Using Field Experience to Navigate the AST Inspection Data Lake – Part 2

By John Evans, Vice President of Strategy at Virtual Tank Solutions. April 8, 2024
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As mentioned in part 1 of this blog series, aboveground storage tanks (ASTs) play a pivotal role in many industries; thus, ensuring their safety, reliability, and compliance is paramount, especially when one considers their often hazardous contents. Additionally, part 1 mentioned that the ever-evolving landscape of industrial digitization, while powerful, has brought new challenges to the industry in the form of navigating the data deluge and ultimately deriving value from said data.

One suggested solution to these challenges was proactively involving subject matter experts (SMEs), who, through years of practical field experience, can quickly sift through the lakes of data to derive actionable insight and support eventual decision-making processes in near real-time. This article will focus more on the inspection data gathering process and associated scope planning, and, notably, how leveraging SMEs can better ensure that each inspection is tailored for efficiency and effectiveness.

What is the Purpose of an AST Inspection?

The Merriam-Webster definition of inspection is the checking or testing of an individual (sic) against established standards—obvious enough! However, the purpose of the inspection is often not so obvious. Arguably, there are three main drivers behind the need for an AST inspection: time-driven, risk reduction, and problem-solving. Let’s explore each of these in a little more detail.

  • Time-driven inspections: This inspection category is what most commonly springs to mind. API 653 documents the requirements and expectations for both in-service and out-of-service AST inspections and the respective maximum time interval between such inspections to meet regulatory requirements and assure compliance.
  • Risk reduction inspections: One might say that all inspections reduce risk, but specifically here, one must consider the requirement for additional inspections when there is a heightened consequence of the failure to detect and address issues that could result in environmental contamination impacting critical ecosystems and potentially affecting local communities.
  • Problem-solving inspections: In this category, a prevalent damage mechanism has been identified, requiring focused inspection to determine severity and extent to be able to prescribe the remediation or repair that is essential to return the AST to fit-for-service status or maintain the integrity of the AST, preventing leaks, spills, and environmental damage.

Inspection Scope Optimization

Most, if not all, AST inspections have a significant impact on facility operations due to the inherent safety considerations associated with working at height or in confined spaces, pressure and power isolation, to name but a few. Compound these considerations with inexperienced personnel and unnecessary inspection scope, and the safety risk exposure increases accordingly. Therefore, to ensure an effective AST inspection that meets the considerations of the inspection purpose as described above, SME expertise should be leveraged to carefully scope, design, and customize the checklist and associated visual validation to the specific tank type, its contents, and the regulatory requirements. Moreover, inspectors should receive proper training to use the checklist to perform visual validation effectively and have on-demand access to the SME when needed during the execution of the inspection to maximize efficiency and minimize time at the tank. Combined, these tools and techniques help ensure that the inspection is fit-for-purpose, accurate, and aligned with safety and regulatory standards, ultimately contributing to the integrity and reliability of the aboveground storage tank; not to mention the positive impact on headcount, resources, cost, and capital efficiency. 


In conclusion, fit-for-purpose inspections are essential to ensure the integrity of the AST, thereby preventing leaks, spills, and environmental damage while bolstering reputation and credibility. An overly complex and excessive inspection plan can be as ineffective as an overly simple and incomplete one.  More is not necessarily better; focused inspection of a representative subset of components is easier to execute and often more insightful than an inspection of all components. Furthermore, a well-executed inspection not only reduces time at the tank, thus minimizing impact on operations, but also prevents costly repairs, environmental cleanup, and potential legal expenses in the long run. Given these concerns, leveraging guidance and assistance from field-experienced SMEs from planning through execution to assessment of the harvested data ensures the safety, compliance, and effectiveness of the AST inspection. and factoring in on-demand support throughout the process is a recipe for success.


  1. EPA, 2013, “SPCC Guidance for Regional Inspectors,” United States Environmental Protection Agency.
  2. API Standard 653, 2014, Tank Inspection, Repair, Alteration and Reconstruction, Fifth Edition, American Petroleum Institute.
  3. Evans, J., 2024, “Using Field Experience to Navigate the AST Inspection Data Lake (Part 1),” Inspectioneering.

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