FUEL deliveries to c stores, truck stops, and other locations can be a messy process. All too often drivers must contend with underground storage tank (UST) fill ports and spill buckets that are affected by debris (gravel, trash), rain water, and spilled product.
Contaminants in the UST spill bucket raise the potential for fuel quality problems in the storage tank. In addition, spill buckets can be damaged over time, which can lead to an environmental release of spilled fuel and contaminated rain water.
These problems can be very costly for the UST operator and (potentially) the fuel hauler. Ethanol is now blended with gasoline in most locations across the United States, and water can cause a multitude of problems if it gets into the fuel. Water combines with ethanol until the ethanol phase-separates from the water, which simply falls to the bottom of the storage tank or spill bucket. Water mixed with ethanol is very difficult to detect and measure, but it can cause serious damage if it gets into a vehicle engine.
On the environmental side, spilled fuel that leaks out of the spill box can add up over time and lead to a massive cleanup effort. In addition to the cost of the cleanup, responsible parties could face major penalties from state and federal environmental agencies.
“Spilled fuel is a serious issue that can certainly draw EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) attention,” says Robert Koeninger, general manager of Dixon Bayco USA. “Spills must be cleaned up as soon as they are detected.”
Fuel delivery system protection should start with the UST operator. Regular inspections are a must, but it takes more than a quick glance inside the spill bucket. Operators need to look closely for damage — such as corrosion from spilled fuel — that can result in leaks.
Spill buckets should be cleaned regularly to keep out water and debris. If the spill bucket is kept clean and dry, the delivery driver may be able to drain any spilled fuel into the UST.
Many spill buckets reportedly fail and lose water-tightness within a few years after installation. Small leaks are very hard to spot and may go undetected for many years.
Drivers form the final line of defense in protecting the integrity of the fuel being delivered and preventing spills. They need to be well-trained in the fuel delivery process, and they must be provided with good-quality, well-maintained equipment.
Drivers need to be proactive. They should make their own inspection of the fuel delivery system before connecting the hoses and opening the valves. They need to use spill pads and other absorbents to sop up pooled liquids and debris in the spill bucket before beginning the fuel delivery. The water, fuel, and debris that are collected may qualify as hazardous material and must be disposed of properly.
Even the most conscientious driver occasionally makes a mistake that results in some spilled fuel. These spills usually are minimal and can occur when a driver forgets to fully empty the hose after a delivery or the connections between the product hose and UST fill port are loose.
Several factors contribute to loose connections. The elbow may be latched improperly. Other contributors include worn hose fittings, worn fill-port adapters, and worn or damaged gaskets.
“Fuel delivery is a tough environment for the hardware,” Koeninger says. “Elbows and adapters get extensive use, and dings and scratches become leak points over time. Wear and tear leads to misalignment when the hardware is connected.
“Ethanol blended with gasoline attacks the gaskets in the elbows, which swell or shrink based on the material that they are made of. Gaskets are a regular maintenance item, and drivers typically bring a supply with them.”
While petroleum haulers can't do much to change the operating environment for fuel delivery, they are able to improve equipment reliability and performance with regular maintenance. In addition, they can make specification changes that reduce the spill and leak potential.
For instance, some petroleum haulers specify elbows with a sleeve that fits inside the assembly and extends into the UST fill port. This eliminates the potential for a spill or leak at the fill point. Most, if not all, of the elbow manufacturers offer the sleeves on new elbows or as retrofit parts.
“This sleeve has been available for many years, and 10% to 15% of our customers are specifying it for the elbows they buy,” Koeninger says. “It is used widely by petroleum fleets in Canada.
“We believe the elbow sleeve offers several advantages. For instance, product flows from a tank trailer at 250 to 350 gallons per minute, and you can get back pressure that contributes to leaks at the fill-port connection. The sleeve creates a venture effect that pulls a vacuum and seats the elbow gasket tight enough to prevent any leak.”