Petroleum Storage Tanks

Background

Petroleum storage tanks hold crude oil, aviation fuel, gasoline, diesel, used engine oil, solvents and heating oil, above and below ground. Leaky older tanks create environmental damage that may go undetected for years.

Contamination from tanks

Up to one third of underground petroleum storage tanks installed prior to the 1990s are leaking or will do so before they are removed.

Gasoline's environmental hazards are mainly due to benzene, a carcinogen and other constituent chemicals that can contaminate large volumes of water. A 45-litre (10 gallon) gasoline spill/leak contains about 230 grams of benzene, enough to contaminate 46 million litres of water.

History

Regulation of petroleum storage tanks has been governed by the Canadian Standards Association since 1957 and the National Fire Code since 1963.

An environmental code of practice, providing minimum standards for all underground tanks, was adopted in 1987 by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

Alberta began a tank management program in 1989, creating a database of existing underground tanks in the province. A revised Fire Code was introduced in 1992, the year in which the Alberta Storage System's Contractor's Association was formed. This association, along with the Petroleum Tank Management Association of Alberta, now provides training and seminars on safe installation, removal and disposal of underground storage tank systems.

Petroleum storage tank leak reporting

The Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the Alberta Fire Code require the operator or owner to report a known leaking tank first to the local fire authority and then to Alberta Environment and Parks.

The department’s Tier 1 Soil and Groundwater Remediation Guidelines provides standards for specific contaminants and procedures for site investigations and clean-up. Remediation levels depend on the degree of risk from a site's contaminants. Lending institutions may require specific remediation. The 1997 Alberta Fire Code contains the most recent information on this topic.

For further information, see:

New tanks

New underground storage tanks may be constructed of fibreglass-reinforced plastic, steel or a combination of both. Aboveground storage tanks containing flammable or combustible liquids must be made of steel. New tanks are often double-walled and have monitoring alert devices.

All underground fuel storage tanks must be registered with the Petroleum Tank Management Association of Alberta. Only those aboveground fuel storage tanks with a 2,500-litre or greater capacity require registration. Tanks for agricultural purposes do not, as they are not governed by the Alberta Fire Code. Tanks on federal land (parks, reserves) must be registered with the federal government.

See a summary of regulations at:

Future considerations

It can be many times more costly to clean up contamination from a leaking tank than to upgrade or replace it. Increasingly, underground tanks are being replaced by their aboveground equivalents.

 

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Updated: Aug 28, 2015