The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency recently inspected nearly 50 underground fuel tanks sites in an effort to increase compliance and prevent petroleum releases to the environment.
The agencies together inspected 47 fuel tank owners operating on Navajo lands, fining 11 operators a total of $6,000 for violations of underground storage tank regulations. The EPA cited the Ganado Unified School District in Ganado, Giant in Tohatchi, Coyote Canyon Trading Post in Brimhall, Mustang in Burnside, Navajo Nation Oil and Gas in Chinle and Tohatchi, Navajo Housing Authority in Ft. Defiance, Alamo Trading Post and Alamo Community BIA School in Magdalena, Wilkersons in Tsaile and Chervron Petroleum in Burnside.
"The EPA and the Navajo EPA are serious about enforcing underground tank regulations," said Jeff Scott, the EPA's Waste Management Division director for the Pacific Southwest region. "Leak prevention is critical because unseen leaks caused by corrosion, overfills or other spills can pollute precious ground water supplies-- a limited resource on the Navajo Nation. A hole the size of a pinhead can release 400 gallons of fuel in a year's time, enough to foul millions of gallons of fresh water."
"In 2002, the underground storage tanks compliance rate was 2%," said Henry Haven, geologist with the Underground Storage Tank and Leaking Underground Storage Tank program with NNEPA. "In the 2004 inspections, the compliance rate jumped to 54 percent, which is remarkable."
The most common problem found during inspections was the failure to properly maintain and operate leak prevention and detection equipment. Facilities also failed to provide current paperwork for annual testing of tanks and piping systems, or fail to provide proof of financial liability insurance.
Both agencies plan to reinspect in the coming year and expect to see an increase in compliance rates.
The NNEPA received federal grants to conduct joint compliance inspections at approximately 142 sites throughout the Navajo Nation. Under the leaking underground storage tank grant, NNEPA monitors 61 sites for groundwater sampling activities, drills groundwater monitoring wells, and inspects cleanup methods and activities.
The Navajo Nation Underground Storage Tank Act was passed by the Navajo Nation Council on October 29, 1998. The Act requires the removal of all underground storage tanks that do not comply with the standards.
Compliance with leak prevention and leak detection requirements help ensure petroleum releases from underground storage tanks occur less frequently and that facilities are properly alerted when releases do occur. The EPA and the NNEPA report improved operating conditions at storage tank sites as a result of the joint inspections.
To prevent releases, federal law required all regulated underground storage tanks to have spill and overfill equipment, and corrosion protection in place by Dec. 22, 1998. Releases that are detected quickly can be cleaned up at far less expense than releases that go undetected for long periods of time.