Knowing Where to Put the Boring

There’s an old engineering joke regarding a manufacturing facility that had a new machine that it couldn’t get running. The manufacturer was losing thousands and thousands of dollars each day. They hired an experienced industrial engineer to inspect the machine, review the design drawings, and hopefully come up with a solution. After spending two hours on the task, the engineer put a big red X one of the design drawings, accurately identifying the source of the problem, which was quickly fixed. Soon the machine was up and running.

A week later the facility manager received a bill from the engineer for $5,000. He was furious and called the engineer demanding a detailed invoice justifying the charge. The engineer submitted a revised invoice, itemized as follows:

Labor – 2 hours @ $100/hour – $200
Knowing where to put the X – $4,800

TOTAL $5,000

In environmental investigations, it’s critical to select sampling locations so that the area of concern is adequately characterized. This involves performing thorough research, using state-of-the-art investigative technologies, and applying knowledge of construction methods. If this isn’t done, serious environmental concerns can go undetected.

Take one site where an underground storage tank was being investigated. A consultant had placed soil borings 10 feet away from the tank, and no petroleum impacts were found. Later when a follow-up investigation was performed, borings placed 1 to 2 feet from the tank identified substantial petroleum impacts, and litigation ensued. In another case, a shopping center had been constructed over a former trucking terminal. A consultant performed a soil investigation intending to locate borings along the perimeters of two former trucking terminal buildings, and no impacts were identified. While reviewing the consultant’s report, a historical aerial photo was projected onto the soil investigation diagram using geographic information system (GIS) technology to confirm that the soil borings were accurately placed. Unfortunately, it was found that 9 of the 12 borings completely missed their target.

The knowledge of typical storage tank installation practices and commercial facility design is important in the performance of Phase I ESA site reconnaissance. In addition to application of state-of-the-art technologies like geophysics and GIS, this knowledge can prove to be just as critical as the application of scientific principles in performing an accurate Phase II site investigation.

All the sampling in the world won’t do a bit of good if the boring isn’t in the right place.

Case Study 1: The Tank that Stank

During a Phase I ESA, evidence of an underground storage tank (UST), including a fuel gauge, supply and return lines, and an apparent fill port, were identified at an office building. The consultant was hired to perform a tank tightness test on what was believed to be a UST fill port in front of the building. The test was performed and failed. Our review of the Phase I report and a brief site inspection revealed that the alleged fill port was in fact a sewer vent, a distinction that most people who are familiar with basic plumbing can make, and any assessor should be able to easily identify.

I hope that this case story, and future case stories and insights, will help readers to gain valuable industry insights. I’m always interested in hearing others’ stories, so comments are welcome!

Pictured above is an actual fill port.