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EPA Set to Enforce Underground Storage Tank Standards

Release Date: 12/21/1998
Contact Information: For more information contact the Office of External Affairs at (214) 665-2200.

     The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is aware that despite repeated reminders, many owners have ignored the Dec. 22 deadline to upgrade or close underground storage tanks. The Agency will enforce the regulations and reminds owners that fines can be as much as $11,000 per day for each tank that does not meet the standards.

      "Because these tanks are buried out of sight we tend to forget the threat to public health posed by substandard tanks. Dallas recently had a reminder of how dangerous ignoring environmental safeguards can be when an entire neighborhood was threatened by 9,000 gallons of gas which had leaked from a service station tank into city sewers. Luckily, there wasn't an explosion, but 55 families had to be evacuated for several days as a precaution," Regional Administrator Gregg Cooke said.

      Cooke explained that the most common problem with substandard tanks is contamination of ground water. "Just one gallon of gasoline will ruin 5 million gallons of drinking water. With nearly half of all Americans dependent on ground water for their drinking water, its contamination is a critical public health concern," Cooke said.

      Regulations adopted Dec. 22, 1988, require that underground storage tanks have spill and overfill prevention devices and corrosion protection systems for any metal parts. Tanks installed after that date must meet these requirements. Owners were given 10 years, until Dec. 22, 1998, to upgrade or properly drain and close tanks that had been installed before the new standards were adopted.

      Since these standards were adopted 10 years ago, they have greatly reduced the threat to human health and the environment posed  by underground storage tanks. More than 1.2 million substandard tanks have been taken out of service, eliminating potential leaks. EPA estimates that 500,000 of about 892,000 underground tanks in operation nationwide now meet federal standards.

      More than 1.4 million items reminding owners and operators about the deadline have been distributed by the Agency during the last decade. Additionally, EPA has worked with professional and trade associations to distribute hundreds of thousands of documents about the deadline to their members. Many distributors have said they will not deliver fuel to underground tanks that have not been upgraded or replaced.

      EPA also has been working with state agencies to inspect tanks, issue penalties for current violations, and advise owners about the deadline requirements. Many states have held seminars, conducted public meetings and distributed printed materials to inform tank owners.

      Even with these extensive outreach efforts, EPA estimates that about 44 percent of the more than 130,000 underground tanks in service throughout the five states comprising Region 6 still do not meet the standards. At first, federal inspectors will concentrate on the larger owners and operators because these pose the greatest potential for groundwater contamination.

      "Owners with only one or two underground tanks should be aware that state environmental agencies also will be enforcing these regulations. Those in violation will be subject to fines of up to $11,000 for every day after Dec. 22 that a substandard tank is in operation," Cooke said.

      Last year in Region 6, EPA inspected about 180 facilities with underground storage tanks and found only 34 in compliance with current regulations. More than 128 federal citations were issued for penalties totaling $65,350.

      The most prevalent violation was failure to perform adequate leak detection, a requirement since 1993. Some citations were for improper record-keeping. Accurate records are the only way to document compliance with the leak-detection requirements. Other violations included failure to report suspected leaks.

      About 40 percent of the more than 16,000 underground storage tanks in Arkansas comply with the standards. The Arkansas Department of Pollution Control and Ecology (ADPCE) cited 10 facilities for violations of underground storage tank standards and assessed penalties totaling $35,365 last year. ADPCE plans to propose "red tag" legislation during this year's legislative session that would outlaw deliveries to tanks that have not been certified by the state as in compliance with the standards.

      In Louisiana, it is illegal for distributors to deliver gasoline to tanks that do not display a state registration showing compliance with the standards. Distributors can be fined up to $1 million for delivering to unregistered tanks.

      "During the last 10 years, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) has permanently closed more than 20,000 substandard tanks, leaving roughly 20,000 active tanks across the state," LDEQ Secretary J. Dale Givens said.

      "Since July 1997, LDEQ has inspected 2,097 facilities for compliance and our records indicate a 60 percent to 80 percent compliance rate will be achieved by the deadline. We attribute this to extensive LDEQ public awareness efforts that targeted owners of underground tanks, who are required by law to register with this agency," Givens said.

      Givens explained that the agency used a variety of methods to inform underground tank owners and operators. "LDEQ utilized tools such as presentations at meetings, conferences and trade shows; articles in trade publications; mailings; news coverage; brochures; reminders and compliance assistance visits by agency field staff."

      Givens reminded tank owners that, "After Dec. 22, LDEQ will begin inspecting tanks in random order at sites not in compliance according to the department's records."

      About 72 percent of the more than 4,000 underground storage tanks in New Mexico meet the standards. The state has identified tanks which still need to be upgraded and will target those for inspections after Dec. 22. Additionally, fuel distributors will deliver only to tanks that comply with the regulations.

      A little more than half of the almost 15,000 underground storage tanks in Oklahoma meet the standards. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission recently completed an inspection blitz to identify tanks in compliance and issue certificates. Petroleum distributors have agreed to halt gasoline deliveries after Dec. 22. to tanks that do have a state certificate.

      Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) Commissioner Ralph Marquez said, "Older underground storage systems that have not been upgraded by the owners and operators continue to be of great concern to us. It is of utmost importance that tank owners realize the implications of this Dec. 22 deadline, as well as understand that their operations have the potential to cause great harm to groundwater resources in their area.

      "To that end, the TNRCC is accelerating its inspections of underground tanks in January, and will particularly focus on those facilities that still may not be in compliance with these rules," he said.

      About 82 percent of the state's more than 72,000 underground storage tanks meet the standards. During inspections last year TNRCC found 90 facilities with underground storage tank violations. Penalties ranged from $600 to $366,650 and totaled nearly $1 million.

      If owners notify their state environmental agency and drain and temporarily close their tanks before Dec. 22, they can avoid a penalty. As long as the tanks are removed from service, owners can take up to a year to properly close or to upgrade and reopen their tanks.

      "EPA's message is that owners have been repeatedly reminded about the deadline to upgrade or close substandard tanks. Unfortunately, some owners have chosen to ignore the deadline. EPA will maintain our commitment to protect public health and our environment by vigorously enforcing underground storage tank standards," Cooke said.