Over 1 million readers this year!

DEQ: Wyoming’s underground fuel storage tanks have nation-high 93% compliance rate; U.S. averages 57.8%

Underground fuel storage tanks. (Wyoming DEQ)

By Brendan Lachance, Oil City News

CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said in a press release Wednesday that the state has the country’s highest compliance rate when it comes to regulations on underground storage tanks.

“Wyoming boasts a 93% compliance rate with underground storage tanks,” Wyoming DEQ said. “The most recent report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding underground storage tank compliance shows an average national compliance rate of 57.8%. These numbers are from the most recent EPA report, which is based off numbers submitted in September of 2021.”

Underground storage tanks are often fuel tanks at gas stations, but DEQ Storage Tank Program manager Adrian Ducharme said that underground fuel tanks in the state also include tanks used at emergency power generators at hospitals, nursing facilities, prisons, missile silos and other locations.

The Wyoming DEQ regulates a total of 671 aboveground and underground storage tank facilities in the state.

“We regulate more tanks than is federally required by the National UST Program because we also regulate aboveground storage tanks that sell to the public,” Ducharme said.

The 93% compliance rate data refers only to underground tanks because the DEQ is not required to report compliance rates for aboveground tanks to the EPA. DEQ said that the compliance rate “would be even higher” if aboveground tanks were included.

Ducharme said that the compliance rate is important because a higher compliance rate means that release of fuel into the environment is less frequent, resulting in fewer cleanup costs.

“We’ve devoted quite a bit of energy to make sure that releases don’t happen in the first place. And if they do, they’re at least caught early and have been minimized as much as practical,” Ducharme said.

DEQ Storage Tank Program compliance supervisor Oma Gilbreth added: “One of the reasons why it’s been successful is because we have a good working relationship with the regulated community.”

Storage Tank Program staff send notices to facilities 90 days before testing is due, according to DEQ.

“There is no federal requirement for doing that,” Ducharme said. “This is just an example of how we’re able to achieve these types of compliance rates.”

“That’s really what I would point to as a strength of our program is that we use the data that we get in a meaningful way. And then we have an aggressive inspection schedule, so that we’re getting out to these facilities and making sure that everything is being adequately managed in real time.”

DEQ said that federal grants require that inspections of underground storage tanks occur every three years, but that Storage Tank Program staff in the state aim to conduct inspections every two years. Staff conducted 326 inspections from October 2020 to September 2021 relying on two full-time inspectors.

When issues are identified with storage tanks, Gilbreth said that Storage Tank Program staff try to educate owners and avoid confrontation. DEQ said that fuel releases are bad for the environment, but also cost owners money since released fuel can’t be sold.

Gilbreth said in the DEQ press release that he got involved in storage tank compliance due to personal experiences related to leaks from storage tanks at a gas station contaminating water wells in the town he grew up in.

“I was raised in a small, rural town where a number of the town’s water wells were impacted by a leaking underground storage tank,” Gilbreth said, noting that the fuel could be smelled in the water.

Ducharme said that the success of compliance in Wyoming is something other states are looking at.

“Utah recently took an approach of sending notifications to their active facilities about their testing dates, and sure enough, they observed an increase in their compliance rates when their inspectors went out into the field,” Ducharme said.