Final Deadline for Underground Tanks
(from Maine Townsman, April 1998)
by Diana McLaughlin, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Oil & Hazardous Waste Facilities Regulation, Bureau of Remediation & Waste Management

In the early to mid-1980s Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) began responding to an increasing number of reports of groundwater supplies – many of them drinking water wells – that were contaminated with petroleum from leaking underground oil storage tanks. This problem led to the enactment of State legislation in 1985 that included registration of all underground tanks and technical design and installation standards for new tanks and piping. Any new or replacement tank must be constructed of corrosion resistant materials and must have secondary containment, leak detection, and overfill and spill protection.

Sine 1985, over 33,000 barrel asphalt coated steel tanks and piping have been registered with DEP. In 1987 the tank law was amended to be more proactive toward preventing groundwater contamination from these older, unprotected facilities before they leak. The law (38 M.R.S.A. 563-A) requires proper abandonment (removal) of underground oil storage tanks and piping (facilities) constructed of bare steel or asphalt coated steel by certain deadlines, which are prioritized according to the age of the tank(s) and proximity to water supplies.

The deadline for removal of all tanks except those owned by municipalities and school administrative units, was October 1, 1997. State law extended this deadline for municipalities and schools, so that they would be better able to plan and budget for tank removal and replacement. For underground tanks and piping operated by municipalities and school administrative units, the deadlines are:

October 1, 1993 for tanks installed before October 1, 1978 located in a sensitive geologic area; and for tanks installed before October 1, 1968, located in a non-sensitive geologic area.

October 1, 1995 for tanks installed before October 1, 1980 and located in a sensitive geologic area; and for tanks of unknown age, located in a non-sensitive geologic area.

October 1, 1998 for all remaining bare steel or asphalt coated steel tanks or piping.

Because groundwater contamination from leaking tanks is also a national problem, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed similar regulations for the entire country.

A total of 667 tanks owned by schools or municipalities have been subject to the removal requirements. Of these, currently 58 tanks are in violation of the 1995 or 1993 deadlines; and 110 tanks must be removed by October 1, 1998.

The cost of removal and replacement for a 10,000 gallon heating oil UST typically runs around $35,000; while this cost for a gasoline or diesel UST, such as one used for fueling buses or a town garage vehicle, is around $45,000. (These estimates assume that replacement tanks are installed underground in accordance with DEP regulations.)

Many municipalities can obtain low interest financing from the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) to help pay for tank removal and replacement. Contact FAME at 623-3263 for more details. This financial assistance program will be available for eligible applicants only until October 1, 1998.

Compliance with these deadlines is crucial to preventing or minimizing groundwater contamination caused by leaking tanks. Applicants to the Maine Ground Water Oil Clean-up Fund are subject to a higher deductible of eligible clean-up costs if the facility is operated beyond the applicable deadline.

In addition, legislation adopted in May this year makes facility owners or operators who have not properly abandoned their underground oil storage tanks by October 1, 1998 ineligible for coverage by the Fund. This means the town would have to pay for the total clean-up out of the town municipal budget.

EPA has been assisting DEP in enforcing this law by issuing field citations with monetary penalties up to $1,000 to motor fuel storage facilities in violation of the applicable deadline. In the coming months EPA anticipates assessing fines of up to 10 times this amount to flagrant violators.

The tank removal schedule has been in effect for 10 years. Over 96% of all UST owners have complied with this law. DEP urges those municipalities who have failed to meet the removal deadline to resolve this violation as soon as possible to avoid escalated enforcement action.

Neither the Federal Environmental Protection Agency nor the State of Maine plan to extend these deadlines.

For more information about underground oil storage facility removal requirements, please call the Maine Department of Environmental Protection at 287-2651, and ask to speak with someone from the Oil Enforcement Unit.