EPA inspections help petrol stations keep it clean

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An Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) state-wide inspection team has built up a list of tips and traps to help service-station owners protect their business and the environment from the effects of fuel leaks.

EPA Executive Director Practice & Assurance Chris Webb says underground petroleum storage systems (UPSSs) constitute a common source of land and groundwater contamination, and a good maintenance and monitoring program is vital.

“EPA has been working with WorkSafe, visiting service stations to see the best and worst of UPSS management and explaining the importance of managing their sites to prevent leaks and encourage safety,” he said.

“The most common trap for the operator is a leaking underground fuel tank. Another common one is where the service station has an open pit drain on the forecourt, with nothing to stop fuel- and oil-contaminated runoff going straight to stormwater drains and into the nearest creek or river.”

EPA’s inspection team has compiled a brief list of measures, some sophisticated and others quite simple, that service-station operators can use to detect or prevent potential leaks and contamination from their UPSS:

  • Statistical inventory reconciliation – computer software that analyses inventory, delivery and dispensing data over a certain period, to determine if the system is leaking.
  • Automatic tank gauging – a system that electronically monitors fuel levels and other data in underground tanks.
  • Equipment integrity testing – a testing system using vacuum or pressure to detect flaws and leaks in UPSS equipment.
  • Groundwater monitoring wells – measuring groundwater levels and testing its chemical properties for signs of leaks.

“While EPA’s inspections have occasionally resulted in fines, they are primarily focused on encouraging service-station operators to voluntarily manage their UPSS for the benefit of the environment and the community,” Mr Webb said.

“In a handful of cases, operators have been issued with Pollution Abatement Notices, legally enforceable instructions from EPA, to take measures to prevent contaminated runoff going to stormwater drains and implement leak detection measures,” he said.

The inspections, which are said to complement the routine inspections conducted by WorkSafe Victoria and the emergency services, are part of EPA’s ‘UPSS at Operational Service Stationsproject aimed at increasing awareness in the service-station sector of the importance of complying with environmental and OH&S obligations.

The inspections are also an opportunity for the EPA to ask operators for feedback on the Underground Petroleum Storage System (UPSS) Flipchart that was sent to 1,400 service stations in recent weeks as a practical tool to support compliance.

The flipchart is described as a handy guide with practical information to help service-station operators prevent and manage leaks, spills and other hazards, often with simple steps that fit easily into their daily routine.