By Keith Reid

A revision to the federal underground storage tank (UST) requirements was finalized on June 22. This revision has been in the works since 2011 and builds upon the initial and stringent UST regulations that were set in 1988, with a decade for tank operators to attain compliance. Those regulations required such actions as leak detection, spill and overfill protection and corrosion control and resulted in a massive UST upgrade process throughout the industry.

The stated goals of the revisions have been to improve the prevention and detection of petroleum releases from USTs. “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. “Extensive and meaningful collaboration with our underground storage tank partners and stakeholders was vital to the development of the new regulations. The revised requirements will also help ensure consistency in implementing the tanks program among states and on tribal lands.”

As the announcement noted, secondary containment and operator training requirements of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 will also now apply to USTs on tribal lands. In addition, these requirements improve EPA’s original 1988 UST regulation by closing regulatory gaps, adding new technologies and focusing on properly operating and maintaining existing UST systems.
The revised requirements 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
  • Updating state program approval requirements to incorporate these new changes

In developing the final UST regulation, the agency noted that it “reached out extensively to affected and interested UST stakeholders.” The agency stated that it carefully considered the environmental benefits of the UST requirements, while balancing those with the potential future costs of compliance for UST owners and operators. For example, EPA is not requiring owners and operators to replace existing equipment, but rather is focusing on better operation and maintenance of that equipment.

Industry associations generally support that claim.

“NACS has been engaged with the EPA regarding these rules for nearly five years, in order to ensure that the agency took the concerns of the retail community into consideration throughout the process,” explained John Eichberger, NACS Vice President of Government Relations and Director of the Fuels Institute. “In a quick review of the final rule, NACS is pleased that EPA listened to our industry and made several changes from the initially proposed rule, such as changing the proposed monthly walkthrough inspection requirement for containment sumps to an annual inspection. Also important is the inclusion in the regulations of previously issued guidelines that allow retailers to demonstrate the compatibility of their underground equipment with the fuel stored, by obtaining the manufacturer’s written approval.”

PMAA is similarly encouraged by the final outcome of the regulations. “Overall, we’re glad that EPA removed some of the most onerous provisions in the regulations,” said PMAA President Rob Underwood. EPA indicated to the association that it adopted many of PMAA positions, in part or in whole, but did not elaborate further about which parts of the rule were changed.

Among the known changes PMAA sees as a victory was the elimination of integrity testing for interstitial spaces in tanks, piping and containment sumps. PMAA argued that interstitial spaces were not designed to be pressurized for integrity testing and could damage equipment, cause leaks and void manufacturer warranties. Interstitial integrity testing would also present significant technical challenges, is prohibitively expensive and a powerful disincentive for tank owners to upgrade with secondarily contained equipment.

Also, EPA has told PMAA that it would not adopt a monthly inspection of sump areas, but require annual inspection instead. PMAA argued that monthly inspections was too frequent, unnecessary and raised an array of safety issues for c-store employees that ran contrary to OSHA workplace safety regulations.

Both NACS and PMAA are in the process of fully analyzing the rule, which runs 4000 pages. FMN will similarly focus on the rule requirements in coming months.