At the City of Lakeland, Fla., a regular fuel station inspection eventually led to the discovery of a major issue, prompting the city to temporarily close down its fuel site.
 - Photo courtesy of City of Lakeland

At the City of Lakeland, Fla., a regular fuel station inspection eventually led to the discovery of a major issue, prompting the city to temporarily close down its fuel site.

Photo courtesy of City of Lakeland

On-site fueling has numerous benefits, including convenience, potentially lower costs, and control and availability in the event of an emergency or natural disaster. But fueling station upkeep is more than just refilling storage tanks. To make the most of your investment, proper maintenance is critical. While you can’t anticipate every issue that might pop up, here are five things every fleet should do to run a safe, cost-effective fueling site.

1. Stay Compliant

If you want to keep your fueling site open, compliance is key. That means making sure it meets all federal, state, and local regulations. These can include:

  • Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations under 40 CFR 280
  • Class A/B/C underground storage tank (UST) operator training
  • State and local air quality regulations
  • Fire codes
  • State water board regulations
  • Building and electrical codes

“These agencies are the policing agents for compliance, and any deficiencies can result in site closings with disruptions to operations,” said Bradley Weatherly, fuel program manager, Montgomery County, Md.

Oliver Cruz, fuel operations program officer for the City of Long Beach, Calif., said the key steps to maintaining compliance are: performing fuel site inspections, repairs, and testing at the appropriate intervals; ensuring timely, documented responses to fuel site issues; and properly maintaining documents at each fuel site. 

Why is compliance so important? In addition to keeping your site in operation, it helps you avoid potentially exorbitant fines. “The cost of enforcement for not maintaining your fuel station far exceeds the cost of maintaining a fuel station properly,” Cruz said.

2. Keep up with the Latest Regulatory Changes

While compliance is important, here’s the rub: regulations frequently change. That means fleets must be proactive about staying up to date on the latest news. For instance, Gary McLean, CPFP, fleet manager for the City of Lakeland, Fla., said following Hurricane Irma, the city learned an inline leak detector on an ethanol tank was now installed incorrectly because regulations had changed.

“What was originally required by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) was suddenly now exactly backwards and we had to basically swap the detector to the opposite side of where it was mounted,” he said.

So how do you stay up to date?

Jeremy Hawkins, special projects manager, fuel management, City of San Antonio, said the first step is to sign up for e-mail alerts from regulatory agencies. “It’s one of the easiest and more effective ways to stay up-to-date on regulations,” he said. 

McLean recommended proactively pulling regulatory update information versus waiting to hear about it. 

“Changes to compliance issues seem to crop up every year,” he said. “Being proactive and fixing your stuff before the inspectors show up is the way to go. Follow up with regulatory agencies at least once a year to ensure you’re receiving all the updates to regulatory requirements.”

Gregg Duckett, public works operations manager for the City of Phoenix, suggested in-person training and “rules drafting” meetings with inspectors. “These events allow us to ask questions, raise concerns, and develop relationships with inspectors,” he said. Duckett also recommended having a single point of contact for all sites who is responsible for ensuring adherence to requirements. 

3. Prepare for (and Perform) Inspections

Regulations are only part of being compliant. Someone is going to check to make sure you’re actually doing the things local, state, and federal agencies require. What kinds of inspections can you expect?

Duckett said common ones he has experienced include: unannounced annual state and local regulatory site inspections, annual Stage I vapor recovery inspections/­certifications, and annual equipment inspections.

“Inspection and reporting requirements may change based on fuel type (unleaded, diesel), tank type (above ground or underground), capacity, or usage,” he explained.

Beyond required inspections, Cruz said fleets should regularly perform their own inspections. The City of Long Beach’s fleet staff performs daily and weekly visual inspections to ensure there are no evident equipment failures. 

For McLean, an annual FDEP inspection led to the discovery of a major issue that had a huge ripple effect. The FDEP noted a few issues that could be fixed on the spot, but the agency still failed a secondary line containment integrity test. Rather than spend $150,000-$300,000 to excavate the infrastructure, the city moved up the construction for a replacement station planned for the following fiscal year.

4. Watch for the Common Signs of Aging 

What should your team be looking for during inspections? Duckett listed the following:

  • Cracked and chipped concrete on fuel islands and over underground storage tanks
  • Missing, cracked, or damaged inspection hole covers
  • Buildup of dirt and stains on fuel islands
  • Chipped paint on metal rails to prevent rusting.

The types of problems to look for can also depend on the type of equipment. Weatherly said USTs can face problems with deterioration and corrosion, along with pavement becoming pervious, resulting in ground settlement. McLean said above-ground storage is easier to maintain. 

“My best suggestion to mitigate fuel station maintenance issues is to use an above-ground infrastructure with quality construction,” he said. “All lines should be above ground but under the surface in concrete troughs with inspection plates for ease of inspection, maintenance, and repair.”

The City of Long Beach leverages automated systems to stay on top of signs of wear. “We have equipped all of our facilities with remote monitoring systems,” Cruz said. “As a result, our staff receives e-mails and text messages whenever there is an alarm condition on our tanks’ monitoring panels.”

Staying on top of maintenance keeps your fuel site safe and operational, but it can also reduce costs in the long term. “Take care of problems when they’re small,” Duckett recommended. “Repairs don’t get cheaper or easier if you wait.” 

5. Secure the Resources to Address Problems

Identifying problems through inspections and/or automated systems is one thing. Actually doing something about the problems identified is another. Weatherly said accruing the proper resources is critical to maintaining operations. These include personnel, parts, inventory, and contact with independent contractors. 

Of course, budget is also an important factor. Weatherly said government entities may not have funding to support certain resources or keep everything “state of the art” — but fleets can find a balance. “The best advice I can give is to acquire those resources you can and have contacts with those you cannot,” Weatherly said. “For example, if you don’t have the ability to maintain a parts inventory or contractor, have a working relationship with them so during emergency situations you can acquire their parts and services with minimal effort.”

Regardless of who handles maintenance, McLean said the focus should be on prevention. “The important requirement that needs to be handled foremost and continually is to ensure your fuel station isn’t falling into disrepair,” he said. “Anything can be handled preventively, but if discrepancies get out of hand, you’ll end up in big trouble.” 

Fleets need to obtain the right resources to maintain fuel station operations, said the Montgomery County, Md., fuel program manager, who oversees the fueling site pictured.
 - Photo courtesy of Montgomery County

Fleets need to obtain the right resources to maintain fuel station operations, said the Montgomery County, Md., fuel program manager, who oversees the fueling site pictured.

Photo courtesy of Montgomery County

Fuel Site Maintenance Checklist

  • Train employees on regulations 
  • Have fleet staff perform daily or weekly inspections
  • Identify a single point of contact for all sites who is responsible for inspections
  • Keep a training log and an inspection checklist
  • Follow up on repairs promptly
  • Have a tank replacement strategy
  • Use outside vendors and consultants to inspect fuel sites or review your work
  • Establish a fuel site maintenance budget.
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