This is an article from the September Bulletin Issue written by Jamie Thompson, APEA Technical Chairman.

The number of petrol stations in the UK is reducing but this is causing other difficulties for the industry.

Data from Experian Catalist just released has recorded that the number of Petrol Filling Stations in the UK has remained stable over the past 12 months with, at the end of the year, 8,381 fuel forecourts in the UK – a reduction of three on 2020 numbers.

This total represents the lowest number of fuel retail outlets operating in the UK since records began. In 1964 it is estimated that there were some 39,000 petrol filling stations selling petrol to the public in the UK, and while this is a large number the Petroleum Licensing Authorities recorded at their peak 55,000 petroleum licences issued to premises storing petrol. Making around 16,000 sites not for resale but being private companies, the Utilities, such as Gas and Electricity providers, bus companies, local authorities etc in fact everyone who at that time stored petrol for their own use. They were required to have a licence from the Petroleum Licensing Authority of which there were around 1500 authorities at that time.

The reduction of filling station numbers and the closure of sites around the UK has resulted in a big increase in the business of making safe of petrol filling stations including the removal of disused petrol tanks. There have therefore been some 46,500 licensed sites storing petrol which have been discontinued over the years.

This has been a challenge for Regulators and Industry alike and making safe a site from both explosion and environmental risks is covered in Chapter 12 of The Blue Book and there are several competent companies within the UK industry who are very busy carrying out this work.

However, within The Bulletin over the years we have recorded accidents, explosions and deaths when people have not been so aware of the hazards while carrying out this work. One of the problems that the regulators face is that many of the Petroleum Licensing Authorities changed when regulation changed or boundaries changed and many do not have the information or records of old sites with disused tanks.

London was one of the authorities where the changes were minimal and records were reasonable. The size of the reduction from the 1960s when in London there were 4000 petrol stations licensed falling to around 650 today. This means that many sites were discontinued and past policies of allowing tanks to be waterfilled for safety had left a legacy of many old sites which probably had not been checked for years.

In recent years the appointment of a dedicated disused tank inspector in London has been successful in identifying and removing tanks from many of those old sites, reducing the dangers of explosion and pollution.

An example of the challenges facing the industry was demonstrated at a site outside London and close to residential property that was recently made safe and involved the removal of a number of very old underground petrol tanks. The filling station last operated around 50 years ago and had been left with some tanks empty, a few foam filled and a few water filled.

The early tanks had the Anglo- American Oil company tank manholes and were installed around 1920, over 100 years ago, installed in a brick enclosure covered by sand and in reasonable condition with corrosion but no apparent leaks. Fuel was still in some of the tanks, and these had to be pumped out and petrol removed from site.

Other tanks installed much later showed signs of leakage and the site was eventually made safe and any pollution cleaned up with the site to be used to build shops and offices.

The problems Petroleum Enforcement Authorities often face is the lack of sufficient records to show that tanks were on the site.

In addition, it is considered by many that the enforcement powers under Section 73 of The Public Health Act 1961 are outdated and need modernising and should cover both Environmental and Explosion risks.

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