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Underground Storage Tanks

An underground storage tank system (UST) is a tank and any underground piping connected to the tank that has at least 10 percent of its combined volume underground.  Almost all USTs contain petroleum.  The installation of a UST has the potential to leak, threatening human health and the environment.  The greatest potential hazard from a leaking UST is that the petroleum or other hazardous substance can seep into the soil contaminating the ground water, the source of drinking water of a majority of Americans.   

Federal UST regulations apply only to underground tanks and piping that stores either petroleum or certain hazardous substances.  In accordance with Subtitle 1 of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a comprehensive regulatory program for USTs storing petroleum or certain hazardous substances.  The EPA publishes regulations that require owners and operators of tanks to prevent, detect, and clean up releases and to demonstrate they are financially capable of cleaning up releases and compensating third parties for resulting damages.

In 1986, Congress amended Subtitle I of RCRA and created the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund (LUST Fund).  The fund is to be used for two purposes:

-To oversee cleanups by responsible parties.
-To pay for cleanups at sites where the owner or operator is unknown, unwilling, or unable to respond, or which require emergency action.

The Energy Policy Act 2005 also contains provisions on UST.  The UST provisions focus on preventing releases.  It expands the use of the LUST Trust Fund and includes provisions regarding inspections, operator training, delivery prohibition, secondary containment, financial responsibility, and cleanup of releases that contain oxygenated fuel additives.

The EPA has issued UST regulations divided into three sections: technical requirements, financial responsibility requirements, and state program approval objectives.

Technical regulations are designed to reduce the chance of releases from USTs, detect leaks and spills when they do occur, and secure a prompt cleanup.  UST owners and operators are responsible for reporting and cleaning up any releases.

The financial responsibility regulations are designed to ensure that, in the event of a leak or spill, an owner or operator will have the resources to pay for costs associated with cleaning up releases and compensating third parties.

Subtitle I of RCRA allows state UST programs approved by the EPA to operate in lieu of the federal program, and the EPA’s state program approval regulations set standards for state programs to meet.

Inside Underground Storage Tanks