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The companies belonging to the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of companies are separate and distinct entities,
but in this document the collective expressions Shell and Group are sometimes used for convenience in
contexts where reference is made to the companies of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group in general. These
expressions are also used where no useful purpose is served by identifying the particular company or

This document is prepared by Shell International B.V. (SI) as a service under arrangements in existence with
companies of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group; it is issued for the guidance of these companies and they may
wish to consider using it in their operations. Other interested parties may receive a copy of this document for
their information. SI is not aware of any inaccuracy or omission from this document and no responsibility is
accepted by SI or by any person or company concerned with furnishing information or data used in these
guidelines, for the accuracy of any information or advise given in the guidelines or for any omission from the
guidelines or for any consequences whatsoever resulting directly or indirectly from compliance with or
adoption of guidance contained in the guideline even if caused by a failure to exercise reasonable care.


The copyright of this document is vested in Shell International B.V., The Hague, Netherlands.
All rights reserved.

Gas Freeing and Cleaning of Storage Tanks, Issue 3.0, February 2003

Document History

Date Issue Reason for change Author Approval Signature

January 1975 1.0 First Issue

April 1989 2.0 Second Issue
February 2003 3.0 Third Issue OGNL

The printed version of this document is the controlled version. It is also available on the
PXE Website.

Superseded issues of this document should be destroyed.

Gas Freeing and Cleaning of Storage Tanks, Issue 3.0, February 2003
Table of Contents





4.1 On-line Cleaning (IP Code Section 6) 4
4.2 Removing Manholes (IP Code Section 5.3) 5
4.3 Working Through the Manhole (IP Code Section 6.1.3) 6
4.4 Entry Criteria (IP Code Table 6.1) 7
4.5 Health Risk Assessment 7


Gas Freeing and Cleaning of Storage Tanks, Issue 3.0, February 2003

Gas Freeing and Cleaning of Storage Tanks, Issue 3.0, February 2003
Purpose and Scope

1 Purpose and Scope

The periodic cleaning of storage tanks is an inherently hazardous and dirty activity. Over
the past 30 years tank cleaning has increasingly been contracted out to specialist tank
cleaning contractors and in-house expertise has dwindled. Tank cleaning has led to a
number of incidents at Group installations resulting in serious injury, fires or explosions.

The purpose of this document is to provide guidance in the assessment and

implementation of controls for gas freeing and cleaning of storage tanks.

The scope of this guide is near atmospheric pressure fixed storage tanks commonly found
in crude oil production, refineries, shipping terminals and distribution operations. It does
not cover movable tanks such as ships, rail and road tankers, nor does it apply to
chemicals, pressure storage tanks or process vessels, which involve a variety of different
hazards. However, many of the procedures in this guide will be equally applicable to
chemicals and liquid petroleum gases storage tanks and to road/rail and shipping tanks.
This guide does not deal with any subsequent work such as tank repairs or modifications.

The Institute of Petroleum Tank Cleaning Safety Code (1996) is an integral part of this
guide, and should be read with this guide. (See Section 5).

This guide replaces the Group guide Gas Freeing and Cleaning of Oil Storage Tanks
(1989). The reasons for revising this guide are:
To introduce risk assessment processes for determining the controls needed during
these hazardous activities.
To increase the focus on health and environmental hazards.
To give impetus to the application of on-line cleaning methods (see Section 4.1).
To incorporate learning from incidents which have occurred in the Group and
Industry over the past 10 years.

Gas Freeing and Cleaning of Storage Tanks, Issue 3.0, February 2003 1
Required Procedures

2 Required Procedures
The Shell Group Procedure for an HSE Management System requires for all critical
operations and installations an assessment of the related risks, implementation of
measures to control these risks and to recover in case of control failure. Tank cleaning is
a HSE critical operation involving a number of very hazardous activities.
The following procedures must be followed by all BUs in line with the more detailed
guidance provided in this document:
BUs shall assess the risks of all tank cleaning operations. These assessments shall
consider the application of on-line cleaning methods and shall demonstrate that the
risks will be reduced to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP) by the methods

Companies shall conduct detailed hazard analyses of all tank cleaning operations,
applying the practices described in this guide.

Gas Freeing and Cleaning of Storage Tanks, Issue 3.0, February 2003 2
Institute of Petroleum Tank Cleaning Safety Code

3 The Institute of Petroleum Tank Cleaning Safety Code

The Institute of Petroleum (IP) in the UK has published a Tank Cleaning Safety Code, last
revised in 1996, as part of its Model Code of Safe Practice in the Petroleum Industry. The
IP Code has become the recognised Industry guidance on tank cleaning safety in most
parts of the World. It has therefore been adopted as the Group guide for Tank Cleaning.

In a number of places the IP Code refers to UK health and safety regulations. Where this
occurs reference should be made to legislation in the country of application, except that,
where the IP Code is more stringent, its application is recommended. References in the
IP Code to UK health and safety guidance notes should be considered as extensions of
this Group guide.

The IP Code is available electronically together with this guide, on the PXE web site.

Gas Freeing and Cleaning of Storage Tanks, Issue 3.0, February 2003 3
Supplementary Group Guidance

4 Supplementary Group Guidance

In a few areas the IP Code does not fully meet recommended Group practice, therefore
supplementary guidance is provided in this document.

4.1 On-line cleaning (IP Code section 6)

Maximising the cleaning when the tank is still in operation offers a number of
The time spent by cleaners inside the tank and the associated risks can be minimised.
Ventilation of vapours during subsequent gas freeing can often be reduced, as can the
environmental impact of a smelly atmosphere. In some countries there are legal limits
on atmospheric venting.
The duration of subsequent manual cleaning and the overall off-line time of the tanks
can be reduced, often with considerable economic benefits.

Selection of a tank cleaning method should not be limited to a cost benefit analysis of
the available alternatives. It should also take into account the health, safety and
environmental benefits of on-line cleaning. Specifically, a risk assessment should be
carried out in each case, and it should demonstrate that the risks will be reduced to as
low as reasonably practicable (ALARP) by the selected method.

The available closed or on-line cleaning methods are proprietary techniques based on
the re-circulation of water and/or oil through the tank, normally accompanied by
separation of oil, water and solids phases as part of the process. Alternatively the water
circulation may include chemical agents/surfactants to aid the separation of oil, water
and solids.

a) Hydrocarbon re-circulation methods

Contractors offer a wide variety of hydrocarbon-based re-circulation methods. All involve
the suspension and solubilisation of sludge components in a jet-sprayed hydrocarbon
phase. Treatment of the slurry is done outside the tank.

In practice, the tank is drained and jet nozzles are installed, for example by attachment
to roof supports or at man-ways. This is an operation, which may or may not require tank
entry. Next, gasoil or light crude oil is introduced and circulation is started. Suction is
normally taken from the centre drain, and the resultant slurry is usually warmed during
the circulation.

In some cases, a bleed stream is taken from the re-circulation line for processing, whilst
in other cases all slurry treatment takes place in a single batch process. At the end of the
circulation, the tank is drained and final cleaning is performed manually.

The major variations between the processes are the design and placing of the nozzles
and the slurry treatment method. Some contractors perform little processing apart from
coarse filtration, on the basis that the major proportion of the sludge, consisting of

Gas Freeing and Cleaning of Storage Tanks, Issue 3.0, February 2003 4
Introduction Group Guidance

hydrocarbons, small inorganic particulates and water, will be removed downstream of

the tank. Whilst in the short-term this may appear to be the case, the transfer of the
problem from the tank to another location, e.g. a tank or a desalter, will only result in
greater costs elsewhere. Other contractors include deep slurry treatment within the
process, for example by cyclone or decanter centrifuge. This should yield high quality
discharge streams but adds to the complexity of treatment.

b) Warm water re-circulation methods

Although similar to the hydrocarbon-based processes the main re-suspension medium is
warm water, almost invariably supplemented with treatment chemicals. Two major
variants can be identified. Some processes apply a violent re-circulation by swing jet-
mixers to re-suspend the solids in the water phase. Others perform a gentle re-circulation
to avoid re-suspension, resulting in separation into oil, water and solids layers within the
tank. In the latter process, a layer of gasoil may be added at the start of treatment to
enhance the separation. In some processes, the floating roofs floats on the liquid layer,
which necessitates the addition of a significant quantity of water.

Normally the product phases are removed from the tank only at the end of the re-
circulation period. When jet mixing has been applied, treatment by hydro cyclone or
decanter centrifuge may be undertaken. For the gentler mixing processes simple filtration
is applied. In all cases, final cleaning is performed manually after draining the tank at the
end of treatment.

Application of the spray nozzles will create static electricity charges. The cleaning
contractor company should demonstrate that the ignition of a flammable atmosphere is
not possible with the tools and set-up he is using for the tank cleaning activity.

4.2 Removing Manholes (IP Code section 5.3)

The IP Code recommends ventilation of tanks through roof vents wherever possible
before removing manholes in the tank shell, but it does not explain the hazards
associated with the removal of manholes in the tank shell, especially in tanks containing
crude oil or gasoline.
When a tank shell manhole is removed the heavier than air vapours tend to roll out of
the tank. If two manholes are removed the flammable atmosphere can extend
considerable distances from the tank. In a Group incident involving a gasoline tank a
flash fire extended 50 metres from the tank.

If it is necessary to remove a tank shell manhole to ventilate the tank vapour the
following controls should be applied:
Ventilate through the roof vents as much as possible to reduce the vapour density and
potential for vapour roll out. Apply forced ventilation or windsails.
Remove one tank shell manhole only, preferably the upwind one. Continue to extract
vapours via the roof vents to maintain a slight vacuum on at the manhole.

Gas Freeing and Cleaning of Storage Tanks, Issue 3.0, February 2003 5
Supplementary Group Guidance

Apply rigorous control of any potential ignition sources in the area around the
manhole. As a minimum exclude all ignition sources from the tank bund and guard
against mechanical sparks between manhole cover and tank shell when removing the
manhole cover. Apply the precautions in 4.3 below.
Apply activated charcoal or solvent scrubbers to remove hydrocarbon and/or toxic
vapours from the vented vapours, where this is required by local environmental

4.3 Working Through The Manhole (IP Code section 6.1.3)

Working through the tank shell side manholes whilst the tank still contains flammable
vapours is a particularly hazardous activity. The main hazard is the possibility of
flammable gases igniting and resulting in either a flash fire around the manhole or an
explosion in the tank.
The following Working Through The Manhole activities can normally be done safely:
Visual inspection and gas testing
Attaching a fan for ventilation
Inserting a hose to pump out residual liquid with a mobile pump. This should only be
done as a last resort when unplugging a low point drain proves to be impossible)
The following activities should not be done by Working Through The Manhole:
Putting a head inside the tank. A confined space entry permit is required.
Cleaning with jets or top entry mixers, because of the risk of ignition by static.
Sucking out sludge with a vacuum tanker, because of the risk of ignition by static or
mechanical sparking.
Introduction of synthetic insulation materials or unearthed conductors (e.g. suction
pipe, hose etc)

When Working Through The Manhole, or close to the manhole, the following
precautions should be taken:
1. People must not be allowed to work in a flammable atmosphere or in an area where
the atmosphere is above 10% LFL. If an atmosphere above 10% LFL occurs in the
area around the tank manhole all personnel must be withdrawn until safe working
conditions are re-established.
2. The atmosphere around the manhole should be continuously monitored when there
are people in the area.
3. Breathing apparatus, not canister respirators, must be worn if there are toxic gases
such as H2S or benzene in the vapour.
4. All vehicles and equipment that are potential ignition sources should not be allowed
in the affected area, as a minimum the bunded area.
5. All other potential ignition sources must be excluded from the affected area, including
spark generating clothing, electrical equipment on the tank and sparks from hand

Gas Freeing and Cleaning of Storage Tanks, Issue 3.0, February 2003 6
Introduction Group Guidance

4.4 Entry Criteria (IP Code table 6.1)

Recommended Group practice is more stringent than the IP Code in two aspects:
When the atmosphere in the tank contains between 1 and 10% LFL (lower flammable
limit) the IP code requires appropriate respiratory protection, whereas Shell specifies
breathing apparatus.
When the atmosphere in the tank contains between 10 and 20% LFL the IP Code
allows entry with special authorisation, whereas Shell allows entry only where there
is a life threatening situation.

For definitive guidance on entry criteria reference should be made to the Shell Health
and Safety Committee publication Guidelines for Entry into Confined Spaces (1992),
which is currently being reviewed.

4.5 Health Risk Assessment

The IP Code includes details of the common health hazards associated with cleaning oil
storage tanks and includes occupational exposure limits. It also specifies the controls
against each hazard.

In addition, as part of the risk assessment of tank cleaning activities, it is recommended

to carry out and document a health risk assessment, to ensure that all potential health
risks associated with each step in the work have been considered in planning the work.
For further guidance refer to the HSE Advisers Panel publication Health Risk Assessment

Gas Freeing and Cleaning of Storage Tanks, Issue 3.0, February 2003 7

5 References
In addition to the IP Code there is much detailed guidance on gas freeing, ventilation
and tank cleaning methods in the API guidance:
Requirements for Safe Entry & Cleaning Of Petroleum Storage Tanks, API Standard
Guidelines and Procedures for Entering and Cleaning Petroleum Storage Tanks, API
Recommended Practice 2016-2001

Care should be taken when applying the API guide as it includes criteria for confined
space entry that are not fully in line with recommended Group practice (see 4.4 above).

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