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Tanks and Containment/Underground Storage Tanks

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One of the key strategies for environmental protection is to stop pollution before it happens; therefore, containment of hazardous materials is the subject of many Federal and State/tribe requirements. Agricultural establishments and businesses often have an assortment of containers, storage tanks, containment areas, and other structures designed to hold chemicals and prevent unwanted releases into the environment. Agriculture-related substances covered by containment requirements include pesticides, fertilizers, fuel, coolants, and oil/petroleum-based products. Other requirements cover the design and management of underground storage tanks, which may be used to hold a variety of potential pollutants.

Secondary Containment of Oil - Oil Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasures Program

In 1973, EPA issued the Oil Pollution Prevention regulation to address the oil spill prevention provisions contained in the Clean Water Act of 1972. The regulation forms the basis of EPA's oil spill prevention, control, and countermeasures, or SPCC, program, which seeks to prevent oil spills from certain aboveground and underground storage tanks.

Final Action to Amend the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Rule
In December 2006, EPA amended the SPCC rule to streamline some of its requirements.  As part of the Oil Pollution Prevention regulation, the SPCC rule outlines requirements for prevention of, preparedness for, and response to oil discharges.  Regulated facilities, including some farms, must develop and implement SPCC Plans that establish procedures and equipment requirements to help prevent oil discharges from reaching waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines.

What is a “farm” for purposes of the SPCC rule?
In the SPCC rule, EPA defines a farm as “a facility on a tract of land devoted to the production of crops or raising of animals, including fish, which produced and sold, or normally would have produced and sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products during a year.”

What farms are subject to the SPCC rule?
The SPCC rule applies to owners or operators of farms that:

The following are exempt from the SPCC rule:

What are the compliance dates for farms?
On June 19, 2009, EPA published in the Federal Register a SPCC compliance date extension for all facilities until November 10, 2010. Facilities must amend or prepare, and implement SPCC Plans by the compliance date in accordance with revisions to the SPCC rule promulgated since 2002. Farms must also amend or prepare their SPCC Plans, and implement those Plans by the same date.  

On October 7, 2010, EPA maintained the November 10, 2010 compliance date for drilling, production or workover facilities that are offshore or that have an offshore component, and for onshore facilities required to have and submit Facility Response Plans (FRPs). However, EPA extended the compliance date an additional year for all other facilities to amend or develop a SPCC Plan until November 10, 2011.

On April 12, 2011, EPA amended the SPCC rule to exempt milk and milk product containers, associated piping and appurtenances.

On October 13, 2011, EPA amended the date by which farms must prepare or amend and implement their Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plans, to May 10, 2013.

A farm starting operation…  Must...
On or before August 16, 2002*
  • Continue to maintain its existing SPCC Plan in accordance with the SPCC rule.
  • Amend and implement that Plan no later than May 10, 2013..
After August 16, 2002, through May 10, 2013.
  • Prepare and implement an SPCC Plan no later than May 10, 2013..
After May 10, 2013.
  • Prepare and implement an SPCC Plan before beginning operations.

* August 16, 2002 is the date that the amended SPCC rule became effective.

Information for Farms about the November 2009 Revisions to SPCC Requirements

More information from EPA
Oil Spill Program
SPCC Rule Compliance Dates
SPCC Guidance for Regional Inspectors
EPA Administrator Signs Final Rule To Amend the SPCC Rule (December 2006)
SPCC Rule Amendment: Animal Fats and Vegetable Oils Fact Sheet
Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Rule and Milk
November 13, 2009 Final Amendments
SPCC Rule Web page
SPCC Information for Farmers Fact Sheet (PDF) (2 pp, 52K) Updated March, 2011.
Fact Sheet: SPCC Compliance Date Extension for Farms (PDF) (2 pp, 29K)
Tier I Qualified Facility SPCC Plan Template now available

Related publications from the Ag Center
Emergency Planning

Related laws and policies
Clean Water Act

Related environmental requirements
Clean Water Act Section 311
40 CFR Part 112

Information from USDA
NRCS Announces $3 Million Pilot Initiative to Help Farmers and Ranchers Comply with On-Farm Oil Spill Regulation - Technical and financial assistance is available in eight states to help farmers develop oil spill contingency plans and provide secondary oil spill containment.
SPCC Guidance and Template for Dairy Producers (PDF) (57 pp, 1.6MB)

Information from the States

Top 5 SPCC Violations (PDF) (19 pp, 223K)
Compliance Assistance for Businesses
Compliance Assistance for Farmers

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Underground Storage Tanks

An underground storage tank system (UST) is a tank and any underground piping connected to the tank that has at least 10 percent of its combined volume underground. The Federal UST regulations apply only to underground tanks and piping storing either petroleum or certain hazardous substances.

EPA estimates that there are about 1.1 million federally regulated USTs buried at over 400,000 sites nationwide. Nearly all USTs at these sites contain petroleum. These sites include marketers who sell gasoline to the public (such as service stations and convenience stores) and nonmarketers who use tanks solely for their own needs (such as fleet service operators and local governments).  EPA estimates about 25,000 tanks hold hazardous substances covered by the UST regulations.

Until the mid-1980s, most USTs were made of bare steel, which is likely to corrode over time and allow UST contents to leak into the environment. Faulty installation or inadequate operating and maintenance procedures also can cause USTs to release their contents into the environment.

The greatest potential hazard from a leaking UST is that the petroleum or other hazardous substance can seep into the soil and contaminate groundwater, the source of drinking water for nearly half of all Americans. A leaking UST can present other health and environmental risks, including the potential for fire and explosion.

In 1984, Congress responded to the increasing threat to groundwater posed by leaking USTs by adding Subtitle I to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Subtitle I required EPA to develop a comprehensive regulatory program for USTs storing petroleum or certain hazardous substances.

Congress directed EPA to publish regulations that would require owners and operators of new tanks and tanks already in the ground to prevent, detect, and clean up releases. At the same time, Congress banned the installation of unprotected steel tanks and piping beginning in 1985.

In 1986, Congress amended Subtitle I of RCRA and created the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund, which is to be used for two purposes:

The 1986 amendments also established financial responsibility requirements. Congress directed EPA to publish regulations that would require UST owners and operators to demonstrate they are financially capable of cleaning up releases and compensating third parties for resulting damages.

The following USTs are excluded from regulation and, therefore, do not need to meet Federal requirements for USTs:

In 1988, EPA issued regulations setting minimum standards for new tanks and requiring owners of existing tanks to upgrade, replace, or close them. The UST regulations are divided into three sections: (1) technical requirements, (2) financial responsibility requirements, and (3) State program approval objectives.

EPA's technical requirements for USTs are designed to reduce the chance of releases from USTs, detect leaks and spills when they do occur, and secure a prompt cleanup. To meet the requirements, owners must upgrade, replace, or close existing UST systems by 1998. Tanks remaining in operation must have leak detection and leak prevention components. UST owners and operators are responsible for reporting and cleaning up any releases.

The financial responsibility requirements ensure that, in the event of a leak or spill, an owner or operator will have the resources to pay for costs associated with cleaning up releases and compensating third parties.

EPA recognizes that, because of the large size and great diversity of the regulated community, State and local governments are in the best position to oversee USTs. Subtitle I of RCRA allows State UST programs approved by EPA to operate in lieu of the Federal program, and EPA's State program approval regulations set standards for State programs to meet. States may have more stringent regulations than the Federal requirements. People who are interested in requirements for USTs should contact their State UST program for information on State requirements.

Related publications from the Ag Center
Tanks and Containment/Underground Storage Tanks

Related laws and policies
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

Related environmental requirements
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act text Exit EPA
40 CFR Parts 280-281

More information from EPA
Underground Storage Tanks Program
State Underground Storage Tanks Program: Final Grant Guidelines and Inspection Grant Guidelines - the final grant guidelines state that states must report to EPA on the compliance status of federal, state, and local government-owned and government-operated USTs. The inspection guidelines describe the minimum requirements a state’s on-site inspection program must contain.

Telephone assistance from EPA
UST Hotline is 800-424-9346

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