Underground fuel tanks in Oregon meet environmental compliance at a rate significantly higher than the national average, a new DEQ report shows.
DEQ conducted more than 700 inspections of underground fuel storage tanks in Oregon during the last fiscal year, and more than 85 percent of those tank facilities complied with state and federal environmental standards. The national compliance rate was quite a bit lower, at 71.8 percent. One possible reason for the disparity? One likely factor is operator training.
It used to be gas station operators were bewildered by underground storage tank regulations, and they had many questions. Do I have the correct equipment? Have I done the required testing? How do I keep records? All of this led to lengthy inspections, poor compliance, time-consuming enforcement action, heavy penalties and even costly modifications for owners. Clearly, DEQ needed to try something new.
In 2003, Oregon became the first state in the country to require operator training for underground storage tanks. That meant all facilities that dispense fuel to a motor vehicle had to have a trained operator.
We immediately saw results. Compliance jumped immediately, from a paltry 57 percent to the seventies. In 2009, the training program was expanded to include three classes of operators and the compliance rate soon jumped again to the mid eighties, where it stands today. Better compliance means fewer leaking tanks and less contamination of soil and groundwater. This is good news for tank operators, and great news for Oregonians all across the state.
There is little doubt that better operator training is responsible for a big chunk of the improvements we’ve seen in environmental compliance with underground tanks. The program showed DEQ can both protect the environment and assist private industry, that both set of goals can be achieved at the same time. There’s no telling how many leaks and how much contamination we have prevented by training operators. What we can say for sure is preventing contamination takes less time and money and resources than cleaning it up. Considerably less.
In this case, the old adage is true. An ounce of environmental prevention is worth a pound of cure.