Check fuel oil tanks for leaks and spills before winter

NYSDEC
Fuel oil tanks should be inspected for leaks and spills prior to the first delivery of the season.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reminds homeowners that heating fuel oil storage tanks should be inspected for potential leaks or spills prior to receiving the first shipment of fuel oil for the upcoming heating season.

More than 2 million homes in New York are heated by fuel oil. Each year, the DEC Spills Hotline receives hundreds of reports of fuel oil spills from home heating oil tanks. These spills result in basement contamination, damage to basement contents, contamination of groundwater, wells, and soils, and expensive cleanups that are rarely covered by homeowner’s insurance.

Some of the most common causes of home fuel oil spills include: failing storage tanks; faulty fuel lines and connections; collapsing tank legs and supports; and overflows during delivery. Homeowners should consider using a company that offers a service contract to maintain tanks and heating systems. DEC also encourages homeowners to get their tank(s) inspected each year. An annual inspection can prevent impacts to human health and the environment from leaks and spills.

Homeowners are advised to look for the following concerns and contact their fuel oil service provider if they see any of the items from the lists below.

For above-ground heating fuel oils storage tanks, look for

-- Bent, rusty, or wobbly tank legs or tank located on an unstable foundation;

-- Signs of rust, weeps, wet spots, or many dents on the tank’s surface;

-- Drips or any signs of leaks around the oil filter or valves;

-- Fuel oil lines not covered in a protective casing – even if under concrete;

-- Overhanging eaves where snow and ice could fall onto the tank;

-- Stains on the ground or strong oil odor around the tank;

-- Browning, dying, or loss of vegetation around the tank;

-- Silent overfill whistle while tank is being filled – ask fuel delivery person;

-- Fully or partially blocked tank vent from snow, ice, or insect nests;

-- Signs of spills around fill pipe or vent pipe;

-- Improperly sized vent pipes – ask fuel delivery person; and

--Cracked, stuck, or frozen fuel level gauges or signs of fuel around them.

For underground heating fuel oils storage tanks, look for:

-- Water in the tank – ask fuel delivery person to check;

-- Oil or oil sheen in your basement sump or French drain;

-- Silent overfill whistle while tank is being filled – ask fuel delivery person;

-- Fully or partially blocked tank vent from snow, ice, or insect nests;

-- Signs of spills around fill pipe or vent pipe;

-- Well water has strange tastes or smells;

-- Complaints from neighbors of fuel oil smells; and

 -- Using more than normal amount of fuel.

Report any actual spill or leak of fuel oil to the DEC Spills Hotline at 1-800-457-7362. For more information on home heating oil tank stewardship, visit the Underground Heating Oil Tanks: A Homeowner's Guide webpage on DEC's website.