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EPA Proposes Stronger Tank Containment

Monday, November 28, 2011

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Facing thousands of petroleum and hazardous chemical leaks each year, the federal government has proposed stronger rules for underground storage tanks, with new requirements for containment, training, codes of practice and technologies.

Revising Underground Storage Tank Regulations—Revisions to Existing Requirements and New Requirements for Secondary Containment and Operator Training,” published Nov. 18 in the Federal Register, would update and expand the Environmental Protection Agency’s original 1988 regulations for underground storage tanks (USTs).

595,000 USTs

There are about 595,000 active USTs at about 214,000 sites in the United States, according to EPA.

 University of Illinois

 University of Illinois

Due in part to poor maintenance and operation, leak detection equipment catches only about half of the 7,000 leaks discovered each year in underground storage tank systems.

The agency's new 89-page proposal would affect a wide range of industries that use USTs, including transportation (air, water, truck, transit, pipeline and airport operations), communications and utilities (wired telecommunications carriers and electric power generation, transmission and distribution).

The proposed regulations would apply to tanks that hold petroleum or hazardous chemicals, which are regulated under Subtitle I of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. They would not affect USTs containing hazardous waste, which are regulated under RCRA Subtitle C.

The proposed rule follows the March 2011 release of EPA’s Leaking Underground Storage Tank Corrective Action Compendium, which provides state and federal leaking underground storage tank remediation specialists with resources and information.

Focus on Maintenance, Operations

The 1988 rules set minimum standards for new tanks and required owners and operators of existing tanks to upgrade, replace, or close them. It also required owners and operators to report and clean up releases from their USTs by December 1998.

The rule also required the use of spill, overfill, and release detection equipment but did not require proper operation and maintenance for some of that equipment, EPA said.

The new rule focuses more on training, maintenance and operating practices than on equipment, although it does open up options for newer technologies.

EPA said it was “sensitive to future costs for UST owners and operators and, as a result, minimized required retrofits.”

Thousands of Undetected Leaks

EPA says improper operation and maintenance are a key reason that leak detection equipment is catching only about half of the 7,000 leaks of petroleum and hazardous substances from UST systems discovered each year.

Leaks from piping, spills, and overfills during delivery are the most common emerging problem, EPA said.

 National Cleanup Backlog

 EPA Office of Underground Storage Tanks

As of March 2011, more than 498,000 releases from federally regulated leaking underground storage tanks had occurred nationwide.  The annual number of cleanups completed nationally has declined steadily since fiscal year 2000.

Therefore, the agency said, “Today’s proposed revisions to the 1988 UST regulation focus on ensuring equipment is working, rather than requiring UST owners and operators to replace or upgrade equipment already in place.”

Proposal Highlights

The proposed new rule includes:

• New training requirements for three UST system operator classes. Depending on the class, the training would emphasize spill prevention, system operation, corrosion protection, detection and emergency response;

• New secondary containment and interstitial monitoring requirements for new and replaced tanks and piping;

• A requirement for installation of under-dispenser containment for new dispenser systems;

• Requirements for periodic spill, overfill, secondary containment, and release detection testing, along with periodic walkthrough inspections to prevent and quickly detect releases;

• Ending current exemptions for UST systems with field-constructed tanks. These 239 or so tanks, most owned by the Department of Defense, would now be subject to the requirements of 40 CFR part 280, regarding design, construction, installation and notification, operating requirements, release detection and other provisions.

Ranging in size from 20,000 to more than two million gallons, these tanks pose “a substantial threat to human health and the environment,” according to EPA;

• Ending similar exemptions for wastewater treatment tank systems that are not part of a wastewater treatment facility regulated under § 402 or 307(b) of the Clean Water Act.

EPA exempted these and other tank categories from leak detection requirements in 1988 because monitoring technology for such systems was not available then, but it is now, according to EPA.

• Allowing for the use of new technologies in tank cladding and jacketing, non-corrodible piping, and operations and detections.

The 1988 rule allows these tank technologies: coated and cathodically protected steel; fiberglass reinforced plastic; steel-fiberglass reinforced-plastic composite; and metal without additional corrosion protection, provided that a corrosion expert determines the site is not corrosive enough to cause a release from corrosion during the tank’s life. These would remain unchanged under the new rule.

Lining, Monitoring Changes

EPA is also proposing that owners and operators permanently close any UST that uses internal lining as the sole method of corrosion protection when an inspection determines that the lining is no longer performing according to original design specifications and cannot be repaired. About 3 percent of today’s USTs rely exclusively on internal linings for corrosion protection, EPA said.

Tanks with both internal lining and cathodic protection would be allowed to continue operating even if the lining fails inspection, if the cathodic protection is maintained according to standards and if the tank was sound and free of corrosion holes when the cathodic protection was added.

The new rule would also phase out vapor monitoring and groundwater monitoring as methods of release detection for tanks and piping, because these external methods detect releases only after they have infiltrated the environment.

Public Comment Sought

“These changes will likely protect human health and the environment by increasing the number of prevented UST releases and quickly detecting them, if they occur,” according to EPA.

EPA estimates that compliance costs of the proposed rule would total $210 million annually but would save $300 million to $770 million in remediation costs. Motor fuel retailers, which account for about 80 percent of UST systems, are expected to bear most of the cost.

Comments on the proposal are due Feb. 16 and may be submitted at under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-UST-2011-0301.

For more information, contact EPA's Elizabeth McDermott at (703) 603-7175 or


Tagged categories: Containment; Corrosion; Enforcement; EPA; Linings; Pipeline; Pipelines; Regulations; Tank interiors; Tanks and vessels; Transportation; Water Tanks

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