By Luke Hall
Underground storage tanks, or USTs, are extremely prevalent. Prior to the late 1980s, all you needed to install a UST was a tank and a shovel. Little to no regulation or oversight existed at this time, so it was easy to walk away from a UST without closing the tank or making a determination concerning any impact leaks from the tank may have had. In general, USTs are most frequently found in situations where large amounts of fuel need to be stored, such as automotive filling stations, facilities that operate fleets of vehicles, and facilities like hospitals that need the ability to power emergency generators if the electric supply is interrupted. However, the use of USTs is not limited to these applications. Prior to the 1940s, almost every home had a small UST, usually 250 gallons, that stored heating oil. Tioga has uncovered USTs used for old gas stations with no existing record, found massive fleet fueling tanks that property owners didn’t know existed, and even located a 2,000-gallon heating oil tank in a residential yard that was still full of fuel oil. It is not an exaggeration to say that these tanks are everywhere.
Currently, USTs are regulated by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and rules are in place that determine how these tanks are installed, operated, removed or closed. If a tank is regulated, these regulations must be followed. If a tank is not regulated, these requirements are not technically applicable. How do you tell if your tank is regulated or not? The primary indicator of your tanks being subject to TDEC regulations is this: do you or have you ever paid tank fees to the State of Tennessee? If the answer is yes, your tanks are absolutely regulated. If the answer is no, it does not necessarily mean you are the owner of an unregulated tank –certain other requirements must be met as well. If your tank was taken out of service prior to November 8, 1984, then you do not meet the definition of owner consistent with TDEC regulations. In this case, the owner is the person who last owned the tanks prior to discontinuation of its use. In addition, tanks that were used for heating oil storage for boilers are not regulated.
So you just found what you believe to be a UST on your property – what now? First and foremost, stop work immediately. Do not remove the tank and move on with your project. If this tank is regulated, unapproved removal of a tank is a serious issue that will likely result in significant assessment required by TDEC. After the tank is identified and work stops, contact an environmental professional. Tioga has experienced staff to determine if the tank is regulated or not. If it is determined your tank is regulated, you are required to close the tank in conformance with the current TDEC regulations. However, if the tank is not regulated, these regulations do not apply. Tioga always recommends that the tank is closed consistent with TDEC guidelines whether it is regulated or not. This will provide documentation that the tank was properly closed and no environmental risk to human health or safety remains as a result of leaks in the tank. Simply removing a tank from the ground without the proper documentation can lead to multiple questions as to the environmental impact of the tank in the event the property is sold. In addition, if the property is entered in a brownfields program, TDEC will require that the documentation of removal of the tank is provided, regardless of the regulated or unregulated nature of the tank.
USTs are everywhere. If you purchased a property where you find a previously unknown UST is present, it is not the end of the world. Chances are that it is not regulated. However, it is in your best interest to properly document the closure and removal of the tank. If you find yourself in this position, please do not hesitate to contact Tioga. We can help you get it out of the ground and make sure you have the documentation to prove it was removed properly.