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"Top Gun" Blazes the Way for the Petroleum Equipment Reuse Program




When cleaning up petroleum leaks, new equipment to get the job done can be a major cost.

But through the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy’s equipment reuse program, contractors can find petroleum remediation trailers that fit their requirements.

One of those trailers has been to five sites to clean up petroleum from leaking underground storage tanks – a new record for trailer reuse sites. This trailer (fondly called the “top gun”) was first purchased in 2007 to clean a site in Burwell. Since then, it has been used in North Bend in 2012, Valley in 2015, Clarks in 2016 and Barneston this summer.

Phil Hargis, a geologist with NDEE’s petroleum remediation section, said the trailer cost more than $52,000 to build new. If new trailers had to be purchased at the same price for the four additional sites the ”top gun” has visited, it would have cost Nebraska taxpayers another $200,000. In all, it’s estimated the program has saved taxpayers more than $5.5 million in new equipment costs.

The equipment reuse program is part of NDEE’s Title 200 program to clean up leaking petroleum storage tanks in the state. Title 200 provides financial assistance to tank owners who have had a leak, and it also pays to clean up contaminated sites where no person responsible can be found. When a site is designated for cleanup, NDEE approves the plan for cleanup and pays for the equipment needed; this means the agency owns the equipment.

Hargis said the ”top gun” cleans underground petroleum spills by removing air from the ground using extraction wells connected to an air pump. As the air moves through the ground, it evaporates the petroleum (e.g., gasoline) that’s trapped in the soil.

That air contains gasoline or diesel vapors, and the discharge is subject to air regulations. So if the contamination level is high enough, that air is captured and cleaned through a charcoal filtering system.

Hargis said this method of remediation works well because the land doesn’t need to be disturbed to clean the spill, which is especially helpful when there’s a building or business on the property. Some other remediation efforts require digging to remove contaminated soil.

“It really is a good way to clean up sites,” Hargis said.

The ”top gun” is just one of many trailers available for contractors to use, as well as one of several methods to clean up a contaminated site. Contractors can find equipment that fits their specifications on our website, http://dee.ne.gov/NDEQProg.nsf/LUSTEquipViewTrailer.xsp, and borrow the trailers to complete their work.

Once a trailer is unable to be used or fixed, Hargis said the program’s objective is to have zero input into landfills. He said the equipment is typically surplused out of the agency’s inventory and auctioned off.

“With its final breath, it’s still making us a few more dollars,” Hargis said.

If it can’t be resold, the equipment is either recycled or salvaged, with minimal material being thrown away.

David Chambers, the petroleum remediation section supervisor, has discussed this program with other states. Those states have told him that they couldn’t do a reuse program like this, making Nebraska’s efforts unique.

Chambers said these states believe used equipment is not worth enough to attempt reuse, that it can’t be refurbished to fit site needs, that it would be too difficult to store equipment, that contractors wouldn’t participate, or that reuse costs would be more than the money saved.

Hargis said Nebraska’s program works because it has evolved over the course of nearly 25 years. He said before reuse began, used equipment was sold as surplus for pennies on the dollar after clean-up efforts were completed, meaning new equipment was purchased for each clean-up site.

But a petroleum remediation team member found storage space in a National Guard ammunition bunker in Hastings, and equipment was stored there for years.

After 9/11, the bunker became less easy to access. Eventually, NDEE acquired its own storage space in Lincoln, where field equipment from other NDEE programs is also kept. The Nebraska Department of Transportation also helps store some of the larger trailers at their Lincoln yard.

“The people in this section saw an opportunity and were willing to make that work,” Chambers said.

By reusing this equipment, Hargis said NDEE reduces waste and saves Nebraska taxpayers money.

Chambers shares that sentiment. He said the petroleum remediation team is thrifty and willing to turn wrenches to keep the equipment in good shape and make it re-usable.

“We want to save every penny we can,” Chambers said. “We don’t just buy things and throw them away. It’s only natural for us to do this.”