Location, Location, Location: Considerations for Selection of a Liquid Terminal Site

Terminals serve as the backbone of the globe’s industries. Known as industrial facilities, they are used to store oil or other petrochemical products. For how long the products remain in storage is determined by supply and demand. When needed, the products are transported to end-users or further storage facilities via pipeline, truck, rail, barge or vessel.

The location of the terminal can support efficiency, safety and lean operations for owner/ operators, so it’s important to choose a site location carefully. 

The Matrix PDM “Scope of Work Checklist” for liquid terminals considerations is lengthy: Greenfield? Topographic survey? Wetland delineation? Permitting? Type of tank? Capacity? Weather? Spacing? Recirculation capability? Fire mitigation? These fundamental questions only make up a small percentage of Matrix PDM’s exhaustive list. Compiled by engineers, field experience and decades of construction leadership, Matrix PDM leads the way for optimal selection of terminal and tank location sites.

Below we will cover just a few of the variables included in liquid terminal selection sites:

Number of Tanks

Terminal engineers must determine how many tanks are needed and what supporting facilities are essential to operations. Industry governing codes such as API-650 and NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code, and others, set minimum tank spacing requirements. Spacing must also be given between process hazards, property lines and adjacent occupied buildings.


Strict provisions are set based on the commodity stored, including pressure, temperature, spill management procedures and fire protection measures. Each factor influences the space needed between tanks. The spacing and coverage is designed to prevent a fire in one tank from impacting any tanks nearby or spreading.


Once the acreage required for liquid terminals has been determined, the search for an appropriate location can begin. Some terminals will need to be in close proximity to an oil refinery or processing plant. In those instances, the general area may already be determined. However, terminal engineers may have some choice in the location within the broader area.

It’s also important to consider the surrounding structures and natural landscape. Flammable materials, especially, should not be stored near urban developments. If available, a rural location is best. Naturally occurring materials can also increase the risk of ignition. Some risks brought into play by the surrounding area can be appropriately mitigated; however, these risks still need to be taken into consideration regardless of mitigation efforts. 


Next, it’s wise to consider the soil at a proposed location. Tanks, when filled to capacity, are incredibly heavy. Soil with more rock and compacted sand or gravel will be more stable. Ideally, the tank farm will be situated on sound, load-bearing ground, otherwise, considerable ground improvement, including soil mix columns, and or piling for the foundations may be needed to mitigate settling concerns.


The topography within a given location should be examined. Natural slopes can assist in water drainage or be problematic when it comes time to level the ground. Excavation work can get expensive quickly, so a relatively flat location is preferred.  

Natural risks

Weather, wildfires, flooding and seismic activity obviously cannot be controlled but should be taken into account. An area prone to significant flooding, wildfires or frequent earthquakes should be avoided. The risks associated with some naturally occurring phenomena, such as snow accumulation or seismic activity, can be abated through terminal design. Tank farm engineers will develop the Basis of Design which will identify all site-specific conditions and identity the means for designing within these conditions.


Finally, the orientation of tank farms should be considered. Tank farms should be in the open, if possible. At the very least, they should be open on two sides to allow for future expansion of the tank farm or the process plant, as well as emergency access should be considered.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to the location of a tank farm. No location will be absolutely perfect, but a good terminal engineering firm can help guide your decision making as well as your tank farm design, while maintaining a good balance of plant and construction. Contact us to learn how Matrix PDM Engineering can execute your next project with all in-house expertise.