The operation of gas stations is regulated by federal, state, and local environmental authorities. Regulatory and operational requirements for retail gas stations must be reviewed on a state by state basis, as each state has its own regulations that apply to petroleum. In addition, many states have developed compliance guidance specifically for retail gas stations. The EPA has resources on gasoline dispensing.
Most gasoline stations use USTs for the storage of petroleum products. A UST is federally defined as a tank that has at least 10 percent of its volume underground. While USTs are federally regulated by EPA under 40 CFR Part 280, 281, and 282.50-105, most requirements are state and local. The EPA maintains a list of state UST programs. Requirements can include permitting, training, reporting, and Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plans. The CRC Storage Tank page has more information on these requirements.
Under the Clean Air Act, EPA established National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) for gasoline dispensing facilities (GDF) (40 CFR 63, Subpart CCCCCC), which includes GDFs at service stations, convenience stores, and rental and fleet service centers. EPA has a summary of the rule in the Controlling Air Emissions from Gasoline Dispensing Facilities brochure. The requirements vary based on the monthly throughput of the facility and relate to, among other things, minimizing spills, tank filling, vapor balance systems, and reporting.
States also have air emissions regulations, which can include requirements relating to permits, vapor recovery equipment, and reporting. These requirements may be more stringent than federal requirements, especially in non-attainment areas (these are areas that do not meet federal air quality standards, which is discussed on the CRC Air Page).
Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), retail gas stations may have to report to their State and Local emergency planning committees and the local fire departments on either a Tier I or Tier II inventory report and maintain safety data sheets. A retail gas station with the capacity to store 10,000 pounds (which corresponds to approximately 1,100 gallons) of gasoline or diesel fuel or more in aboveground tanks must report the total gallons of gasoline or diesel fuel at the facility, including any that is stored entirely underground. A retail gas station with the capacity to store 75,000 gallons of gasoline or 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel entirely underground must report on the total gasoline or diesel fuel at the facility, including any stored aboveground. In other words, should the facility trigger either an aboveground or underground threshold, reporting of the total gasoline or diesel fuel at the facility is required.
The EPA provides information on EPCRA hazardous chemical storage reporting and the Tier II form and instructions. Reporting requirements can differ by state (most require use of the Tier II form). EPA has a list of state specific reporting requirements.
Preventing spills and leaks is an important part of environmental compliance at gas stations, and it is especially important to keep petroleum out of water bodies. The EPA's guide, Preventing Leaks and Spills at Service Stations, describes federal regulatory requirements and good management practices. Regulations related to aboveground and underground storage tanks are designed to help prevent spills and include Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plans and spill reporting requirements (which are discussed on the CRC Storage Tank page).
Good management practices are critical for preventing spills and potential contamination of soil and water. Petroleum products should never be disposed on the ground, in a storm sewer, street drain, or other water body. Also, water should generally not be used to wash away petroleum spills, as this can contaminate nearby soil or water; instead, a dry oil sorbent should generally be used. In addition, cleaning small spills at the dispensers using rags or absorbents should be routine.
If a spill occurs, safely stop the spill immediately. Contain and recover the spilled material by spreading a sorbent material such as sorbent pads, kitty litter, sand, straw, or sawdust to stop the flow and soak up the petroleum from the pavement. If you use granular sorbent, such as kitty litter, use plenty and work it vigorously to absorb all of the gasoline or fuel oil. Collect the contaminated sorbent material and put it in a closed container. Used petroleum spill cleanup materials or products cannot be put in the regular trash. They should be disposed of as special or hazardous wastes, depending on the products cleaned up and state regulations (see the CRC Hazardous Waste page).
Engaging customers is an important aspect of spill control. Signs at pumps may be useful to instruct customers not to top off tanks and to notify employees in the event of a spill.
Good site design and stormwater management can help keep spilled petroleum and residues out of drains, catch basins, the soil, and downstream water bodies. Stormwater management is discussed on the CRC Water page.
Gasoline dispenser fuel filters could potentially be regulated as hazardous waste, although this may not be the case if the filters have been drained, are no longer capable of releasing liquid, and/or are sent for recovery of metal (e.g., from the filter housing). State and local rules may vary.
There are specific requirements for the storage and handling of used oil. These are covered in the CRC Other Regulated Waste and Vehicle Sales & Maintenance pages.
Sustainability at a gas station starts with preventing petroleum spills and keeping petroleum contamination from soil and water. This requires good management practices and keeping a sustained focus on strong environmental performance.
Like other facilities, gas stations can be designed using green building strategies to minimize water and energy use and, importantly, to reduce or eliminate stormwater runoff.
One sustainability area where gas stations may have a major role is in offering alternative fuels such as biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen, natural gas, and propane. The U.S. Department of Energy maintains an Alternative Fuels Data Center, which includes a database of relevant laws and incentives (which can include incentives for gas stations to offer alternative fuels).
RCRA Hazardous Waste Matrix