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Tanks and Containment/Underground Storage Tanks

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One of the key strategies for environmental protection is to stop pollution before it happens; therefore, containment of hazardous materials is the subject of many Federal and State/tribe requirements. Agricultural establishments and businesses often have an assortment of containers, storage tanks, containment areas, and other structures designed to hold chemicals and prevent unwanted releases into the environment. Agriculture-related substances covered by containment requirements include pesticides, fertilizers, fuel, coolants, and oil/petroleum-based products. Other requirements cover the design and management of underground storage tanks, which may be used to hold a variety of potential pollutants.

Secondary Containment of Oil - Oil Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasures Program

Oil spills endanger public health, impact drinking water, devastate natural resources, and disrupt the economy. Every effort must be made to prevent oil spills and to clean them up promptly once they occur. The purpose of the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule is to help facilities and farms prevent a discharge of oil into navigable waters or adjoining shorelines. A key element of the SPCC rule requires farms and other facilities to develop, maintain and implement an oil spill prevention plan, called an SPCC Plan. These plans help farms prevent oil spill, as well as control a spill should one occur.

SPCC for Agriculture

Related publications from the Ag Center
Emergency Planning

Related laws and policies
Clean Water Act

Related environmental requirements
Clean Water Act Section 311
40 CFR Part 112

Information from USDA
SPCC Guidance and Template for Dairy Producers (PDF) (57 pp, 1.6MB)

Information from the States

Top 5 SPCC Violations (PDF) (19 pp, 223K)
Compliance Assistance for Businesses
Compliance Assistance for Farmers

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Underground Storage Tanks

An underground storage tank system (UST) is a tank and any underground piping connected to the tank that has at least 10 percent of its combined volume underground. The Federal UST regulations apply only to underground tanks and piping storing either petroleum or certain hazardous substances.

EPA estimates that there are about 1.1 million federally regulated USTs buried at over 400,000 sites nationwide. Nearly all USTs at these sites contain petroleum. These sites include marketers who sell gasoline to the public (such as service stations and convenience stores) and nonmarketers who use tanks solely for their own needs (such as fleet service operators and local governments).  EPA estimates about 25,000 tanks hold hazardous substances covered by the UST regulations.

Until the mid-1980s, most USTs were made of bare steel, which is likely to corrode over time and allow UST contents to leak into the environment. Faulty installation or inadequate operating and maintenance procedures also can cause USTs to release their contents into the environment.

The greatest potential hazard from a leaking UST is that the petroleum or other hazardous substance can seep into the soil and contaminate groundwater, the source of drinking water for nearly half of all Americans. A leaking UST can present other health and environmental risks, including the potential for fire and explosion.

In 1984, Congress responded to the increasing threat to groundwater posed by leaking USTs by adding Subtitle I to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Subtitle I required EPA to develop a comprehensive regulatory program for USTs storing petroleum or certain hazardous substances.

Congress directed EPA to publish regulations that would require owners and operators of new tanks and tanks already in the ground to prevent, detect, and clean up releases. At the same time, Congress banned the installation of unprotected steel tanks and piping beginning in 1985.

In 1986, Congress amended Subtitle I of RCRA and created the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund, which is to be used for two purposes:

The 1986 amendments also established financial responsibility requirements. Congress directed EPA to publish regulations that would require UST owners and operators to demonstrate they are financially capable of cleaning up releases and compensating third parties for resulting damages.

The following USTs are excluded from regulation and, therefore, do not need to meet Federal requirements for USTs:

In 1988, EPA issued regulations setting minimum standards for new tanks and requiring owners of existing tanks to upgrade, replace, or close them. The UST regulations are divided into three sections: (1) technical requirements, (2) financial responsibility requirements, and (3) State program approval objectives.

EPA's technical requirements for USTs are designed to reduce the chance of releases from USTs, detect leaks and spills when they do occur, and secure a prompt cleanup. To meet the requirements, owners must upgrade, replace, or close existing UST systems by 1998. Tanks remaining in operation must have leak detection and leak prevention components. UST owners and operators are responsible for reporting and cleaning up any releases.

The financial responsibility requirements ensure that, in the event of a leak or spill, an owner or operator will have the resources to pay for costs associated with cleaning up releases and compensating third parties.

EPA recognizes that, because of the large size and great diversity of the regulated community, State and local governments are in the best position to oversee USTs. Subtitle I of RCRA allows State UST programs approved by EPA to operate in lieu of the Federal program, and EPA's State program approval regulations set standards for State programs to meet. States may have more stringent regulations than the Federal requirements. People who are interested in requirements for USTs should contact their State UST program for information on State requirements.

Related publications from the Ag Center
Tanks and Containment/Underground Storage Tanks

Related laws and policies
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

Related environmental requirements
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act text Exit EPA
40 CFR Parts 280-281

More information from EPA
Underground Storage Tanks Program
State Underground Storage Tanks Program: Final Grant Guidelines and Inspection Grant Guidelines - the final grant guidelines state that states must report to EPA on the compliance status of federal, state, and local government-owned and government-operated USTs. The inspection guidelines describe the minimum requirements a state’s on-site inspection program must contain.

Telephone assistance from EPA
UST Hotline is 800-424-9346

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