What Are The Disadvantages of Underground Storage Tanks?

Are you aware of the disadvantages of the underground storage tanks

Underground storage tanks (USTs) are tanks buried below the ground, often used to store fuels or other dangerous materials. These tanks are common sights at gas stations, industrial sites, and increasingly in residential areas, where space is at insurance charge. 

Despite their popularity, USTs come with a range of challenges that can affect everything from the environment to the owner’s wallet. They might save space above ground, but they have many risks attached to them. 

In this blog, we will discuss the risks and disadvantages of underground storage tanks. So, let’s get into the disadvantages of underground storage tanks.

What Are The Common Disadvantages of Underground Storage Tanks?


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Underground storage tanks are commonly used for storing fuel and other dangerous materials beneath the surface. While they save valuable space above ground and maintain a clean aesthetic, these tanks come with a number of challenges. 

From environmental risks to high maintenance costs, let’s explore the less visible, but significant, disadvantages of underground storage tanks.

Environmental risk

Underground storage tanks pose significant environmental risks, especially if they leak. The chemicals and fuels they often store can pollute soil and groundwater, harming ecosystems and potentially affecting public health. Detecting leaks can be challenging until they have already caused significant damage.

High costs

Installing and maintaining underground storage tanks is expensive. They require specific construction techniques and materials to prevent leaks. Regular maintenance and monitoring to ensure they remain safe also add to the ongoing costs.

Regulatory compliance

Owners of underground storage tanks face strict regulations. They must ensure tanks are installed correctly, maintained regularly, and inspected to comply with environmental protection laws. Non-compliance can lead to heavy fines and legal issues.

Difficult inspections and repairs

Accessing an underground tank for inspection or repairs can be problematic and costly. Excavation may be required just to reach the tank, and detecting problems before they become severe is inherently difficult.

Potential for undetected leaks

Leaks from underground tanks can go unnoticed for long periods, allowing pollutants to spread extensively through the environment. This can result in more extensive and costly clean-up and remediation efforts once the leaks are finally detected.

Limited lifespan and replacement issues

Despite their durability, underground tanks will eventually need replacement due to wear and corrosion. Replacing an underground tank is a complex and expensive process that typically involves challenges and significant disruption.

Space limitations

While underground tanks save surface space, they are limited by underground barriers and existing structures. These limitations can restrict tank size and placement.

Material corrosion

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Over time, materials used in tank construction, such as metal and concrete, can degrade. Corrosion and structural failure can lead to leaks, polluting the surrounding soil and groundwater.

Emergency response challenges

In case of a leak or other emergency, responding to an issue with an underground tank is more challenging than with above-ground tanks. Quick access is crucial in emergencies, and underground tanks complicate these efforts.

Long-Term environmental liability

Even after a tank is no longer in use, it can continue to pose risks. Residual materials may leak, and the tank itself can fall if not properly fixed, creating long-term environmental liabilities..

Complex installation requirements

The installation of underground storage tanks is a complex process that requires adherence to specific engineering and environmental standards. It involves detailed planning to avoid underground utilities and requires specialised equipment and expertise, increasing the initial setup costs.

Soil and groundwater monitoring

USTs require regular monitoring of the surrounding soil and groundwater to ensure that no leaks are occurring. This monitoring is not only costly but also essential for early detection of contaminants that could pose severe risks to the environment and human health.

Impact on property value

Properties with underground storage tanks, especially those that are older or not properly maintained, can suffer from reduced property values. Prospective buyers may be discouraged by the potential liability and cost of managing or removing an UST.

Insurance and liability concerns

Owners of properties with USTs may face higher insurance premiums due to the increased risk of environmental contamination. Additionally, if a leak occurs, the property owner can be held liable for costly cleanup and efforts to  save the environment, which can be financially disturbing.

Restricted access for emergency responses

In cases of leaks or spills, emergency access to USTs is more restricted compared to above-ground tanks. This can delay response times and increase the severity of incidents, potentially leading to greater environmental and safety risks.

Technological limitations

While technologies for monitoring and maintaining USTs have improved, they still have limitations in detecting small leaks or early signs of failure. These technological limitations can prevent timely interventions, allowing minor issues to develop into serious problems.

Weather and geological risks

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USTs are open to damage from earthquake’s activities, soil shifts, and extreme weather conditions, which can compromise their structural integrity and lead to leaks or breaks.

Decommissioning challenges

Decommissioning an old UST is a complicated and expensive process. It involves cleaning the tank, removing any residual material, and sometimes, filling the empty space with still  material to prevent soil collapse. Proper decommissioning is crucial to avoid future environmental issues.

Each of these points highlights the need for careful consideration and ongoing management when using underground storage tanks, emphasising their potential drawbacks beyond initial benefits.

Conclusion

Underground storage tanks, while useful for conserving space and maintaining aesthetics, come with several notable disadvantages. 

These range from environmental risks such as soil and groundwater contamination to practical concerns like high installation and maintenance costs, complex regulatory compliance, and challenges related to inspections and repairs. 

Considering these factors is crucial when deciding on the appropriate storage solutions for your needs. So, if you’re looking to explore alternative solutions, Resolute Civils offers expert advise and a range of products tailored to meet your specific requirements. 

Contact Resolute Civils today to ensure your storage solutions are safe, compliant, and cost-effective.

FAQs

What are the common problems with USTs?

USTs are inclined to corrosion, especially those made from bare steel, which can lead to leaks and environmental contamination. Corrosion over time is a significant issue that can cause the contents of the tank to leak into the surrounding environment.

What are the environmental risks of leaking USTs?

Leaks from USTs can lead to groundwater contamination, posing risks to drinking water sources. This contamination can be extensive and difficult to remediate, affecting human health and the environment.

How costly is it to maintain and repair USTs?

Maintaining and repairing USTs can be expensive. The tanks require regular monitoring, leak detection systems, and maintenance to prevent leaks and address any issues that arise.

What makes UST maintenance challenging?

USTs are difficult to access for repairs and maintenance, which can complicate efforts to address issues promptly and effectively.

What regulatory challenges do UST owners face?

UST owners must comply with strict regulations regarding the installation, maintenance, and monitoring of their tanks to prevent environmental damage and ensure public safety.

How do USTs compare to aboveground storage tanks in terms of risk?

While USTs are less susceptible to tampering and are aesthetically pleasing since they are out of sight, they pose higher risks of unnoticed leaks compared to aboveground storage tanks, which are easier to inspect and maintain.

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