Get The Most Out of Your Leak Detection Investment

by: Peter Sutherland


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The most up-to-date leak detection systems combine very sensitive sensors with intelligent programming and instant communication. They can detect a leak within seconds and communicate that information to network managers anywhere in the world.


As a rule these systems are an excellent way to eliminate releases of product into the surrounding ground protecting you from environmental damage and often expensive litigation if your neighbour’s property is impacted. We perform annual inspections on thousands of automatic tank gauge ( ATG ) systems and regardless of how good the equipment is there are still periodic leaks that go undetected. Here are a couple of tips that you may find useful to get the maximum benefit from your system so that you don’t become one of these costly exceptions to the rule.

TIP 1:

Check Up Your Sensors Periodically

The liquid detection sensors attached to your console will be able to monitor any collection point for fuel such as an STP sump or under dispenser containment pan. The sensors are designed to go into alarm whenever liquid is present. The most common problem leading to undetected leaks is sensors that have been moved from their original position or sensors that do not alarm when they are supposed to.

In one recent case we were conducting an onsite investigation of an inventory shortage. The site had a fully functional ATG monitoring it with no alarms to indicate the leak. During the site visit we discovered that all of the sensors were positioned incorrectly and did not go into alarm even though there was a significant line leak with product in the sumps. These sensors the best defence against a leak and need to activate as soon as product is present in any containment sump.

You should periodically check to visually verify that the sensors are properly placed. If there is water in your sumps that is causing an alarm it will be necessary to pump the water out, find out how it got into the sump and fix the problem. The sensors are the most important part of an ATG when it comes to protecting you from an undetected leak. They are required to be tested annually by a qualified contractor. However, there is no reason that you cannot implement your own more frequent inspections. The sooner you detect a problem the better your protection against a costly release into the surrounding environment.

You can easily check the following yourself:

  • As shown above you can check that all of your sensors are positioned properly
  • You can test the functionality of the sensors by flipping them upside down. A properly operating sensor will cause an audible alarm at the control panel within a few seconds of being flipped upside down. To clear the alarm, simply return the probe to the proper position and clear the alarm at the control panel. Never enter a containment sump to perform this test as it may be a confined space. Sensors at the bottom of a confined space can usually be reached with a hook to avoid sump entry. It is not uncommon for a sensor that appears to be in good shape to not function properly when you need it to detect a leak.
  • There are several YouTube videos available on-line that will familiarize you with the process of creating and clearing alarms. If you have problems locating the appropriate video online then the equipment manufacturer may have a support line that can help.

TIP 2:

Becoming Familiar with the Programming of Your ATG

Although the programming of an ATG seems very complicated at first glance, they are meant to be quite easy to use allowing you to do simple tests and checks. As with most technically complicated things that we run across in day to day life, most of the answers are available on Youtube. There are several very good online videos that will assist you to navigate your way through the programming. Once you become familiar the ATG console you can do several things to test your equipment periodically. Some of the features that are important for you to check are listed below;

  • Periodically check the alarms history. This will tell you if any of your sensors have detected product as well as if you have had any high level or overfill alarms. Overfilling tanks is a potential source for fuel spills that may not be apparent unless you can trace them to an overfill alarm.
  • Test your overfill alarm. Most overfill protection alarms have a test button that should be tested periodically to make sure that the audible and visual alarm will notify a delivery truck driver of a problem.
  • Physically check the product level in your tank with a dipstick and compare that with what is displayed at the console. There may be a difference of a centimetre or two to reflect a slight tilt in the tank but any more than that may cause your inventory reconciliation calculations to become unreliable. This is a good time to dip for water at the bottom of your tank to physically verify that as well.
  • Make sure that there is a record of the last time that your ATG system was inspected and tested by a qualified contractor. They will do more comprehensive tests annually to verify that the system is working properly.


ATG systems have developed to the point where they are extremely effective but there is always a way to fool a computer so it is wise to stay on top of these simple preventative maintenance steps to protect your business from an unexpected and costly problem.

Peter Sutherland is vice president, Testing and Calibration, Englobe Corp. He has worked for and managed Tanknology Canada for over 25 years. In the early 1990’s   he started the USTMAN Statistical Inventory Reconciliation business in Canada. Over his career he has been responsible for the introduction of several new technologies such as closed loop meter proving and ultrasonic robotic inspection technology for large bulk storage tanks.

The picture shows a properly installed sump monitor. The sensor is secure, perpendicular to the floor and touching the bottom of the sump at the lowest point.



This picture shows a sump monitor that has been moved from the proper position and is currently hanging from a electrical conduit.   This was done to get it up and out of the water in the sump and keep it from alarming.