Brownfield is a term applied to a property where its expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance. A petroleum brownfield is a type of brownfield where the contaminant is petroleum.
Of the estimated 450,000 brownfield sites in the U.S., approximately one-half are thought to be impacted by petroleum, much of it from leaking underground storage tanks (USTs) at old gas stations. These sites blight the surrounding neighborhoods and threaten human health and the environment. Petroleum can contaminate groundwater, the source of drinking water for nearly half of all Americans.
Petroleum brownfields, such as old abandoned gas stations, are being cleaned up and reused to the benefit of communities across the country. EPA’s Office of Underground Storage Tanks (OUST) and Brownfields Program jointly focus on the cleanup and reuse of petroleum-contaminated sites. The Brownfields Program awards brownfields grants for the assessment and cleanup of petroleum brownfields (e.g., those determined to be relatively low-risk priority).
OUST is responsible for promoting the cleanup of federally-regulated leaking underground storage tank sites (e.g., high risk petroleum release sites). Once a site is cleaned up, it can be reused and provide new businesses, jobs, and tax revenue or other amenities for the community, such as parks and recreation, increased property values, and improved walkability.
History of EPA Petroleum Brownfields
Since its inception in 1995, EPA's Brownfields Program has grown into a results-oriented program that has changed the way contaminated property is perceived, addressed, and managed. Initially, EPA provided small amounts of seed money to local governments that launched hundreds of two-year brownfield pilot projects.
Petroleum-contaminated sites were not eligible for traditional brownfields funding. Through passage of the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act in 2002, brownfields policies that EPA developed over the years were passed into law. A key provision of the law allocates 25 percent of brownfields funding each year to assess, clean up, and ready for reuse relatively low-risk petroleum brownfield sites.
Identifying, Assessing, and Cleaning Up Petroleum Brownfields
It is not hard to locate petroleum brownfield sites. Sometimes it is as simple as driving past and taking note of an old abandoned gas station and then checking with your state implementing agency for information on the site. Many state and local government websites contain lists (often called inventories or databases) of brownfield properties, including petroleum sites, within their jurisdictions. EPA encourages states and local areas to develop and maintain lists or inventories of brownfield properties that could potentially be reused. Your state implementing agency or state brownfields program is the best place to find a listing of brownfield sites.
Once identified, the management of a petroleum brownfield site requires specific technical expertise. A petroleum-contaminated site must first be investigated (assessed) to determine the nature and extent of the contamination. An assessment will guide how a site is to be cleaned up. As much as possible, it is important to consider the reuse of a petroleum brownfield site when planning to clean it up. In several states the potential reuse of a site can affect the cleanup design. Petroleum-contaminated sites that are to be cleaned up and reused for residential housing, for example, may require more stringent remediation than for a parking lot where contamination may be encapsulated and paved over.
- Identifying petroleum brownfields
- Assessing and cleaning up petroleum brownfield sites
Petroleum contamination can be found at many different types of properties. Many abandoned sites, such as old gas stations, auto service businesses, factories, mill sites, shipyards, transit stations, and junkyards have been found to be contaminated by petroleum. A property that is perceived to be contaminated by petroleum is a potential petroleum brownfield site until assessment of the site proves there is no petroleum contamination or clearly identifies contaminants of concern so they can be cleaned up to meet the designated end use.
The size of petroleum brownfield varies significantly; some sites are smaller than an acre, while other sites are huge former industrial properties. Some sites are bare soil, while others have existing buildings and infrastructure. For redevelopment purposes, it is important to remember that small sites can be combined to make larger sites if that is what is needed.
State and Local Inventories of Petroleum Brownfield Sites
Below are just a few examples of the lists (often called inventories or databases) of brownfield sites compiled by some states and local jurisdictions. State and local officials use these inventories to promote the availability and marketability of their petroleum brownfield sites. Developers and others use the lists to look for potential reuse sites. Some inventories contain only addresses of petroleum sites while others contain detailed information or maps of brownfields sites. Even if an area does not have a brownfields inventory, they may have publicly available information about leaking underground storage tank sites, some of which could be petroleum brownfields.
- California: GeoTracker Exit
- Connecticut: List of Contaminated or Potentially Contaminated Sites in Connecticut Exit
- Florida: Brownfields Redevelopment Program - Brownfields GeoViewer DEP Exit
Assessing and Cleaning Up Petroleum Brownfield Sites
The petroleum assessment and cleanup process varies by state. Each contaminated site must be cleaned up to satisfy state and federal requirements. State requirements usually match and often surpass the federal requirements. For petroleum brownfield site assessments and cleanups, implementing agencies are often the first place to seek information and assistance, and states maintain websites with this information.
- Cleaning Up Underground Storage Tank Sites
This site lists many sources of technical information for assessing and cleaning up petroleum-contaminated sites.
- EPA Brownfields: Tools and Technical Information
This site lists information on assessing and cleaning up brownfield sites.
- Toolbox for Community Redevelopment Exit
Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials.
Addressing Liability Issues
EPA encourages the cleanup and revitalization of contaminated properties by clarifying Superfund liability concerns and implementing the landowner liability protections. However, petroleum brownfields do not always fall under those protections. If someone buys a property with petroleum contamination, they could become legally responsible for cleaning up that contamination. Prospective purchasers should start coordinating with relevant regulatory authorities as early as possible to protect themselves from liability during and after the cleanup and reuse of the property.
- Regional Determinations Regarding Which Sites are not "Eligible Response Sites" Under CERCLA Section 101(41)(C)(i), as Added by the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act
- Interim Enforcement Discretion Guidance Regarding Contiguous Property Owners
- Enforcement Discretion Guidance Regarding Statutory Criteria for Those Who May Qualify as CERCLA Bona Fide Prospective Purchasers, Contiguous Property Owners, or Innocent Landowners ("Common Elements")
There are numerous sources of financial assistance for the cleanup and redevelopment of petroleum-contaminated sites. Many local, state, and federal government environmental and economic development programs provide financial assistance in the form of grants and cleanup funds. The resources highlighted in this section provide a brief glimpse into common revitalization themes.
Beyond this assistance is a wealth of public and private resources that may be available depending on the intended reuse of a cleaned up site. For instance, parks and recreation programs at the local, state, and federal government levels may have resources devoted to the development of new parkland or recreational facilities. Federal, state, and local housing authorities may have resources devoted to developing low-income housing. Many governments also provide tax incentives to encourage redevelopment.
Federal Government Programs
Each year, EPA awards brownfields grants to local governments, states, tribes, and non-profit organizations to assess and clean up brownfields, including those impacted by petroleum contamination. The Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act in 2002 outlines specific criteria by which petroleum sites may be eligible for brownfields grant funding. These criteria are briefly described as follows: the site must be of relatively low risk; there can be no viable responsible party; the applicant cannot be potentially liable for cleaning up the site; and the site must not be subject to a RCRA corrective action order.
To determine if a leaking underground storage tank site is eligible for brownfield grants, it may be necessary to request a determination of eligibility from the state petroleum regulatory authority regarding low-risk priority petroleum-contaminated or suspected sites. Where the state is unable to make the eligibility determination, EPA will make the determination. EPA will make the determination for tribes.
Aside from EPA funding, other federal programs administer resources for which petroleum brownfields are often eligible. The resources listed below describe of many of the other federal programs.
- Funding Opportunities: A Directory of Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, and Environmental Protection Assistance Programs (PDF) (59 pp, 899 K, About PDF)
State and Local Programs
Many states also have programs and resources that provide technical and financial assistance for the assessment, cleanup, and reuse of petroleum sites. A good place to look for information are the state implementing agencies websites. Several of the guides below include information on both public and private funding.
- Colorado: Colorado Petroleum Brownfields Program
- Connecticut: Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection - Financial Assistance
- Washington State: Resource Guide: Assistance for Redevelopment in Washington State (PDF) (40 pp, 1.3 MB, About PDF)
Washington Department of Ecology; Washington Department of Commerce; and Region 10 of the Environmental Protection Agency. 2009.
- Wisconsin: The Financial Resource Guide for Cleanup & Redevelopment (PDF) (68 pp, 2.2 MB, About PDF)
Wisconsin Departments of Commerce and Natural Resources. February 2013.
Private Sector Resources
In the private sector, civic-minded organizations and trusts may have resources such as grants and loans to encourage the redevelopment of old sites. For example, a Habitat for Humanity project worked with property owners and local governments to organize labor and other resources to reuse petroleum sites for affordable housing. Financial institutions may provide loans or other assistance for projects. Private sector resources include:
Reusing Cleaned Up Petroleum Sites
Petroleum brownfield sites are being cleaned up and reused for many different purposes across the U.S. Some old abandoned gas station sites are now the locations for new businesses and new affordable housing. This section provides numerous examples of how petroleum brownfields are being reused and offers ideas to consider when planning a petroleum brownfields reuse.
The cleanup and reuse of a petroleum site is a contribution to sustainable environmental practice. Cleaning up and reusing petroleum-contaminated land saves pristine land elsewhere from development and potentially from future contamination. As much as possible, it is important to consider the reuse of a petroleum brownfield site when planning to clean it up. It takes close cooperation among many differing parties to plan and carry out a petroleum brownfields reuse project. Federal, state, and local governments are often involved in the cleanup and reuse of petroleum brownfields, as are the assistance and resources of private entities.
Resources for the Reuse of Petroleum Brownfields
The publications and links below provide examples of challenges, tools, and best practices encountered by petroleum brownfield revitalization practitioners that could be applicable to your petroleum brownfield projects.
EPA Publications and Guides
- Equitable Redevelopment of Petroleum Brownfields for Zuni Pueblo and Other Tribal Communities, shows how to apply smart growth and economic development principles to redevelop petroleum brownfields sites. This step-by-step guide provides useful insight on area-wide planning, land use policy, site cleanup, and funding. May 2013.
- Opportunities for Petroleum Brownfields (EPA 510-R-11-002). July 2011.
- Petroleum Brownfields: Selecting a Reuse Option (EPA 510-R-09-004). October 2009.
- Anatomy of Brownfields Redevelopment (PDF) (7 pp, 2.6MB, About PDF)
EPA guidance document intended for real estate transactions but useful to other practitioners as well.
Partner Publications and Best Practices
- OPTIONs: A Community Engagement Workbook Exit(28 pp, 1.6 MB, About PDF)
Smart Growth America and EPA. 2013.
- Land Reuse Health Program EXIT
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2019
- Redevelopment Successes at Petroleum Underground Storage Tanks Sites EXIT
Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (ASTSWMO). 2019.
- Catalyzing Redevelopment: Innovative Approaches and Emerging Best Practices in State Petroleum Brownfield Initiatives (PDF) Exit (76 pp, 804 K, About PDF)
Environmental Law Institute. 2013.
- Guide for Identifying and Converting High-Potential Petroleum Brownfield Sites to Alternative Fuel Stations (PDF) (38 pp, 2.6 MB, About PDF).
U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and EPA. 2011.
- Toolbox for Community Redevelopment Exit
Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (ASTSWMO). 2017.
- Ready for Reuse: A New Measure of Remedial Progress (Presentation) (PDF) Exit (25 pp, 522 K, About PDF)
EPA Region 6. 2004.
- A Primer for Petroleum Brownfields: What Can Your Community Do to Revitalize UST Sites? (PDF)Exit (20 pp, 4.3 MB, About PDF)
Northeast-Midwest Institute and National Association of Local Government Environmental Professionals. 2003.
Successful government involvement in a revitalization project usually involves collaboration across program lines and between different governments. It is important that all levels of government - federal, state, and local - work together. Within each government level, tank remediation, brownfields, revitalization, and economic development programs must cooperate to fully capitalize on the potential of reusing petroleum brownfield sites. Depending upon the reuse of a site, it is possible that government offices including housing, parks and recreation, and others may become involved.
For a description of how Colorado used cross-program cooperation for brownfields, see "Colorado's Historic Byways Revitalization Initiative," Exit on page 5 of the September 2006 issue of LUSTLine, a publication of the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission. EPA is committed to building partnerships to foster brownfields cleanups and reuse with all levels of government.
Public and Private Partnerships
There are many benefits from public and private partnerships for communities, and for regulators. These partnerships can promote the coordination of regulatory programs, the streamlining of administrative procedures, and a multi-stakeholder examination of cleanup solutions and risk sharing. In addition, public and private partnerships may pursue more public interest development and realize end-use possibilities for abandoned gas station sites that have societal benefits, such as a police station or a medical clinic. EPA is committed to building partnerships to foster brownfields cleanups and reuse.
Opportunities for Small Businesses
An old, abandoned property contaminated by petroleum can be an excellent site for a new small business. Abandoned gas station sites often have traits that can make them excellent locations for a small business, including:
- Relatively small size that easily accommodates a small business
- Prominent location, many times on a corner lot on busy thoroughfares
- Already possesses necessary infrastructure, negating the need for expensive land clearing and for new access to water and power sources and other amenities
- Useable buildings are already in place
In addition, many state and local areas have created incentives to foster the cleanup and reuse of these sites, including tax advantages or financial incentives.
Reuse Project Examples
This section provides success stories for petroleum brownfields categorized according to how a site is reused, such as for housing, commercial and business, public, or environmental and recreational reuse. Each success story includes a wealth of information on how the project was conducted, which can help others undertake and complete similar projects.
- Housing Reuse: Petroleum-contaminated property has been cleaned up and reused for affordable housing, assisted living, public housing, and private residences.
- Commercial And Business Reuse: Petroleum-contaminated properties are being cleaned up and reused for all sorts of businesses large and small. Small businesses find old gas station sites a perfect fit for a new fast food restaurant, bank, or pharmacy. Larger developments have occurred on larger properties or where smaller properties have been combined.
- Public Reuse: Because old, abandoned gas stations are found in many communities, governments often find these sites to be excellent locations for new public services, such as firehouses, police stations, health care centers, education centers, and government services offices.
- Environmental And Recreational Reuse: Petroleum-contaminated properties are being cleaned up and reused in ways that both enhance the environment and enrich community living. A cleaned up petroleum site can make a major contribution to cleaner water in rivers, lakes, and harbors and provide recreational facilities for the local community.
This table categorizes some of the successful reuse projects we have heard about from across the country. To sort these examples, just click on the column headers.
|Housing||Indiana||Indianapolis||Live-Work Residences||Former Gas Stations Transformed into Vibrant Live-Work Residences (PDF) Exit (1 pg, 53 K, About PDF)|
|Housing||Massachusetts||Worcester||Affordable Housing||Gardner-Kilby-Hammond (GKH) Revitalization Project|
|Housing||South Carolina||Greenville||Housing for Homeless||Coordinating Resources from Two EPA Programs Maximizes Effectiveness (PDF) (3 pp, 162 K, About PDF)
EPA-560-F-239. March 2008.
|Housing||Utah||Salt Lake City||Affordable Housing||Engaging Communities in Healthy Living Through Revitalization: Jefferson School Apartments Phase II (PDF) (1 pg, 90 K, About PDF)|
|Housing||Vermont||Swanton||Duplex||Habitat for Humanity Sees a Former Gas Station as a Perfect Fit for Residential Reuse (PDF) (1 pg, 103 K, About PDF)
EPA-560-F-08-304. October 2008.
|Commercial And Business||Maine||Lewiston||Business Park||Bates Mill
|Commercial And Business||Maryland||Baltimore||Business Center||Green Theme Story [Green Buildings]
EPA 500-F-03-249. October 2003.
|Public||Connecticut||East Hartford||Educational Facilities||Brownfields Success in New England: Goodwin College Riverfront Campus (PDF)(1 pg, 510 K, About PDF)|
|Public||Connecticut||New Haven||Family Center||"r" Kids Family Center|
|Public||Florida||Clearwater||Community Health Resource Center||Improving Public Health in Brownfields Communities (PDF) (4 pp, 188 K, About PDF)
EP-560-F-07-253. January 2008.
|Public||Louisiana||Shreveport||Convention Center||A Brownfields Intervention Results in the New Shreveport Convention Center (PDF) (1 pg, 92 K, About PDF)
EPA-560-F-07-213. June 2007.
|Public||Massachusetts||Worcester||Boys and Girls Club||Gardner-Kilby-Hammond (GKH) Revitalization Project|
|Public||New Hampshire||New Ipswich||Town Offices and Police Station||Seppala and Aho: Success in Assessment Demonstration Pilot Program|
|Public||Nevada||Reno||Events Center||Reno's New Events Center is a Major Venue for Downtown Entertainment (PDF) (1 pg, 87 K, About PDF)
EPA-560-F-06-226. August 2006.
|Public||Rhode Island||Providence||Save The Bay Education Center||Save the Bay Center|
|Environmental and Recreational||Connecticut||New London||Waterfront Boardwalk||Success in EPA-Conducted Targeted Brownfields Assessments|
|Environmental and Recreational||Connecticut||Norwich||Riverfront Park||Brownfields Success in New England: Occum Park (PDF) (1 pg, 364 K, About PDF)|
|Environmental and Recreational||Massachusetts||Fitchburg||Riverfront Park||Rubber Factory Contaminated Site Becomes an Urban Oasis|
Sustainability Success Stories
- As part of its Green Buildings on Brownfields Initiative, EPA selected eight communities to incorporate environmental considerations into the planning, design, and implementation of their brownfield redevelopment projects.
- Using "Green" Buildings on Brownfields: Using Innovative Architecture to Improve Performance (PDF) (4 pp, 691 K, About PDF) EPA 500-F-03-249. October 2003.
- Using "Green" Buildings on Brownfields: Using Innovative Architecture to Improve Performance (PDF) (4 pp, 691 K, About PDF) EPA 500-F-03-249. October 2003.
- A 2007 Phoenix Award highlighted the innovative and sustainable features of the cleanup and reuse of an old gas station in Eugene, Oregon. These features included the marketing of biofuels and a green roof. See Phoenix Awards (PDF) Exit (5 pp, 1.1 MB, About PDF).
- If I want to inquire about or find the status of a petroleum brownfield near me, who do I contact?
- What can be done about a petroleum brownfield?
Petroleum brownfields are a potential threat to the soil and ground water of a community. Any contamination at the site must be assessed and cleaned up to state requirements. Once a site is cleaned up, the community, a private investor, or the local government can consider reusing the cleaned up site. Some communities have used the sites for small businesses, office buildings, health clinics, public buildings, parks or recreational facilities, low-income housing, green space, and parking lots.
- What is EPA doing about petroleum brownfields?
Each year the Agency awards competitive Brownfield grants for the assessment and cleanup of brownfield sites, including petroleum brownfield sites. EPA's Office of Underground Storage Tanks and EPA's Brownfields Program developed petroleum brownfields action plans to focus attention and resources on petroleum brownfield sites and to foster the cleanup and reuse of these sites.
- Are there resources available from EPA to assess and clean up petroleum brownfields?
Yes. EPA's Brownfields Program awards grants and provides technical assistance for just this purpose.
- How much money has EPA awarded to assess and clean up petroleum brownfields?
Since 2002, EPA has awarded an average of $23 million a year to assess and clean up petroleum brownfields.
- Do state and local governments have resources to assess and clean up petroleum brownfields?
Many states and local areas, especially large cities, have brownfields or similar programs that offer technical and/or financial assistance to assess and clean up petroleum brownfields. For more information, contact or visit the website of your state implementing agency or state brownfields program.
- Are there resources available from other sources to assess and clean up petroleum brownfields?
Yes. Other federal government programs and developers, lenders, banks, and many other entities in the private sector also have resources available for the reuse of petroleum brownfields.
- Is a cleaned up petroleum site really safe to reuse?
Most states have cleanup requirements for contaminated sites. Once a site is cleaned up to meet the state's standard, the state will acknowledge this milestone for the site. From there, the reuse of a site can vary widely. Some states place parameters on how some cleaned up sites can be reused. For instance, some formerly contaminated sites may only be reused for industry and not for schools. Others may be reused for residential housing. Your state government regulatory authority determines the cleanup requirements for your state. For more information, contact your state implementing agency.
- How many petroleum brownfield sites have been reused to date?
No one knows for sure, though state or local areas may have information available on sites in their jurisdictions. For more information, visit your state, city, or county website or contact your state implementing agency. EPA is just beginning to track the revitalization of these sites as a part of the Assessment, Cleanup, and Redevelopment Exchange Systems (ACRES) System.
- If I want to find a petroleum brownfield site(s) to reuse, where do I look?
- How do I contact EPA about petroleum brownfields?
For information on petroleum brownfields and/or underground storage tanks, please visit:
For information on brownfields programs, including petroleum brownfields, please visit: