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Storing Your Fuel Wisely

December 1, 1997

6 Min Read
Storing Your Fuel Wisely

Bob Deierlein

If you wait until just before the federal mandate kicks in to replace or upgrade existing underground storage tanks (UST), you may find that fellow procrastinators have al-ready booked the experts who can do the job-leaving you in the lurch.

Before you pick up the phone, though, you must decide your course of action. Should you use a UST, an above-ground storage tank (AST) or simply abandon on-site fuel storage altogether?

Some companies have decided al-ready. For example, Waste Manage-ment Inc., Oak Brook, Ill., which owns approximately 17,000 trucks operating out of more than 500 facilities, will continue to use USTs.

And the Atlantic Group, Hampton, N.H., has decided to replace all its current single-wall USTs with double-wall tanks and will decommission any tanks that are used minimally, says maintenance and purchasing director Dan Cowher.

Currently, each division's environmental plan also calls for adherence to strict spill prevention procedures, including all tanks being tested annually for tightness.

Across the county, in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., Solag Disposal currently has one 10,000-gallon diesel storage tank - a single-wall model underground - that has to be filled twice weekly. However, the company is in the process of moving to a different facility and plans to install three 10,000-gallon fuel storage tanks: two for diesel and one for gas.

According to Cameron Spicer, operations manager, the move's timing worked out well. "We have a specialist lined up to 'yank out' the old tank after we move," he says. "We had to decommission two tanks at a former site and learned how delicate the job can be." One of these tanks was re-moved "smoothly" and cost Solag ap-proximately $2,000, but another had developed a leak, and the removal and entire abatement procedure escalated to approximately $100,000.

Solag decided on USTs rather than ASTs only after considering all the factors. "The main disadvantage in wanting to go above ground was getting all of the necessary state, local and fire department permits," Spicer explains. "We considered the suspended underground vault system, with the tank in a cradle, where we could go down and inspect for leaks."

When DeCarolis Truck Rental, Rochester, N. Y., built a new facility in Buffalo, N.Y., it decided underground fuel storage met its operational and "green shop" needs best. It installed three 10,000-gallon, double-walled USTs.

The space between the tanks' two walls is monitored by a vertical tube extending from a small sump to the tank's top. Electronic and vacuum leak detection systems sound audible and visual alarms if a leak develops.

The monitoring system is inside the company office and also measures the tank's fluid level, split by fuel and water. This serves as a daily inventory; but stick readings are taken periodically to verify the automatic readings.

Know the Regs Karen Kelso, an environmental analyst for the American Trucking Association, Alexandria, Va., says that the U.S. Environmental Protec-tion Agency (EPA) regs require that USTs which were installed prior to December 22, 1988 be brought up to new standards or replaced by Dece-mber 22, 1998.

To upgrade existing USTs, you must protect them from spills, overfills and corrosion. "Spill protection normally calls for a catch basin (spill bucket), since most spills are relatively small," she says.

"Spills usually occur when a vehicle is being fueled from a UST. They can add up to huge amounts of fuel over the tank's life and pose a contamination threat to ground-water."

On the other hand, overfill incidents generally involve more liquid than a spill. Overfill prevention usually includes safety devices such as alarms or automatic shutoff for dispensers or ball float valves.

USTs that receive less than 25 gallons at a time do not have to meet the overfill protection requirements, according to the EPA.

Since leaks are of-ten the result of corrosion, the 1998 re-quirements include corrosion protection strategies. UST piping must be protected from corrosion.

Asphalt coating of tanks and pipes is not considered ac-ceptable protection. Steel tanks must be protected by either cathodic protection, tank interior lining or a combination of the two. Fleets must keep records of lining inspections and tank repairs, Kelso says.

These regulations have caused some fleets to wonder whether they should be in the "fuel business" at all. Alternatively, the USTs can be removed, although this can be expensive and raises a risk of contamination.

"As 1998 approaches, it will be difficult to find vendors who can update or replace existing tanks; it is expensive and time consuming," says Patrick J. Feehan, a consultant from Batavia, Ill.

Feehan recommends that fleets examine their need to fuel on-site. If a fleet decides it needs to fuel, it must look closely at its operations to see what it can do to comply with the regulations.

Just because a fleet has old tanks doesn't mean it has to replace them totally, he says. "Upgrading the systems by adding spill and overfill protection, leak detection, cathodic protection and new lines may suffice. Relining the tanks may be enough in some states, but that is a dirty job which should be done by experienced professionals."

According to Feehan, fleets should consider several other changes when looking to upgrade or replace a system, including relocating the fueling area, placing fueling lanes under a cover and installing faster pumps.

Higher-capacity fuel pumps increase efficiency by taking less time to fill trucks and reduce the incidences of drivers wandering around during fueling, which is a leading cause of spills.

"Of course, some operators will decide on new USTs," Feehan says. "In that case, they should consider many factors to make fueling operations safe and efficient such as location, maintenance, satellite fueling areas, lane numbers, fuel inventory control systems and the storm water runoff control.

"Extreme care is needed when the issue of potential site cleanup costs arises," he warned.

In some cases, clean up costs could exceed $500,000, but it is possible to comply with the law without a major undertaking.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has several free booklets on fuel storage and its regulations and maintains a hotline that can answer storage questions: (800) 424-9376.

The following booklets are available:

* Straight Talk on Tanks (510K95003)

* Musts For USTs: A Summary of Regulations (510K95002)

* Dollars And Cents (510K95004)

* Don't Wait Until 1998 (510B94002)

* UST Program Facts (510B95011)

* Regional and State UST/LUST Program Contacts (510F96003)

Other contacts: * Karen Kelso, American Trucking Association: 2200 Mill Rd., Alexandria, Va. 22314. (703) 838-1910 Fax : (703) 838-1992.

* Irv Auerbach, Environmental Protection Agency: 401 M St. SW, 5401 G, Washington, D.C. 20460. (703) 603-7139. Fax : (703) 603-9163.

* John Schwerman, Steel Tank Institute 570 Oakwood Rd., Lake Zurich, Ill. 60047. (847) 438-8265. Fax: (847) 438-4509.

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