What Does It Take to Properly Line an Oil and Fuel Field Containment Area?

Reading the EPA’s Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulations is a good place to start when planning secondary containment for an oil field. However, it’s not a clear guide to the exact specifications of a system either. It won’t tell you what lining materials to use, or how tall to create a wall around the edge to contain spill volume. While it helps you choose a volume for the whole system, it can’t calculate the specific amount of extra space needed for average area rainfall. Many of these questions will require the help of an engineer to answer, but the following facts remain the same regardless of the type or size of oil field you need to contain.

Secondary Containment and Impracticability

Before assuming you need to institute containment measures around every barrel, tank, and drilling rig on the oil field, check into the EPA’s rules on impracticability. The EPA understands that specific site conditions can make it challenging to install the required amount of secondary containment in some facilities. These situations depend on more than just a high cost or difficulty in installing a liner or berm. The owner of the facility must also prove a history of operation without leaks or releases to the EPA to qualify for alternative methods. These alternatives to secondary containment include:

  • Integrity testing of the storage vessels or transferring equipment on a certain schedule
  • Extra commitments of manpower and equipment for dealing with emergency leaks, including sump pumps, booms, sorbent materials, and more
  • Written plans for detecting and cleaning up leaks before they can have a permanent impact on the surrounding environment.

Developing these alternatives can cost just as much or more as a complex secondary containment system. Don’t assume that using the impracticability arrangement with the EPA will simplify or save on the costs of containment.

When possible, build as much passive secondary containment into the oil field as possible. This includes basins, lined areas, berms, ditches, culverts, and automatic pumps. Active measures like covering storm drains, setting up barriers, and turning on portable pumps are also necessary after a spill, but they’re not a good replacement for passive protection. Use them together, as much as possible, on the oil field to keep spills to a minimum all the way around.

Concrete and Asphalt Limitations

While it’s possible to line ponds and many in-ground storage basins with flexible liner alone, above ground containment systems will need some kind of rigid material to create raised berms, dikes, and bunding walls. Compacted earth is common but highly limited in its value for secondary containment. When choosing a material for building raised constructions around the containment area, concrete is one of your only options. Asphalt may seem like a good choice for its low cost and relative ease of curb formation, but it’s reactive to oil and fuel. Thanks to a shared petroleum base, oil and fuel both break down asphalt faster than non-petroleum concrete.

However, concrete is not a good liner material on its own for oil field secondary containment areas. It’s far more porous than it might appear at first. The surface of concrete is like a sponge under a microscope, with hundreds of tiny holes per square inch. These tiny openings allow the oil or fuel to slowly seep through and escape into the soil and water beyond. Installing a flexible liner made from an oil-resistant product like RPE is the best way to make a containment system that is actually liquid-tight and leakproof.

Concrete is prone to cracking as it ages, leaving behind hard-to-spot openings that allow a lot of oil and gas to escape. Since flexible liners stretch or bend instead of cracking, they’ll stay sealed even as the concrete begins to shift and move. Pairing the two materials together is the best way to design various secondary containment features for the oil field. The concrete protects and anchors the liner while the flexible polymer material won’t let the liquid escape to cause environmental issues.

Flexible Liner Options

Between the weight of pairing with concrete or earthen berms, wear and tear from heavy equipment, and the breakdown of materials from UV rays and oil exposure, it’s hard to find the right liner for oil fields. Containment depends on a liner you can trust for years to come since you can’t dig it up or visually inspect it on a monthly basis to spot leaks. The liner must be flexible as well to conform to the curves and sharp angles that must be necessary to squeeze a secondary containment basin in around other equipment. Yet most of the flexible polymer liners you’ll find on the market for pond or stormwater use can’t handle the harsh environment of the oil field. Find out how the most common liner materials stack up for use in the oil industry.

Reinforced Polyethylene (RPE)

Reinforced polyethylene, or RPE, is the best material for lining secondary containment systems in oil fields and other petroleum industry facilities. It offers the highest possible petroleum degradation resistance due to its combination of multiple polymers in one complete package. Add in the tear resistance offered by the reinforced design and you have a flexible liner that is lightweight, easy to conform, and built to last for years. RPE can handle the challenges of difficult oil field installations while remaining easy to install and affordable to ship long distances.

Other Polyethylene Liners (HDPE and LDPE)

The next best option for lining an oil or fuel containment basin is still a polyethylene product. Both high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) offer some amount of resistance to damage from oil and fuel products. However, neither are as resistant to these chemicals as the RPE liner. Both HDPE and LDPE liners will need replacement more often when used to contain oil and fuel spills than RPE. They vary in UV resistance as well, which is higher in the RPE liner product. Don’t settle for the acceptable performance of any other polyethylene liner when products like ArmorPro are available from BTL Liners.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is one of the most common and widely available flexible liner materials. It’s found in everything from ponds to building foundations that need protection from a high water table. However, it’s a poor choice for any oil and fuel containment situation. PVC is known to react badly and quickly to petroleum exposure. That could mean delaminating or crack formation that allows the containment area to start leaking after just a few uses. PVC also has poor resistance to wear and tear, gets brittle when exposed to the cold of an open oil field, and performs best without any UV exposure. For a better all-around liner product, stick with RPE instead.

Chlorosulfonated Polyethylene (CPSE)

Chlorosulfonated polyethylene (CPSE) is one of the less common polyethylene liners that is commonly recommended for high demand potable water and fishpond installations. However, it’s one of the worst possible choices for an oil or fuel containment area. It reacts strongly to all lipids and fats, including petroleum-based chemicals. It simply can’t handle any sludges, muds, or liquids that are high in oil or solvents like fuel. CPSE is also a very costly liner material due to high demand for it as a potable water safe polymer. There’s no reason to choose CPSE when RPE is much more widely available, performs better, and usually has a lower price.

Other Liners

Any other materials sold as pond liners, such as rubber EPDM, are poorly suited for use in an oil field containment system. These materials either react badly to petroleum, degrade rapidly in the sun, or can’t handle outdoor installation at all. Stick with products specifically designed for the oil and gas industry to get the results you need from your secondary containment system.

Here at BTL Liners we can supply you with custom fabrication services to create liners that work for the largest oil field installations. By minimizing seam sealing on the work site, you’ll enjoy more reliable performance and fewer leak issues for years to come. Don’t let liner selection for secondary containment confuse you. Shop our products and check out their compatibility with petroleum products to find just the right RPE liner for every containment need.

Liners by BTL


ArmorPro is built with the toughest materials for absolute and total containment.

Newest Articles: