Emergency Response

Petroleum storage tanks have the potential to cause acute human health and environmental impacts that require the tank system owner/operator to take immediate action.

The information included below provides owners/operators of petroleum storage tank systems with guidance regarding how to:

  • Identify and mitigate the immediate threat of fire, explosion, vapor and acute health hazards
  • Identify and mitigate impacts to water supply wells, supply lines or surface intake
  • Initiate containment and removal of petroleum on the ground surface or surface water body

Click on the sections below to learn more about each aspect of emergency response.

The table below identifies emergency response conditions and associated actions.

Immediate Threat

Response Action

A petroleum surface spill is occurring that creates the risk of fire, explosion and vapor inhalation.

  • Stop the release of product
  • Notify the local fire authority
  • Begin emergency response per the site action plan

Explosive levels or concentrations of vapors that could cause acute health effects are present in a residence or building.

  • Notify the local fire authority
  • Evacuate occupants as directed by the fire authority
  • Begin emergency abatement measures

Explosive levels of vapors are present in a subsurface utility system.

  • Notify the local fire authority
  • Evacuate occupants as directed by the fire authority
  • Begin emergency abatement measures

Petroleum product is present on surface water, in utilities, or in a sensitive environment.

  • Prevent further petroleum product migration
  • Begin recovery measures
  • Restrict area access

A water supply well is impacted by a petroleum release.

  • Notify users
  • Provide alternate water supply

Surface water, stormwater or groundwater which is impacted above action levels is discharging directly to a surface water body used for human drinking water or contact recreation, or a sensitive environment.

  • Minimize the extent of the impact by containment measures
  • Implement habitat management to minimize exposures

Once emergency response actions have been completed, contact the appropriate regulatory agencies. Notify OPS of any reportable releases within 24 hours of discovery.

The Class C Operator must be trained by the Class A or Class B Operator to take action in response to emergencies. At least one Class C Operator must be present during operating hours at attended facilities.

In the event of an emergency, the Class C Operator must:

  • Stop the release by locating and activating the emergency stop switch. If the release or spill is uncontrollable, call the fire department or 911.
  • Notify the Class B or Class A operator and appropriate emergency responders, when necessary.
  • Operate the fire extinguisher, if it is safe to do so.

OPS recommends having a plan ready in the event of a spill or emergency situation. Tank owners/operators are encouraged to develop a site-specific action plan that identifies how to stop the release, establishes how a release will migrate from the various on-site sources and provides guidance to retard the migration of the released product and properly cleanup the spill. Storage tank facilities should also have spill response equipment and supplies on hand to be used if a release occurs.

Here are suggested items to include in your action plan.

  • site diagram showing the petroleum dispensing system components, on-site monitoring wells and the potential flow path of a spill released from various locations within the system

  • spill kit that contains emergency supplies, including absorbent materials (granular, pads, pillows or socks), personal protective equipment, traffic cones and caution tape to control public access to a spill, waste disposal bags and an appropriate waste storage container
  • An evacuation plan for on-site personnel and the general public

This action plan can be applied to spills or leaks of any quantity. Quick and decisive response action is important. Personnel must understand the elements of the plan and frequently review the procedures associated with responding to a spill. It is recommended that response action training drills become part of an owner's/operator's standard operating procedure.

Protection of human life and acute health requires a quick response when an uncontrolled release of petroleum products occurs. Responders should avoid direct contact with the spilled petroleum, and they should also avoid inhaling petroleum vapors. It may be necessary to remove people from the area and create an exclusion zone to keep bystanders away from the spilled product. Fire and explosion hazards are an immediate threat and ignition sources, such as running vehicle engines and smoking, must be restricted within the exclusion zone.

It is important to protect the environment and personal property. After stopping the leak or spill by activating the emergency stop switch, assess whether the spilled fuel can be controlled. For small spills, use absorbent materials to keep the fuel from spreading.

If the spill becomes uncontrollable, or if the fuel migrates off-site, contact emergency services by dialing 911 or an alternate emergency contact telephone number. If possible, stop the migration of spilled fuel from entering stormwater drainage systems, running off pavement onto soil or into a sensitive environment or on-site monitoring wells.