Over 30 years of reporting on Congress, federal agencies and the White House for corporate America as well as national trade and professional associations.

EPA Eases Compliance Costs for UST Inspection and Testing

Aftermarket Business World - September 30, 2015

The costs of complying with the new rule on underground storage tanks won't be nearly as onerous for service stations and others in the aftermarket sector as once thought. The Environmental Protection Agency eased some of the mandates it had proposed back in late 2011 when it finally published a final rule in mid-July.  Five years in the making, the rule adds maintenance and inspection requirements to equipment requirements for underground storage tanks  (USTs) first established in 1988.

Underground storage tanks holding petroleum and motor oil are ubiquitous in the automotive service station sector.  The changes the EPA made to the final rule resulted in much lower compliance costs for service stations, who, according to Bob Renkes, Executive Vice President & General Counsel, Petroleum Equipment Institute, account for about 360,000 of the 560,000 tanks that currently exist.

The Petroleum Marketers Association of America (PMAA) estimated the proposed rule would have cost upwards of $6000 per site. Mark Morgan, Regulatory Counsel to the PMAA, says the burden is now estimated to be $2377 per site.

Kirk McCauley, Director of Member Relations and Government Affairs WMDA Service Station & Automotive Repair Association, states the final rule is "not as bad as I expected." His group had a number of problems with the proposed rule after it was published in 2011. "Not having to check containment sumps monthly will save a lot of backs; some covers are in the 200 pound class," he notes. They will have to be visually checked once a year.

And the elimination of interstitial space testing on storage tanks' underground piping and sumps is the right decision," adds McCauley. That would have been a major problem, and cost, for service stations with old tanks with secondary containment. The owners would have had to break through concrete or asphalt to get to the interstitial opening in order to do the test.

A lot of what is in this regulation is already standard practice. Overall I think it will cause some heart burn but not as bad as the industry was expecting," notes McCauley.

But the PMAA's Morgan adds, "However, we believe that testing requirements for sumps under the final rule would be very costly and burdensome. We are seeking clarification from EPA and will then reassess." The initial rule was established in 1988. It set standards for spill, overfill, corrosion protection, and release detection.  But there are still approximately 6,000 releases each year. The EPA says lack of proper operation and maintenance of UST systems is the main cause of new releases. For example, EPA required spill prevention equipment to capture drips and spills when the delivery hose is disconnected from the fill pipe, but did not require periodic testing of that equipment.”

The final rule doesn't require anyone to install new equipment, or for service stations (or others) buying new USTs to purchase tanks with newer, more expensive features. The rule is all  about inspecting and testing equipment that was specified in the 1988 rule. The implementation date for most of the new requirements is three years hence.

The inspection requirements are not expected to be onerous. Some of the testing requirements could be costly, though, especially for service stations and gasoline retail locations which don't have the expertise to do the testing. They will hire outside contractors, according to Wayne Geyer, Executive Vice President, the Steel Tank Institute.

The new testing requirements include testing of spill prevention equipment (using vacuum, pressure, or liquid methods) every three years unless the equipment is double-wall spill prevention equipment and both walls are periodically monitored for integrity. Integrity monitoring must be performed at least once every 30 days. The rule includes a three-year testing requirement for containment sumps used for interstitial monitoring of piping unless the containment sumps are double wall and the integrity of the walls is periodically monitored. Integrity monitoring must be performed at least once every 30 days. The rule also requires annual operation and maintenance tests on electronic and mechanical components of release detection equipment to ensure they are operating properly. This includes automatic tank gauge systems and other controllers, probes and sensors, automatic line leak detectors, vacuum pumps and pressure gauges, and handheld electronic sampling equipment associated with vapor and groundwater monitoring.

Author bio: 
Mr. Barlas, a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C., covers topics inside the Beltway.