Buried Oil Tanks on Long Island
Updated: Jan 4
BURIED OIL TANKS
The presence of a buried oil tank can be a major concern when purchasing a home on Long Island because of the possibility of the tank leaking oil into the surrounding soil. Most buried residential oil tanks were made of steel and not sufficiently protected from corrosion so they are prone to leaking. Generally speaking a buried tank less than 10-15 years old is probably still intact. The older a tank is the more likely it is to leak.
If a home is located near the water or in an area with a high water table this issue is more concerning because of the possibility of groundwater contamination.
The first thing to do when purchasing a home is to determine if the home has a buried tank. If the home is heated with fuel oil then there must be a tank to store the oil. If the home is not heated with fuel oil then there is probably no buried tank unless the home was heated with oil in the past.
If the home is or was heated with oil the next step is to locate the fuel tank. Some of the possible locations of the tank are: in basement, in garage, in an outbuilding, above ground outside or buried outside.
If the tank is buried there are several options:
1. Tank Testing. There are several methods for testing tanks for leaks none of which are fool proof. Many homeowners / sellers will not consent to tank testing for fear that they will be responsible for any liability resulting from a leak.
2. Soil Testing. This test involves digging several small test holes around the perimeter of the tank and taking soil samples which are tested for the presence of petroleum. If contamination is found it will have to be reported to the DEC and the resulting clean up could be costly. Again many homeowners are reluctant to have the soil tested due to possible liability.
3. Abandonment. This involves locating the tank and cutting open the top to remove all oil and sludge from the tank. The empty tank is then filled with an inert material such as foam or sand. The oil supply lines from the tank to the heating unit are either capped off or removed. A certificate of abandonment is obtained from the company performing the work. This is usually the preferred method of dealing with a buried tank when buying or selling a home.
4. Removal. This involves emptying the tank of oil, excavating around the tank and removing the tank entirely and filling the void left by the tank with soil. The supply pipes from the tank to the heating unit are disconnected and/or removed. If contaminated soil is discovered during this process the contractor is required to notify the DEC. A certificate of removal should be obtained from the company performing the work.
Many homeowners find abandoning the tank in place to be their best option but you should consult your attorney and insurance company and research all options available.
Whenever a tank is abandoned or removed a new replacement oil tank will have to be installed - usually in a basement, garage, above ground or other suitable location.
When purchasing a home the buyer should always consult with their attorney and insurance company with regard to buried oil tanks prior to purchase. Many insurance companies have a “pollution clause” which excludes coverage for leaking tanks and related cleanup costs – leaving the homeowner liable for the costs.