Underground Petroleum Storage

What is an Underground Petroleum Storage System?

Underground Petroleum Storage Systems (UPSS) are a widely used method for storing fuel beneath the ground surface at facilities such as service stations, airports, car dealerships, work depots, golf courses, and other places where fuel may be used or stored. 

UPSS can leak and contaminate surrounding land and groundwater, creating risks to human health and the environment. 

The UPSS Regulation 

The purpose of the Protection of the Environment Operations (Underground Petroleum Storage Systems) Regulation 2019 is to ensure all UPSS are constructed, operated and maintained to prevent fuel leaks. The UPSS Regulation also requires close monitoring for fuel leaks so that they are detected and fixed early, minimising contamination.

The UPSS Regulation can be read in full on the NSW Legislation website

Responsibility for UPSS

The person responsible for a UPSS is the person who has ‘management and control’ of the system. The person responsible must have procedures and systems in place to detect and fix any fuel leaks as early as possible, and document these in a Fuel System Operation Plan (FSOP) for the site.

A NSW Government funded guide to help those responsible develop or update their own FSOP has been produced by the Hunter Joint Organisation and is available here.  Further Information on FSOPs is also available on the NSW EPA Website.

The UPSS Regulation requires that a duly qualified person carry out certain activities such as designing, installing, modifying or decommissioning a UPSS. Any testing, repairs and ongoing maintenance of the storage system must also be undertaken by a duly qualified person.

Most sites with a UPSS located in the Cessnock Local Government Area are now regulated by Cessnock City Council.

The NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) remains the regulatory authority for UPSS sites that are:

  • operated by public authorities
  • in the unincorporated areas of NSW
  • subject to an environment protection licence

Leak notification requirements

The person responsible for the UPSS must immediately notify Council of a leak or spill, whether through loss monitoring of tanks and piping, inventory control, discrepancy or loss investigation, or some other method. You must complete the Leak Notification Form and return it to Council within 7 days when: 

  • A leak from a UPSS, verified in accordance with loss detection or incident management procedures that is causing or threatens material harm to human health or the environment. 
  •  There is evidence at the site of free-phase hydrocarbons in surface water and/or groundwater.
  • There is evidence that offsite migration of hydrocarbons could occur, is occurring, or has occurred. 

It is against the law to allow or ignore contamination resulting from a leaking or faulty UPSS. The person responsible for the UPSS has a duty to immediately notify pollution incidents to Council. 

In some circumstances landowners and parties responsible for land contamination must also report the contamination to the NSW EPA based on the significance of contamination and other factors. 

More information the duty to report under the Contaminated Land Management Act 1997 can be found on the NSW EPA website here


The ‘Person Responsible ’ is the person who has management and control of the storage system. A copy of the UPSS operators’ obligations can be found here

The NSW EPA has provided a self-evaluation compliance checklist to provide UPSS operators with a quick and simple way to review their compliance with environmental requirements for UPSS in NSW. 

 As the appropriate regulatory authority Council may conduct inspections of UPSS sites to ensure compliance with the Regulations. We will generally contact the person responsible for the UPSS prior however, inspections may occur without prior notice where there is a concern over the operation of the system, or in response to complaints. 

Decommissioning of UPSS 

An underground storage tank should be decommissioned if it has not been used to store petroleum product for two years or is not intended to be used again to store petroleum product.

The person responsible for the UPSS must notify Council at least 30 days in advance prior to the decommissioning of a UPSS, or as soon as possible for an urgent or unforeseen decommissioning. 

SafeWork NSW must also be notified when a UPSS in a workplace is to be decommissioned. 

Post-decommissioning the person responsible for UPSS must provide a report to Council no later than 60 days after the tank or system is decommissioned, or any necessary remediation work is completed. 

The report must be prepared by a duly qualitied person who is competent and experienced in: describing the processes used to decommission the system, assessing the extent of land contamination, and describing any remediation work carried out. 

Further information on decommissioning an underground petroleum storage tank or system is available on EPA Factsheet 6 - Decommissioning an underground petroleum storage tank or system.

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