Oklahoma Environmental Services is performing site assessments at twenty-three former fueling facilities in Oklahoma this month. The purpose of the assessments is to determine whether subsurface soil or groundwater contamination exists. The facilities have underground, petroleum storage tank systems that were not upgraded to meet regulatory requirements in the late 1980s. The tank systems remain unused and are registered as “Temporarily Out-of-Use (TOU)” with the state regulatory agency, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC).
Deanna Atkinson, president of the consulting firm Oklahoma Environmental Services, said, “We are investigating subsurface soil and groundwater at these locations to see if any contamination exists. Ideally, the soil and groundwater would be tested when the tanks are removed. Unfortunately, these tanks are basically orphaned so there are no responsible parties stepping up to remove the tanks. We’re sampling to see if a problem exists. The health concern would be that gasoline or diesel has leaked out of the tanks, into surrounding soil or groundwater. If that is the case, our company will clean it up”. Atkinson cited the reason these sites have not been assessed before now is the lack of a financial mechanism. This recently changed when Oklahoma received a Federal grant for the investigation.
Robyn Strickland, OCC Petroleum Storage Tank Division (PSTD) Director stated they received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency for sampling these sites. The EPA had money available for state improvement projects so states were able to bid for that money. Strickland said their preference would be to use the money to remove the underground storage tanks but state Indemnity Fund and EPA grant monies will not pay for tank removals, it could only be used for sampling the facilities’ soil and groundwater. Strickland said criteria for candidate sites were those with: returned mail, no response to staff’s notifications and underground tanks that had not been upgraded to current regulatory standards.
Salim Douglah, OCC PSTD Technical Manager, said the goal of sampling is to satisfy pre-closure sampling protocols for when they resolve the issue of how, when and what mechanism to close these TOU tanks. When asked if the pressure would be on the owner to close the tanks, Mr. Southwick, OCC PSTD Legal Counsel, said that is what they are working on. Mr. Southwick said there is a lot to consider such as the interpretation of who is environmentally responsible versus someone who is the owner.
Currently, Oklahoma has approximately 1,700 underground storage tanks that previously stored petroleum products registered as Temporarily Out-of-Use.