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 Greater Metropolitan Area (GMA - means Sydney, Wollongong, Central Coast and Newcastle) 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 influence 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 captures 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.

In 2010 the Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air) Regulation (the Regulation) expanded the requirements for VR1 to include the Central Coast Metropolitan area, Illawarra Region, Lower Hunter Region, Blue Mountains, Wollondilly and Wingecarribee local government areas.

Around 1120 petrol service stations from Port Stephens to Shoalhaven and west to the Blue Mountains have been required to install VR1 or upgrade their bowsers to VR2 technology. When fully implemented this initiative will reduce VOC emissions from service stations by approximately 5000 tonnes each year.

While VR1 technology has been required in the Sydney Metropolitan Area since 1986, the Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air) Regulation (the Regulation) expanded VR requirements and locations from Port Stephens to Shoalhaven and west to the Blue Mountains.

Vapour recovery regions

 Image - map 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 existing petrol service stations located in the Sydney, Central Coast, Illawarra and Lower Hunter regions (VR1 zone) supplying more than 0.5 million litres per year are required to have VR1 installed and operating. 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) had 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.

Any large 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, require VR1 and VR2 to be installed and operational.

Vapour recovery control equipment should not be connected to diesel and ethanol rich fuel tanks (greater than 50% ethanol blend).

Approximately 97% of petrol service stations in the VR1 zone had installed VR1 control equipment, while approximately 66% of petrol service stations required to install VR2 by 2017 have already done so. The EPA is continuing its vapour recovery compliance program for those service stations that are yet to meet their VR requirements.

Transition of Vapour Recovery responsibility to local government

On the 31 January 2017, regulatory responsibility of VR was transitioned 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 therefore already have responsibility for compliance and planning issues relating to petrol service stations (other than VR). Aligning existing local government ARA responsibilities for service stations and VR will be a positive outcome which helps reduce regulatory ‘red tape’ across industry.

Continuing support for local government

The EPA is continuing to manage non-compliant VR sites and support councils in the transition process until 30 June, 2017.

VR training workshops

In March 2017, the EPA hosted a second round of VR workshops in Parramatta and Hurstville. The EPA may hold additional workshops based on demand.

Vapour recovery toolkit resources

The local government “toolkit” resource pack (USB) has been sent to all Councils in the VR zones. The USB contains the VR Toolkit and compliance details of petrol service stations in each council area. This resource should assist Councils when undertaking their VR regulatory responsibilities.

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

Reporting of significant faults to the EPA is no longer required as final monitoring and testing requirements have been adopted.

Regulatory responsibility for service station vapour recovery was moved to local councils on 31 January 2017. The NSW EPA Standards and Best Practice Guidelines for Vapour Recovery at Petrol Service Stations 2017 (PDF 807KB) have been updated to require that commissioning reports be provided to local councils.

All faults and rectification activity will continue to be required to be recorded in the log book.

Reporting requirements

The Regulation requires petrol service station owners to install vapour recovery systems and to keep an onsite log book of vapour recovery (VR) commissioning reports, weekly checklists and maintenance schedules.

It is the responsibility of the occupier to ensure appropriate checks and maintenance records are kept in the onsite log book or be made available to an authorised officer within 3 days if records are kept off site.

Occupiers are required to contact their installer/repairer if significant operational difficulties occur.

Commissioning of Stage 1 vapour recovery (VR1) and Commissioning of Stage 2 vapour recovery (VR2) forms are included in the Standards and Best Practice Guidelines for Vapour Recovery at Petrol Service Stations 2017 (PDF 807KB) or can be downloaded separately:

More information on vapour recovery

Phone: 131 555 or 9995 5555.


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