Natural gas brings environmentally friendly heat to DSCR

By DLA Installation Management Richmond Environmental Management Division

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Benjamin Franklin once said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Those words of wisdom hold especially true in the world of environmental protection. 

Prior to 2018, all 48 heating boilers used on Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia, were fired by fuel oil. In most cases, this fuel was stored in large above-ground or underground storage tanks located near each boiler. While each tank is multi-walled, with numerous built-in monitors and protective controls, the threat of a spill from overfilling, or leaks from within the piping system, was always possible.

Jimmy Parrish, chief, Environmental Management Division, Defense Logistics Agency Installation Management Richmond, said each tank is inspected weekly to ensure safety, or closed after being removed.

“We also developed and implemented written procedures to make sure that our filling operations went off without a hitch,” Parrish said.

In the meantime, staff from DLA Installation Management Richmond’s Installation Operations Division in conjunction with the Environmental Management Division began looking at ways to better protect the environment. 

Two years ago, work began on the installation of natural gas lines to nearly all the boilers on the installation.  Any existing boilers that could not use natural gas were replaced with high-efficiency natural gas boilers; a total of 41 boilers now run on natural gas. 

“Natural gas is a cleaner and more energy efficient fuel source than fuel oil,” said Trenise Trent, environmental engineer, Environmental Management Division, DLA Installation Management Richmond. “[Natural gas] combustion gives off lower emissions, it’s much cheaper to procure and it’s easier to manage.”

With the switch to natural gas and the subsequent elimination of the need for fuel oil, the next step was to close or remove the fuel oil storage tanks. Work began in February, with physical removal of 13 underground and 15 above-ground tanks. Tanks that could not be physically removed due to their proximity to other structures were environmentally closed in place.

“Closing an underground tank in place is a highly regulated process,” Trent said. “Each tank must be thoroughly drained and cleaned. Once this is completed, the tank is inspected by representatives from Chesterfield County Utilities Department and Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, who then give us the go-ahead to fill the tank with a non-hazardous expanding foam.”  

Parrish said, “This initiative is a win-win all around. We’re saving warfighter money by using a cheaper fuel source and achieving environment benefits from lower air emissions, as well as, eliminating risk of soil or water contamination through fuel spills or leaks.” 

The removal of the obsolete storage tanks is ongoing and should be completed within the next few weeks.