In February 2011, PTS teamed up with Latin America Petroleum Services (LAPS) to provide what is essentially the first-ever Class A/B UST operator in Puerto Rico—in Spanish. For those who know us, this is a huge step in our dream to provide training to larger, non-English speaking groups of UST operators of the world.
Over a two-week period, PTS and LAPS held classes in Aguadilla, Ponce, Ferjardo and San Juan and trained about 200 owners and operators representing about 300 facilities or a quarter of the entire island Commonwealth.
We developed the content and LAPS translated and delivered the courses. In each class we had technicians to explain how equipment worked plus the classroom was full of just about every piece of ancillary equipment found at a UST site: shear valve, drop tube, tank gauge, probes, spill buckets, dispenser sumps, tank top sumps, even an entire dispenser.
It’s one thing to look at a cross section of a UST on a PowerPoint slide; is quite another to pick up the part, explain it and pass it around a roomful of curious onlookers. The two instructors, Deborah Caban and Frank Aquino are professional instructors in addition to running tank testing company in Puerto Rico.
I must say the reception was incredible. There seems to be no lack of enthusiasm over the fact that someone had taken the time to bring training from “The States” and translate into Spanish so everyone could follow along.
As with any language, converting technical jargon into common language is tricky and our translator with LAPS went to great length to make sure the subtitles of “tank slang” were captured. I learned that an under dispenser containment sump was called a “condungo,” which everyone thought was hysterical. Based on feedback from students, much of what was covered was new or not fully understood. Technical explanations and audience questions flew all day in an expressive and festive atmosphere. Folks seemed to end the day with lingering questions rather than just bolt for the door.
Vapor recovery was the surprisingly hot topic, not because of the new federal Stage I laws but because most operators thought buying “hot” fuel was basically stealing from the dealers. We talked through a translator about how you must do leak detection properly first before you can think about business theft.
One operator at the closing of the last day made a personal challenge that everyone in the room had an obligation to find everyone they know who owned a tank on the island who didn’t attend and basically make sure they knew how important this was. Even not knowing Spanish, his sense of determination and urgency was obvious. If that’s not a high compliment I don’t know what is.
For those who don’t know, Puerto Rico is made up of many independent UST operators who largely operator older, single wall systems. Tank gauges are not common and many operators still use a stick and may or may not even be doing inventory reconciliation. Tank and line testing is common but credentials testers seem few and far between.
Two sites I visited had Veeder Root TLS 350s but were not set up for testing, only inventory. Because the large oil company divested the site to a local owner, they added the tank gauge before they left but it’s basically an electronic stick. And of course the spills buckets were full of product.
On a day between classes, I visited a number of “mom and pop” gas stations to learn firsthand what type of systems folks had; what sort of attitudes folks had on compliance and what sort of challenges operators faced.
I met Jose, a third generation station owner, and his wife Patricia, who graciously showed me around the property that Jose’s grandfather first built in 1927. Jose couldn’t make it to class because the store manager just quit and he had to cover the shift. I said since I was there I’d be happy to give him personalized onsite training instead.
Jose has two small tanks, a 4,000 and a 5,000 gallon steel gasoline tank, laid out in a large L that starts on the street sidewalk and turns under what used to be a carwash. Jose has a homeless man who frequently sleeps above the fill area because it’s under a carport. The tanks do have containment sumps and double wall piping but the lid seals are in poor shape and the sump is full of water. The sump is shallow so the line leak detector pokes out of a hole in the sump lid that was cut to make room. Jose wasn’t sure what the detector did and seemed appreciative when I explained how it worked and what to do about a “slow flow” event.
The dispensers have sumps and cobwebs (I explained the cobwebs show there’s no vapor loss—the vapors otherwise eat cobwebs) and appeared dry, mostly because the tanks are nearly empty and Jose cannot order enough fuel to sell (he cannot order enough fuel to get the better discount because his tanks are too small.) Jose showed me what I thought was going to be the tank gauge but turned out to be the POS system. I talked about inventory control but when I looked at Jose’s self-styled sheets, they didn’t allow for monthly reconciliation. Fortunately for me, Jose and Patricia’s English was excellent plus he had web access at the store so we got online, downloaded the EPA publication on Inventory Control and SIR, and walked through “doing it right”. I left recommending keeping his sumps clean and upgrading to SIR or an ATG pronto. He’s doing cathodic protection testing, and line and leak detector function testing with LAPS. He’s debating whether to try selling bio diesel as a boutique market or where to get out or fuel altogether and stick with c-store sales.
Jose is an iconic operator in many ways: multi-generational owner, amiable, bright, hard working, wanting to do the right thing on a small, cramped site with busy traffic, living on slim margins and periodic holdups (5 so far.)
What will help Jose move ahead? Absolutely. Knowing what UST parts he has and how they work is really the first step. The next is knowing the risk they pose. Jose wasn’t too worried about not doing leak detection because
“if it was really bad it would show up in a groundwater well onsite”
as he put it. After that comes knowing the rules and the enforceability of those rules (he’s never been inspected). I think after spending an hour with Jose he was much more comfortable with his system and much more ready to ask questions. And a good operator is one who isn’t afraid to ask questions.