Pennsylvania state regulations for oil storage tanks are unlikely to successfully contain spills from multiple tanks or prevent an environmental catastrophe, a spokesperson for the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says.
State regulation of oil storage tank sites is designed to prevent tampering and contain occasional accidental spills.
In the wake of the second oil tank tampering incident in McKean County within the past month, Freda Tarbell of the DEP's regional office says that the agency does have regulations in place designed to protect the environment from spills, intentional or otherwise.
'But if a person is really, really determined, they can bypass the security,' Tarbell adds.
Most oil companies are required to have padlocks on valves of storage tanks.
On 16 and 17 August tampering caused a large spill into the upper stretch of Chappel Fork, and state police say the former oil company employees charged in the case were able to bypass security measures on storage tanks.
'We typically have three to five incidents a year of vandalism,' says Tarbell.
The spills resulting from tampering are usually small, and the dike system which DEP requires around storage tank batteries generally contains all of the crude oil spilled.
However, DEP requires oil and gas companies to construct dikes around tank batteries which are sufficient to contain the contents of only one crude oil tank. The batteries involved in the Chappel Fork spill had three or four tanks. Valves on 20 tanks were opened at seven tank battery sites.
The dikes are designed for tank failure, so if there are four tanks and one fails through an accident, the dike is designed to hold back the product so it can not go anywhere.
If more than one tank is involved in the spill, the dikes may not be adequate to contain the amount of oil spilled.
DEP's rationale in requiring that dikes contain the contents of only one tank is that the chances of the simultaneous failure of more than one tank in the same battery are remote.