Stringent regulations of underground storage tanks (UST) have unfortunately only had limited success in protecting the environment, human health, and business assets. Despite the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) best efforts, half a billion confirmed releases or spills took place in the United States between 1988 and September 2016.

Thankfully, these issues are preventable. By following the EPA's new rules and enhancing processes with mobile technology, companies can take important steps to curbing containment issues.

Costly Failures

Failing to ensure the proper maintenance of underground containers can be costly to the company, the economy, and the environment.

Two oil companies in California found that out the hard way after they violated UST regulations. Because they improperly stored gas underground for over a decade, they were ordered to pay $14 million.

And, of course, the companies aren't the only ones affected by improper containment. A prominent pipeline company in the South self-reported 128 leak incidents to the federal government over the past six years. A single one of those, which took place in September 2016, caused an estimated 336,000 gallons to spill in Shelby County, Alabama. What's more, that spill disrupted the gas supply to much of the Eastern seaboard.

New EPA Regulations

The EPA’s new mandate for monthly inspections of underground gas tanks goes into effect next January. The revisions will help detect and prevent UST releases—a leading source of groundwater contamination. They will also ensure that all USTs in the United States meet the same minimum standards.

The new rules add:

  • Secondary containment requirements for new and replaced tanks and piping
  • New operator training
  • Periodic operation and maintenance requirements for UST systems
  • Requirements to ensure UST system compatibility before storing certain biofuel blends

Mobile Solutions Support Comprehensive, Proactive Safety Strategies

The expanded regulations offer a unique opportunity for the industry to look to technology, especially mobile solutions, to bolster their ability to proactively detect issues that could harm the natural environment and disrupt the supply of vital petroleum products that keep the economy humming.

There is a growing movement among safety professionals to move away from minimal inspections in favor of a more ambitious and comprehensive safety strategy. This movement has been enabled by technological advancements that make safety processes simpler and more efficient, such as mobile forms on smartphones and tablet devices (find out How Digital Forms Surpass Paper Forms).

Mobile technology isn't just convenient. More accurate, detailed, and timely inspections; automated follow-ups; and preventative maintenance systems driven by analytics tools all can work together to save lives.

Case Study: Tanknology

To get a sense of how mobile solutions can improve UST safety and integrity, we just have to look at how they helped Tanknology.

Tanknology is the world's largest provider of tank testing and environmental compliance for petroleum systems. They've seen firsthand the significant benefits of using mobile technology. Tanknology’s 150 employees visit more than 50,000 sites each year to perform compliance inspections and testing. Using a SaaS (Software as a Service) solution, the company has increased its inspection outreach more than four-fold—going from 300 inspections per month to about 1,300.

"One of the great features of using the mobile solution is the integrated camera feature," says Jason Bloch, the company's inspection services manager, "so we can take pictures of deficiencies from the site and have it embedded right into the inspection report" (learn more about Using Rich Media to Enhance EHS Reporting).

The built-in GPS and time stamp features also improved Tanknology's quality of service by providing valuable business data to field managers, as well as detailed data to support compliance reports.

"That gives a digital imprint of the data and time the inspection was submitted, and the address from where it was submitted," explains Bloch. "It also gives a corresponding view on Google Maps, which gives our customer confidence to know that our data is accurate and truthful."

Beyond Compliance

The key to safety is taking action before problems have a chance to arise. The automation, rapid response times, and insights afforded by mobile solutions can make that goal a reality.