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What Are the Regulations for Underground Storage Tanks?

 In Environmentally Conscious

Underground storage tanks can be a great solution to all your onsite fuel storage needs. They are, however, complicated systems and come with heavy and important regulations that you must keep in mind during the planning, installation, and operation stages of their life cycles. Adhering to these regulations will increase workplace safety, help you avoid fines and plant shutdowns, and improve your daily workflow. In this article, we will break down the key regulations across several aspects of the installation and operation of underground storage tanks.


Corrosion Regulations

The material used in underground storage tanks must be of the highest quality to ensure that no hazardous material leaks out into the ground over time. Corrosion is often the cause of long-term tank failure and ground contamination, so it is crucial to meet standards for non-corrosive construction materials. Unprotected steel, the conventional solution for such tanks, can easily break down, causing such contamination. 

To prevent corrosion, it is required that you use tanks of non-corrodible materials or add a protective, non-conductive coating to the exterior of your tank. If neither of these solutions is feasible, or your tanks were installed before such regulations, you should contact your local regulatory agency to find alternative solutions. 


Regulations for Spill and Overfill Prevention

Spill prevention is a key prerogative of all storage tank regulations. This is one of the most easily preventable and damaging sources of environmental contamination. All tanks should have installed spill prevention equipment in case of operational errors. In addition, you should avoid spillage due to overfills, which requires the installation of overfill prevention alarms, shutdown devices, and other equipment. 

However, installing all this equipment is only the start, as regulations require routine inspections of spill and overfill equipment to ensure that they will work in case of a potential spillage event.


Installation Regulations

Underground tank installation is a complex and highly technical process. While it is undoubtedly in your operational interests to employ a skilled installer, there are additional necessary certifications and regulations related to your installation process.

Relevant local and national agencies must qualify your installer. Moreover, a licensed Professional Engineer or regulatory agency must inspect the installation. This process requires extensive documentation, so make sure to double-check all the forms before this stage!



Operating Requirements

Once your tank is installed, you must take great care to operate the tank properly. There are three tiers of operators as defined by the EPA in 2007: Class A, Class B, and Class C. Class A operators have additional responsibilities on the management side. Class B operators tend to be in charge of on-site operations, and Class C operators are day-to-day operators who are specially trained in emergency, alarm, or spill response. Class A must be certified in B and C, while B must be certified in C. 

Specifically, Class A operators have the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions regarding planning and operations to ensure that operating staff are running the system in compliance. This includes knowledge of the specific regulations and continued documentation of the processes. Class B operators must know how to implement compliance requirements for the site-specific system components. Finally, Class C operators must be able to safely operate the tank and be prepared to take action in response to emergencies, alarms, or spills.


Leak Detection Regulations

Many of the regulations related to underground tanks are dedicated to detecting and preventing leaks. All underground storage tanks must have leak detection systems that are sensitive enough to detect leaks as soon as they happen so that operators can address them before the problem gets too significant. This is for the operator’s benefit, as extended leaks can lead to hefty fines. 

While regulations do not determine the exact detection method, they have provisions for several of the following alternatives. One possible sponsor system is a vapor monitoring system, which detects elevated moisture levels in the soil around the tank. Other systems can detect liquid in the area between the tank itself and the wall of the surrounding tank pit. Though still executable, a slightly less direct method is to monitor groundwater samples drawn from wells in surrounding areas. However, this can potentially lead to larger headways between the leak and detection. Automatic tank gauging is another alternative for tanks with under 550 gallons. These systems can alert the operator in the event of an unexpected loss of fuel from the tank. 

These alternatives only scratch the surface of the technology available for leak detection. Regulatory agencies have approved other methods, but a leak detection vendor must approve any system. These vendors will provide documentation of your system and any of its limitations. These vendors will also have more knowledge of the local regulations in your area, which can be more stringent than national regulations, so ensure to use them or your local agency to check that you have met all possible standards.

If any of these systems are triggered, the tank or plant operator must investigate any suspected leak within one week, which leads us to our next set of regulations.


Reporting Regulations

These regulations are all enforced through reporting mechanisms. This starts even before installation, as all underground tanks require that you notify your regulatory agency of tank operation 30 days before use. Most states require this notification form before the installation of the tank.

When it comes to leaks, you must report all suspected leaks of 25 gallons or more within 24 hours. This report will also be linked to a cleanup plan which you must execute within 20 days of any leak event. 

Even outside of spill events, you must report and document any repairs to, updates of, or new information regarding the tank systems. This includes scheduled maintenance and cleaning, the results of any testing, and site assessment. 


Feel Confident Knowing You’re Following Regulations

When it comes to underground fuel storage tanks, proper adherence to regulations takes a lot of effort. Still, the returns in terms of plant safety, operational efficiency, spill avoidance, and fine avoidance are well worth it.

Now that you have a better idea of the categories of regulation and the agencies, installers, and vendors with whom you will have to cooperate, you can feel more confident about operating your tank system effectively, compliantly, and safely. Be sure to use available resources and agencies to investigate your local regulations further. 

If you have not yet installed an underground tank and are still trying to decide whether to choose an above ground or underground tank for your facility, check out this article comparing the two.

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