Wyoming regulators have been investigating or fixing more than 700 leaky underground petroleum storage tanks in the state since last year.
To that effort, the Department of Environmental Quality will receive $1.6 million from the EPA’s Leaking Storage Tank Trust Fund, the agency announced Tuesday.
The grant is awarded each year by the Environmental Protection Agency, one of a many such awards that help state agencies carry out a variety of environmental programs in Wyoming, such as restoring streams contaminated by pesticides and pollutants. Last year, the federal agency sent $23 million to Wyoming for programs, including $6.7 million for the DEQ.
Identifying leaking tanks beneath a filling station or remediating those that have compromised the soil or water in an oil and gas field has been an impressive task for the state.
Wyoming discovered six new leaking tanks last year, cleaned up 96 and has more than 700 that are either under investigation or in the process of remediation, according to an EPA release.
State records show that of more than 1,600 known contaminated storage sites in Wyoming, more than 1,200 have completed remediation, said Keith Guille, spokesman for the DEQ.
“Receiving these grants, and also with money we’ve received from the Legislature, we’ve really been able to tackle this issue,” he said.
Given the long history of the petroleum industry in Wyoming, many of the faulty tanks are historic ones.
“In the past, a lot of these tanks didn’t have the controls in place to ensure there weren’t going to be leaks and if there were how we were going to address those,” Guille said. “The ultimate thing that we want to reach is that they are all remediated.”
The federal grant money DEQ has been awarded comes from a penny tax on every gallon of motor fuel sold in the U.S.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said grants offer flexibility to the states.
“EPA is providing funds directly to Wyoming so that the state may determine how best to address its unique and critical environmental challenges,” he said in a statement.
Wyoming has primary regulatory authority on a number of areas from mining to water quality, but it depends on federal dollars for nearly 30 percent of its annual budget.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump proposed slashing the EPA’s budget by more than 30 percent, an idea the director of Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality, Todd Parfitt, said would be “problematic.“
A number of environmental programs in the state, like the storage tank program, were once federally run. States take over the programs in order to have more control over their local industries.
“There is a cautionary message we are sending,” Parfitt told lawmakers. “If you cut too deep and prevent the ability of states to implement these programs … then you might see some states turning these programs back.”
The $1.6 million grant for petroleum tanks is not the full budget of the program, but it’s a boon in Wyoming’s current financial downturn, said Guille, the department spokesman.
“You run the programs the best you can with the funding you receive,” he said. “And if you lose some of that funding you just don’t finish the remediation projects as quickly.”