In Focus
July 2015

Stricter requirements for underground storage tanks (UST) being imposed

ACFA noted the recent announcement by the US Environmental Protection Agency which highlights an important change and development. The new underground storage tanks regulations focus clearly on preventing future groundwater pollution by upgrading UST standards, adding containment requirements and utilizing up-to-date technology in order to avoid leaks and spillages in first place and at source, rather than taking measurements against any products detected in the groundwater.

ACFA is pleased to support and encourage the good work of the US EPA in providing new regulations on USTs. As much as improving the environment above ground through reducing emissions is important, reducing the leaking of fuels and chemicals into ground and groundwater is equally important. In fact, ACFA would like to challenge all stakeholders to endeavour to use their utmost efforts to protect the environment using the best system of all: No Leaks.

Apart from this initiative in the US we have seen the UST issue being high on the agenda in other countries (ie. Australia and Japan) and we would like to point out that it is crucially important to have a proper system, regulations and checks in place in order to benefit from air quality improvements and avoid any groundwater contamination in first place.

Other countries are well advised to apply similar standards like proposed in the US, implemented in Japan and Australia and already in place in Europe for a long time. Penalties and punishments should be enforced on irresponsible parties for non-compliance and violations of responsible care rather than against individual products.

US - EPA news release

On 22 June 2015, the following news release was published by the US EPA, highlighting the require changes:

Washington - The U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) is strengthening the federal underground storage tank (UST) requirements to improve prevention and detection of petroleum releases from USTs which are one of the leading sources of groundwater contamination. EPA’s action will strengthen existing requirements and help ensure all USTs in the United States meet the same release protection standards.

“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.”  

Secondary containment and operator training requirements of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 will 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.  

Underground storage tanks are located at hundreds of thousands of facilities across America. Both marketers and nonretail facilities own USTs. Marketers include retail facilities such as gas stations and convenience stores that sell petroleum products. Nonretail facilities include those that do not sell petroleum products, but may rely on their own supply of gasoline or diesel for taxis, buses, limousines, trucks, vans, boats, heavy equipment, or a wide range of other vehicles.

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; and
  • Updating state program approval requirements to incorporate these new changes.

States and territories primarily implement the UST program. Many states already have some of these new requirements in place. For others, these changes will set standards that are more protective. In developing the final UST regulation, EPA reached out extensively to affected and interested UST stakeholders. EPA 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.

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

More information about this regulation is available at EPA’s UST regulation website at

Updating the 1988 UST regulations and new measures to prevent tank releases include secondary containment for tanks, which detect the fuel before it reaches the soil; bolstering operator training to help comply with upcoming regulations; and updates to current technology and codes of practices. There are currently more than 640,000 federally regulated active UST´s which store fuels or hazardous substances, according to the Groundwater Protection Council.

The prepublication version of the EPA´s final UST regulations also mentions the costs affecting professionals of the industry, and the environmental benefits of the new requirements. “EPA considered the comments (made by marketers and non-retail facilities which own USTs) and adjusted today’s final UST regulation to alleviate some of the burden on owners and operators”, said the report. An example of this is requiring testing of spill prevention every three years instead of annually.

The time frame of operators and owners to adapt to the new requirements will depend on the conditions and costs. Those professionals of the sector who need to upgrade or install equipment with significant costs will be allowed three years. The exception is the implementation of secondary containments for new and replaces tanks, which will have to be completed 180 days after the effective date of the UST regulation, said the EPA report. The EPA has gradually reduced the number of new UST releases in the country. Approximately 6,000 releases are discovered each year, with the lack of operation and maintenance of UST systems constituting the main cause for leaks, according to EPA reports. The agency also points at piping and spills associated with deliveries, along with releases at dispensers, as the two great dangers other than underground storage.

ACFA notes that other countries which are spearheading new regulations to protect against leaking USTs are role models for nations interested to protect their environment.

Europe has so far been at the forefront of this practice, but other countries like Australia and Japan are stepping up as well.

EPA UST plan in Australia

In 2008, the NSW EPA in Australia has introduced and implemented its Environment Protection Plan (EPP) for the Underground Petroleum Storage System (UPSS) regulations.

Key points of the EPA requirements are:

  • EPP – up to date and accessible
  • Loss monitoring procedures (capable of detecting 0.76L/hr with at least 95% accuracy);
  • Record Keeping – SIRA records for indications of leaks, procedures for loss detection/investigation
  • Removing past deferrals for emergency generator tanks, airport hydrant systems, and field-constructed tanks;
  • Groundwater monitoring wells installed and tested
  • Main Points of the Council requirements are:
  • Drainage – knowledge, design and maintenance
  • Forecourt design, Oil Water Separator use and maintenance, isolated Diesel bowsers
  • Spill Response – Spill Kit, training and maintenance
  • Materials Management – storage of chemicals, MSDS
  • Waste Management – appropriate disposal, waste tracking receipts, recycling facilities
  • Trade Waste Agreements
    In a 2012 auditor’s report it was highlighted that the EPA was made aware of in total 1460 cases of groundwater contamination with the lion share (991) coming from petroleum leakages and service stations.

In the initial observation inspection at 410 sites for the 2014 statutory review it came to light that 45% of all UST sites are in full compliance with the EPA requirements, with another 26% partially meeting the requirements. The remaining 29% had none of the EPA requirements in place by then. A major review of the regulations will be conducted in 2017 and a higher compliance ratio is being expected.

UST regulations in Japan

In a biomass fuel adoption study conducted during the 2006-2008 time frame Japan successfully introduced and implemented a leakage prevention and early detection measuring programme at a number of service stations targeted for the use of ETBE-mixed gasoline. Japan review their UST regulations and compliance in view of their interest in using ETBE as their main biofuel blending component in gasoline.

The comprehensive programme embraces a range of measurements and tests including double layering of pipes, spilling preventive measures during unloading, evaporation preventive measures during unloading, equipments and facilities for preventing spillage during pumping (measures to prevent penetration into soil in the event of spillage), and in addition, installation of ground sensor, and odor measurement device for early detection in the event of spillage/evaporation of ETBE-mixed gasoline.

A support experimentation initiative was put in place in order to support the programme for surveying the soil and underground water of service stations in Japan, leading to the compilation of a database. At the same time the programme examines the effectiveness of the monitoring system and reliability of the leakage measures during the distribution of ETBE-mixed gasoline to multiple service stations.

The chart underneath best describes the various measurements introduced as part of the programme:

From this event, it can be shown that a proper and systematic approach to best practices and regulations on UST regulations can minimise/eliminate concerns on risks to ground and groundwater, while benefiting from their choice of ethers in gasoline in this case.


ACFA supports the UST upgrading initiatives undertaken in the various countries and encourages policy makers and the industry to adapt standards where necessary. Responsible handling and storing of petroleum products is an essential part of the balance between industry interest and environmental requirements. Particularly in countries in which fuel qualities need to be improved further and where fuel consumption is set to grow, the consumer deserves a hassle-free environment in return for his investments.

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