Why Fuel Tank Maintenance is Important

April 10, 2023

Proper and regular maintenance of your steel tanks has been recommended and an industry standard for more than three decades. Now, it’s even more important than ever.

New requirements announced in June 2022 increased the amount of ethanol and biodiesel required to blend into the fuel supply from 10% to 15% for eight states in the Midwest, which is set to take effect in 2024. That conversion to cleaner fuel shows no signs of slowing down and it has a direct impact on how and why you take care of your Underground Storage Tanks and Above Ground Storage Tanks.  Bottom line: it’s all about water.

Water is a fuel tank’s nemesis! When proper time is not allowed for water to settle out of fuel before it’s delivered to a tank, it can lead to “water bottoms.” This happens when temperatures swing in the delivery process causing water to naturally condense out and collect at the bottom of the tank. Microbes are more likely to grow and proliferate in the water bottoms, creating a slime that clogs the filters which alters the chemical makeup of the fuel and ultimately renders it inefficient at the pump. If the fuel in your tank is contaminated and unusable, you’ll need to empty the contents and get an expert in to clean the vessel by removing the slime and sludge and treating it with a biocide – a process that can cause aggravation, delays, and cost money.

Underground Storage Tank Installation

Further complicating the water issue, biofuels like ethanol contribute even more water to fuel because they are more susceptible to moisture accumulation and “phasing,” which is when the excess water is separated out, resulting in water bottoms and more potential for biodegradation. Federal regulations began requiring ethanol blending in 2005 as part of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program with the purpose of reducing oil dependence and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In the United States, the use of ethanol – which is a renewable domestically produced alcohol fuel made from plant material such as corn, sugar cane or grasses – has increased dramatically from roughly 1.7 billion gallons in 2001 to nearly 12.6 billion in 2020.  In June 2022 the EPA set those levels to 15 billion. According to the Department of Energy 98% of the gasoline consumed today is blended with ethanol. Most of the fuel today contains 10% (E10) ethanol (the exact amount varies by region.) The recent move to increase that in parts of the country to 15% means more risk of water contamination which means frequent monitoring and regular maintenance of tanks are that much more critical.

To be fair, water can enter the tank through other means as well, such as condensation in storage systems and/or any loose fittings or damaged fill boxes. Other factors also cause sludge build-up which results in tank corrosion, from externally introduced contaminants that enter the tank during construction or maintenance activities to an accumulation of contaminants contained in delivered fuel. It is also normal for fuel to break down naturally over time.

That being said, water is one of the biggest factors that could wreak havoc on your tanks if they are not monitored and cleaned on a regular basis. And, while double-wall tanks provide an added layer of protection from water seepage, monitoring frequently is still a must for all fuels and all tanks. So, what can you do to ensure proper tank maintenance? Rely on these essential tips.

Proper Tank Maintenance Tips:

  1. CHECK for tank compatibility with all compositions of ethanol. Steel is compatible with all ethanol blends.
  2. CLEAN the tanks with biocide before introducing ethanol-blended fuels.
  3. PERFORM routine monitoring and inspection for water and contaminants (monthly recommended, daily suggested).
  4. SLOPE the tank ¼ inch per foot towards supply end of tank – if that’s not possible, both ends should be checked. 
  5. INVEST in tools for monitoring water, such as:
  6. REMOVE water and contaminants from the tank when identified

Of course, water can seep in even when you are prepared for it, but following these guidelines of proper and regular maintenance will protect you and your tanks from the aggravations and costs that could ensue and negatively impact your bottom line. In the event that water does get into your storage tanks, there are a few ways to remedy the problem. The easiest way is to use a water pump – which works best with older fuels since the water separates out better. Another method is fuel filtration and polishing, which allows for the removal of water without actually taking the fuel out of the tank. For more serious damage there is the non-entry tank cleaning which requires you to remove all the fuel and use a machine to remotely pressure wash the tank. Finally, in the most severe contamination cases, the fuel needs to be removed and an expert needs to physically scrub the tank clean (per confined entry codes).

Whatever your water situation is, address it right away and remember, being proactive about keeping water out of your tanks is truly the best way to go.