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Hurricane Update: Storage Tank Safety, Improved Fuel Outlook

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted September 12, 2017

While we wait for official assessments of Hurricane Irma’s impacts on homes, businesses in Florida, we’ll also watch for damage to energy infrastructure, such as oil and fuel storage tanks. Meanwhile, fuel supplies in Texas reportedly were looking better, and there were reports that nationally, the gasoline market was moderating. More on that below.

Florida has no refineries, but it hosts a number of tanks for storing product and terminals, all of which will need assessing – as has been ongoing in Texas following Hurricane Harvey. We’ll see what is discovered. What we know is that API standards for the large, above-ground tanks used to store crude oil and fuels, like the ones we visited for this post a couple years ago, are designed to help prevent potential spills:

API Standard 650 – For welded tanks for oil storage, establishes minimum requirements for the materials and construction of both closed and open-top tanks. This 498-page standard is for tanks of various sizes and capacities for internal pressures.

API Standard 653 – Covers storage tank inspection, repair and reconstruction of steel tanks built to Standard 650 or above. The 162-page standard provides minimum requirements for maintaining the integrity of tanks – including the foundation, bottom, shell, structure, roof and more.

API Publication 2026 – Gives safe practices to follow when workers have to work on or around floating roofs when inspecting and/or repairing them. Used as a companion to Standard 653.

Recommended Practice 12R1 – Guides new tank installations and maintenance of existing tanks, including tank spacing, tank integrity (liquid and vapor tight) and spill prevention – the construction of dikes or firewalls to contain, at a minimum, the volume of the largest tank enclosed plus an allowance for rainwater (normally, 10 percent additional tank volume). The RP calls for ongoing inspection programs to ensure sufficient integrity for safe use.

Again, assessments are ongoing. Harvey’s storm surge reportedly was small enough that refineries in the Houston Ship Channel appear to have avoided significant spills. API’s Kyle Isakower, vice president for regulatory and economic policy, was quoted as saying that one difference with Harvey is that before the storm some refineries filled up storage tanks to make them less buoyant and less prone to floating and potential damage. While we know some tanks were damaged, tank standards and precautionary efforts likely helped mitigate the storm’s impacts.

As for the fuel situation, the Houston Chronicle reports that gasoline prices were starting to fall after peaking last week. GasBuddy.com’s Patrick DeHaan told the newspaper:

“Harvey may be long gone, but his wrath continued to drive gasoline prices up in much of the country in the last week. However, the effects are finally starting to weaken as refineries return to production and fuel begins to flow once again from many Houston refineries.”

CNBC reports U.S. gasoline futures for deliveries in October declined 1.5 percent on Monday as Irma moved north and was losing strength. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said officials would continue to work aggressively to see that fuel supplies get where they’re needed, by using the Florida Highway Patrol to escort fuel resupply trucks to gasoline stations.

These developments are in line with remarks by energy experts Guy Caruso and Robert McNally, made during a conference call with reporters organized by API late last week. Both noted the oil and natural gas industry’s historic resiliency in responding to supply shortages. McNally:

“If you look at the oil industry, I think what will strike you is how resilient it is, how innovative it is, how it rises to the occasion, how it absorbs blows and challenges and comes back faster often than most expect.”

Again, we’ll have to see the extent of Irma’s effects in Florida. Pre-storm preparations and the fuel supply system’s basic flexibility and efficiency

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.