How to Spot Leaky Underground Oil Tanks Before Buying or Building

Residential Buried Oil Tanks: Everything you need to know as a home owner, home buyer, or home builder

Leaking oil tanks constitute more damage than initially imagined. Apart from contaminating water supply sources, they have also become an increasing environmental hazard. This is a serious issue that has caught the attention of the DEC. Several cases of leaking commercial equipment, as well as simply-suspect, have now become extremely expensive to address.

The unfortunate thing is that issues like these were not expected as of the time the equipment was installed. Even though similar regulations relating to residential installations are still rare, the issue of leaking oil tanks are getting homeowners and homebuyers gradually worried.

In this article, we will be taking a look at some opinions and suggestions gotten from news articles, discussions in some provinces and states, and discussions among numerous home inspectors about risks and solution to leaking oil tanks.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

In 1961, the installation procedures and standards for traditional heating oil tank recommended that each and every oil-storage tanks should be buried outside the home wherever possible. Now, it is an entirely different case.

In some states in which the residents make use of oil for domestic use, they often bury their oil storage tank outside the home, above ground. Even though it can be quite safer for the residents of the home, however, they still constitute an environmental hazard and can cause environmental damage. Imagine a tank leaking right into the casing of a private well. This isn’t good enough.

Nonetheless, a Petroleum Bulk Storage Program has been developed and enforced by the New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, since the early 1980’s. The main aim of this program is preventing leaks and spills of petroleum and oil products into the environment.

It was estimated by the New York State DEC that there may be over 185,000 underground and above-ground tanks storing petroleum in New York State which is subject to DEC regulations. The majority of the tanks which were installed in the 1950’s and 60’s were manufactured using bare steel. There is a high probability that they must have started leaking right now.

The regulations made registering your oil storage facilities with the state a necessity. Based on the age, size, location, and stored product type.  There may be need to upgrade or test the system.

how to detect underground oil tank leak in home

Causes of Oil Storage Tank Leaks

Some of the known causes of oil storage tank leaks include:

Rust Perforation

Underground fuel storage tanks can begin to leak due to rust perforation. Water also have effects on these tanks. While heating oil, water combines with sulphur in the fuel. This gradually damages the storage tank material. External rust due to exposure to intense weather condition can also be a cause.

Storage Tank Damage

Oil storage tank leaks can also be caused by mechanical damage, especially during installation. This ranges from faulty oil fill to vent. It can also be caused by supply piping errors, manufacturing defects in the tank, corrosive soil conditions, and so forth. Damage can also occur when bad oil that contains lots of water is stored in the tank.

Environmental Issues Regarding Underground Oil Storage Tanks (USTs)

The U.S. Department of Environmental Conservation has laid down a set of rules guiding the registration of buried tanks at any site storing away over 1100 gallons of heating oil. There is a different requirement for gas (auto fuel) and other fuels. There is also a possibility that it will be extended to smaller residential tanks sooner or later.

Also, necessary steps are in place in other to prevent subsequent installation of oil storage tank where they can leak into local waterways or domestic water supply. All these have been put in place so as to safeguard environmental contamination from oil storage tank leaks.


Effects of Oil Tank Leak Regulations on Home Owners

Homeowners often install additional storage tank for emergency cases like fuel scarcity or energy crisis. For this reason, there may be need to register on-site oil storage capacity. It is possible that the added storage will take the capacity of the property above the 1,100-gallon threshold and under the regulations of the DEC.

The majority of older homes having underground steel tanks are prone to developing a leak. Try as much as possible to provide your clients with this information. This will make it possible for them to decide whether they should seek further information, or carry out thorough testing.

What to do if the Oil Tank is Leaking or Has Leaked

If the oil storage tank is above the ground, leaks can be easily detected. For buried tanks, special testing techniques may be required to locate the point at which the tank is leaking. A further test can be carried out on the tank for leaks. The soil can also be tested for past leakage.

Once a leaking oil storage tank is detected or if you happen to notice previous leaks, the right thing to do is to notify the appropriate state environmental authorities about the situation. In New York State, oil leaks ought to be reported to the New York DEC within two hours. The New York Oil spill hotline is 1-800-457-6362.

Test oil storage tanks for presence of water

Furthermore, consider testing buried fuel tanks for the amount of water present at the bottom of the tank. If you come across water, pump it out. The presence of water in the oil storage tank can be dangerous. It corrodes the tank and can result in leaks. The presence of a large quantity of water can also cause inside-tank corrosion. This increases the risk of tank leaks. If you are still making use of the tank, talk to your fuel supplier about how you can use an additive or any other method to remove the water.

No oil leak is small. Regardless of the extent of the leak, try as much as possible not to overlook. Even a small leak at an oil line can give room for air to penetrate into the system. This can lead to various other dangerous conditions at the equipment. The right thing to do is to notify the appropriate environmental authorities in your state.

Finally, it is also important that a home inspector notifies the client that a buried heating oil tank is installed in the home.