sean pic

The Underground Tank Problem

If you own an old underground storage tank (UST) in Massachusetts, particularly a single-walled steel tank, chances are you have heard about the push to remove these older tanks.  The problem with them is that over time, they are prone to leaking and when they leak; they contaminate the environment and can hurt human health.  New USTs need to meet strict guidelines for environmental safety including being “double walled” (a tank within a tank) and there has to be a leak detection system.  Older tanks usually do not have these features.

If you are the owner of an old UST, taking it out of service can be a scary prospect, since it can be expensive and, in some cases, disrupt business on a property for from a few days up to several weeks.

Old single walled steel (SWS) tanks were in common use from the early 20th century up through the late 1980s.  These tanks are more prone to leaking their contents because they lack a second ‘wall’ in case the interior or exterior wall fails, and can also lack other leak prevention equipment such as corrosion protection or upgraded product piping.  At OTO we’ve even come across a number of pre-1930 tanks that were riveted together rather than welded!   These tanks did not even have tight seams.

By the late 1970s, there were hundreds of thousands of SWS USTs across the country.  Some are still in use and many others were abandoned in place often with no documentation that they had ever been installed. Removing a leaking UST is a potentially expensive clean-up project.  Leaking USTs have historically been the most widespread source of oil and gasoline contamination to groundwater and drinking water aquifers.  In addition, occupants of buildings near leaking USTs could be exposed to vapors that migrate underground and into buildings.

The Government Acts

In 1988, the USEPA set a deadline of 1998 for: 1) the removal of out-of-use USTs; 2) the incorporation of leak detection, corrosion protection, and spill and overfill containment equipment on most new or retrofitted USTs; and 3) the registration of certain in-use USTs (such as for retail gasoline or diesel) with state agencies. This requirement led to the removal and remediation of thousands of leaking USTs in the Commonwealth. In addition, the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services prohibited the installation of new SWS tanks after 1998.

SWS tanks installed prior to this date are now nearing or past their recommended service lives. The 2005 Energy Policy Act included the requirement that SWS tanks be removed by August 7, 2017. In 2009 government responsibility for the UST program in Massachusetts was transferred to MassDEP, which in January 2015 promulgated new UST regulations (310 CMR 80.00), and which maintains the SWS tank prohibition and removal requirement at 310 CMR 80.15.

These regulations are intended to protect public health, safety and the environment by removing these SWS USTs from service because they have a higher likelihood of leaking and releasing petroleum products into the environment.


The Current Status

The MassDEP has established a number of regulatory deadlines for the assessment, repair and/or removal of the old UST systems.   In certain situations, MassDEP is exercising enforcement discretion and granting extensions of regulatory deadlines.

In addition:

  • All spill buckets tested and, if necessary, repaired or replaced in accordance with 310 CMR 80.21(1)(a) and 28(2)(g);
  • All turbine, intermediate and dispenser sumps tested and, if necessary, repaired in accordance with 310 CMR 80.27(7) and (8);
  • All Stage II vapor recovery systems decommissioned in accordance with 310 CMR 7.24(6)(l), if applicable; and
  • New Stage I vapor recovery requirements met in accordance with 310 CMR 7.26(3)(b), if applicable.

At the time of UST system removal, environmental conditions must be assessed per state and federal regulations. In Massachusetts, tank closures must meet DEP’s Tank Regulations, 310 CMR 80.00. These regulations allow tanks to be permanently closed-in-place only if they cannot be removed from the ground without removing a building, or the removal would endanger the structural integrity of another UST, structure, underground piping or underground utilities.

If you have questions or need assistance related to  a UST system, please contact Sean Reilly with O’Reilly, Talbot, & Okun at (413) 788-6222.