Gas stations face fuel tank inspection deadline

Posted: Wednesday, September 13, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A deadline looms for some Alaska gas stations to comply with new state regulations requiring third-party inspections of underground fuel tanks every three years.

Unless those stations can show the state that their tanks aren't leaking, they won't be able to buy fuel legally.

The rule applies to all of Alaska's roughly 250 gas stations. About a third have to pass the inspection by Oct. 31. Another third has until 2001 and the rest have to comply in 2002.

With seven out of 10 underground tanks suspected of having problems a slew of stations may find themselves hurrying to make quick fixes, said state Department of Environmental Conservation official Ben Thomas.

''We have between 900 and 1,000 leaky tank sites in Alaska,'' said Thomas.

Fuel spills pose a serious public health risk because petroleum products contain benzene, a substance known to cause cancer. Underground contamination in Alaska is especially problematic because many people rely on well water.

The state rules adopted in August 1999 require owners of underground fuel tanks not only to get independent inspections once every three years, but to perform self-monitoring on a regular basis, he said. For example, owners must check the levels of fuel in their tanks every day to make sure it has not dropped dramatically, indicating a possible spill. On a yearly basis, they have to check the tightness of their fuel lines leading from the tank to the pumps, test the calibration of the tank gauges, check corrosion readings and perform other tasks. If inspections find leaks, bad corrosion or faulty piping, repairs must be made within four months.

If a station passes inspection, the state awards it a green tag. Fuel trucks are not supposed to deliver to stations that don't display the tag. Any station owner that fills the tanks knowing they leak could be fined, Thomas said.

So far, less than half the gas stations that need to be inspected by next month have done so, state officials said.

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