding storage tanks can diffuse the power of a bolt, sparing the tank and its contents.

Emergency responders can quench these kinds of fires with proper equipment, but the first lines of defense against these dangers are quality construction and constant inspection of the facilities and its component buildings.

Managers and operators of storage tank facilities should always be on the lookout for any sign of degradation of tank integrity. These signs could include rust, indications of seepage, malfunctioning or non-functioning ventilation systems, and any visible sign of damage. Regular inspections by authorized and accredited safety organizations and institutions are also ideal.

Dike Considerations

round white storage tanks surrounded by dikes

The dike is a low wall-like rampart that surrounds storage tanks. They can be made of compacted earth or concrete. The purpose of the dike is to prevent the spread of the tank’s contents in the event of an overflow or rupture. This would be important if said contents are on fire, as the dike can stop it from igniting the whole area.

When constructing a dike, builders have to make sure that the dike can contain more liquid than the combined amounts of all storage tanks inside its area. In the event that several or all the tanks inside it rupture, the dike should be able to contain these fluids without risk of overflowing. This overflow margin must also account for the massive quantities of water and flame retardants required by firefighters to suppress any fire inside the dike.

Relevant personnel should also regularly inspect dikes as they would the tanks. They must ensure that the dikes are strong enough to hold in any overflow and that the facility can drain it to avoid flooding, in case of massive rainstorms or similar weather.

Vigilance and diligence are keeping these facilities constructive instead of destructive. Although the research only showcases those compounds that were the victims of negligence, hundreds of similar locations remain safe and productive, thanks to constant watchfulness and dedication.