Releases of hydrocarbon-based fuels at retail filling stations have the potential to affect soil and groundwater and are listed by the European Commission as a potential pressure on achievement of the Water Framework Directive's water quality objectives. This paper presents an analysis of the environmental sensitivity of retail filling station locations across Europe, with regard to proximity to groundwater, surface water and ecological receptors. A geographic information system-based approach was used to map the location of nearly 86 000 retail filling station sites to zones of differing environmental sensitivity. The results indicate that the environmental sensitivity of retail filling stations is highly variable, and that only a relatively small proportion has the potential to cause impact on groundwater abstractions, surface water or to designated ecological receptors. Accordingly, a site-specific risk-based approach to the design and operation of retail filling stations provides the most proportionate and sustainable basis for their management. In addition, the research provides a tool for both single retail filling station operators and the oil industry as a whole to identify areas of higher environmental sensitivity, encouraging the focusing of investment in preventive measures where it is most needed.