At its most basic level, current environmental laws in all Australian States and Territories put an absolute obligation on service station operators to take all reasonable steps to prevent pollution of the natural and built environment.

Together with prevention of fuel leaks from underground petroleum storage systems, the management of run-off from service station forecourts is one of the key areas of risk of environmental contamination from service station operations.

Traditionally, the fuel retail industry has managed forecourt run-off via the collection and storage of forecourt run-off using blind pits and sumps – with these storage systems being regularly drained and the contents disposed under an approved Trade Waste licence.

These systems carry a significant ongoing maintenance burden due to operators being required to regularly clear and dispose of liquid waste to prevent pollution occurring during periods of intense rainfall and/or due to a high-volume fuel spill incident) -that is, as a result of the system being breached and hydrocarbon laden water being inadvertently discharged into stormwater systems with consequent environmental damage and financial penalty.

In addition, there have been a small number of significant incidents where a high concentration of fuel in the sumps has resulted in safety consequences as a result of fuel in the pits being ignited due to unforeseen circumstances.

An increasing number of operators have responded to these issues by seeking to utilise innovative systems that retain the water and then separate water from the fuel oil mix, allowing the water to be discharged into stormwater systems and/or sewer and isolating the fuel mix from ignition risk for future disposal at much lower volumes than for traditional systems.

“From an industry perspective, these multi-stage separator systems provide superior safety and environmental performance compared with traditional practices”, said ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie.

“Unfortunately, confusion over interpretation of existing environmental legislation by some local councils has resulted in the use of these superior systems being blocked during planning approval processes for new sites or major site upgrades”, said Mark

Specifically, some NSW Local Councils have argued that these systems permit a water discharge that still contains a level of hydrocarbons – albeit acknowledged as being very small – and therefore constitutes ‘pollution’.

ACAPMA has consistently argued that this interpretation is wholly unreasonable given that the concentration of hydrocarbons in the treated run-off water from these advanced systems is generally lower than the concentration in the natural waters that it ultimately receives the discharge via the stormwater system.

“The approach of some Local Councils in this area has been openly obstructive, with Councils seeking to impose an interpretation of pollution that is neither reasonable nor practical”, said Mark.

“In fact, if this interpretation was to be applied for all activities, many local councils would likely be open to prosecution for allowing run-off from council roads and carparks -which levels of oil and fuel residues that are generally higher than treated discharge from service station sites”, said Mark

“It is important to remember here, that we are talking about minute levels of contaminants – typically less than 10ppm in water – and so the pollution is not detectable in terms of visible sheen, smell or taste”, continued Mark

To resolve this issue, ACAPMA produced a Best Practice Guideline for Management of Forecourt Run. The Guideline was released at the 2017 Asia Pacific Fuel Industry Forum and recommends the use of a risk-based approach developed around a desirable maximum hydrocarbon concentration of 5ppm in water (this level is consistent with best practice Guidelines in overseas jurisdictions and could reasonably be considered ‘clean water’ for the purposes of discharge of run-off into stormwater and/or sewer systems)

While the release of this Best Practice Guideline largely resolved the issue in most Australia States and Territories, the problem has persisted in NSW due to the specifics of previous Guidance issued by the NSW EPA in 2014.

As a result, ACAPMA has been working with other Stakeholders to encourage the NSW EPA to issue revised Guidance that is more consistent with contemporary management practices – effectively allowing the use of a technology that provides superior safety and environmental risk management performance.

Earlier this week, the NSW EPA released new Guidance in the form of a new Draft Practice Note entitled: Managing Run-Off from Service Station Forecourts (A copy of the Guideline can be downloaded at: https://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/-/media/epa/corporate-site/resources/clm/18p1046-practice-note-managing-run-off-from-service-station-forecourts.pdf)

The Guideline is now the subject of a NSW EPA consultation with the fuel industry and local councils, with the EPA calling for submissions on this draft guideline to be made by 30 November 2018 (Submissions can be emailed directly to upssreg@epa.nsw.gov.au)

In addition, a consultative workshop will take place in Sydney on 8 November 2018 to discuss the draft Guideline and seek initial stakeholder feedback.

Industry stakeholders wishing to attend the Workshop should indicate their interest by sending an email to UPSSreg@epa.nsw.gov.au

“At first glance, this document is a marked improvement over prior advice and represents a balanced approach that should resolve the difficulties experienced by fuel retailers in securing planning approvals in recent years”, said Mark.

ACAPMA members, particularly Associate Members involved in petroleum contracting and equipment supply activity are encouraged to review the Guideline and participate in the Sydney Workshop planned for 8 November 2018.

Further information about this matter can be obtained by visiting the NSW EPA website (https://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/-/media/epa/corporate-site/resources/clm/18p1046-practice-note-managing-run-off-from-service-station-forecourts.pdf) or contacting the ACPMA Secretariat on 1300 160 270 or emailing communications@acapma.com.au