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Richards Fuel Oil Faces More than $123,000 in Penalties for Storage Tank and Spill Prevention Violations

Release Date: 10/23/2000
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(#00199) New York, New York -- Richards Fuel Oil was cited for violating underground storage tank and spill prevention regulations at its Somerville, New Jersey facility and could face up to $123,219 in penalties, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA has charged Richards Fuel Oil, a retail heating oil dealer located at 110 South Bridge Street in Somerville, with seven counts of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the federal law that governs underground storage tank management. EPA alleged that the company mismanaged three of four underground storage tank systems at the Somerville location, and that it did not respond fully and in a timely manner to three official EPA requests for information. The agency is seeking a $71,019 penalty for these violations. In addition, EPA has charged the facility with three counts of violating Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) provisions of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), which requires facilities to prepare SPCC plans, implement these plans and update them every three years. The agency is seeking $52,200 for these violations.

"This facility has the capacity to store 140,000 gallons of fuel oil, so a leak or spill would have the potential to be environmentally disastrous," said Jeanne M. Fox, EPA Region 2 Administrator. "It is critical that this facility manage its storage tanks properly and have a good, solid plan in place to prevent and react to spills."

EPA inspected the Richards facility on October 21, 1999. During this inspection, EPA identified Clean Water Act and potential RCRA violations. EPA sent a letter to the company requesting information about its four underground storage tank systems, which were used to store kerosene, gasoline and diesel fuel. When the company failed to respond to EPA’s

letter, the agency sent a second letter. Richards submitted two responses to this second letter, both of which were incomplete. The company’s response to a third letter sent by the agency was also incomplete. Based on information in the responses and the inspection, the agency charged Richards Fuel Oil with a number of tank violations including: leaving three unused USTs in the ground for eight months after they were required to be removed; failing to assess the soil around the tanks to make sure that they hadn’t released any product; failing to use a reliable method to regularly test the three tanks for leaks, and failing to keep its liability coverage of the tanks during the period of October 1998 to June 2000 to ensure that the company could pay the cleanup expenses if a release of petroleum product from these tanks occurred.

Underground storage tanks range in capacity from a few hundred to 50,000 or more gallons, and are used to store gasoline, heating oil and other fuels, waste oil and hazardous substances. Leaks from tanks often contaminate the soil around them and can cause unhealthy gasoline vapors to settle into the basements of private homes and apartment buildings. Underground storage tanks have historically been the nation’s number-one source of groundwater contamination, with over 30,000 leaks and spills from tanks reported annually. EPA and states’ underground storage tank regulations were put in place to prevent releases of petroleum, and, if a release does occur, to ensure that it is addressed immediately.

The SPCC provisions of the Clean Water Act are designed to prevent oil spills or leaks from facilities and contain these spills or leaks once they occur. Any facility with an above- ground storage tank of more than 660 gallons in a single container, an aboveground storage capacity of more than 1320 gallons total in multiple containers, or a total underground storage capacity of more than 42,000 gallons is required to prepare, implement, and regularly review SPCC plans. The plans ensure that measures are taken to prevent leaks and spills. For example, facilities are required to have secondary containment, usually a cement wall surrounding a storage tank that will capture any oil released from the tank. In addition, facilities use the SPCC plans to help respond quickly to any leaks that do occur. In this case, Richards did not have an adequate SPCC plan, had not fully implemented an SPCC plan, and had not reviewed the plan every three years to ensure that it is up to date.