Underground Storage Tank Compliance 101

Underground Storage Tank Regulations You Need to Know

An underground storage tank system (UST) is a tank with at least 10% of its volume underground and is connected to underground piping. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are approximately 544,000 underground storage tanks nationwide storing petroleum or other hazardous substances. Until the mid-1980s, many USTs were comprised of bare steel, a material likely to corrode over time and cause the tanks’ contents to leak into the environment. Incorrect installation, operating, and maintenance procedures can also cause USTs to release their contents.

This situation is of paramount concern, as the most significant potential threat from a leaking underground storage tank is the contamination of groundwater, which is the direct source of drinking water for nearly half of all Americans. Leaking USTs also present other concerning environmental and health risks, including the potential for fires and explosions to occur.

In this blog, we’ll explore the federal compliance regulations for UST systems containing either petroleum or certain hazardous substances, as well as how to ensure groundwater resources and their surrounding environments can be remediated and protected long-term.

Underground Storage Tank Releases: Prevention

To prevent releases into the surrounding environment, EPA has designed technical regulations for underground storage tank systems. These comprehensive regulations require UST owners and operators to correctly install their systems and protect them from spills, overfills, and corrosion. Owners and operators must also adhere to proper filling practices. Additionally, they are responsible for accurately reporting the existence of new underground storage tanks, any suspected releases, system closures, and records of operation and maintenance.

Detecting Underground Storage Tank Releases

In addition, EPA requires UST owners and operators to detect releases from their underground storage tanks, as quickly detecting releases can help stop contamination before it spreads from sites. All regulated tanks and piping must have release detection—also known as “leak detection”—that meet basic requirements, including:

  • Detecting a leak from any part of the underground storage tank or its piping that regularly contains petroleum.
  • The leak detection is installed and calibrated according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Three categories of release detection are permitted: interstitial, internal, and external.

  • Interstitial method includes secondary containment and interstitial monitoring, as well as secondary containment and under-dispenser containment.
  • Internal methods include automatic tank gauging (ATG) systems, continuous in-tank leak detection (CITLD), statistical inventory reconciliation (SIR), and manual tank gauging. Tank tightness testing and inventory control may be temporarily used at petroleum UST sites.
  • External methods include groundwater monitoring and vapor monitoring.

The implementing agency may approve other methods—for more information, visit EPA’s website.

Cleanup for Underground Storage Tank Releases

Contaminated UST sites vary considerably in cleanup costs and risks during the remediation process, but all must be cleaned up to restore groundwater resources and the surrounding environment. Cleaning up contaminated sites ensures that people living or working near the area will be safe, and contaminants such as methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) will cease to affect drinking water standards.

After a UST release, a contaminated site will need to undergo site characterization (also called “site assessment”) to help professional contractors determine the best cleanup method. These contractors will choose their approach based on site-specific investigations and upon receiving local environmental agency approval. Occasionally, state or federal regulators may lead the decision-making process for choosing cleanup methods.

Schedule UST Closure with Vision Environmental

No matter the scale of your cleanup project, we can help. Vision Environmental offers a full range of remediation services for site environmental concerns, specializing in underground storage tank closure and more. Contact us today to learn how our waste management and environmental safety services can help your business thrive!