California expands underground storage rule

By Susanne Retka Schill | May 11, 2009
Posted May 12, 2009, at 3:42 p.m. CDT

California's Water Resources Control Board has expanded its approval for storing biodiesel blends in underground tanks from the existing B5 limitation to up to B20, in a resolution adopted May 5. A 25-year-old California law requires the storage of any chemical in underground tanks to be tested and independently certified as being compatible with the tank materials, explained water board spokesman Bill Rukeyser. The law also requires an approved leak detection method.

With only B5 blends having been tested, the water board approved a three year emergency variance to allow higher blends up to B20 in double-walled tanks and piping that currently meet requirements for petroleum-based fuels. "What we have been told by biodiesel industry spokesmen, is that they are in discussions with Underwriters Laboratory on testing protocols, and within three years should have tests done," Rukeyser said. "These issues have contributed to the delay of more widespread use of biodiesel in California," the water board resolution stated. The three-year variance will assist the state in meeting greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and requirements under the federal energy policy act.

California has strict laws on underground tanks used for storage as a result of earlier experience, he added. "We've had terrible experiences with tanks of earlier designs and substances that are no longer allowed, MTBE being one of them, contaminating our water." Rukeyser pointed out that both the petroleum industry and ethanol industry have had to comply with the regulations. The water board only has jurisdiction over underground storage, with other agencies handling above-ground storage and other regulatory issues.

Some confusion was caused by an erroneous report that the Water Resources Control Board's action was a move to enact stricter biodiesel storage guidelines than what had been in place. "I was not happy to see it wasn't B100," said Joe Gershen, vice president of sales and marketing for Tellurian Biodiesel Inc. "But B anything is better than nothing." Gershen added that B20 is probably the most commonly used blend in California, "going from nothing to B5 to B20 is going in the right direction." He added that the California Biodiesel Alliance which Tellurian CEO Eric Bowen chairs has been meeting with the water board which has increased the member's comfort level with biodiesel. "We're forging a new relationship with regulators in California," Gershen said.

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