January 18, 2024

UST Water Issues--Fines and Vehicle Damage

Last week brought lots of rain and wind to the Garden State. While storms always have the potential to bring flooding, downed trees, and power outages, this storm brought a different kind of problem to absentminded station owners. And in the case of one retailer, it also created some embarrassing headlines.

Water in your underground storage tank (UST) is a big worry, and the "enemy" to your tank infrastructure. Not only does the ethanol-formulated gasoline you dispense attract moisture, but the rain, water runoff, and snow melt can also make their way into USTs if operators are not careful.

Last week's heavy rainfall was a nightmare for such situations, but it was especially bad for one Camden service station. It was so bad, in fact, it made headlines. That station dispensed contaminated, water-laden fuel into at least 26 motorist vehicles before the problem was discovered. An investigation found that the fuel sold contained 58% water. The station will face hefty fines for dispensing "adulterated fuel" … and it was all preventable.

While this story may seem like an outlier, the ordinary threat of water contaminating the product in your UST system is very real. This phenomenon is amplified when station owners fail to take proper precautions and adhere to regular maintenance routines.

Knowing this, we thought to touch on a few precautionary measures to help you avoid the same fate (not to mention fines and public embarrassment) as the station owner in the cited article above.

First, and even before we touch on what to do if water is detected in your UST system, it should be noted that water generally gets into your tanks through vent lines, faulty inlet fill caps, overflowing spill buckets, weak tank gasket seals and/or piping, rushed/poorly-executed tanker deliveries, broken floats, or even moisture seeping in from vent caps and vent balance pressure seals. That means before a storm is even a potential threat, you should be looking at these safeguards and the larger tank apparatus to make sure everything is sound. This should be part of your ordinary daily routine (especially for something as simple as looking at your spill buckets and making sure fill caps are properly tightened).  

Ultimately it is far cheaper to address those issues preventatively, than it would be to possibly face fines, repair a customer's vehicle, or potentially pump out your entire tank due to fuel phase separation and an accompanying station closure (more on that, below).

Second, it is important to make sure your automatic tank gauge (ATG) system (Veeder-Root or otherwise) is working properly, and that your onsite staff is trained on what to recognize when a water alarm is triggered. In the case of the Camden station, we've learned that the attendants not only knew the alarm was going off, but they failed to realize it was due to water in the tanks. Rather than investigate, they just kept on pumping "fuel" into the customers' vehicles.

Though a water alarm will be triggered when excess water is in the tank, it is also imperative that you (or your staff) know what to do next. This means stop pumping and call your compliance professionals to evaluate the situation.  

Why is this important? From a consumer perspective, pumping "adulterated fuel" into a consumer's tank will damage your patron's vehicle, require expensive repairs, and lead to costly government fines.  

However, from a logistical necessity alone, you need to figure how water is getting into your tanks, and how much water volume there is in the tanks to determine how it will be remediated. For example, in looking at ethanol blended gasoline alone, a high concentration of water could eventually lead to phase separation and larger issues. If phase separation occurs (which can happen if the amount of water in the tank reaches a threshold percentage by volume), the result is a coagulation; and the station will be shut down and the entire contents of your tanks will need to be removed.

Also, it should be noted that if your Veeder-Root or other-branded ATG system is malfunctioning or your on-site staff is not trained to use it, an operator can also manually check the tank using a tank stick (sometimes called a probe stick, petroleum gauge stick, or otherwise). An operator would use the stick along with water testing paste (make sure the paste is made for reformulated/ethanol-blended gasoline) to determine how much water is in their tank.  The paste coated stick (and accompanying color change) can help to detect water and/or phase separation.  

Assuming you don't follow these procedures and water contaminates your tanks, both the Department of Environmental Protection and Weights & Measures will undoubtedly hand out hefty fines for non-compliance. What's more, your reputation may be damaged, as with the Camden station in the article above.

Learn from this situation!  Take regular maintenance precautions, make sure your staff knows what to do in such a situation, and check in regularly with your compliance professionals to know what steps you should take. 

Snow & Ice

Some parts of the state got their first snow in nearly two years this week, with more anticipated this Friday. It's a good time to remind everyone, and for you to remind your employees, the importance of clearing snow and properly salting the property. Pay attention not just to where customers are regularly walking, but where delivery people and staff will be walking. This is especially true for stations. We've heard cases of the fill and delivery areas not being cleared of snow, and the fuel delivery driver just taking a look and turning around and leaving without dropping any fuel. That can leave you without a delivery for 24-36 hours until another can be scheduled, potentially leading to the tanks running dry. The drivers are on a schedule and they may not be interested or able in spending time shoveling. With temperatures below freezing after rain, make sure to also check things like the spill buckets for ice. 

People slipping on black ice can lead to a burdensome lawsuit, whether their injuries are genuine or shall we say 'exaggerated'. Don't forget to shovel and salt everywhere a person may walk; we've also heard stories of lawsuits stemming from people who were not customers but were walking around the edges of a business, slipped and then sued. Security camera footage can be one of your best allies in defending against false lawsuits. If you're interested in adding or expanding your security equipment, we have MBPs who can help and specialize in our industries, reach out to Nick@njgca.org or Joe@njgca.org for more info. 

EV Weather Problems

The recent burst of cold weather has also thrown in the spotlight another problem with battery electric vehicles--they don't work nearly as well in cold weather. In order for the battery to function it needs to be warm enough, and in colder temperatures it has to expend energy to heat itself up before it can make the car move. Cars can lose a third or more of their driving range simply from the outside temperature being too low. In Chicago there were lines of cars, reminiscent of the old gas lines from the 70s, of Teslas waiting to plug in to fast chargers, sometimes running out of power while in line and needing to be towed. The cold meant it took three to five times as long for the batteries to charge, especially with the owners sitting in the car with the heat on to escape the below zero cold. 

The storm last week was not so cold, but did involve very high winds that knocked out power. Under Gov. Murphy's Energy Master Plan, all homes and businesses are supposed to be completely electrified for their heat, in addition to all vehicles being electrified. Natural gas, heating oil, and gasoline all provide redundancies in power generation. Losing power for a day or two in the winter in a state like this could be catastrophic without a way to heat one's home or even to travel somewhere with power. California, which has been at the forefront so far of EV adoption, doesn't have cold weather problems like our state. 

Reminder: Compliance Calendars Available Now

The 2024 New Jersey Fuel Dispensing Facilities Compliance Calendar is now available for members to download and use.

You can find the file hosted on our website by CLICKING HERE.  

The DEP's compliance calendar is an essential tool, and we encourage our members to use it daily. It is full of useful reminders, procedures, and related details.  You should print out a copy, record the required information, and keep it close on hand.  Using the calendar isn't only a good habit to have, it will also save you from possible headaches and costly penalties if DEP comes to your station inquiring after your environmental compliance.  

Please call or email Nick@njgca.org if you have any questions. 

Rack Averages

DateRack AvgAvg w TaxesLow Rack
DateAvg RetailAvg MarginDiesel Rack Avg
01/11$3.07140.41 275.90

News Worth Knowing:

Member Benefit Partner (MBP) Spotlight: Autopart International

Autopart International is a proud partner of NJGCA, offering members exclusive promotions, preferred pricing and rebate programs. In addition to being a leading provider of aftermarket auto parts, they now also offer the entire World Pac selection of OE, OEM & OES parts directly from your local AI store. When you choose Autopart International, you are partnering with local parts experts who are ready to support you and your business with the best service in the area. They have 15 locations across the state.

Contact: Joe Therres, 301-752-2950 Joe.Therres@autopartintl.com www.autopartintl.com/NJGCA 

Available Real Estate

Station for Sale

Thriving High Profit Gas/Service Station close to Major Highway in Prime Location. 

This Exclusive Gas Station is the Sole Provider in the entire town, achieving a remarkable fuel profit of up to and sometimes over 1$ a gallon. Consistently selling 45,000 gallons monthly. Most fuel customers come from Highway so fuel prices do not have to be competitive. 

Also included with the Property is a Reputable High End Auto Repair Facility. Repair shop has all required Specialty and Diagnostic Tools for servicing mostly High End Vehicles. Advertising is no longer used do to an enormous Demand and large Customer Base. Repair Business has has potential for increased profitability and expansion, the business is open to experienced buyers for a possible partnership or profit sharing arrangement. Location is 1 out of 100. Fuel sales make 20-40K a month and repairs can do the same with the right operator. 

This one of a kind opportunity can include seller financing for those with High-Level Automotive or Gas Station Experience.

Contact Greg

Cape Harbor Shell

795 Route 109

Unit B

Lower Township, NJ, 08204

CLICK HERE to view the listing

Our Road Warrior newsletter is brought to you by the following Member Benefit Partners:

New Jersey Gasoline-Convenience-Automotive Association
615 Hope Road, Bldg. 2, 1st Floor
Eatontown, NJ 07724


Phone: 732-256-9646
eMail: info@njgca.org