You are here
Looking back, the level of naivety is almost stunning. For decades, fuel retailers had been storing their supplies on-site and below ground in underground storage tanks (USTs). The installation followed a basic template: dig a hole; put the UST in it; cover it with concrete, asphalt or, in some cases, gravel; leave an access pipe protruding; and pump a volatile fluid into it — without ever really knowing what was happening beneath the surface.
Well, in 1995, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found out exactly what was happening: As many as 30 percent of the more than one million USTs containing petroleum products or other hazardous substances had been or were currently leaking, with an estimated 50 percent of those leaks eventually reaching and contaminating local groundwater supplies.
In response, the EPA created its “Federal Regulations for Underground Storage Tank Systems” and set an implementation date of December 1998. To say these new UST regulations were significant to manufacturers, marketers and the retail-fueling industry as a whole would be a gross understatement.
What these regulations — which demanded that USTs and their system piping incorporate technology that would monitor, detect and prevent spills, overfills, leaks and corrosion — did was create an entirely new way retailers would have to operate. It was the equivalent of one day having to call a central operator in order to make a personal phone call to the next day being able to use a smartphone to do online banking.
The most immediate concern for fuel retailers when the new UST regulations were announced back in the mid-1990s was how much the mandated site upgrades would cost them. In the new components that would be required, there would need to be a pretty significant capital investment because the whole infrastructure of the site would need to be modified to some degree.
Even faced with those immediate costs, some of the country’s larger retailers — from the likes of Hess and ExxonMobil to Shell and BP — saw the ultimate benefits that these new regulations would have for retailers, consumers and the environment in the future and embraced them from the start, oftentimes installing systems or components that exceeded the level of protection that was set forth in the 1998 UST regulations.
While those 1995 regulations unquestionably established a new mindset in the ways the operation and safety of USTs were considered, the EPA has kept working to fine-tune those regulations in the ensuing years. The latest update to the EPA’s UST regulations was finalized earlier this summer.
The updated regulations mostly concern the responsibilities of fueling-site operators as they pertain to the inspection of USTs and their corresponding equipment. The updated regulations include:
- Walkthrough inspections every 30 days to check spill-prevention equipment for damage and to remove any liquid or debris; check for and remove any obstructions in the fill pipe; check the fill cap to ensure it is securely on the fill pipe; and if double-walled spill buckets with interstitial monitoring are used, check for leaks in the interstitial area.
- Annually check containment sumps for damage and leaks to the containment area or releases into the environment; remove liquid or debris in contained sumps; and for installations with double-walled containment sumps, check for leaks in the interstitial area.
- Annually check handheld release-detection equipment, such as gauge sticks and ballers, for operability and serviceability.
- Overfill-protection equipment must be inspected at least once every three years.
The updated regulations instruct owners/operators to conduct operation and maintenance walkthrough inspections according to a standard code of practice developed by a nationally recognized association of independent testing laboratory, or according to the requirements developed by the implementing agency.
ANSWERING THE CALL
The other constituency that was called into action by the regulations was the manufacturers of underground equipment and systems for use in fueling stations — and did they ever rise to the occasion.
The advancements in USTs and their related systems and components have been so groundbreaking (no pun intended) since 1998 that when the EPA updated the regulations earlier this year, most fuel retailers would be able to get their sites in compliance with a minimal amount of effort or additional capital costs.