What environmental issues are associated with Underground Storage Tanks?

Often underground storage tanks (USTs) are used for storing materials like gasoline because they do not take up space on the ground surface. However, leakage from USTs is harder to detect and can release oil or other harmful materials directly into the ground.

Because of the difficulty in detecting releases from USTs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) regulate them under special programs.

Each UST must be registered with MDE and must meet specific requirements relating to construction, operation, and inspection. UST requirements also vary depending on how the UST is used (i.e., motor oil, used oil, emergency generator tanks, etc.). Specifically, there are a number of requirements tenants may need to implement to meet the regulations and help prevent leaks and spills from USTs including:

  • Using of certified technicians for repairs
  • Having release detection
  • Having spill and overfill protection
  • Having corrosion protection
  • Maintaining inventories of records

Additional information on your specific requirements can be found at the MDE UST site and through the links below.

If a leak from a UST is discovered or if a UST fails its periodic integrity testing, a report must be made by phone to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) within 2 hours. A written report describing the cleanup actions taken must be submitted to MDE within 10 days after cleanup is complete. If an oil spill reaches a waterway or wetland, it also must be reported by phone to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center. For more information see the Environmental Emergency Response section.

Employees who deal with USTs can help minimize the potential for spills and leaks by:

  • Becoming familiar with any USTs for which you are responsible
  • Ensuring that the leak detection, overfill protection, and other monitoring systems associated with the USTs are maintained in good condition and functioning properly
  • Following proper procedures when filling or emptying USTs
  • Promptly reporting any indications of leakage from a UST or spills while filling or emptying a UST

One of the requirements of tenant leases is that tenants must adhere to the requirements of the applicable tenant directives and associated regulations. Not adhering to these requirements can impact the standing of the tenant lease.

Additionally, fines and criminal penalties assessed by the State of Maryland for impacts to local water bodies as well as groundwater from a leaking UST are found in Maryland Annotated Code (MECA), Environment, Water Management (Title 4), Water Pollution Control and Abatement (Subtitle 4). Criminal penalties for oil releases to ground or surface water may reach $50,000 per day or imprisonment of up to two years. Civil penalties may reach $100,000 in total fines (MECA, Title 4, 4-417).