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February 2016

Degradation Mechanisms and Integrity

Management of aboveground Storage Tanks
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globe. The AMCO Monthly Article are offered within the following areas:

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ii. Fitness for Service
iii. Risk Based Inspection/ Maintenance
iv. Advance Materials
v. Reliability Engineering
vi. Qualification, Quality and Safety Methodology
vii. Materials Technology
viii. Pipelines and Risers
ix. Asset Operation
x. Quality Control/Assurance
xi. Corrosion and Erosion
xii. Inspection and NDT testing
xiii. Microstructures and damage mechanisms
xiv. Operations and Maintenance
xv. Vibration and Condition Monitoring

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About the Authors

Mr. Qurban Ali Lashari

NACE CP Technologist

Over 24 years of professional experience in Corrosion Control / Cathodic

protection with Pak Arab Refinery and Saudi Aramco of 4 to 56 diameter
oil and gas pipeline network, internal station/terminals piping network and
refined fuel / crude oil storage tanks, which includes designing, installation
& commissioning of Corrosion Control/ Cathodic Protection system with
ICCP & Sacrificial anodes system in compliance of NACE SPO: 169.
Selection & injection of Corrosion Inhibitor & analysis of External /
internal corrosion growth through Intelligent Pigging /MFL Technique
/Coupon analysis. Budget preparation implementation (CAPEX & Revenue) and inventory control.
Certified Lead auditor for OHSAS 1800:2008, Certified Soft Skill trainer. Conducted more than 60
internal audits and more than 100 trainings at PARCO/PAPCO station & terminals in compliance of
HSEQ and improving management skills. Represent PARCO in 2nd International Corrosion
Management Conference held at Sheraton Karachi.

Engr. Naila Wajahat

Ms. Naila is Australia based AMCO Consultant who has few years of experience of conducting failure
analysis, microstructure interpretation and remaining life assessment of plant equipment.
She gained her degree in Metallurgy from Pakistan and Master Degree in engineering from Australia.
She is the co-author of this article, adding value in the area of damage assessment in the Industrial
tanks, providing description of the advanced methodologies for the failure prevention and maintaining
high integrity.
Degradation Mechanisms and Integrity Management of aboveground
Storage tanks

A storage tank is a container, usually for holding liquids and sometimes compressed gases (gas
tank). Storage tanks operate under no (or very little) internal pressure, distinguishing them from
pressure vessels. Storage tanks are often cylindrical in shape, are perpendicular to the ground with
flat bottoms, and have a fixed or floating roof. There are usually many environmental regulations
applied to the design and operation of storage tanks, often depending on the nature of the fluid
contained within. Above ground storage tanks (ASTs) differ from underground storage tanks
(USTs) with regard to design considerations and thereby applicable regulations as well.
In oil and Gas, petrochemical sector; storage tanks are mostly used to store the crude oil or other
fuels. The main corrosion causing substances in the fuel and crude oil are listed below.
Alkanes (aliphatic hydrocarbons or paraffins) are saturated hydrocarbons, non-cyclical,
nalkanes(normal alkanes) and iso-alkanes (branched alkanes).
Cycloalkanes (cycloparaffins or naphthenes).
Crude oils generally contain no alkenes. Alkenes (olefins) are unsaturated hydrocarbons.
Alkenes are formed in oil refining units and are contained in gasoline (to 25%) and
kerosene (to5%).
Aromatic hydrocarbons (aromatics) contain one or more aromatic (benzene) rings. Usually
aromatics are less abundant than saturated hydrocarbons.

Naphthenic acids (NA) containing in some crudes represent large corrosive danger for oil
refineries. Usually NA are concentrated in highly boiling distillated fractions (gas oil) and can
corrode inner surfaces of distillation columns and pipelines at ~230-360oC (445-680oF). Some
crudes, for instance, from Azerbaijan, contain light naphthenic acids concentrating in kerosene
fraction (190-210oC) (375-410oF) NA that pass from crudes into petroleum products are not
corrosive at ambient temperatures(~20oC) (68oF) of their storage and transportation
As the present-day need for storages is continuously increasing because of increasing
consumption, tanks of larger and larger capacities are built. These are the challenges of the time,
and technocrats had risen to the expectation and were able to formulate codes, standards, and
regulations for construction of such large storage tanks. With increasing demand of the storage
and readily available supply of the energy products, there is a need for controlling the tank failures
and the damage mechanisms which for the basis of those failures. The most common cause of the
ASTs failure is corrosion. The proceeding sections will discuss how we can utilize advanced
techniques to observe the early signs of corrosion, incorporating the inspection techniques and the
measures which are necessary to increase the integrity and life of storage tanks in oil & gas.
Damage Mechanisms in above ground Storage Tanks

A wide range of damage mechanisms can cause a storage tank to deteriorate and fail. Many can
operate simultaneously. This section cannot identify all of these, but does aim to address those that
pose a threat to the integrity of the structure. The following section on inspection methods will
describe how the failure mechanisms can be detected.


The vast majority of storage tanks are constructed from

carbon steel and corrosion is a prime cause of
deterioration of them and their accessories. It can be
associated almost equally from external attack
(atmospheric side) or from an internal (product side)
mechanism. By way of example, tanks in crude oil
service can be particularly susceptible to sulphate
reducing bacteria (SRB) attack. External Corrosion of AST

Corrosion is rarely uniform, though this is not unknown.

However, random, localized, pitting corrosion attack,
particularly of flat-bottomed tank floors appears to be the most common failure. This can be
topside down (especially where there is an aqueous phase) or underside up. Product temperature
appears to be an important element. The condition and materials of construction of tank base along
with the effectiveness and durability of the floor
to base seal, and the slope angle of the berm or
tank pad away from the base are crucial factors
in prevention of bottom up corrosion.
Although it is common to refer to some tanks
as flat-bottomed, the floor may actually be
designed cone-up or cone-down. Cone-up
floors are the most common and allow settled
water or bottoms product to gravitate to sumps
around the periphery of the tanks. Cone-down
floors normally have a sump at the center of the
For tanks in crude oil, or other liquid
hydrocarbon, service with the possibility of entrained
water in the product or entering through seals or natural breathing, water will naturally collect as
a layer in the bottom. This is often referred to as a water bottom. Along with any sediment, it can
often contain aggressive compounds and in some instances monitoring the pH of drained water
may be required as a corrosion control. It is important that operators adopt good drainage
procedures where water can accumulate in the bottom of tanks.
Corrosion leading to small leaks in floors can potentially go undetected for a period of time. In
some cases this has led to foundations been washed away, causing the tank to become unstable,
leading to catastrophic failure of the tank.
Corrosion attack of the lower shell strakes is also common, as is attack of annular plates where
these are fitted. This is often, though by no means universally, caused by poor bund drainage. Edge
lamination of annular rings is also commonly seen in these circumstances. BS EN 14015
recommends tanks > 12.5m diameter should be constructed with annular ring plates. API 650 takes
a different approach and uses allowable stress to determine when annular plates are necessary.
For the reasons outlined above, many operators arrange to have the bottoms and typically the first
metre of the shell of their tanks painted or coated to provide increased corrosion protection. Linings
and coatings for tanks is a subject in itself and some further detail on coating protection is given
later in the report.
Deterioration and failure of tank drains is common. Drains are often the single most vulnerable
point on a tank, especially those that run through channels under the floor. They are regularly
overlooked, difficult to inspect and the culverts are often submerged in rainwater and full of debris.
At one site, the channel under the tanks and the drains had simply been concreted in.
Water draw-off sumps are also vulnerable parts of the tank, particularly those which are centrally
located on cone-down type floors. While wall thicknesses are generally greater than that of the
floor, both the inner and outer walls are at potentially greater threat from corrosion. Guidance on
inspection techniques for sumps is poor and it is arguable that full ultrasonic thickness scans should
be carried out here. API 650 gives information on center draw-off sumps and drains. 38 Examples
were seen where preferential attack had occurred to lower shell strake welds and in another case
the floor directly under the dipping point on one tank containing diesel oil had been pierced. This
may be attributed to fretting-related corrosion (a mechanism seen with floating roof support leg
striking plates) where repeated contact removes any protective layer of rust scale that may have
External corrosion is often also found where fittings are welded to the tank shell or at water traps
for example around and below wind girders, stairwells and vertical/spiral stairway connections.
Other areas of increased corrosion attack are typically at the liquid/vapour interfaces and areas
around vents and breathers where oxygen and humidity levels can be higher.

Tank containing light naphtha; inner surface of the shell of the aboveground storage tank
(AST) containing gasoline; the bottom of the AST containing gas oil.
Care must be taken walking on tank roofs where there are doubts about its condition. It is by no
means unusual that the first sign of deterioration found is when daylight is seen through holes in
the roof at the time of internal entry. Internal damage can occur where the product is more corrosive
in its vapour phase and due to general condensation in the roof space. It can be more prevalent
around vents and breathers. Some Operators highlighted roof walkways by painting them in a
different color or used a non-slip coating and carried out additional inspections in these areas.
There are a number of different designs of floating roofs and inspection of their many features
such as rolling ladders, deck plates, seals, drains, pontoons and guides is carried out from the top.
Like that for fixed roofs care should always be taken when walking on them and, if the tank is in
service, access is normally restricted if the roof is below a certain level (normally top dip or no
more than 2m from the top). Access to pontoons or the inter-space of double deck roofs should
also be restricted if the tank is in-service.

The other most common external corrosion attack is CUI (corrosion under insulation). Here the
operating temperatures are critical and many tanks contain liquids that are stored in the highest
risk range of 50 to 100C. Also where insulating material is high in chlorides. Again the damage
tends to manifest itself as pitting attack predominantly around the bottom edge particularly if the
insulation is not cut away causing a wicking effect.

Chloride stress corrosion cracking is the main cause of

degradation with stainless steel tanks. It is temperature
dependent and the main problem areas are the nozzles and
attachment points around steam heating coils.


Erosion is generally found at points of increased flow or

change in flow direction particularly adjacent to fill and
discharge nozzles. It is especially common in tanks containing
sulphuric acid. In many cases increased thickness of materials or backing plates are used where
erosion is identified as a threat. One instance was found where damage to a tank sump, which
eventually leaked, was caused by poorly installed vibrating piping which eroded the side wall of
the sump.

Erosion of a floating roof tank inner shell wall was identified at one site where the tank was sited
downwind in a particularly dusty location. It has also been observed directly under a mixer on a
tank in crude oil service.

Cold creep (or stretching over a period of time) is a well-understood deterioration mechanism but
is limited to non-metallic thermoplastic tanks. These tanks can be temperature sensitive as well,
with HDPE in particular losing strength as temperature increases.

Fatigue does not appear as significant a potential failure mechanism as it is for pressure vessels,
since the membrane stresses are generally much lower.

Chemical Attack

The threat to tank integrity through chemical attack and incompatibility between the products
stored and the material of construction is obvious. The most common construction materials are
carbon and stainless steels, thermoplastics, polypropylene, PVC, PVDF, HDPE, and laminates
such as GRP. Aluminium tanks are used more commonly for hoppers and silos and in low
temperature applications but appear less general for normal liquid storage. Tanks utilising a variety
of lining and coating materials are used, although metallic clad tanks are quite rare.

Carbon steel is suitable for the storage of a large number

of chemicals, however, some, such as dilute acids will
react with carbon steel.

Stainless steels are often used where purity and quality

of the stored chemical is paramount. However welding
of stainless steel tanks and system components is
critical as these can be susceptible to stress corrosion

Additional information on HDPE and GRP tanks is

or given later in the report, however poor high temperature
properties, UV light degradation and environmental
cracking are all well understood failure modes for non-metallic tanks.

It is essential that the materials used for the construction of the storage tank are compatible with
the chemicals to be stored. Additional consideration may be required where chemicals are stored
at elevated temperatures. The best operators had robust systems which identified the issues as well
as applying formal change procedures to assess the effects of any anticipated product/ tank

Mechanical damage to storage tanks can be caused by impact, differential or non-uniform

settlement, over-pressurization, vacuum, excess dead loads such as snow or ice, and wind inflicted
damage. Buckling of shell plates and other externally inflicted damage should be identified from
good inspection. Shell buckling can have severe effects where tanks are fitted with floating roofs
as can differential settlement and tilt.

Snow and wind loads appear to be

the most common threats to a
tanks structure and buckling of
the shell due to wind gusts is
relatively common. Buckling of
shells and subsequent
catastrophic failure have been
caused by internal vacuum where
vents have become blocked.
Serious damage has also occurred
on floating roof tanks where
rainwater drains have blocked or
Subsidence can occur, particularly on weak and compressible ground. Many tank farms are sited
on recovered land, often alongside rivers and other environmentally sensitive areas. All of the tank
codes stress the importance of operators/designers understanding the subsurface conditions and
the soil properties.

Frost heave and frequent freeze-thaw of the ground

can affect tank foundations as can exceptionally
high tides in tidal areas. This can lead to uniform or
differential settlement, planar tilt and edge
settlement. In addition to roof binding on floating
roof tanks and cracking of welds, settlement can
also affect connected piping systems, many of
which are fitted with bellows or flexible joints of
varying design.

The interventions revealed that many operators did

not consider it necessary to carry out periodic
verticality and settlement surveys.

It is worth noting that anchoring flat-bottomed tanks

using bolts is not a mandatory design requirement. Catastrophic failure due to overload
Many factors are taken into consideration, such as tank
foundation type, deadweight, product weight, pressure uplift and roof frangibility. These must be
balanced with other risks e.g. tanks floating if bunds fill with rainwater or leaking product or the
effects of wind loads. Where anchor bolting is fitted the design codes do specify a minimum
diameter and spacing. Clearly, condition evaluation of anchor bolts is fundamental if they are
fitted. This can be carried out in conjunction with the foundation inspection.

The poor impact resistance of non-metallic tanks is well recognized. Mishandling during transport
and poor installation have resulted in their premature failure

Brittle failures of tanks have occurred shortly after construction, especially during hydrotesting or
on the first filling in cold weather. Experience has shown that once a tank has demonstrated
satisfactory service, the risk due to brittle failure in normal operation is minimal. 64 Section 5 of
API Std 653 is devoted to an assessment procedure for tanks in brittle fracture service.

Annular plates typically suffer from corrosion attack around the outer exposed plate edge, which,
in extreme cases, can lead to a laminated appearance. In addition, both top-side and bottom-side
corrosion are relatively common. At one site, through-thickness cracking occurred from a region
of undercut along the inner shell to annular plate fillet weld. Most of these problems are caused,
or at least exacerbated, by inadequate foundation support under the annular plate and poor
drainage. It is also possible that cyclic loading could play a part.

Some tanks have been designed to a known standard, yet do not have an annular plate. These tanks
may have increased stresses along the floor to shell weld and in the area of this weld, known as
the critical zone. When undertaking repairs in this area without an annular plate, care must be
taken not to induce further areas of stress concentration which may initiate potential damage

In one other case it was found that a tank floor and annular plates had been replaced and when the
tank was subsequently hydrostatically tested, it was reported that a lower shell plate moved
inwards towards the tank center and became distorted, along with two other plates higher up the
tank shell. This was attributed to an incorrect alignment between the lower shell course and the
new annular plates prior to welding.

General shell wall thinning, and subsequent failures are much less frequent than floors but can
occur on external floating roof tanks. Articulated roof drain failures are also common on this type
of tank.

Repairs to lower shell strakes generally involve cutting out and re-welding areas of replacement
shell plate (including one or more entire shell plates or full height segments of shell plate) or
welding into place lapped patch plates. It should be noted that lapped patch shell repairs are
considered to be an acceptable form of repair for butt-welded, lap-welded and riveted tank shells
in API Std 653, but only under specified circumstances. If more extensive areas of shell plate
require repair then the use of butt-welded shell replacement plate is preferred. The repair of a
buckled tank shell should always be done using insert plates.

At one site, repairs had been made to corrosion holes in two tank shells using epoxy or polymer

Fuel Part of the AST Corrosion Cause Corrosion

Prevention Method
Drainage and cleaning;
Crude oil Bottom
Coatings (resistant to

Coatings (organic;
Gasoline metalized);
Inert atmosphere;
Shell Dissolved H2O VPI;
and O2 Dehumidification;
Inhibitors (nitrites,

Kerosene Drainage and cleaning;

Bottom MIC Coatings;

Table 1.0 [5]

based type materials. No formal assessment of integrity threat had been carried out or any
indication given of when these would be replaced by a proper repair.

The most prevalent corrosion types along with tank locations are summarized in the table 1.0.

The most extensively used nondestructive testing (NDT) method in tank construction is
radiography. Conventionally, gamma radiography is performed on storage tanks. In gamma
radiography, Iridium 192 source is the most commonly used source in the industry. In some
specific instances such as the use of some special highly productive welding processes such as
electro gas welding, some clients ask for X-ray radiography. For both of these radiography tests,
the applicable code for carrying out radiography is ASME Section V. The extent of radiography
and its acceptance criteria are provided in Section 8 of API650.

Removal of defective locations is removed by gouging or grinding. As per API 650, ultrasonic
testing (UT) is not mandatory. However, on agreement with the purchaser, inspection of weld
using the ultrasonic test method is permitted in lieu of radiography. When ultrasonic testing is
carried out in lieu of radiography as permitted, examinations need to be carried out as per Appendix
U in API 650, which gives norms for acceptance of defects as well. In addition to this, on many
occasions, specifications require ultrasonic testing as an additional requirement. Use of the
ultrasonic test method is very helpful when shell thicknesses are comparatively higher.

Furthermore, ultrasonic testing is very effective and foolproof in evaluating the corner welds such
as the weld between nozzles and manholes and the shell. Because of this, it is always better to have
ultrasonic testing procedures in position prior to the start of fabrication. The procedure shall
address all types of weld configurations that may arise in its purview with other salient parameters
involved in scanning and shall be approved by the client or consultant.

When ultrasonic testing (not in lieu of radiography) is called for in thespecification, it shall be
carried out as per Article 5 of ASME Section V. Since this ultrasonic testing (additional) is not
mandatory, acceptance criteria for the same may need to be agreed upon by the purchaser and
manufacturer preferably before the start of work.

When liquid penetrant testing (LPT) is specified in the order, it is to be carried out as per Article
6 of ASME Section V. As in the case of other NDT methods, a written procedure covering testing
of all anticipated types of welds shall be prepared with proper reporting format indicating all salient
parameters of the test and is to be approved by the client/consultant. Personnel performing and
evaluating LPT are to be qualified to ASNT SNT-TC-1A Level II or III. Here also, the vision
requirements specified in API 650 with regard to NDT technicians are similar to requirements of
SNT-TC-1A and hence no additional requirement is put forward by API 650 through Clauses 8.4.3
Criteria for acceptance, removal and repair of defects revealed in LPT shall be in accordance with
ASME Section VIII Div (1) Appendix 8, paragraphs 8-3, 8-4, and 85.

As indicated in the inspection and test summary, every weld of a storage tank is expected to be
inspected visually and cleared off personally by one of the inspectors according to the norm
specified in API 650, as well as in specifications. In spite of all these written requirements, on
many occasions, obvious and glaring defects can be noticed at the time of hydrostatic testing and
subsequent surface cleaning and coating and lining application of the storage tanks. Though it
might be unintentional and due to human errors, most of the time it is felt that this results from a
lack of clear strategy to clear each and every weld of a storage tank through visual examination or
visual testing (VT). Therefore, it is considered important to evolve a clear strategy to carry out
visual inspection of storage tanks.

API 650 proposes one of the following to assess the integrity of the shell of a storage tank. This
test is to be carried out after the entire construction work of the tank is completed, including the
roof and all other connected structures. However, tanks designed according to Appendix F of API
650 is excluded from the scope of this testing.

If water is available for carrying out the hydrostatic test, the tank shall be

filled with water

1. up to a maximum design liquid level

2. up to 50 mm (2) above the weld connecting the roof plate or compression bar to the top angle
or shell in the case of tanks with a tight roof, or

3. to a level lower than that just specified when the maximum level is limited by overflow nozzles.

The tank shall be inspected frequently for any leaks during the filling operation. All welded joints
above the test water level shall be examined

Protective Measures

Tank designers use coatings as a primary defense against corrosion on the internal wetted surfaces
of water storage tanks. Coating systems, however, are less than perfect and they degrade over time.
Corrosion is a pervasive phenomenon and wherever there are voids, holidays or coating failures--
the galvanic corrosion cell will rush into action and continue unabated unless addressed. The
common means of supplementing the coating system is to install a cathodic protection system
inside the storage tank.

Cathodic protection provides electrical current to those areas not isolated from the environment by
virtue of being coated, and therefore stops the corrosion cycle. Therefore, the combination of
coating and CP work in concert to arrest the corrosion reaction when properly applied and
maintained here are two basic types of cathodic protection systems the first type is the galvanic
system, which relies on anodes made from metals that are inherently more electronegative than
steel. Zinc and Magnesium are common anode materials used in water storage tanks. The second
type is an impressed current system where longer-lasting anode materials can be used in
conjunction with an external power supply, or rectifier, which converts AC power to DC current.
Alternative energy sources are also available including solar power panels connected to DC
batteries, which then supply current to the anode system.
Variety of configurations is available for suspending, hanging or attaching anodes to the tank for
internal protection. Several factors influence the CP system design including water quality, tank
coating quality, desired anode system design life, the availability of power, freeze
protection/potential and more.


1. ANSI/API RP 652 (2005) Linings of aboveground petroleum storage tank bottoms (3rd
ed).American Petroleum Institute, Washington.
2. NACE Standard SP0169-2007 (formerly RP0169-2002) (2007) Control of external corrosion on
underground or submerged metallic piping systems. NACE International, Houston,
3. Groysman A (1998) Corrosion of aboveground storage tanks for petroleum products and choice
of coating systems for their protection from corrosion.
4. API RP 1632 (2002) (1996) Cathodic protection of underground petroleum storage tanks and
piping systems, 3rd edn. American Petroleum Institute, USA,
5. Groysman A (2016) Corrosion in systems for storage and transportation of petroleum products
and biofuels.
6. API Standard 653 (2009, Apr) Tank inspection, repair, alteration and reconstruction. American
Petroleum Institute, Washington