Federal regulations tightening some requirements for Underground Storage Tanks (USTs) will go into effect on October 13, 2015. According to the EPA the changes aim to “strengthen the 1988 federal underground storage tank regulations by increasing emphasis on properly operating and maintaining UST equipment. The revisions will help prevent and detect UST releases, which are a leading source of groundwater contamination. The revisions will also help ensure all USTs in the United States, including those in Indian country, meet the same minimum standards.”

The prior rules were out of touch with current practices and technologies, and regulations in many states already exceeded Federal requirements. Where changes are required to comply with the new rule, operators will see marginal increases in equipment and management costs, but these will be partly mitigated by phased implementation of the requirements. Savings resulting from improved leak prevention and early identification of releases should more than offset costs in the long run, and will benefit both operators and property owners. For property buyers and lenders, the new rules may provide a benchmark for preliminary evaluation of the risks associated with existing UST systems.

Key Revisions

The final rule closes regulatory gaps to improve the way existing UST systems are operated and maintained.  Key updates include:

  • Requirements to provide:
         * secondary containment for new and replaced tanks and piping hazardous substance and petroleum tanks;
         * operator training requirements;
         * periodic operation and maintenance requirements for UST systems;
         * new release prevention and detection technologies
         * improved UST system compatibility before storing certain biofuel blends;
  • Removing deferrals for emergency generator tanks, airport hydrant systems, and field-constructed tanks;
  • Updating codes of practice; and
  • Updating state program approval requirements to incorporate these new changes.


Digging Deeper Into the Changes

So what exactly does this mean for owners and operators of facilities that contain USTs?  EPA states that it has considered the environmental benefits of the UST requirements, while balancing those with the potential future costs of compliance for UST owners and operators.  For the most part, this means that owners and operators are not required to replace existing equipment, but rather improve the operation and maintenance of that equipment. 

Here are some key changes to be aware of:


The new operator training regulations, which will be implemented through state-developed training programs, will help ensure that operators perform their duties in a way that prevents releases and have the knowledge to take appropriate action in case a release does occur.  Every facility will be required to employ at least one designated operator who is trained at the highest level.  Periodic walkthrough inspections and testing of UST-related equipment are also required. The operator training requirements take effect three years after rule’s effective date.

            Secondary Containment

Single walled tanks and pipes are more likely to leak, so EPA is implementing new requirements for secondarily contained systems for new and replaced tanks and piping to “contain regulated substances leaked from the primary containment until they are detected and removed, and to prevent the release of regulated substances to the environment at any time during the operational life of the UST system.”  The systems must be monitored for a leak at least once every 30 days (see here).

            Covered UST Systems

In these upgrades, the EPA is removing deferrals for certain types of UST systems that will now become subject to regulation as under the 40 C.F.R. Part 280.  This includes: field-constructed tanks, airport hydrant systems, or tanks used for storing fuel solely for emergency power generators.  EPA has also established a “partial exclusion” for wastewater treatment tank systems that are not part of a wastewater treatment facility regulated under Sections 402 or 307(b) of the Clean Water Act, USTs containing radioactive material, and emergency generator UST systems at nuclear power plants.  These systems are only subject to some requirements in the regulation.  For more detail on that see here.

Ensuring Continued Compliance

The new requirements for maintenance, operation and operation of USTs have varying implementation deadlines, frequency demands, notification requirements, and record-keeping obligations.  More information on this can be found here.  Overall, the new regulations significantly expand obligations on UST owners/operators.  In order to ensure compliance with the new standards, it is critical that they review their current operation and maintenance programs and plans for any new installations or replacements.