South Whidbey consultant returns from South Pacific | NOTABLE

Ben Thomas, front row far left, stands with his class of Saipan tank operators in July in Saipan.  - Photo courtesy of Ben Thomas
Ben Thomas, front row far left, stands with his class of Saipan tank operators in July in Saipan.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Ben Thomas

South Whidbey environmental consultant Ben Thomas recently returned from the Pacific islands of Guam and Saipan where he provided technical training for the islands’ operators of underground petroleum storage tanks.

Thomas was hired by the environmental agencies of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. Thomas led five day-long seminars, training over 220 students.

The training is part of a national environmental initiative to ensure all petroleum tank owners, represented largely by gas stations, understand the rules governing the prevention of leaks and spills from underground storage tanks. Leaking underground tanks are considered a major source of groundwater pollution.

According to Thomas, who runs a national tank operator training company from his home office in the Maxwelton valley, the training was successful in that the classes were full and the students were enthusiastic about Thomas traveling to the south Pacific islands.

In Saipan, Thomas led field trips to local gas stations to complement classroom training with practical exposure to what to expect at actual fuel tank sites. According to Thomas, the audience represented the island’s diverse cultures and languages including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Chamorro (the local language), Spanish and English.

Thomas’ 16-year old son Finley, a South Whidbey High School junior, accompanied him and helped organize classes.

Both Guam and Saipan are U.S. territories and are located between Japan and New Guinea. Even though the islands are a long way from Whidbey, Thomas sat next to someone on the plane between Guam and Saipan who was born in Saipan but grew up on NAS Whidbey in Oak Harbor. When Thomas told the story in class the next day, one of the students smiled and said, “That’s my sister. I grew up on Whidbey too.”

Thomas has been involved in the underground tank industry since 1986 and has trained tank operators and inspectors all over the country. Thomas’s company was recently approved by the Department of Ecology to provide gas station owner training in Washington and Thomas is planning a local live class this fall on the South End. Island County tank owners who need training can get more information at


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