Early last year, EPA Victoria sent out a self-evaluation questionnaire to the operators of the State’s 1,400 retail fuel sites. The purpose of this questionnaire was to secure industry feedback about the degree of compliance with good UPSS management practices.

The questionnaire was essentially a self-evaluation checklist, with the checklist developed around EPA Victoria’s new UPSS Guidelines. These Guidelines were developed in partnership with a number of industry bodies, including ACAPMA, and were subsequently released in August 2015.

In late 2016, EPA Victoria released the findings of the questionnaire. The findings can be summarised as follows:

  • Responses were received for 83% of the 1,400 retail sites operating in the State during 2016
  • A higher response rate for businesses operating multiple sites than for those operating a single site
  • Some site owners and operators reported considerable difficulty in complying with the new guidelines, suggesting that addressing leaks from existing tanks would likely pose a significant risk to the ongoing viability of the business
  • The complex nature of the commercial arrangements that often exist between the site owner and the business operator, creating significant confusion about who is actually legally liable for UPSS failures (and the keeping of UPSS records)
  • Some operators did not appear to understand their obligations with respect to UPSS and the need to take all reasonable care to prevent soil contamination and/or ground water contamination
  • Some operators were using leak detection controls that they admitted were inadequate and that their business was not currently compliant with groundwater monitoring guidelines.

“On the one hand, the honesty of industry responses to the UPSS self-evaluation questionnaire was very positive”, said ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie.

“But on the other hand, there appear to be a significant number of fuel retailers who do not appreciate the significant business risks that are created by poor UPSS management practices”, said Mark.

Under Victorian Environmental Laws (and in most other Australian States and Territories for that matter), businesses operating fuel sites where soil contamination of groundwater contamination is evident are legally required to clean up their site.

Past industry experience suggests that these costs range from anywhere between $100,000 to more than $1m per site, often forcing the business to close.

“Put bluntly, business owners that cut corners on basic UPSS management are putting their business livelihood at significant commercial risk”, Mark continued.

Having now considered the findings of the 2016 self-evaluation questionnaire, EPA Victoria has this week sent out letters to a select number of fuel retailers inviting them to participate in a voluntary desktop assessment of their UPSS management practices – and submit the completed forms and supporting evidence by Monday, 27 February 2017.

Unlike NSW, where laws have been introduced requiring the installation of UPSS monitoring systems, the Victorian Government has opted to work cooperatively with the fuel industry under a voluntary assessment framework.

“Cooperative approaches are always favoured as they provide our industry with a ‘warning’ that, if we can’t get our own house in order within realistic commercial timeframes, the Government will introduce legislation that forces change on all of us”, said Mark.

“While participation in this latest assessment process is voluntary, businesses refusing participation should think carefully about the message they would likely be sending to EPA Victoria by refusing to participate”, Mark continued.

To that end, all fuel retailers are encouraged to look closely at their current UPSS management systems and ensure that these systems are sufficient to provide a good level of leak detection.

“At the very least, fuel retailers should be utilising leak detection systems that utilise the SIRA protocol which cost around $20 per tank per month”, said Mark.

EPA Victoria’s UPSS Guidelines provide a good guide on what constitutes satisfactory UPSS management practices. These Guidelines can be downloaded at: http://www.epa.vic.gov.au/~/media/Publications/888%204.pdf.