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* Purdue Pesticide Programs

January 31, 2008

Tanks a lot: Purdue publication full of fuel container tips

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Anhydrous ammonia tanks have become favorite targets of methamphetamine makers, costing farmers thousands of dollars in stolen nitrogen fertilizer.

Thieves are now turning their attention to another chemical container: The aboveground petroleum tank, said a Purdue University Extension specialist.

"With the price of gas and diesel fuel going up, some people are now a little bit more apt to help themselves to your fuel tanks," said Fred Whitford, coordinator of Purdue Pesticide Programs. "When that happens, you're lucky if all you lose is the gas or diesel, because all you've lost is the money for that fuel.

"The real problem is when these thieves and vandals turn the power to the tank on, they put as much fuel as they need into their truck and then let the rest run onto the ground. Now you've not only lost a product, but you've also got soil contamination. You can prevent a lot of this, and it isn't that hard."

Farmers can learn how to safeguard fuel tanks, select the right tank for a farm, handle fuel spills and related issues in the just-released Purdue Extension publication, Aboveground Petroleum Tanks. The publication is available in print and online versions. Whitford is the publication's lead author.

Fuel tanks vary in size, with most holding 500 gallons or more. For years, many farmers stored fuel below ground. Because they were not visible, the underground tanks provided natural security from thieves and vandals.

When some underground tanks began to leak and create environmental problems, stricter federal regulations governing the construction and use of buried fuel tanks were introduced. Most farmers abandoned the underground tanks and started storing fuel above ground. As fuel prices topped $3 a gallon, petroleum thefts increased, Whitford said.

Aboveground Petroleum Tanks outlines security measures farmers can take to discourage fuel thieves.

"You can install lights around the tank and put locks on the tank," Whitford said. "At nighttime you can turn the electricity off to your tank. You can even turn the circuits off from inside your barn or farm building. Some people have even gone so far as to put up security cameras."

The 110-page publication is loaded with illustrations. More than 230 photos show examples of both proper and improper fuel tank practices. The photos come from 15 years of Whitford's travels to commercial businesses and farms across Indiana.

Four primary themes run throughout the publication, Whitford said.

"One important thing you need to do is have a tank in the right place so that if a spill takes place fuel does not get into surface water," he said. "Second, do everything you can, within reason, to keep the area clean. Third, do a little security to at least make it more difficult for a person to cause you harm. Then lastly, you want to prepare for an emergency. Most of our insurance policies will not cover cleaning up contamination. So if you had a fuel spill, the cleanup would come out of your pocket."

The fuel tank guide - Purdue Extension publication PPP-73 - can be ordered for $1 plus shipping by calling the toll-free Purdue Extension hotline at 1-888-EXT INFO (398-4636) or by e-mail at The publication also can be downloaded free online at

For more information about the publication or aboveground fuel tanks, contact Whitford at (765) 494-1284 or by e-mail at

Writer: Steve Leer, (765) 494-8415,

Source: Fred Whitford, (765) 494-1284,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Beth Forbes,
Agriculture News Page

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