What should you do if your domestic oil tank is leaking?

Running your home using a private oil supply can be hugely beneficial. Not only can it be very cost-effective if you plan your purchasing properly, but it gives you greater control over your energy consumption and means that you’re not reliant on the mains network.

However, owning and maintaining an oil storage tank is a big responsibility. From checking that it’s installation complies with building regulations, to ensuring that old tanks are properly disposed of, you will need to control the tank’s impact on the natural and built environment for the duration of its lifetime. One of the major risks with a domestic oil tank is that it becomes damaged, causing an oil leak or spill.

What is likely to cause an oil leak at home?

Unfortunately, the most common cause of domestic leaks and oil spills is components failing due to age. Sometimes this is the tank itself, but feed lines, flexible hoses and sealed connectors will all deteriorate over time, eventually wearing down to a point where they are unreliable. Even bunded tanks, environmentally friendly though they are, are not always fail-safe.

Preventing this problem is simple: carry out routine equipment checks and repair or replace components as soon as they are showing signs of wear.

Sometimes accidental damage causes a tank to break suddenly. The best you can do is to put a barrier around your tank to provide protection from vehicles, cut back overhanging branches and keep the area around the tank free from clutter and debris.

Who is responsible for a domestic oil leak?

Heating oil and fuel are classed as hazardous substances. Anyone that manufactures, stores, transports or uses it has a duty of care to make sure it is being managed properly. As a tank owner, this means keeping the tank in a good condition and responding to risks and leaks promptly and effectively.

To help you do this, make sure that your tank (and its contents) are covered by your home insurance policy. If the worst should happen and your oil storage tank leaks, the clean-up will be very expensive. The last thing you want on top of that is the cost of buying a brand-new tank and refilling it with thousands of pounds worth of fresh oil.

Major spills and minor spills

Domestic oil spills are split into two categories; ‘major’ and ‘minor’. Should you have a problem with your tank, you will need to verify the following:

  • Can you smell oil even when indoors?
  • Could the oil have leaked under your house, beyond the edge or your property or into a nearby drain?
  • Is the tank near to a water source (a stream, pond or private water supply)?

If the answer to all of these questions is “no” and you have reason to believe that the spill is 5 litres or less then the incident can be treated as a minor spill. You will need to investigate how far the oil has leaked and begin to remove all contaminated earth. It is worth taking pictures during this process and keeping samples of soil as evidence.

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you will have to follow the procedure for a major spill. Severe damage may have occurred, particularly to nearby groundwater, and you will need to hire a specialist environmental contractor to help you take the most appropriate course of action.

In either event you should inform your local authority and contact your insurer as soon as possible as they may provide a specialist to help you deal with the clean-up.

Immediately following an oil spill

If you become aware of a leak or spill coming from your tank, you should immediately turn the supply off and identify the source. Take measures to stop the spread of oil, such as catching drips in a bucket or using sand or cat litter to soak up oil on the ground. If possible, use a sealant to temporarily block the leak.

In no circumstances should you try to wash the oil away or apply detergent to the area. Your goal should be to minimise the impact of the spill. If the leak reaches a local water supply you will need to contact your local environmental protection agency as soon as possible.

Again, take photographs and document your actions so that you can provide a report to the authorities.

Take protective measures

Keep children and animals away from the oil spill and maximise the ventilation in any space where you can smell oil. Do not eat, drink or smoke while dealing with the spill or before you have had a chance to wash your skin and clothing afterwards.

Anything that comes into contact with the oil will need to be properly disposed of. Talk to your local authority for information about the specific procedures for your area.

Finally, you will need to arrange for any faulty components to be replaced. Contact an oil storage tank specialist for a new tank or parts and ask them to transfer any remaining oil in the old tank to your new tank – don’t try to do this yourself.

To prevent future incidents, make sure that you arrange for an annual inspection by an OFTEC-registered engineer who will help you make sure that your tank is working safely and efficiently.

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