The Times West Virginian

June 8, 2014

Above-ground tank owners asked to soon begin an online registration process

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Now that the new West Virginia law aimed at identifying and regulating above-ground chemical storage tanks is in effect, tank owners are asked to soon begin an online registration process.

Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, explained that Senate Bill 373 was introduced because of the chemical spill into the Elk River in January that affected the water supply in nine West Virginia counties. He was one of the sponsors of the bill, which the West Virginia Legislature adopted into law on March 8 and went into effect 90 days after the passage, or June 6.

“One of the things that amazes me is the fact that we had dealt with gasoline storage underground tanks several sessions ago, and I couldn’t believe that we didn’t deal with any above-ground tanks,” he said.

“It was surprising to see there were no regulations for above-ground storage tanks. I was just appalled to know that no one had ever gone down this road before.”

After this crisis that devastated Charleston and so many other surrounding cities, the Legislature knew that there needed to be some identification of above-ground tanks used to store chemicals or anything that may be dangerous to the environment, Prezioso said.

He said Senate Bill 373 was created to allow the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to put rules into effect to identify the tanks, what’s stored in them, and where they are located in relation to water plants and other pertinent facilities. The rules will ensure regular inspections and stipulate the potential impact of the tank contents in the event of a leak or rupture.

“We didn’t realize all of these tanks were several years old and needed to be inspected,” Prezioso said. “All of this was done to safeguard our water resources.

“We worked very hard and diligently to get that bill done in 60 days. That was a major undertaking.”

He believes this law is a good first step, and additional legislation will probably be needed in the future as the tank-identification process continues.

Kelley Gillenwater, communications director for DEP, further explained that Senate Bill 373 basically puts the agency in charge of implementing an above-ground storage tank

regulatory program in which all tanks that meet the definition of the bill would be inventoried, regulated and inspected.

The program applies to tanks that hold 1,320 gallons or more, are at least 90 percent above ground, and are considered a permanent tank, which means on site for a minimum of 60 days.

“We don’t even have a good estimate of how many tanks out there could be impacted by this,” she said. “We’re actually learning there are some structures that would be considered tanks that we never thought of before.”

In the grand scheme of things, the minimum criteria for a tank to fall into the program equates to a fairly small tank, but still, most residents wouldn’t have a tank of that size on their property. The tanks requiring registration would mostly be industrial tanks, such as the water-storage tanks of Public Service Commissions and water-treatment facilities, Gillenwater said.

The bill exempts the registration of tanks that are considered process vessels, she said. An example of a process vessel is a large wastewater tank where the wastewater is actually going through a treatment process.

Gillenwater said inventory and registration is the first step in the process for qualifying tanks. DEP has created a website, www.dep.wv.gov/tanks, to help guide tank owners and operators in signing up for the agency’s Electronic Permitting/Electronic Submission System. Some companies that have different types of permits with DEP may already have user IDs and passwords that they can use.

June 10 is the targeted date for the registration period to open on the website, she said.

DEP is trying to get this information out to the public and encourage people to register as soon as possible because of the short time frame involved. The deadline is Oct. 1, and any tanks that meet the definition of the bill that are not registered by that date will be out of compliance, which means they will be operating illegally, Gillenwater said.

She said the registration includes six pages of information related to what the tank is made of and holds and the tank size, location and age. Once all the tanks are registered, the DEP will review the information to determine which of these tanks need to be permitted.

The DEP asked for input from the public through May 15, and is using that information to draft the rules for the above-ground storage tank regulatory program. In an effort to make sure that the process is transparent and open, the comments from the public can be viewed on the website, Gillenwater said.

The agency hopes to have a first draft of the rules this summer, and file them as emergency rules by the fall, she said. The rules would have to be submitted to the Legislature in time for review during the next Legislative session.

To the DEP, a vital part of the rules is the annual inspection and certification requirement, which obligates every owner or operator of an above-ground storage tank to have an annual inspection performed by a qualified, registered professional engineer.

“That’s what our agency, from a regulatory standpoint, sees as the most important component of the bill,” Gillenwater said.

She said other necessary measures include requirements on performance standards in designing and constructing tanks, maintenance of tanks, corrective action by tank owners if there is any type of leak, early detection of leaks and immediate reporting, enforcement if rules are violated, maintaining records, and financial responsibility.

“This is a great step in helping to minimize future risks to public health and the environment from storage tank leaks,” Gillenwater said.

For more information, visit www.dep.wv.gov/tanks.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.