Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst: Worksheet 7: Petroleum Storage and Handling

Liquid petroleum products are concentrated, effective sources of power, lubrication, and heat. Improper storage of petroleum products can be a threat to the environment.
Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst: Worksheet 7: Petroleum Storage and Handling - Articles


Why Be Concerned?

Liquid petroleum products are concentrated, effective sources of power, lubrication, and heat. Aboveground and underground storage of petroleum products such as transportation fuel and heating fuel, however, can be a threat to family and farm safety, public health, and the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 25 percent of under-ground storage tanks are leaking. The potential for leakage increases dramatically for underground tanks more than 20 years old. Improperly installed tanks that may leak are another serious cause for concern. Even small leaks of one drop per second will release 400 gallons of fuel into the environment annually. Used liquid petroleum products, such as lubricating oils and hydraulic fluids, also can be sources of contamination if they are not collected, stored, and disposed of safely.

Proper installation, operation, and monitoring of petroleum storage tanks is essential because any lost gasoline, diesel fuel, or fuel oil can move rapidly through soil into groundwater. Petroleum fuels contain a number of potentially toxic com-pounds, including common solvents such as benzene, toluene, and xylene, and additives such as ethylene dibromide (EDB) and organic lead compounds. EDB is a carcinogen (cancer causer) in laboratory animals, and benzene is considered a human carcinogen. Vapors from underground leaks that collect in basements, sumps, and other underground facilities have the potential to ignite. Preventing leaks and avoiding spills are important methods of keeping potential pollutants from contaminating groundwater and surface water. Even low levels, undetectable by taste or smell, of fuel contaminants in water may affect human health.

Not following safety procedures around storage facilities can lead to accidents and can put stored, flammable liquid petroleum products at risk during any response to an emergency.

Safe storage and handling of liquid petroleum products can be very involved technically and subject to a range of regulations, especially if the amount stored is greater than 1,100 gallons and if any commercial use is made of the stored products. Reliable sources of highly specialized information, both technical and regulatory, may be difficult to locate, but will be invaluable in avoiding future problems when large quantities are stored.

The goal of Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst is to help you protect groundwater and surface water, shared resources which are important to everyone.

How to Rank Groundwater and Surface Water Protection Using This Worksheet

  • You can select from a wide range of petroleum storage conditions and management practices that are related to groundwater and surface water contamination.
  • You can rank your petroleum storage conditions and management practices according to how they might affect groundwater and surface water.
  • Based on your overall ratings, you can determine which of your conditions or practices are reasonably safe and effective, and which might require modification to better protect groundwater and surface water.

How to Complete the Worksheet

Download the Petroleum Product Storage and Handling worksheet and follow the directions. The evaluation should take 15 to 30 minutes to complete and to determine your ranking. Evaluate each petroleum product storage tank that is part of the farmstead. Spaces are provided to rank up to three tanks on your farmstead. If you have more than three tanks, please use another worksheet. If you are unfamiliar with any of the terms used or regulations mentioned, refer to the glossary provided with this worksheet.

Step 1: Now that each feature has been ranked, add all the rankings together for each tank and put that value in the “Total” box at the end of the worksheet. Transfer that number to the first space in the box below.

Step 2: Divide the total by the number of features ranked to obtain the average ranking for that tank.

Step 3: Repeat for the remaining tanks. Calculate the average ranking for all tanks combined.

Step 4: Evaluate the overall management practices and tank conditions.

  • 3.6-4.0 = best management
  • 2.6-3.5 = good management
  • 1.6-2.5 = fair management
  • 1.0-1.5 = poor management

This ranking gives an idea of how petroleum product storage and handling as a whole might affect water quality. This ranking should serve only as a very general guide, not a precise diagnosis. Since it represents an averaging of many rankings, it can mask any individual rankings (such as 1’s and 2’s) that should be of concern.

Step 5: Look over the rankings for individual features of each tank:

  • Best (4’s): the current ideal
  • Good (3’s): provides reasonable groundwater protection
  • Fair (2’s): inadequate protection in many circumstances
  • Poor (1’s): poses a high risk of polluting groundwater

Regardless of the overall ranking, any individual rankings of “1” should receive immediate attention. Some problems can be taken care of right away; others could be major or costly projects, requiring planning and prioritizing before action is taken.

Step 6: Consider how to modify farmstead management practices or tank conditions to better protect water quality. Contact your petroleum products supplier, the local conservation district, your Extension office, or the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service for ideas, suggestions, or guidance. The Storage Tank Program at the regional Department of Environmental Protection office (1-800-42-TANKS) has a complete set of helpful factsheets describing inventory control, farm storage tank requirements, and the various certification programs for storage tank installation and removal. Finally, the API (American Petroleum Institute, 1200 L St., NW, Washington, DC 20005, 202-682-8000, is a source for the most up-to-date information on national standards.


Cathodic protection: A technique to prevent corrosion of a metal surface by reversing the electrical current between metals or between metals and their surroundings that causes corrosion. A tank can be protected by sacrificial anodes or impressed current. Sacrificial anodes are pieces of metal attached directly to an underground tank or piping that are more electrically active than the steel. Because the anodes are more active, current runs from them, rather than the steel, and they are consumed or “sacrificed” in the process. Protection by impressed current involves creating an electrical flow from a series of electrodes placed in the ground around the tank and piping. This current is greater than the corrosive current from the steel, so the metal is preserved.

Certified technician: A person certified by the state to install and repair petroleum storage tanks (UMX category for installation and modification, and UMR category for removal—Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Watershed Conservation, Division of Storage Tanks). See Factsheet #2 from the Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Watershed Conservation, Division of Storage Tanks (1-800-42-TANKS) for details.

Corrosion: Deterioration of a metallic material (“rust”) due to a reaction of the metal with its environment. Damage to tanks is caused when a metal underground tank and its underground surroundings act like a battery. Part of the tank becomes negatively charged, and another part positively charged. Moisture in the soil provides the connecting link that finally turns these tank “batteries” on. When the current starts to flow, the negatively charged part of the underground tank system where the current exits from the tank or piping begins to soften, and holes begin to form, causing leaks.

Galvanized: The result of coating iron or steel with zinc. Galvanized materials do not meet corrosion protection requirements for underground applications.

Interstitial monitoring: Checking for released petroleum product in the space between the two walls of a doublewalled tank system. Continuous monitoring is done by sensors that are actively checking for the presence of released product in that space at all times. The functioning of these sensors needs to be checked once per month. Periodic monitoring often relies on a manual check of the space for released product with a dip stick at least once per month.

Inventory control: Measuring and comparing the volume of tank contents regularly against product delivery and withdrawal to detect leaks before major problems occur. See Factsheet #11 from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Watershed Conservation, Division of Storage Tanks (1-800-42-TANKS) for details.

Pennsylvania Code Act 32: Pennsylvania legislative act providing for the regulation of storage tanks and tank facilities (Storage Tank and Spill Prevention Act, P. L. 169, No. 32, 1989). Copies are available from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Watershed Conservation Division of Storage Tanks, Harrisburg, PA (1-800-42-TANKS) or from any Department of Environmental Protection regional office. Generally applies to farm tanks of greater than 1,100 gallons capacity.

Pennsylvania Code Title 37: Pennsylvania legislative act defining and providing for the handling and storage of flammable and combustible liquids, including the prevention of petroleum storage tank fires and explosions (P. L. 450, No. 29, April 27, 1927). Chapters 11 and 13 are available in the Flammable and Combustible Liquids Handbook, revised 1984, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA. Enforcement of Title 37 (Chapters 11 and 13) is the responsibility of the Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal. Generally applies to tanks with capacities greater than 30 gallons that are used for materials other than home heating fuel oil.

Secondary containment: A system such as a sealed basin and dike that can catch and hold the contents of a tank (usually at least 125% of capacity) if it leaks or ruptures.

Soil drainage: Describes the extent, frequency, and duration of wet soil periods when free water is present close to the land surface.

Soil permeability: The characteristic describing the speed at which water or air moves in the soil. Fine-textured materials like clays permit only slow water or air movement through small pores between the particles. Coarse-textured materials like sands permit rapid water and air movement through large pores between the particles. Soil structure and cracking can increase the movement of water or air through soil by changing the distribution of pore sizes.

Spill and overfill protection: Spill protection usually consists of a catch basin for collecting fluids that escape when the tank is filled. Overfill protection is a device warning of or preventing an overfill, such as an automatic shutoff or buzzer. These precautions can prevent groundwater pollution from a number of small releases over a very long period of time.

Tank tightness testing: A procedure for testing the resistance of a tank to releasing any stored substance into the environment, or to intrusion of groundwater into an underground tank. A certified underground storage tank-tank tightness tester with UTT approval (Underground storage Tank Tightness, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Watershed Conservation, Division of Storage Tanks) should be used for underground storage tightness testing. Note: A UTT certified technician is required for regulated underground storage tanks, and recommended for all underground storage tightness testing. See Factsheets #12 and #13 from the Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Storage Tanks (1-800-42-TANKS) for details.

Material for the Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst package was developed by revision of Farm-A-Syst material from the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Service, University of Minnesota Extension Service, and the National Farm-A-Syst/Home-A-Syst Program. Additional format and style features for the Pennsylvania package were adapted from the Ontario Environmental Farm Plan published by Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition, Ontario, Canada.

Partial funding for the development of the Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst package was provided by the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts through a Chesapeake Bay Program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Additional funding was provided as part of a 319(h) project with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Preparation: Richard Smith, project assistant, Penn State Extension; Les Lanyon, professor of soil fertility, Penn State, Department of Agronomy.

Project Coordinators: Barry Frantz, Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts; Les Lanyon, Penn State, Department of Agronomy; Jerry Martin, Penn State Extension.

Advisory Committee: Timothy Bowser, executive director, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture; Susan Fox, extension agent, Penn State Extension, Bedford County; Lamonte Garber, agricultural policy analyst, Chesapeake Bay Foundation; David Kahn, Jr., project assistant, Adams County Conservation District; Fran Koch, environmental planning supervisor, Bureau of Watershed Conservation, Department of Environmental Protection; Laurence Martick, district manager, Adams County Conservation District; Tom McCarty, multi-county water quality agent, Penn State Extension; Lori Sandman, project leader, Dairy Network Partnership.

Technical Review: James Garthe, instructor and agricultural engineer, Penn State, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering; William Lacour, used oil recovery coordinator, Pennsylvania Bureau of Land Recycling and Waste Disposal; Luther Lengel, chief, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection UST/AST Program Implementation and Permitting Unit, Lou Vittor, trooper, Fire Marshal Division, Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Pennsylvania State Police.

Information derived from Farm-A-Syst worksheets is intended only to provide general information and recommendations to farmers regarding their own farmstead practices. It is not the intent of this educational program to keep records of individual results; however, they may be shared with others who will help you develop a resource management plan.

Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst is a cooperative effort among Penn State Extension, Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.