Underground Vs. Above ground Storage Tanks: Which Do You Need?

When deciding on a storage tank for hazardous materials, one of the first major concerns is whether to invest in an above ground or underground model. There are benefits and drawbacks with each: in this week’s blogs we compare underground and above ground storage tanks to help you decide which will work best for your farm or business’s needs.


Your choice of an aboveground or underground storage tank will depend on many factors.

Underground Vs. Above ground Storage Tanks: Which Do You Need?

Both aboveground and underground storage tanks (USTs) that are to be used for hazardous materials are heavily regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to prevent groundwater contamination. Storage tank leaks pose a huge risk to soil health, local ecosystems, and water supplies so it is important that preventative measures are taken to minimize the risk of spillage and accidental overfilling.

Underground storage tanks

The EPA defines underground storage tanks as “any tank and connecting underground piping that holds at least 10% of its combined volume underground.” Any USTs which are used to store petroleum or other types of hazardous materials are regulated by the EPA. Maryland is located in the EPA region 3 (Mid-Atlantic) which governs the main regulations relating to storage tanks, both aboveground and underground.

USTs are a good choice for anyone wishing to maximize their property use (because they are underground they can be installed under lawns and driveways, freeing up more land for productive uses), concerned about reducing fire and explosion risks, or who wishes to store of very large amounts of product. USTs are also naturally protected from vandalism and theft, are not at risk of weather events such as hurricanes and tornadoes, and do not visually impact your landscape.

Above ground storage tanks

Above ground storage tanks are gaining in popularity due to their lower upfront costs. Because they require significantly less excavation, backfilling, and paving than USTs, they are much less expensive to install. They can be checked for leaks visually and can be more easily accessed for repairs. They are often the preferred choice for the storage of chemicals and fuels. However, local regulations and fire codes may dictate whether or not you will be eligible for an AST based on factors such as required distance between tanks, property lines, fire resistance level, and maximum capacity. In order to qualify for an AST you should be able to answer yes to all of the following questions:

  • Is an AST allowed per zoning regulations? If not, might a variance be possible?
  • Do you possess enough land to accommodate your tanks?
  • Will you be able to meet regulations regarding environmental protection and secondary containment?
  • Will you be able to implement sufficient spill control to prevent explosion?
  • Do you have a plan for preventing vandalism and theft?
  • Will the design be the most efficient method of material storage and transfer

If you answered no to any of these questions then an underground model may better suit your needs and requirements.


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