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Unearth the Facts on Underground Storage Tank Removal

Before having an underground storage tank removed, there are a few things you should know first.


Underground storage tanks, or UST's, are tanks used to store petroleum products or other hazardous materials. They can be found in a variety of settings, such as gas stations, factories, and schools. If you have an underground storage tank on your property, it's important to know about the environmental risks, removal process, and how to select a qualified contractor.

Here are a few things you need to know about underground storage tanks and the removal process:

The lifespan of an underground storage tank

Underground tanks can last for many years if they are properly maintained, but eventually they will need to be replaced. The lifespan of an underground storage tank depends on a number of factors, including the material it is made from, the size of the tank, and the weather conditions in the area. The life expectancy of a UST is often estimated at 30 years. However, studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (ASTSWMO) found that actual UST life expectancy was closer to 20 years. Currently, 40% of functioning USTs in the USA are more than 30 years old, with an average age of 25 years, so many tanks are overdue for removal. Some states require underground tanks to be removed after 30 years.

Insurance carriers drop operators of old USTs

Since 1988, Federal regulations require owners and operators to show financial responsibility (FR) for repair, compensation, and remediation caused by petroleum tank releases, according to Fuels Market News. To meet this requirement, most operators purchase UST pollution liability insurance. Unfortunately, some insurance carriers have stopped offering UST policies due to growing losses as the frequency and severity of UST claims are on the rise.

What's more, UST operators with aging tanks will face higher insurance rates. According to a Lockton white paper, operators with older UST systems could see deductibles grow to more than $50,000 per claim and, in extreme cases, closer to $1 million per claim. Some insurers have chosen to not sell insurance for tanks over 20 years of age, according to the ASTSWMO Guide to Tank Insurance, and will not renew any policies with tanks over 26 years of age.

Leaking tanks and environmental risks

Underground storage tanks can leak fuel and other hazardous materials, resulting in cleanup and remediation expenses. The most common types of spills are those associated with gasoline, diesel fuel or other petroleum products. A spill can contaminate the soil, groundwater and surface water with oil, fuel and hazardous materials.

Because of the possible hazards associated with the tank removal process, and the potential dangers that toxic liquids pose to the environment, federal and state regulatory agencies have stepped in to set rules and guidelines to guarantee proper tank removal and safe disposal.

Start by contacting your state and local government

If it's determined that a UST must be removed, you will need to notify your state and local government. Typically, you would submit your tank removal plan at least 30 days prior to removal. Reporting requirements vary by state, so check with your local government to determine the rules and regulations that apply to you. A good place to start is the EPA list of underground storage tank state contacts. 

Choosing a UST removal contractor

When removing an underground storage tank, it is important to choose a reputable and qualified company. There are many factors to take into consideration when selecting a removal company, such as experience, licensing and insurance.

The UST removal company should have extensive experience in the field and be knowledgeable about the latest technologies and regulations. Qualified contractors will likely have certifications from the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Steel Tank Institute (STI). They should also have OSHA required safety certifications like Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER), Trenching and Shoring, and Confined Space Entry. They should also be licensed by the state in which they operate and carry adequate insurance coverage in case of an accident.

It is important to ask the removal company questions about their experience and qualifications before hiring them. Get references from past clients and check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints lodged against them. Taking the time to do your homework will ensure that the UST removal process goes smoothly and safely.

UST removal procedures and what to expect

Once a contractor is chosen, what can you expect from the process? Storage tank removal is a complex procedure that can be dangerous and expensive if not done correctly. Here's what you can expect from a qualified UST removal company.Image listing UST removal procedures

Remove liquids and clean tank

The tank must be emptied completely so that there is no chance of any fuel spilling out during the removal process. The UST should be properly cleaned, and residual liquids, solids, or sludge must be removed and handled according to state and local regulations.

Purge tank of any gas

Flammable vapor must be purged from the UST to prevent an explosion or fire. There are different methods to accomplish this, including replacing the oxygen in the tank with a non-explosive gas. The concentration of flammable vapor must be constantly monitored.

Excavate the tank

The next step is to remove the tank from the ground. A backhoe or excavator is used to dig a hole around the tank. Once the hole is dug, an excavator, crane or forklift is used to remove the tank from its location. At this point, additional decontamination and cleaning will be needed.

Properly dispose of tank

How the tank is disposed of is often dependent on state and local regulations. For example, tanks that still contain significant amounts of flammable vapor will typically need to be taken to an approved waste facility using proper transportation methods. Otherwise, it may be possible to just cut up the tank and dispose of it properly.

Determine if soil is contaminated

To determine if there has already been a hazardous material release from the tank, soil samples must be taken and sent to an approved lab for analysis. If it is determined that soil contamination is present, proper soil remediation will need to be performed.

Replace tank or backfill excavation area

Unless you're replacing the old tank with a new one, the next step is to fill in the previous tank area with non-contaminated soil. This process may include repaving, hydroseeding, or other restoration methods.

Complete UST closure report

A UST closure report will need to be submitted to the proper governing agencies. This typically includes an explanation of the removal process, along with the UST and piping locations. It will also include a description of the soil sampling, laboratory analysis, chain-of custody, disposal documentation and a UST destruction certificate.

What about filling in the tank?

In-place closure is the process of filling an underground tank with inert solid material such as sand, slurries, expandable foams, or concrete, rather than removing the tank altogether. This may be necessary if the tank is located in an area where it cannot be easily removed. This option is also considered in an attempt to save money. However, while in-place UST closure is allowed by federal regulations, many state and local programs do not allow it. Also, if it is later determined that the tank was leaking, or if the tank needs to be removed for other reasons, the added weight caused by the fill material will make removal more difficult and expensive.

As you can see, removing an underground storage tank isn't just as simple as digging up the old tank and throwing it away. Rigorous protective measures are undertaken to guarantee that no environmental damage occurs. These measures are mandated by federal, state and local laws. Therefore, it’s important to carefully select your tank removal company.


-- Genesis Environmental Solutions provides proper removal of underground storage tanks throughout Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. We provide UST services for all types of tanks, including fuel oil tanks. All work is carefully documented and compliant with federal, state and local regulations. Contact us today for more information.

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