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Compliance agreement reached for decommissioning underground petroleum storage

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) reached a successful compliance agreement in September 2015 with the owner of a decommissioned underground petroleum storage system in the State’s north, by taking civil action through the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal (RMPAT).

The EPA Director, Mr Wes Ford said that this was the first time the EPA had used civil action to enforce environmental regulations. He initiated the action by seeking an Order through the RMPAT against the owner of the Tomahawk Caravan Park to comply with Environmental Management and Pollution Control (Underground Petroleum Storage Systems) Regulations 2010 following the owner’s failure to undertake a site assessment within four months of decommissioning the underground storage system. The Tribunal handed down its decision in the terms of a consent agreement reached between the parties on 22 September 2015.

"It was pleasing to reach an effective resolution for the works to be done without having to proceed to a hearing on the matter," Mr Ford said.

"The successful outcome demonstrates that this is an effective means of achieving compliance in certain circumstances," he said.

"In the case of the Tomahawk Caravan Park, it brought to an end a lengthy period of negotiation between the owner and the EPA, which had failed to result in the required assessment being carried out.

"The EPA understands that works associated with carrying out the obligations under the UPSS Regulations can be very costly to the land owner.

"This is why we need to consider non-compliance of the Regulations on a case by case basis and take a number of factors into account when determining the appropriate action.

"The EPA takes its obligation to enforce the UPSS Regulations seriously," he said.

"We know that these systems can leak, and once they are buried, it is difficult to detect the loss, yet the resulting contamination can cause damage to the environment and to people’s health and safety," said Mr Ford.

Mr Ford said that this case served as a reminder to property owners of UPSS sites to be aware of the potential liability of these underground systems and the need to clearly define the contractual relationships between all parties in any agreements (eg site owners, lessees, fuel supplies and infrastructure owners). It is also something for potential owners of sites with these storage systems to consider when negotiating the purchase price in any sale of land, particularly if any change in use for the land is being considered.