Friday, February 20, 2015

Fuel Leak at South Carolina Hospital Illustrates the Unique Risks Associated with Backup Generator Tanks

When you run a hospital, storing fuel in above- or underground tanks is a necessary evil. Backup generators, powered by fuel, need to quickly provide power when normal supplies are suddenly disrupted.

At many facilities, those backup generators never have to engage, which is obviously good. But those tanks are still there – holding tens-of-thousands-of-gallons of fuel – and in our experience, it’s easy for them to become “out of sight; out of mind.” Until, suddenly, they’re not.

Tanks leak, it’s just the way it is. Even tanks which are carefully monitored and regularly inspected can develop leaks – but with a solid maintenance and spill prevention plan and a regular testing and/or inspection program, the risk of a leak drops dramatically. In most cases, such a program is also a regulatory requirement. Do you know if you are in compliance with federal and state regulations?

Just this past week, Shriner’s Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina discovered a leak in one of their diesel fuel tanks. They found it when hospital staff saw the fuel flowing out of a storm drain and into a nearby creek. It was already several miles downstream and headed for a dam that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

By the time the leak was discovered, more than 4,000 gallons had been lost and the story was in headlines on the evening news and local newspaper.

According to Brian Derge, Chief Operating Officer of Tanknology’s Inspection Services Division, avoiding damaging and costly incidents and not ending up as “Our Top Story Tonight” on the evening news is a big motivation for operators of backup generator tanks to put in place a solid spill and leak prevention program.

“We know from experience that it is, generally speaking, very easy for these backup generator tanks to end up ignored and out of compliance with state and federal regulations (though we do not know if that was the case with the Greenville incident),” Derge said. “Buying and selling of fuel is not the core business of these operators, and the longer the tanks sit there not being used, the easier it becomes to not pay attention to them.  But in the event of an emergency, having maintained fuel quality and system integrity over all those years immediately becomes essential.”

“We work with a number of operators who maintain backup generator tanks,” Derge said, “including hospitals, other healthcare facilities, telecommunications companies, and others. They have required SPCC plans in place for ASTs, with periodic physical inspections; as well as monitoring and testing programs for USTs. In some cases we also help them with important analysis and cleaning of fuel that has been sitting stagnant in their tanks for several years.”

“A solid program of monitoring, treatments, and inspections,” Derge said, “will help the vast majority of operators avoid losing thousands of gallons of fuel – not to mention ending up in the headlines.”

For information about Tanknology’s tank inspection, monitoring and testing programs for generator tanks, you can visit us on the web, call us at 1-800-964-1250, or email us.

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