Corrosion Defense

June 1, 2008 By    

With more customers choosing to hide their propane tanks with popular underground installations, the need to protect steel vessels from moisture and chemicals in the soil has never been greater.

That’s why the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) is launching an instructional program to explain and demonstrate the process of cathodic protection to guard against corrosion of underground tanks. PERC saw a need to explain the importance of such a complex issue, choosing a format that combines text and video.

“When we talk about causes of corrosion and how to prevent corrosion, there’s a lot of information out there,” says Stuart Flatow, vice president for safety and training for PERC. “We wanted to put something together so marketers can train people in a way they can understand, and assess their ability to understand, the principles and practices.”

Dave Allen demonstrates cathodic protection tests during filming of the video.
Dave Allen demonstrates cathodic protection tests during filming of the video.

Mike Walters addressed cathodic protection two years ago when he wrote a white paper on the subject. The national safety training manager for AmeriGas, Walters believed the installation process was flawed.

“We have people installing cathodic protection in this industry, and a majority of them are putting it in because they are told to – not because they understand why,” Walters says. “They don’t know how to install it properly, they haven’t been trained properly, they don’t know how to activate it properly, and they don’t know how to test for it correctly.”

Industry members say more tanks are being installed underground. Therefore, the need to protect them increases.
Industry members say more tanks are being installed underground. Therefore, the need to protect them increases.

Taking the lead

PERC’s Safety and Training Advisory Committee (STAC), chaired by Walters, spearheaded the program. Funding was designated in phases, with the focus first on the written script and then video production. PERC has spent $140,000 on the project.

“It’s cheaper to make changes to paper than video or computer, and it allows us to get much tighter arms around how long video production might be,” Flatow says. “Let’s write the script first, see what we have from there and have a better idea of what our needs will be for production.”

Even the slightest scratch on a new tank can lead to corrosion.
Even the slightest scratch on a new tank can lead to corrosion.

PERC presented this information at the National Propane Gas Association‘s marketers meeting in February in San Diego, giving industry members a chance to review the materials and provide feedback. A task force, headed by Lyndon Rickards of Eastern Propane Gas Inc., also was established to review comments from the industry and add insight to the project. The process involved many reviews and conference calls.

“This is something the industry has needed for many years,” says Rickards, safety and training manager for Eastern Propane and also a STAC member. “We’ve been doing cathodic protection for years, but our people out there physically doing the work at the grassroots level didn’t really understand it that much. We threw it in the ground and hooked it up to the tanks – now what?

Before the tanks are buried, any marks must be touched up.
Before the tanks are buried, any marks must be touched up.

“This program has done a tremendous job of taking a high-level topic and bringing it down to a grassroots level.”

After further review

“I reviewed it, and I basically thought it was very well done,” says Doug Auxier, president of Auxier Gas in Batavia, Ohio, and a PERC council and STAC member. “There are some informative things in there. I even learned a couple of things. I thought it was good enough to put into our system immediately.”

Anodes help to control corrosion.
Anodes help to control corrosion.

Auxier says underground tanks are the most common type of settings at his company – from new construction or a change in heating systems. The PERC program is geared more for the installer, who sometimes can be an outside contractor, he says.

“I think you’ll find agreement on the need for cathodic protection, but there’s probably a lack of knowledge on the proper way to install it, especially with the current state of technology,” Auxier adds.

Voltmeters measure the voltage and level of protection on tanks.
Voltmeters measure the voltage and level of protection on tanks.

The program shows the importance of “the little things” of cathodic protection, such as fixing scratches on tanks before installation, Rickards says. It also emphasizes the importance of taking a proactive approach – protect new tanks and check existing ones.

“Once cathodic protection has been installed, there’s nothing out there mandating that it be tested,” Rickards adds. “It has to be by proactive means for industry personnel and marketers to go out and do that.”

American Media Productions created the video, which was narrated by consultant Ethan Knowles, with demonstration by Dave Allen. The two work hand-in-hand to explain cathodic protection in an easy-to-understand and casual manner.

“We wanted to keep it light yet informative so as to keep the user’s attention, since it is a very complex subject,” Flatow says. “The last thing we wanted to do was have it be dry. We try to present it in a way that holds people’s interest.”

Hans Schmoldt of Anode Systems Co. served as a third-party consultant on the project. A design engineer, installation contractor and supplier of products used to prevent corrosion, his career in the corrosion-prevention industry began in the 1960s.

Schmoldt provides an overview of protecting underground propane tanks and pipes at www.anodesystems.com (a portion of this overview is listed as below).



Schmoldt’s knowledge on the subject was instrumental in making the program a success, Rickards says.

Down under

Industry members say more tanks are being placed underground. At least 70 percent of tanks that Rochester, N.H.-based Eastern Propane sells are placed below the surface, many for new construction, Rickards notes.

A technology fact sheet released by PERC in October 2006 also reports an increase in underground-tank installations. A survey had shown 34 percent of homes built over the previous 12 months in locations with partial or no access to natural gas had an underground propane tank installed. The survey also found that once builders understood the benefits of underground tanks, their intention to use propane in homes they planned to build in the next 12 months jumped from 18 to 29 percent. Even areas with access to natural gas show increased interest in underground propane tanks, the fact sheet stated.

“There will always be a need for corrosion prevention with more and more tanks going underground,” Flatow says. “Maybe this will provide an impetus to marketers and builders to put even more tanks underground.”

The program will be available in two packages – a written manual accompanied by DVD ($14) or electronic text on CD with DVD ($9). Those involved with the project strongly recommend using the manual and video together to best understand the concepts.

Marketers may purchase the program through PERC’s resource catalog. The manual also will be available at www.propanesafety.com.

“For the first time in history we really got something here on this subject that will ring the bell,” Walters says. “This is something we’ve needed for a long time.”

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