I went to high school at a small school in the middle of a cornfield in Monroeville, Indiana. So a story in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette regarding leaking underground storage tanks (“USTs”) at an abandoned gas station in Monroeville (population of 1,235 as of the 2010 census), jumped off the page at me. The title of the article said it all: “Cleaning up Leaky Problem.” Although this particular story hit close to home for me, this is a problem that exists throughout the Midwest, especially in rural areas.
According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (“IDEM”), there are over 2,100 leaking USTs in Indiana—and this is just the number of reported leaking tanks. Currently, IDEM regulates about 20,000 UST facilities in Indiana. However, it wasn’t until laws were passed in the late 1980s that USTs had to be registered with the government, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that USTs had to meet certain requirements designed to reduce the risk of a release. Indiana’s UST regulations (329 IAC 9) apply only to USTs and piping that stores petroleum or hazardous substances. (Of course, like any regulation worth its salt, this one has certain exceptions—small USTs and home heating oil USTs are just two examples). Under Indiana law, UST owners must register their tanks with the state. The state imposes certain reporting requirements on the tank owners, including but not limited to providing information to the state on leak detection, spill and overfill prevention, and corrosion prevention.
Two years ago, Indiana received $4 million in federal stimulus money to fix leaking USTs. The money has been allocated to 28 chosen sites. A large portion of those sites are abandoned UST sites. Many times, property owners are not even aware they have a tank buried under their property, but if the tank contained petroleum or a hazardous substance, it could be a ticking time bomb. Once a leak is discovered, it must be reported to the state. The leak may require remediation, which can range from soil excavation to allowing the petroleum to naturally degrade. IDEM estimates the cost of the average UST clean up at $200,000.
Federal stimulus funds are not the only way to pay for the remediation of the leaking USTs. InIndiana, tank owners are required to pay registration fees, which go to the state Excess Liability Trust Fund (“ELTF”). The ELTF establishes a mechanism to reimburse money spent by eligible UST owners and operators on the clean up of petroleum releases from USTs and indemnification of third parties. To be eligible to receive financial assistance under the ELTF, the owner or operator must be in compliance with the regulations for registration, maintenance, record keeping, fee payment, and release reporting. For more information on the ELTF, click here. Insurance proceeds and former owners are other potential sources of funding for a clean up. Cleaning up these abandoned USTs allows for the property owner or surrounding community to finally redevelop that land. This leaking problem is still a major problem in Indiana and throughout the rural Midwest.