Leaking Fuel Oil Tanks – Avoiding Costly Problems With Oil Spills and Leakage

The Dangers

A leaking fuel oil tank can become a serious fire and environmental hazard. Whether the tank is located inside or outside the home, a spill can contaminate groundwater affecting private wells or other nearby drinking water supplies.

One cup of fuel oil can contaminate enough water to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool, and in many cases hundreds of litres of oil seep into the ground before a spill is discovered. cost to replace oil tank

Fuel oil that has spilled into a residential basement can also pose a serious health hazard, threatening indoor air quality.

Anyone who owns a fuel oil tank has a legal responsibility to properly maintain it and to clean up any spills or leaks that may occur. Homeowners are also responsible under the Environmental Protection Act for reporting any leak or spill from a tank that could cause property damage or health, safety or environmental problems.

Cleaning up a spill from a home heating oil tank is an expensive exercise. The removal of oil from a basement, or the cleanup of contaminated soil and water can often cost more than the property is worth, and damage may not be fully covered by homeowner insurance.

Avoiding Problems

Having a tank installed only by a registered contractor and inspecting it regularly can help avoid the problems associated with oil spills and leakage.

Homeowners are required to ensure their tanks are CSA or ULC approved, properly installed and accessible for inspection.

Taking the following steps can help avoid problems and ensure safe usage of a fuel oil tank.

– Inspect tank at least once a year.

– Replace tank periodically.

– Empty any unused tanks

Inspecting an oil tank Typical 1000 litre fuel oil tank

1. Are the tank legs unstable or on a shaky foundation?

2. Are there any signs of rust, weeping, wet spots or dents on the tank?

3. Is the tank blackened at the low end, around the drain? (This may be an indication of water in the tank, and resultant corrosion inside the tank.

4. Are there any drips or signs of leakage around the fuel line, filter or valves?

5. Is there danger of snow or ice falling on the tank?

6. Is the vent clogged or restricted because of snow, ice or insect nests? (Screened vents can help prevent insect nest problems.)

7. Is the vent whistle silent when the tank is being filled? (Ask the fuel delivery person.)

8. Are there signs of leakage or spills around the fill pipe or vent pipe?

9. Is the fuel-level gauge cracked, stuck or frozen? Are there signs of oil around it?

10. If mounted outdoors, is the tank rated for outdoor use?

11. What is the age of the tank? (Not usually indicated until after 1998.)


– More than 40% of all oil spills reported annually are from domestic oil tanks at private homes.

– One cup of fuel oil can contaminate enough water to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool.

– Homeowner insurance may not cover all costs of a cleanup.

– Cleanup of contaminated soil and water can often cost more than a property is worth.

Handling spills and leaks

Homeowners should take the following steps as soon as a spill or leak is discovered.

1. Eliminate all sources of ignition.

2. Stop the leak, if it can be done without risk.

3. Contact fuel oil supplier or heating contractor for assistance.

4. Contain spilled oil using whatever materials are available (pails, rags, newspapers, peat moss, kitty litter, absorbant pads, sheets of plastic, etc.) Do not flush spilled oil or contaminated materials down the floor drain or sewer, nor into a septic system.

5. Notify the Ontario Ministry of the Environment Spills Action Centre (SAC) if the spill causes or is likely to cause, adverse effects such as ground or surface water contamination, or damage to a neighbor’s property. SAC provides 24-hour assistance for spill situations.

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