How will I know if my tank has leaked?
Contamination may be indicated by signs of a damaged tank or pipe, soil that is stained or gives off strong oil odors, a sheen on the groundwater, or environmental test results. Sampling and analysis is recommended if the tank is located near any wells, drinking water supplies, wetlands, ponds or streams, or if there are any indications that contamination is present.
When shopping for a contractor, ask if they have the capability of doing an environmental assessment.
What if contamination is found?
First, don’t panic. The problem could be minor and relatively simple to correct. Take cleanup actions right away. Addressing the problem now will prevent higher cost and damage later.
Can I test my tank for leaks instead of digging it up?
Yes, by all means test your tank and piping for tightness, but it may cost you less to simply remove your tank from the ground. It is important to consider that no test can predict what will happen next year, next month, or even the next day. If you have an old bare steel tank, your money may be better spent on tank removal since you will have to dig the tank up anyway if the test reveals it is leaking.
Although a commercial tank tester provides the most reliable check for leaks, the handyman can obtain a gross check for a leak by checking for a drop in the oil level in the tank when oil is not being consumed. Information on testing methods can be obtained from DEC by calling (518) 402-9543 or companies that perform tank tests.
Can I just empty the oil from my tank and leave it underground?
Yes, provided certain other measures are taken.
In 1996 the Legislature passed a State law requiring that aboveground and underground heating oil tanks be emptied, cleaned and purged of all vapors. If the tank is to be removed, the vent line and fill line must also be removed or the fill line must be capped with concrete. If the tank is to be left in place, the vent line must remain open and intact and the fill line capped or removed.
Local government can only approve the abandonment if written proof is provided that the tank has been properly abandoned. Call your local building department for assistance.
The best choice is to remove the tank. This will enable you to check for soil contamination and avoid future sink holes which might occur when the tank eventually collapses.
In addition, should you decide to sell your home, a bank or the buyer may ask for environmental testing or the removal of the tank, which could make leaving your tank in place costlier than taking it out of the ground at the start.
How can I obtain more information?
Call DEC’S Helpline at (518) 402-9543.