Inspectors from the state Department of Environmental Resources are ramping up efforts to find unregistered fuel storage tanks, as one local farmer discovered when he was recently fined by the DEP because he had not obtained a permit for his 8,000-gallon tank.
Why the increased scrutiny?
According to DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday, there was no one specific instance that sparked the agency's actions to seek out unregistered fuel tanks.
"This is something that the department has been aware of for some time," Sunday said, "and with the winter months coming up, we wanted to get everyone on board."
The DEP's effort, Sunday said, "is to make sure we register both in-ground and above-ground tanks that are not currently registered."
So in October, DEP sent letters to 1,172 fuel oil providers across the state asking them to help find unregistered tanks. Fuel distributors are required to ask the tank owner to provide a DEP-issued registration certificate before any fuel (gasoline, diesel fuel or kerosene) can be placed in the tank.
"If the distributors deliver product to an unregistered storage tank, they are also liable for any damages" that may occur if fuel escapes from a leaky tank, Sunday said.
If DEP is not aware of unregistered tanks, it cannnot conduct routine inspections on them and the tanks could pose a threat to the environment if the tank or its pipes fail.
Such leaks are hazardous, Sunday said, because the fuel can move quickly into the groundwater supply.
"And if it contaminates the soil, it impacts vegetation, animal and insect life," he added.
Not all tanks must be registered. Various criteria - size of the tank, location, the type of liquid being stored in the tank, to name but a few - are used to determine which tanks must be registered and which tanks are exempt.
In- and above-ground tanks that contain heating oil for use on site, for example, do not require registration, regardless of their size.
The majority of the in-ground diesel fuel tanks are used to power generators that kick on during an electrical outage in operations that require uninterrupted power, such as hospitals and restaurants.
The criteria for registration, as well as an explanation of how owners can register tanks, is available at Lancasteronline, keyword: Storage Tanks.
And DEP's information on tanks and registration procedures can be found at its website, depweb.state.pa.us, keyword: Storage Tank.
Curious about the leaky tank issue, The Watchdog talked to Steve Soldner, of PWI Inc., an Adams County firm that designs and installs both above-ground and in-ground storage tank systems.
Soldner said technology has made tanks much safer, and has minimized the potential for leakage.
"Most leaks that occurred underground was the fault of the tank piping," Soldner said. "Until the last three decades, single-wall steel pipe was used and even though it was covered with tape or tar it still corroded at the seams. New tank technologies for corrosion, leak detection and containment of any leaks have improved and are now required for new underground tank installations."
Soldner explained, "Underground tanks being installed in Pennsylvania today are primarily a double-walled tank, meaning there is a tank wrapped around the tank that actually holds the liquid."
The steel tank that holds the fuel is contained inside a fiberglass tank. The fiberglass both protects against corrosion and contains leaks from the steel tank. If the steel tank does leak, sensors between the steel and fiberglass walls detect liquids and trigger an alarm.
Developments for above-ground storage of flammable liquids, Soldner said, include double-walled steel tanks - a steel tank wrapped in another steel tank. And fire-rated tanks fill the space between the two walls with lightweight insulating concrete to meet a two-hour fire rating requirement.
Soldner said the state Department of Labor and Industry has recommended guidelines regarding where and when fire-rated tanks are required.