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UST Decommissioning: The Truth About Underground Storage Tank Removal

According to the U.S. EPA, more than half a million underground storage tanks (UST) across the country store hazardous substances or petroleum. Each of these is a potential threat to leak and contaminate groundwater, the source of drinking water for almost half of all Americans.

Regulatory agencies require that, when these tanks are no longer in use, they be decommissioned. This “closure” of a tank eliminates the potential environmental threat of pollution and adverse public health risks. Ignoring these threats poses legal and environmental liabilities for the owner.

What are my options to decommission an underground storage tank?

There are three options for retiring your UST from service: remove the tank, permanently fill the tank in place, or convert the tank into a different service (such as storing a safe, non-regulated material or substance). Let’s take a brief look at each of these options.

Underground storage tank removal

While it may feel like the most inconvenient choice, removal is the safest of the options. Extracting the tank eliminates any threat of future soil or water contamination and provides the opportunity to remediate any existing environmental damage. By removing the tank, the owner has satisfied due diligence for future use and real estate transactions.

Filling your UST in place

People frequently like the idea of disconnecting the tank, filling it with an inert substance, and leaving it. While it may be the quickest solution, it has significant drawbacks. First, you need to verify that abandoning a UST is legal in your municipality. 

Secondly, the filled tank could make the property difficult to sell or develop because it fails engineering requirements for future development or building (compaction, structural, or geotechnical).

Additionally, extracting a (now heavier) filled tank becomes more challenging and expensive, so the cheaper fix initially may not be the most cost-effective in the long run.

Conversion of service

The concept of “recycling” or “reusing” the tank sounds promising. Unfortunately, in most cases, it’s too impractical to thoroughly clean the tank enough to safely contain non-regulated substances that could become contaminated within the tank. Beneficial conversion could end up as complicated and expensive (or more) than removing the tank.

Why can’t I leave my retired UST if it’s empty?

As mentioned before, the presence of a tank could make selling the property difficult, and use of the land becomes more challenging if the tank impacts plans for its development. There’s a good chance the tank will have to come out at some point – and generally, sooner is better than later.

Leaving an underground tank is also a threat to the soil and groundwater, and a previously unknown leak from the tank can be costly in both environmental and financial terms. While the costs of cleanup from a leak vary widely, the EPA has determined that the average estimated cost to clean up a contaminated site is over $150,000, noting that corrective actions for groundwater contamination can climb to more than $1 million.

The best long-term solution is to properly remove the tank, with emphasis on the “properly” part. 

What is involved in properly removing an underground storage tank?

The project is more extensive than showing up with equipment to dig it out and haul it off. Damaging the tank during extraction could cause one of the environmental disasters you’re hoping to avoid by removing it in the first place.

Generally, the steps for adequate underground storage tank removal include: 

  • Notifying requisite government agencies of your intent to remove the tank
  • Hiring a licensed contractor that is experienced and equipped to extract the tank safely
  • Completely draining and cleaning the tank prior to hoisting it out of the ground
  • Monitoring the area for gas and vapor releases before and during removal
  • Excavation of the UST using heavy equipment
  • Soil and water confirmation samples to test for residual contamination
  • Remediation, if necessary


It’s also vital to document and maintain records for this process. These records commonly play a role in due diligence for commercial property transactions, and not having them could delay or crater a sale of the property. Documentation should generally include details about who conducted the tank removal, any site assessments, and any known substances found or detected. State regulatory agencies typically require a report detailing the closure activities.

How SITEX simplifies underground storage tank removal

As with any project involving environmental regulations and concerns, the appropriate care and diligence is required. A lack of experience could easily lead to all manner of logistical and legal consequences.

SITEX, with our expertise and knowledge of risks and regulations, can apply pre-inspection procedures that ensure there are no active leaks to address prior to the removal work.

We can also bring in respected and proven contractors to conduct the physical work under our technical oversight. SITEX then conducts the post-extraction sampling to ensure no contamination that requires remediation. If remediation is needed, we know how to work with regulatory agencies to meet cleanup objectives, implement correction actions, and attain a “no further action” letter confirming the tank was removed and the site tested in accordance with state requirements.

Simplify your UST removal process by making one call to SITEX instead of patching together a team of inspectors and subcontractors and taking on all the liability yourself. Use the form to reach out to one of our environmental experts who can make UST retirement easier than you imagined.

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