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Regulatory Areas

Storage Tanks
Underground Storage Tanks Aboveground Storage Tanks SPCC Plans
This area covers regulations for environmental management of aboveground and underground storage tanks. Aboveground storage tanks (ASTs) and underground storage tanks (USTs) are subject to regulation at the federal, state, and local levels.  Whether your tank is considered an AST or UST depends on the regulations in your jurisdiction.  A tank need not be completely underground to be regulated as a UST. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a UST system as “a tank and any underground piping connected to the tank that has at least 10 percent of its combined volume underground.” Environmental regulations for storage tanks cover areas such as the design, construction, installation, general operation, fees, and closure, as well as Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plan requirements. Other requirements for storage tanks may include remediation, release response, corrective action measures, financial responsibility, and liability requirements.
ASTs and USTs have a variety of uses at retail facilities. Most are used to store petroleum products, for example, for emergency generators, waste oil tanks or cooking oil and grease tanks.  This area is focused on tanks storing petroleum products.  Additional regulations apply to tanks storing hazardous wastes. 

Compliance Considerations

Storage tanks are regulated at the federal, state and local levels. Federal regulations primarily concern: (1) the spill prevention, control, and countermeasure program (SPCC), and (2) operation and remediation of USTs. State and local regulations may have more stringent regulations and may require permitting or registration of ASTs and USTs. Some states have requirements for UST operator training​ and others are soon to adopt such requirements.

Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plans

Section 311 of the Clean Water Act authorized EPA to establish a program to prevent oil spills that may occur in navigable waters of the U.S. (In the CWA, "Navigable waters" has been broadly defined to include waters such as streams or wetlands that connect to larger bodies of water.) The program includes regulations for the SPCC program.

Facilities that store oil above threshold quantities must have an SPCC plan.  The purpose of this plan is to prevent releases from polluting water bodies. Plans are focused on tank design, secondary containment of bulk oil storage, and American Petroleum Institute tank inspection standards. Inspections must be conducted periodically to assess the integrity of all aboveground bulk oil storage tanks and must be recorded and kept with the plan.

Retail facilities are subject to EPA's SPCC Plan requirements according to 40 CFR 112​ if onsite aggregate aboveground storage capacity of petroleum products is greater than 1,320 gallons or a completely buried storage capacity greater than 42,000 gallons, and there is reasonable expectation that a discharge from the facility could reach navigable waters. See EPA SPCC Rule.

When determining the aggregate aboveground oil storage capacity at your facility, include all storage of 55 ­gallons or greater (including any drums or other containers).  In addition to petroleum based oils, the SPCC plan covers any material that can act like oil in water, including the dielectric mineral oil in transformers and hydraulic oils such as those in elevator reservoirs. 

When determining if the facility could reasonably discharge oil into navigable waters, the location in relation to streams, ponds, ditches (perennial or intermittent), storm or sanitary sewers, wetlands, mudflats, sandflats, or farm tile drains must be considered. Any oil that has the potential to discharge into a storm or sanitary sewer drain would be sufficient to reach a determination that a discharge is reasonably likely even if a water body is not nearby. 

EPA regulations exempt some completely buried USTs that contain a petroleum product from SPCC requirements; however, the exemption depends on the interpretation of "completely buried" and state regulations, so in these cases facilities typically consult an environmental consultant or engineer.

Retailers with less than 10,000 gallons of bulk storage ma​y qualify as a Tier 1 facility and can therefore self­-certify their SPCC plan without using a professional engineer (this is not allowed in all states). EPA provides guidance and sample SPCC plans.​

​​A spill or release of oil must be reported to the National Response Center (NRC) and EPA within 24 hours when there is a:

  1. ​discharge that causes a film or sheen on water or shoreline (or a sludge or emulsion below the surface);  
  2. spill of 1,000 gallons of oil in a single discharge to navigable waters (which, as described above, could be a storm drain) (if the facility is subject to SPCC); or
  3. two discharges of 42­gallons to waters or the adjoining shorelines within any twelve-­month period (if the facility is subject to SPCC).

EPA maintains information on federal oil spill reporting requirements.

State reporting obligations vary and may be more stringent than federal requirements, including obligations to report spills of oil or hazardous substances at lower thresholds. Federal regulations also require reporting of certain spills of hazardous substances other than oil.

Aboveground Storage Tanks (ASTs)

Aboveground Storage Tank (AST)

​The primary federal regulations addressing petroleum ­containing ASTs are EPA regulations at 40 CFR part 112, or the SPCC Rule and OSHA regulations at 29 CFR 1910.106.  Most states impose AST registration, design, installation, operation, and/or permitting requirements. Check with your state environmental agency or fire marshal to see if your AST needs to be registered and for applicable regulations. For example, some states have additional requirements for sizing secondary containment, such as a certain number of inches or a one hundred year storm level. Aboveground storage tanks containing used or waste oil may also need to be managed within the SPCC plan, but containers may need to labeled according to state rules.

For installation considerations, local fire codes often limit tank capacity, and require minimum tank separation from buildings, public ways, dispensers, and other ASTs. Typical code spacing requirements are 50 feet separation for non­rated ASTs, 25 feet separation for fire­resistant ASTs, and 5 feet for fire­protected ASTs. Information on fire­resistant/protected tanks can be found at UL 20​85 and UL 142​. Check state and local regulations for AST requirements.

EPA recommends that all AST systems have some form of corrosion protection for the tank. Options include elevating tanks so they are not in contact with the ground, resting tanks on continuous concrete slabs, installing double­walled tanks, cathodically protecting the tanks, internally lining tanks, inspecting tanks according to American Petroleum Institute standard (this is also required under the SPCC program), or a combination of the options listed above. EPA also recommends that all underground piping to the tank should be double­walled and located aboveground so it can be inspected or catholically protected. To maximize tank system safety, the floors, containment area, and sump pump pit should be sealed with an appropriate coating (e.g., petroleum resistant coating). Any accumulated water should be inspected for petroleum or chemicals prior to discharge.

Underground Storage Tanks (UST)

Underground Storage Tank (UST)EPA regulations for USTs specify minimum requirements for operating and maintaining USTs, including leak detection systems, release response and corrective action, and financial responsibility in case of spills.  State UST programs can be broader in scope and have more stringent requirements.  In general, USTs must be double walled, cathodically protected, have integrity testing at regular rates, interstitial monitoring, and spill and overflow equipment must be maintained. Federal UST standards can be found at 40 CFR part 280. The EPA has additional US​T​​ information. UST leak and integrity testing is done by checking​ for loss of product inside each tank. Proper corrosion protection also needs to be maintained and annual inspections and/or tightness tests are required in most SPCC plans.

In addition to ensuring the proper equipment has been installed, the equipment must be properly maintained. Most importantly, you must be sure to successfully use the leak detection method at least once a month. Because of the sheer variety of UST tank systems, the EPA has developed a table of leak detection methods​ to simplify selection. Generally, all tank systems must have some type of monthly monitoring system to ensure that leaks can be detected. Tanks less than 2,000 gallons can use manual monitoring to meet leak detection requirements. Inaccurate data from poorly operated and maintained measuring devices can make inventory reconciliation difficult. If your leak detection fails, you may incur fines or penalties for noncompliance, as well as an expensive cleanup at your UST site.

Notification and recordkeeping requirements for USTs can be extensive. In addition, USTs that are taken out of service are subject to detailed requirements for UST closure. State and local regulations may be more stringent than the federal regulations. EPA maintains a list of state ​UST programs.

EPA has guidance​ for UST owners storing gasoline containing greater than 10 percent ethanol or diesel containing greater than 20 percent biodiesel.

UST Operator Training Requirements

The EPA passed new regulations in 2015 that set minimum training requirements for Class A, Class B, and Class C operators. The 2015 UST regulations are similar to the operator training guidelines from the Energy Policy Act of 2005. State UST programs are required to either adopt the EPA’s standards or develop their own operator training requirements that meet the EPA’s requirements.

According to EPA’s 2015 UST regulations, states must designate and train Class A, Class B, and Class C operators. The three operator class descriptions are:

  • Class A operators ­ have primary responsibility to operate and maintain the underground storage tank system. For a typical gas station, this is the owner of the station or his designee. For large corporations, this is the manager or designee responsible for tank operations. The class A operator can also be designated as a Class B operator as long as they have passed the Class B operator exam.
  • Class B operators ­ implement day­-to­-day aspects of operating, maintaining, and recordkeeping for underground storage tank systems. For a typical gas station, it is the owner or the person/company contracted by the owner to maintain the tanks. For large corporations, it is the employee, or person/company contracted by the corporation to maintain the tanks. A broad knowledge base is required for a Class A operator, but the Class B operator must have in­depth knowledge of tank system operation and maintenance.
  • Class C operators are the­ employees responsible for responding to alarms or other indications of emergencies caused by spills, releases, or overfills associated with an underground storage tank system. For a typical gas station, this is the cashier. Though an exam is not required, this person must be trained in responding to releases, alarms, and emergency conditions. Training can be performed by the Class A operators, Class B operators, or third­party vendors. Class C operator training is required to be documented.​​

The EPA’s operator training requirements allow states the flexibility to establish their own state training requirements, so long as the operator training program meets the minimum federal standards. In addition, the EPA requires that all operators be retrained in areas where a compliance violation is identified or implement periodic refresher training. Owners and operators should check with the state where their USTs are located for state-specific requirements.​

Sustainability and Reducing Compliance Risk

The most important sustainability aspect associated with tanks is spill prevention as petroleum contamination can degrade habitat and cause water and soil contamination. A good tank management program and compliance with environmental regulations can significantly reduce the potential for spills or make sure that if a spill occurs it is found and resolved quickly.

Compliance obligations can be reduced by right­sizing tanks or reducing the amount of petroleum stored in tanks or number of tanks at your facility. Staying below reporting thresholds or SPCC plan thresholds can save effort and reduce regulatory requirements.

Look here for retail-specific information on environmental regulations by regulatory area. If you don’t know which areas apply, use the store department search function.

Last Update: 4/6/2015 12:00:00 AM