Over the past 25 years more than 1.5 million unregulated fuel storage tanks have been disposed of—and yet the drive to upgrade underground fuel storage continues, according to Marcel Moreau, owner of Marcel Moreau Associates in Portland, Me., and a petroleum storage solutions consultant for nearly 20 years.
"We’re way better off than 25 years ago," Moreau said, "but tanks are still leaking more than we would like. And since passage of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, the states have been prompted to go toward secondary containment." Florida has been among the states that are leading the charge, as operators must upgrade from single- to double-wall tanks by the end of 2009. Ultimately, he said, secondary containment will be required for newly installed fuel storage systems in all states except Kansas and Missouri.
The changing face of petroleum marketing is also a factor, Moreau said. As major companies have increasingly pulled out of downstream retailing, he explained, "Stations may still be branded, but they’re operated by independent marketers who have differing levels of education concerning tank leakage."
Then, too, most fuel retailers hesitate to upgrade tank systems—in advance of any new regulations—unless the investment can be cost-justified. "The problem with underground storage systems is that the public can’t see them," Moreau pointed out. "You can't advertise that you have double-walled tanks and your competitors don't, so that consumer should pay two cents more a gallon to buy from you rather than from the guy next door."
But Moreau said that the alternative of doing nothing also has a downside. "In the longer term, you'll avoid costly cleanups," he advised. "People in this industry like to get returns within 90 days, but that won’t happen with fuel storage. Yet if you're looking at being in the business for awhile, investing in secondary containment is wise."
Rather than wait for new regulations and then be forced to upgrade under duress, Moreau suggested that learning about the alternatives now will pay off. "You don't want to wait until the last minute and then end up paying big money for equipment you don’t understand," he said. "Unless you're an engineer, you need more than just a manual to understand your equipment. That's why educating yourself now is so important."
In response to current regulations, and in anticipation of future trends, manufacturers have stepped up to provide solutions. NOV Fiber Glass Systems (formerly Smith Fiberglass) of Little Rock, AR, produces fiberglass-reinforced epoxy pipe products for underground fuel systems. Jack Bales, manager for petroleum marketing, said that "the 2005 Energy Policy Act has really impacted the industry so that more states are making the commitment to go to secondary containment." His company's response is to make sump/entry termination fittings to meet anticipated demand.
Because double-wall sump fittings have been used in California for interstitial monitoring since 2004, NOV has five years of experience in providing product for vacuum-based leak detection systems. That experience is coming in handy to meet current demand for double-wall fittings in Florida as operators there scramble to meet the 2009 deadline. Bales said that other states will follow Florida's example, with either closed (interstitially monitored) or open secondary containment systems.
"We also offer a single-wall sump entry fitting with the same sump joining technique as the double-wall product," added Bales. "The single-wall model is ideal for open-ended secondary containment systems, while the double-wall is a fully capable solution for interstitially monitored systems." Where the NOV products add value, he said, is with their longevity and capability to handle the fuel changes that appear to be on the horizon. "Initial cost of the NOV FGS sump fittings may be a bit higher than competing products. But less maintenance is required over the long term."
Peace of mind is the added value behind the ZCL Preserver System offered by Xerxes Corporation, a Minneapolis-based manufacturer of fiberglass storage tanks. As sales and marketing vice president Tom Tietjen explained, "In the past, many owners have had difficulty insuring their underground storage tanks because of the expense or the unavailability of a policy. Together with Willis HRH, we’ve put together a unique equipment and insurance package to cover not only new tanks, but also the key fueling system components."
According to Tietjen, even when tank owners can buy policies they are "often subjected to increases when they have to renew the policy every year or two. And like auto insurance, the cost of those policies generally goes up with time or if the owner has a claim."
Purchasers of the Preserver System have access to insurance where the rate is fixed for ten years and the policy cannot be cancelled. Upon installation, the tank and piping are reviewed onsite by a professional inspector and the owner is provided an engineering report. Then the insurance policy provides a comprehensive level of coverage, including necessary repair and replacement of the equipment. And by partnering with HRH Willis, said Tietjen, smaller marketers are finding access to attractive insurance coverage through Preserver.
The ZCL Phoenix System is itself an innovative answer to the growing need for double-walled fuel storage tanks. "The product allows you to actually build a secondarily contained tank within your existing single-walled tank," Tietjen explained, "and thus provides you another option in cases where a single-walled tank would be too difficult or too expensive to remove."
In addition to helping operators comply with any state regulations, the Phoenix System promises an added benefit. "As the popularity of biofuels grows," said Tietjen, "so does the concern for increased corrosion inside the tank. Putting our fiberglass product inside an existing steel tank is an appealing solution since fiberglass won't corrode with biofuel storage."
Another type of "insurance" is provided by the 10 Plus Emergency Shut-Off Valve offered by OPW Fueling Components of Cincinnati. Global product and accounts manager Jonathan Stong said the valve is designed to significantly reduce the risk of fire, personal injury, property damage and environmental contamination. In the event of an impact to the dispenser, shear valves—whose operational parameters are defined and tested according to UL standards—shut off the flow of fuel.
"However, lesser impacts from a car bumping the dispenser or even inclement weather," Stong said, "can cause a small break in the shear section of the valve without tripping the shut-off mechanism. This is known as a 'nuisance break' and allows fuel to leak into sumps. So to prevent the release of fuel, the 10 Plus valve activates during an undetected low-impact break." If a shear groove is cracked, he said, "A bladder fills with pressure from leaked gasoline and the system will shut down flow, thereby alerting an attendant."
The 10 Plus valve, added Stong, is also incorporated into OPW’s FlexWorks Loop Piping System™, a complete "plug-and-play" piping system that features factory-assembled dispenser sumps. "By assembling almost the entire system in a controlled factory environment," he stated, "we can ensure a higher level of installation integrity. Many potential leak points are eliminated, and you don't get the variability caused by field assembly of components. The result is a better installation."
The FlexWorks Loop System, said Stong, "preserves complete access to every underground component, which facilitates inspection, maintenance and monitoring. This allows owners to maintain the system without ever employing a backhoe and to easily meet any new monitoring and maintenance requirements that might come down the pike.”
Franklin Fueling Systems, headquartered in Madison, Wis., is introducing Colibri, a Web-based inventory management system geared to the needs of independent fuel marketers. The product is due to hit the market in October.
"The majority of the retail market is becoming made up of independents who are more in touch with their businesses," said Jay Walsh, vice president of business development. "Leak detection is required by the EPA for underground fuel storage tanks. But for independents there’s less of a need for elegant and expensive solutions. They don’t want to pay a high cost to become compliant."
Because Colibri is interfaced to the Internet, Walsh said, the product "is compatible with standard Web browsers, so that it’s accessible to the owner from anywhere in the world. It provides immediate notification on issues like low inventory or tank overflow and can even send alerts to their fuel hauler to prevent run-out."
At the site, Colibri is operated via a touch-screen interface. "It's easy and economical to retrofit to your tanks," said Walsh, "and Colibri improves safety since operators don’t have to go out to the forecourt and manually put a dipstick in the tank. Even today, one out of four sites don’t have electronic gauges because it was cost-prohibitive for them."
In another development, Franklin has introduced PV Zero to improve the reliability of vacuum-based tank monitoring systems. Walsh said that regulators increasingly favor such systems, so that a large portion of underground fuel storage tanks will need to have pressure vacuum (PV) valves.
"Most current PV valves have a mechanical spring, so they’re not very reliable," Walsh said. Franklin has addressed this problem with PV Zero, a valve activated by a liquid-filled reservoir instead of a mechanical spring. "The goal is to meet government requirements," he said, "and also to make a product that is effective and will last the lifetime of the station."
Based in Santa Rosa, Calif., Western Fiberglass is a manufacturer and installer of piping systems, petroleum equipment and fluid containment devices. President Frank Lillo said the company's Cuff system provides an alternative to the rigid fiberglass found in competing products. "Rigid material can fracture due to line shock or ground movement," he explained, "but our Cuff system uses fiberglass as the body and flexible boots to absorb ground movement."
Available in single- and double-walled models, the Cuff system's performance and materials comply with California's AB-2481 law. The flexible cuffs also make the Western Fiberglass product suitable for earthquake-prone areas.
"You can also choose to have the Cuff system factory-installed on dispenser pans and vent boxes, decreasing labor and adding security,” Lillo said. "Knowing everything was installed correctly and to the manufacturer’s specifications gives you peace of mind."