TRUCKS: The $11,000 Question: Are Your Underground Storage Tanks Compliant?

Although underground storage tank (UST) regulations were issued 10 years ago, the deadline for complying with federal regulations - Dec. 22, 1998 - has come and gone.

Fleet managers who feel they are compliant should check their tanks to be certain, and those who have been casual about the deadline should act quickly. There are dire consequences for any UST that is not up to par.

Non-compliance can result in fines of up to $11,000 per day and a forced shut-down. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., has the authority to take a substandard UST owner to court, which could impose an additional fine of up to $27,500 per day.

Additionally, more than a dozen states have adopted laws that prohibit fuel suppliers from delivering product to non-compliant USTs. Oil company lobbyists have spent nearly $1 billion on compliance in the last 10 years, and they are pressing the EPA to prosecute violators vigorously.

The consequences for non-compliance will differ by location. State regulations may vary, but they must be as stringent as the EPA's UST regulations, which are in accordance with the 1984 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. City and county regulations must be as stringent as the state's, but these, too, can be stricter.

For example, the New York State EPA found approximately 12,000 tanks, or 40 percent of the active tanks in the state, failed to meet the federal deadline. However, this may not agree with the EPA's list. But beware: a hit-list of likely violators already has been compiled from New York state tank registration data.

Prior to the December deadline, an estimated 1.1 million tanks were in service in the United States, but only 26 percent were estimated to be compliant - 74 percent not in compliance, according to Fern Abrams, environmental analyst for the American Trucking Associations, Alexandria, Va. Nearly 850,000 tanks need to be removed upgraded or replaced, she says.

Another study by the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials, Washington, D.C., estimates that more than one-third of the non-compliant USTs were not fixed in time.

More than 330,000 leaks from substandard tanks have been reported since 1988, about 30,000 incidents annually, according to the EPA. In August 1998, the EPA reported more than 600,000 registered tanks nationwide still needed to be upgraded, replaced or closed.

One of the factors delaying compliance may be the cost involved. Bringing your USTs up to standard can be expensive, but the potential $11,000 fine per day, plus your company's legal problems should a leak occur, could cost considerably more in the long-run.

Michael Burniston of Tanknology, Austin, Texas, provides compliance and management services to UST owners nationwide. He defines a UST as "a tank and its associated piping that have at least 10 percent of its combined volume underground." A "new" tank is one that has been installed after December 1988, and an "existing" tank is one installed prior to Dec. 22, 1988.

To comply with the regulations, Burniston says all new and existing USTs should have leak detection for tanks and piping; spill protection; overfill protection; and corrosion protection. USTs of less than 110 gallons are exempt from these requirements.

Leak Detection. The leak detection options for pipes include pressurized piping; an automatic shut-off device, a flow restrictor or a continuous alarm system; and annual line tightness testing or monthly monitoring.

Suction pipes must be compliant, too, including monthly monitoring or line tightness testing every three years. No leak detection equipment may be necessary if the piping is sloped so that the product will drain back into the tank if the suction is released or the suction line has a check valve beneath the suction pump.

According to Burniston, the following steps also can prevent UST leaks:

1. Monthly UST monitoring. This includes interstitial monitoring, automatic tank gauging (ATG), vapor monitoring, groundwater monitoring and statistical inventory reconciliation (SIR).

2. Inventory control and testing tank tightness. This option is available only 10 years after an upgrade.

3. Gauging manual tanks that are less than 2,000 gallons.

Each method has its strengths - a company's business and compliance goals will determine its preferred method.

Spill Protection. The regulations require catchment basins or buckets that are sealed around the fill pipe to trap product that may spill from a hose during a delivery. These also are known as "spill containment manholes" or "spill buckets."

Overfill Protection. Three devices are available:

1. Automatic shut-off devices, which stop a fuel drop before overfilling;

2. Ball float valves, which create back-pressure to alert a delivery driver and reduce the chance for overflow; and

3. Overfill alarms, which audibly alert a delivery driver of an overfill. This is part of an automatic tank gauge.

Corrosion Protection. New tanks and piping either must be coated and made from cathodically protected steel or fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP), or they must consist of steel clads with FRP (on tanks only). Cathodic protection (CP) uses electricity to reverse the corrosive action in metals.

These options also are available for existing tanks and piping. In addition, existing tanks can have CP-steel, a tank interior lining or a tank interior lining plus CP. Steel swing joints, flex connectors and siphon bars also must be protected, but often are overlooked.

The job is not done until the paperwork is complete, Burniston cautions. "Administrative requirements include annual permitting and registration, annual Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) filing and 'community right-to-know' filing of hazardous chemical inventory levels," he says. Tank owners also are required to track hazardous waste from "cradle to grave," and quarterly and/or annual filing also may be required in some states.

Tank owners are required to respond to suspected or confirmed releases with a stop/contain release. They also must notify the appropriate agency 30 days before tank closure; investigate the source to avoid further releases; and begin corrective action by filing a corrective action plan, Burniston says.

When a new tank is installed, the owner also must notify the appropriate agencies.

For more information on UST regulations compliance, contact the EPA toll-free at (800)424-9346. Website:

1. Leak detection records, including last year's monitoring results, the most recent tightness tests, third-party certification of leak detection equipment and a documented history of maintenance, repair and calibration of leak detection equipment.

2. Corrosion protection tests and inspections.

3. Upgrade and repair records.

4. Closure reports, including site assessment for three years.

5. Proof of financial responsibility.

Michael Burniston of Tanknology, Austin, Texas, recommends these records be maintained for five to seven years.