4 Things Every UST Owner and Operator Should Know

Dec 20, 2022 9:00 AM ET
A yellow construction vehicle pulls a corroded UST out of the ground.
UST Removal | Credit: Ambipar Response

If you own or operate an underground storage tank (UST), you’re likely familiar with the dangerous consequences of complacent UST management. Across the nation, news pops up regularly of USTs leaking into their surrounding environments and contaminating air, waterways and soil.

The U.S. Navy remains plagued by fuel releases at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, after a fuel leak from the same storage facility contaminated thousands of military families’ drinking water. A 10,000-gallon underground storage tank filled with fuel oil has been causing an ongoing oil leak in the Huron River. In New Jersey, tainted soil from a gas station that was torn down decades ago is halting construction of a new preschool. In Indiana, a UST leak that went unreported by the gas station owner for more than a month was found to be leaking gasoline at a rate of 0.8 gallons per hour. The list goes on.

UST owners and operators must be on high alert to avoid potential leaks and spills, which not only damage the environment and community health, but also pose significant financial burden — The average UST release cleanup is estimated to cost $130,000 but adds that “costs to clean more extensive soil contamination may exceed $130,000.” Depending on the extent of contamination, corrective action for leaks that affect groundwater can cost upwards of $1 million.”

To mitigate the risks associated with USTs, here are 4 things every UST owner and operator should know:

1. Is Your UST federally regulated?

Not all fuel storage tanks are created equal. They store various types of fuel at gas stations, fleet yards, businesses, public sector entities, government facilities, and more. An underground storage tank may consist of one tank or a network of tanks with at least 10% of their piping buried underground. They generally compose part of a UST system, which includes piping, ancillary equipment and containment systems, also located underground. USTs are only federally regulated if they contain petroleum or certain hazardous substances.

The EPA closely regulates UST operations including the removal and remediation of aging USTs, leaving tank owners and operators minimal options for storing their on-site fuel supply and putting them at risk of interrupting business operations or worse, full shutdown.

2. What are the potential hazards if your UST leaks?

USTs are prone to leaks, spills and overfilling — referred to as “releases” — that dispense toxic chemicals into the surrounding environment, posing a range of risks to businesses and their communities. Pollution from eroding underground storage tanks leaches into soil, contaminates waterways, and affects air quality.

Substances in USTs are often hazardous and toxic, and when released can pollute waterways, taint soil and threaten wildlife. Not only does this pose a threat to the environment, it puts businesses at risk of failing their sustainability and ESG commitments.

USTs often leach toxic chemicals and pollutants into the environment, especially groundwater, which is a source of drinking water for more than half of all Americans. Even intact USTs vent off toxic fumes including benzene. Contact with these substances poses significant health risks for surrounding communities including increased risk of cancer, effects to the nervous system, cognitive impairment, hearing and kidney damage, impaired memory and more.

As pollution from USTs continues to be a major problem across the nation, states are taking action by tightening regulations around UST maintenance and reporting. Failure to comply with changing regulations can result in serious legal and financial repercussions, which may threaten business solvency.

3. What is your UST made of?

In the modern day, USTs are made from fiberglass or reinforced plastic, but older USTs — which can date back as far as the 1800s — were often constructed from bare steel. Because steel USTs were the norm until the mid-1980s, many USTs are now subject to leaks from deterioration and age. This is particularly true for areas of the country where increasingly severe weather events – such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and other natural disasters – are damaging and destroying these underground tanks, causing expensive long-term mitigation and remediation issues.

4. What is your mitigation or migration plan for an aging or leaking UST?

Regardless of material used to construct any given UST, each state has different regulations around the tanks to govern corrosion protection, inspections, monitoring, secondary containment and more. Once a leak is confirmed, UST owners and operators are legally required to take immediate action to minimize or eliminate the source of the leak. This requires significant planning and development to a) replace or upgrade equipment; and b) address future fueling needs.

UST owners and operators looking to remove, replace or ditch their underground storage tanks should turn to trusted partners to ease the process. Earlier this year, Booster announced a strategic partnership with Ambipar Response, which offers tank removal and replacement services, including compliance with regulations, early identification of potential environmental issues, required reporting, soil remediation and more. Under the partnership, Ambipar will remove and remediate leaking tanks while Booster’s mobile energy delivery platform ensures continuous access to a reliable fuel supply chain.

Benefits of utilizing Booster’s services while you migrate your fleet:

  • The fleet’s overall efficiency and productivity will improve by eliminating the need for USTs, thus saving them costly infrastructure upgrades, and preventing harmful leaks.
  • Customers are able to focus on running their core business objectives or mission successfully, and not on their fueling and energy operations.
  • Booster’s mobile fueling delivery service transitions customers away from significant capital expenditure investment and shifts it to operational expenditure, putting customers on a path forward with a sustainability roadmap.
  • Booster’s mobile fuel delivery service improves fleet’s overall efficiency and productivity by eliminating fleet's off-route mileage, vehicle costs, labor costs of time spent fueling, and theft and reducing the total fueling trip time.

As regulators continue to become wise to the risks associated with USTs, regulations are sure to become more stringent. UST owners and operators should stay up to date on all UST regulations, and have detailed plans in place for maintenance, repairs and mitigation if they are to remain operating in a way that is sustainable environmentally, socially and financially. With UST removal and remediation by Ambipar and mobile fueling by Booster, UST owners and operators can easily enter the future of sustainable fueling.