FARMINGTON - New Mexico has put into effect new rules governing the storage of petroleum fuel in hopes of preventing leaks that can contaminate ground water.
The regulations include steps aimed at ensuring fuel is not delivered to leaking gas station tanks.
New Mexico Environment Department staff will work with owners and operators to correct serious violations as soon as possible, the department said in a prepared statement.
However, if a facility fails to correct problems in a timely manner, the Petroleum Storage Tank Bureau will put red tags on tanks with violations, post a notice at the facility that it may not receive any delivery or deposit of fuel, and list the facility on a delivery prohibition list on the bureau's website.
"Water is our most important natural resource in New Mexico, and we will always strive to protect it," New Mexico Environment Department Secretary David Martin said in the statement Monday.
The new regulations took effect March 17 after the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board adopted them Jan. 3. They primarily apply to gas stations.
Inspectors are finding fewer leaks since the U.S. Environmental Protections Agency began regulating storage tanks in the early 1990s, said Dana Dahar, acting chief of the Petroleum Storage Tank Bureau.
"What we're finding is we are getting fewer releases identified," she said. "It was not uncommon to see leaks daily or weekly. Now we're seeing those drop significantly."
New Mexico recorded 16 "significant releases" in 2011, Dahar said. None were in the Farmington area.
Among other provisions, the regulations require a second containment barrier, spill protection, overfill protection and tightness tests. They also eliminate an exemption for emergency generator tanks and require registration of emergency generator tank systems by June 15.
The regulations came with industry support.
"By preventing releases, you're also preventing lost fuel, which costs money," Dahar said. With gasoline maintaining strong value, station owners are interested in avoiding leaks, she said.
"It's all in the interest of good business," Dahar said.
The regulations come as a result of the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005.
"To me, it's not onerous," said Ruben Baca, state executive of the New Mexico Petroleum Marketers Association, referring to the new state rules.
Gas stations will have many opportunities to correct problems before their tanks are banned from receiving deliveries, he said. "If a person finally gets to the point where they have to be red tagged and taken out of service, they have completely ignored everything."
Regulators "are not in the business of putting people out of business," Baca said. "I'm not a big fan of regulations, but they are going to have given them every opportunity to correct the problem they have."
Baca added, "I don't want my kids drinking polluted water, and neither do you. We are in complete agreement with that."
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