EPA seeks input on mid-level ethanol storage

By Kris Bevill | November 15, 2010
Posted Nov. 23, 2010

The U.S. EPA is accepting comments through Dec. 17 on proposed guidance demonstrating how owners and operators can comply with EPA's compatibility requirement for storing ethanol blends greater than 10 percent in underground storage tanks. Research conducted by Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and state agencies suggests that mid-level ethanol blends have a greater potential to degrade components of underground storage systems than E85. As the U.S. moves toward the use of higher ethanol and biodiesel blends, compatible underground storage systems will be critical in protecting the nation's groundwater, the agency said. With the recent partial approval of E15, the EPA anticipates that some owner/operators may begin to store E15 or other mid-level ethanol blends. The proposed guidance is meant to clarify compatibility requirements for those parties.

According to the EPA's proposed guidance, there are at least 607,000 regulated underground storage tanks nationwide. States are the primary implementers of the compliance program, but the EPA must approve each state's program. Typically, owners and operators have been able to prove their compliance by using UL-approved equipment. However, the EPA said many components of underground storage systems currently in use have not been tested by UL for compatibility with higher blends of ethanol. Additionally, the lifespan of an underground system is approximately 30 years, and therefore most systems currently in use were not designed to store ethanol blends greater than 10 percent.

Equipment covered in the compatibility compliance includes all components of the underground storage system, including gaskets, flexible connectors, tank linings and other items. Dispensers are not included, however, because they are not regulated under the federal underground storage tank program. The EPA has asked commenters to provide feedback on what components should be included on the list and whether it's possible to demonstrate compliance for the listed components.

The EPA is proposing three methods for owners and operators to demonstrate compatibility of underground storage tank systems, including: certification or listing by an independent test laboratory, equipment manufacturer approval or another method determined by the implementing state. The EPA would like feedback on whether these proposed compliance methods are appropriate and feasible options for owners or if there are other reasonable compliance methods that should be included.

The EPA's full guidance proposal and information related to submitting comments on the proposal is listed in the Federal Register.