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Environment Protection Authority

Environmental Issues

Air - NSW overview

Vapour recovery at service stations

Why we need vapour recovery at service stations

The petrol vapours from vehicles and service stations are a big contributor to poor air quality in NSW. Petrol vapours contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) including benzene, xylene and toluene. When these VOCs are released into the air and heated up by the sun they contribute to increased ozone pollution in the atmosphere, (commonly known as smog) which can impact on human health, especially for those with pre-existing respiratory conditions.

Increased ozone in the atmosphere also impacts on the environment by increasing surface and air temperature and contributes to the general warming of the planet.

The Sydney, Wollongong, Central Coast and Newcastle Metropolitan Areas of NSW generally experiences higher ozone levels compared to other areas of the state because of its population density and the number of sources contributing VOCs into the atmosphere. The meteorology and topography of the Sydney basin also influences how these emissions move through the air at different times of the year. For example during summer warm still conditions will see the vapours stay closer to the ground for longer periods.

To help reduce petrol vapours and manage the impact of ozone in NSW, the EPA has been working closely with industry stakeholders to implement vapour recovery (VR) requirements at petrol service stations across these metropolitan areas of New South Wales.

What is vapour recovery?

Vapour recovery control equipment aims to capture petrol vapours before they enter the atmosphere. They are designed in two stages – VR1 and VR2.

VR1 captures displaced vapours from storage tanks when a tanker delivers petrol to a service station, while VR2 aims to capture displaced vapours at the bowser while a motorist refuels.

Over the last 20 years, VR1 and VR2 has been successfully introduced across the United States, Europe and in many parts of Asia to reduce air pollution from petrol service stations.

VR1 requirements have been in place in the Sydney Metropolitan Region since 1986 and have captured approximately 5000 tonnes of VOCs each year.

In 2010 the EPA introduced a 7- year staged rollout of VR1 and VR2 requirements to other areas of the GMA under the Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air) Regulation 2010 (the Regulations).

Around 1240 petrol service stations from Port Stephens to Shoalhaven and west to the Blue Mountains are required to install or upgrade to VR1 technology by January 2015 and/or VR2 by January 2017, as shown in the map.

Vapour recovery regions

Map of vapour recovery regions

Note* A modified petrol service station means an existing petrol service station from which petrol was dispensed before 13 November 2009 and on which works are carried out on or after that date that:

  1. involve the breaking up of any forecourt of the petrol service station, and
  2. involve the opening up of petrol product lines and the modification of the storage tanks, tank vents, petrol dispensers, petrol product lines or tanker connection points of the service station, and
  3. require development consent under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

Under the Regulation, approximately 1120 existing petrol service stations located in the Sydney, Central Coast, Illawarra and Lower Hunter regions and supplying more than 0.5 million litres per year were required to install and operate VR1 by 1 January 2015. Smaller petrol service stations supplying less than 0.5 million litres of petrol per year in these regions are exempt from this requirement.

Existing mid-sized petrol service stations supplying over 3.5 million litres of petrol a year and located in the Sydney Metropolitan Area B (orange zone) have until 1 January 2017 to install VR2. Existing service stations supplying less than 3.5 million litres of petrol a year are not required to install VR2, unless they are 'new' or are 'newly modified'* after 13 November 2009.

For larger petrol service stations in the Central Coast, Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong metropolitan areas (green and orange zones) supplying more than 12 million litres of petrol a year, VR2 was required by 1 January 2014.

VR1 return lines should not be connected to diesel or other non-petrol storage tanks, while ethanol rich fuel tanks should not be connected to VR2 systems.

The 7-year staged rollout of VR1 and VR2 allowed service station owners and operators to have sufficient planning and lead time to install the required VR technology and new equipment as part of normal, scheduled site upgrades and/or refurbishments.

As of September 2016, approximately 96.5% of petrol service stations in the VR1 zone had installed VR1 control equipment, while approximately 60.5% of petrol service stations required to install VR2 by 2017 have already done so. The EPA is continuing its VR compliance program to maximise uptake of VR technology across the industry.

Transition of vapour recovery responsibility to local government

On 31 January 2017, the EPA will begin transitioning the regulatory responsibility of VR compliance to local councils. Local councils are the Appropriate Regulatory Authority (ARA) for service stations in NSW (under the Protection of Environment Operations Act 1997) and are also responsible for planning issues relating to petrol service stations.

The EPA has been working with Local Government NSW and has provided a series of training workshops with local councils in Sydney, Parramatta, Newcastle and Wollongong to support a seamless transition process. Further workshops are being scheduled for early 2017. A reduction of 'regulatory red tape' across the industry by aligning local government VR and ARA responsibilities is a positive outcome.

Vapour recovery toolkit resources

A local government toolkit resource pack will be made available for online download prior to 31 January 2017.

Council officers will be advised when the toolkit is available online.

Continuing support for local government

The EPA will continue the vapour recovery compliance program until 30 June 2017 so as to provide support for councils beyond the transition date.

Update to Standards and Best Practice Guidelines for Vapour Recovery at Petrol Service Stations

Changes to European certification of Stage 2 vapour recovery systems were introduced in 2014. The NSW EPA has updated the Standards and Best Practice Guidelines for Vapour Recovery at Petrol Service Stations 2016 (PDF 965KB) to incorporate new opportunities for VR2 certification.

Reporting requirements

The Regulation requires petrol service station owners to install vapour recovery systems and to keep an onsite log book of VR commissioning reports, weekly checklists and maintenance schedules for three years following installation. It is the responsibility of the occupier to ensure appropriate checks and maintenance records are kept in the log book. Occupiers are required to contact their installer/repairer if significant operational difficulties occur.

VR1 and VR2 commissioning report forms are included in the Standards and Best Practice Guidelines for Vapour Recovery at Petrol Service Stations (PDF 965KB) or can be downloaded separately:

More information on vapour recovery

Phone: 131 555 or 9995 5555.

Page last updated: 23 December 2016