Regulating Underground Storage Tanks

Posted on 10/9/2012 by James Griffin

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “there are approximately 587,000 underground storage tanks (USTs) nationwide that store petroleum or hazardous substances.” ( The Office of Underground Storage Tanks (OUST) was established by EPA in 1985 in response to Congress’s statutory mandate under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to better regulate USTs. The intent was to cut down on the effect releases from USTs have on groundwater and underground sources of drinking water. Current estimates place groundwater as the primary source of drinking water for 50% of the population of the U.S. and up to 90% for rural areas. Leaking USTs have the potential to contaminate those sources.
What Exactly Is an Underground Storage Tank?
40 CFR 280.12 defines an Underground Storage Tank as “any one or combination of tanks (including underground pipes connected thereto) that is used to contain an accumulation of regulated substances, and the volume of which (including the volume of underground pipes connected thereto) is 10 percent or more beneath the surface of the ground…” Yes, even if the tank itself is above-ground, it is still a UST if the underground piping connected to the tank constitutes 10 percent or more of the total system volume.
What’s Not a UST?
There are over a dozen full and partial exclusions from the UST rules. Some of the most common are:
  • Farm or residential tanks of 1,100 gallons or less capacity used for storing motor fuel for noncommercial purposes
  • Tanks used for storing heating oil for consumptive use on the premises where stored
  • Septic tanks and pipeline facilities (these tanks are regulated by Safe Drinking Water Act and DOT programs, respectively)
  • Storage tanks in underground areas like cellars and tunnels if situated above the floor (these tanks are below-grade but not buried and therefore can be visually inspected on a regular basis)
What Are the UST Requirements?
EPA has divided the UST requirements into three pieces: technical requirements, financial responsibility, and State objectives.
  • Technical Requirements—include rules for tank construction, prevention of releases, closure, and clean-up of release. EPA’s “MUSTS FOR USTS” is an excellent resource for questions about the technical requirements.
  • Financial Responsibility—puts the owner of the UST in the position of being financially capable of cleaning up releases, remediating contaminated ground as necessary, and reimbursing affected third parties; this can mean having as much as $1,000,000 in escrow against a release event. EPA’s “DOLLARS AND SENSE” is the go-to guidance document for meeting these requirements.
  • State Objectives—cover the states’ responsibilities for regulating USTs. As of early 2012, 38 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have Federally approved UST programs in place, some of which are more stringent than U.S. EPA’s rules. A full list and links can be found at:
What tips and resources can you share to help meet UST regulations? Share below.


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