What is a Tank Terminal?
You likely have seen them as you drive down the highway, fly out of airports, or travel near ports. Those large, round, white metal tanks, usually found in clusters, are critical to our nation’s economy but few give them more than a passing glance. In this edition of the Think Tank, we wanted to talk with you about liquid terminals and why they are important to the economy.
A tank terminal is a facility that houses multiple bulk liquid storage tanks. Because they are usually connected to multiple forms of transportations, including roads, pipelines, inland waterways, rail and oceans, terminals serve waypoints for liquid goods as they travel across the country.
Liquid storage tanks house all types of products, from petroleum and petroleum products, like crude oil, gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, biofuels, agricultural goods such as olive oil and molasses, chemicals, asphalt, and so much more.
Tanks allow owners of the liquid products to store their products in a location as terminal operators work to help them arrange logistics operations to get the liquids to their destination.
Some terminal facilities are vertically operated, with a parent company controlling or owning every step of their product’s journey to the consumer. Others are owned by third parties that contract out their services.
The largest collection of tank terminal facilities in the world is right here in the United States. Cushing, Oklahoma, the designated site of physical delivery of the New York Mercantile Exchange’s benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures contract, is known as the “pipeline crossroads of the world” and houses 91 million barrels in storage capacity operated by a host of first- and third-party companies.
Liquid terminals are an essential part of the logistics system. Every barrel of oil exported or imported into the United States goes through a liquid terminal. Every gallon of gasoline you’ve pumped at your neighborhood gas station spent time at a terminal, as did the chemicals used to make fertilizer or the bulk olive oil purchased by cafeterias.
Regarding the tanks themselves, the most common types of tank are fixed-roof tanks with and without an internal floating roof, external floating-roof tanks, cup tanks, and cryogenic tanks. The type of construction used also depends on the properties of the products to be stored in them. Cryogenic tanks, for example, are used for materials that must be stored in liquefied form at very low temperatures.
Due to the vital nature of the products stored, all terminal facilities are protected in ways to guarantee the safety of both the goods and the surrounding communities. On-site security personnel, cameras, routine inspections, tall fences, drone monitoring and much more all contribute to a complex web of risk-mitigating factors.
So, as you are filling your car with gas, buying molasses for gingerbread cookies, or walking along a freshly paved sidewalk, spare a moment to think about just how hard it was to get said product from its origin to where you now are. Tank terminals are crucial to the nation’s ever-expanding energy, agricultural, and chemical needs.
Check out our video, "What's a Tank Terminal?" on ILTA's official Youtube page: