Steps to Take if You Suspect Your Petrol Station is Losing Fuel

Nick Caltabiano at NEO Consulting provides insight on what to do if you suspect your service station may be losing fuel.

As a petrol station operator, there are several issues and occurrences that you must be careful to recognise, in order to take early action and prevent further problems should they occur. One such issue is a noticeable loss in fuel from your tanks. If you suspect your petrol station is losing fuel, there are a few key steps you should take to confirm the issue, and to ensure that additional problems are not created.

To provide us additional insight and some expert background on why your tanks may be losing fuel, and how to go about correcting the situation, we spoke with Nick Caltabiano from NEO Consulting. A leading expert in the field, Nick detailed for us some of the most likely causes of fuel loss, how to confirm suspicions, and what to do to both correct and prevent a leaking tank.

What are some of the leading reasons fuel loss may be suspected?

There are a few reasons petrol station owners may believe that they are losing fuel. The main reasons include, but are not limited to:

  1. SIRA data is inconsistent.
  2. Tanks at the petrol station are old.
  3. There have been signs of contamination observed at the site.
  4. Visual indications of contamination have been found within onsite water monitoring wells.
  5. Neighbours have complained of visual or aromatic contamination.

What tests or processes do you recommend if petrol station owners suspect they are losing fuel?

First, owners should review their SIRA data, although this is not always the most accurate method depending on the type of system operating. For example, if a site has a minor leak, and is losing 10 litres of fuel over a 24 hour period, after 10 days this is 100 litres, and by 100 days, it would be 1,000 litres. Thus, small leaks may not always be identified while using older style loss monitoring.

Next, I would recommend service station owners to undertake an investigation of their onsite water monitoring wells. If loss is suspected, this can determine key information, and one of two scenarios will likely play out:

  1. Your wells are found to be clean and clear. If this is the outcome of your inspection, you know you have been lucky enough to catch the problem early before site contamination occurs. This means that the site can remain in relatively good condition with timely action.
  2. If wells are found to have Fuel Product present, this will confirm a leak as well as help to determine how long ago the issue occurred, assuming your tanks are inspected as advised every six months. Fuel products can be tested for grade and age to determine the course of action. Labs are usually able to get a close estimate of the age of fuel product present. Knowing the age of the fuel product can help to determine when the contamination occurred, and whether the fuel product is a product of past or present contamination, and what steps should be taken if the fuel product is found to be new.

Finally, I would recommend that owners suspecting fuel loss undertake tank and line integrity testing. This is a swift way to determine the integrity of your underground infrastructure. Though not the cheapest option available, investing in proper tests can help to catch potential issues early, saving owners significant money down the road.

What ongoing maintenance should petrol station owners have in place to ensure losses don’t occur?

I think operators should ask themselves: Could I detect a loss or gain of approximately 10 to 50 litres a day? If the answer is no, then how can this be improved on?

For modern sites, all calculations are undertaken digitally, live, making them very accurate. However, for older sites where daily dips are undertaken using a dipstick, more frequent assessments should be done. For example, if dips are performed once a day, consider increasing this number to two or three times daily. Any recurring trends in loss or gain should be investigated, even if your SIRA data indicates a PASS.

For surface losses, the majority of council and general public complaints regarding contamination stem from aesthetic issues such as visual staining exiting the site and entering stormwater drains. This is easily avoided by ensuring any spills within the forecourt or near fuel bowsers do not make their way into a drain that flows to stormwater offsite. Daily inspections of onsite sumps and drains should be done, and inspections of oil water separators should be performed monthly.

What strategies can Petrol Station owners use to ensure they are not losing fuel?

Because fuel is your main asset, a lot of time and thought should be put into detecting potential problems. If you are sending dip readings to a third party to run SIRA, it may be helpful to perform your own calculations from time to time. This can help you to identify potential trends that may be missed in sending all data to a third party. Additionally, this exercise allows owners to understand all the variables when determining further efficiencies.

If they are losing fuel, should the local council or EPA be notified straight away?

There is some grey area here. While the EPA provides a Leak Notification Form within the Fuel System Operation Plan, there is also a responsibility to report any contamination identified. However, if your SIRA is failing, this may not necessarily mean the soil and groundwater beneath the site is contaminated.

To safeguard yourself, it is best to keep all records from a leak, including:

  1. Copies of the SIRA report first identifying an issue
  2. The chain of communication requesting investigation of the issues
  3. Any receipts and invoices from repair work done

Maintaining these records will show the council or EPA the timeline of the problem, and show that you were proactive in taking appropriate measures.

Is it the responsibility of the landlord or tenant to investigate where the losses are occurring? Who should pay for the investigations to be carried out?

I believe both parties are affected by potential problems. However, the lease agreement will determine who takes responsibility and in what capacity. That is why situations such as fuel loss investigated should be discussed before the lease is signed.

There have been instances when NEO has dealt with operators of a site who want to ensure they are not losing money and will be able to exit the premises at the end of the lease in similar condition to when they started. Conversely, we have done testing for landlords who want to know their investment will not incur further headaches down the road. Agreeing upon responsibility and reaction will make any potential measures or fixes a more seamless process.

Are tenants required to do more than notify the landlord of suspected fuel losses?

Again, this is why lease agreements are so important and should be written based on legal advice. In some circumstances, the operator may identify an issue and resolve it by seeking testing and repair of the underground infrastructure. After, the operator may negotiate with the landlord on how this money will be paid back, as it was spent to ensure longevity of the site. In all cases regarding site repair, maintenance, and potential problems, having prior discussions before issues arise is the best course of action.

ServoPro members can access the services of NEO Consulting at a discounted rate. For more information call Dan Armes on 0490 415 063 or email [email protected]

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