Tank Monitoring: Keeping Profits from Going Down the Drain

Chemical tank monitoringLast January’s West Virginia incident that saw nearly 10,000 gallons of a coal-related chemical spill into Kanawha River just got more expensive.

After reaching a tentative $2.9 million settlement with attorneys representing local residents and businesses, and paying thousands of dollars in fines to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Freedom Industries is now facing a $1.8 million claim by the state of West Virginia. Adding to the company’s woes is the reported $11 million tab racked up by American Water Works, Inc. to deal with the tainted water used by the 300,000 people affected by the leak.

Tanks holding chemicals are a common sight in our industrial landscape. Many of these assets work quietly in the background as their mechanized counterparts take the spotlight for performance and functionality. Yet tanks are an important part of our industrial evolution.

Chemical Tanks for Wellheads
At remote oil and gas sites there is often a need for a variety of different chemicals to be injected into the well. These include biocides; lubricants, de-scalers and anti-corrosive agents, depending upon local conditions. The chemicals are typically held in large tanks located at or near the wellhead and, without sufficient levels of these liquids, energy companies can face problems like lower production, equipment damage and greater waste.

Last January’s West Virginia incident that saw nearly 10,000 gallons of a coal-related chemical spill into Kanawha River just got more expensive.

Anthony Brownlow used to watch his clients manually check the levels of their chemical tanks through site visits. “Considering how important these chemicals are during the production process, I was quite surprised at the way companies managed their supply levels,” said Brownlow, CEO of VitalVu, a remote monitoring solution company based out of Salt Lake City. “Often they would run out of one or the other chemical and they would have to wait until they received a refill.”

Believing that there was a better way, Brownlow and his team developed a solution specifically for chemical tank monitoring. The system employs an external sensor which works on non-metallic tanks and avoids contact with the often corrosive chemicals. The customer simply sets the level at which they want to receive a refill notification and attaches the sensor to the tank.

Aside from the notification when a refill is needed, the system also has an online dashboard that provides an overview of all the tanks and their levels. This allows the company to plan which chemicals need to be filled and where the tanks are located, making efficient use of personnel time and vehicle use.

Working in Remote Areas
One of the challenges encountered by Brownlow when developing the solution was communication. His customer sites are often in very remote areas where there is no cellular coverage. “Without the communication link, we could not receive the refill notification,” said Brownlow. “We needed another way to send these messages.”

VitalVu’s team ended up selecting a small satellite messaging terminal that is certified for Class 1 Division 2 areas. The system uses satellites to automatically send a refill SMS message and email every time the chemical level in the tank reaches the refill level.

The satellite messaging terminal is small and very power-efficient, which allows it to be easily installed on tanks and powered by batteries. “The device can also monitor up to four tanks, which helps to keep our customer’s costs down,” said Brownlow…

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Anu Sood

Anu Sood, Director of Channel Marketing at ORBCOMM, has nearly two decades of expertise in the telecommunications, software development, and satellite industries.

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