EPA Tightens Rules for Storage Tanks


WASHINGTON--Stepped-up containment, training and inspection will soon be required under newly revised federal regulations meant to prevent hazardous releases from the nation's 571,000 underground storage tanks.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's final 2015 Revised Underground Storage Tank Regulations, released Monday (June 22) but pending since 2008, are designed to improve the prevention and detection of petroleum releases from the tanks, which are a leading source of groundwater contamination.

The new revisions strengthen current requirements and require all USTs in the United States, including those on Indian tribal lands, to meet the same release protection standards.

The rule will take effect 90 days after the official version is published in the Federal Register. No date was released for that publication.

7-Year Rulemaking

An underground storage tank system is a tank and any connected underground piping that has at least 10 percent of its combined volume underground.

Underground storage tanks are located at hundreds of thousands of facilities across the U.S. They include retail facilities such as gas stations and convenience stores, as well as facilities that maintain their own supply of gasoline or diesel for vehicle fleets.


The new rule has been in the works for seven years. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published in 2011.

Current federal UST regulations apply only to underground tanks and piping that store either petroleum or certain hazardous substances.

The new rule, available in prepublication form here, reflects the first major revision to the federal UST regulations since 1988.

The current rulemaking process actually began in 2008. The revisions proposed in 2011 underwent an extended five-month comment period in 2011 and 2012. The Final Rule was sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review in September; that review concluded in April.

Rule Highlights

Like the 2011 proposal, the new Final Rule increases the emphasis on properly operating and maintaining UST equipment.


As a UST is excavated, gasoline leaking from the system is visible in the tank pit. The U.S. has had hundreds of thousands of leaks from underground tanks that store petroleum.

The 1988 UST regulation required owners and operators to have spill, overfill, and release detection equipment in place for their UST systems, but it did not require proper operation and maintenance for some of that equipment.

EPA says that the changes will reduce the number of releases and more quickly detect releases that occur. As of September 2006, there were about 465,000 confirmed releases from federally regulated petroleum storage tanks in the United States, according to the Ground Water Protection Council.

The revised requirements of the new rule include:

  • Adding secondary containment requirements for new and replaced tanks and piping;
  • Adding operator training requirements;
  • Adding periodic operation and maintenance requirements for UST systems;
  • Removing past deferrals for emergency generator tanks, airport hydrant systems, and field-constructed tanks;
  • Adding new release prevention and detection technologies;
  • Updating codes of practice; and
  • Updating state program approval requirements to incorporate these new changes.
Missouri PSTIF

The data, from 2007, are based on "indentifiable releases" reported by the Missouri Petroleum Storage Tank Insurance Fund.

The new regulations also apply secondary containment and operator training requirements of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to USTs on tribal lands.

A comparison of the 1998 and 2015 rules is available here.

The UST program is primarily implemented by states and territories. Many states already have some of the new requirements in place; others will be in for changes.

Protection and Consistency

“These changes will better protect people’s health and benefit the environment in communities across the country by improving prevention and detection of underground storage tank releases,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.


When gasoline leaks from a failed UST system, it moves from the backfill surrounding the tank or piping into the soil and ground water, according to the Ground Water Protection Council. Volatile vapors often move upward into and around buildings and infrastructure. Over time, some of the leaked product either floats on top of the ground water table or dissolves into the ground water.

Stanislaus said the Final Rule followed “extensive and meaningful collaboration with our underground storage tank partners and stakeholders."

The docket for the UST regulation is EPA-HQ-UST-2011-0301 and may be accessed here when the final regulation is published.

More information is available at EPA’s UST regulation website.


Tagged categories: Environmental Control; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Government; Health and safety; Inspection; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipes; Program/Project Management; Regulations; Tanks; Worker training

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