Business

May I check your tank, sir?

Got a leaky, underground fuel tank and no idea who to call?

Clinton's Ben Thomas can help.

As a consultant, Thomas can lead owners of underground fuel tanks through the complex maze of rules that govern underground gas and oil storage.

Thomas, who worked on underground fuel issues for 13 years in Alaska, came to South Whidbey this summer to start a business providing technical and regulatory assistance to help prevent petroleum leaks and avoid costly enforcement actions by state and federal environmental agencies.

"Identifying and fixing any problems found during a visit will save a tank owner time, money and the hassle of enforcement by government inspectors," Thomas said. "Not to mention help keeping fuel where it belongs. All operators want to do the right thing, which is keeping fuel inside the tank rather than out."

Thomas moved to Clinton this summer from Juneau, Alaska with his wife Julie Pigott, a third generation South Whidbey resident, and their two children.

His business is based on Whidbey Island, but Thomas works with gas station owners nationwide. As a service to his new community, Thomas is offering a free site inspection to any owner or operator of a commercial fueling station on Whidbey Island. Not a bad deal, considering the number of tanks -- known and unknown -- that are underground on Whidbey Island.

Recently, two property owners -- Goosefoot Community Fund at the Bayview Cash Store and Linda Moore at the Langley Marina, along with the city of Langley -- had to remove nearly forgotten fuel tanks from the ground.

The former manager of the State of Alaska leak prevention program, Thomas worked with hundreds of underground storage tank operators, helping them navigate through the equipment, operations and record keeping requirements.

"I enjoy helping operators solve problems, such as how to operate and maintain the proper leak detection equipment," Thomas said.

The underground world of gas and petroleum storage is complex. Besides tanks, there are complicated sensors and computers to measure.

Thomas is also a nationally recognized speaker on underground fuel tank management and has pioneered a number of programs that have made tanks safer while reducing enforcement actions. He said he prefers to solve a problem rather than simply punish leaky tank owners.

"There is always another way to help operators come into compliance without the hammer of enforcement," he said.

"The Alaska program was successful because we focused on outreach and education first and punishment last."

While in Alaska, Thomas created a user-friendly Web page, authored one of the first "how to operate and maintain your tank" manuals, and trained hundreds of operators at workshops throughout the state. Thomas also created an inspection program using private inspectors rather than government officials.

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