For a technician or auditor that works outside of the Oil Heating Industry, seeing a tank leaking in a basement can send you into a moment of shock.  Then of course, the dreaded conversation with the Homeowner will cast a cloud.  The key is to have a plan, and know what to do.  The smallest amount of knowledge in this subject could make you the hero.  Simply stating, "Call your Oil Company!" can leave them feeling helpless.  Of course, that oil delivery company must know about a leaking anything, before chance of another delivery.  They likely have a magnetic patch kit that can be used to slow a leak while a permanent fix can be planned.

  The majority of oil tank leaks are caused by corrosion from water and sludge that has sat in the bottom of the tank for years.  Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recommends homeowners have their oil tanks cleaned out at least every 10 years.  I firmly believe this is because regular maintenance is not always performed, so a qualified technician may not be able to identify a compromised tank.  Based on the picture I took, you can see that soil cleanup will be needed, but possibly groundwater as well.  This type of cleanup, based on MA DEP, averages $90K!  If this leak was identified quickly, and the sump pump does not turn on, soil cleanups can be less than $20K.  This is a significant difference, particularly for a homeowner and company's insurance premium come next year!

  Even with the high price of oil, averaging about $3.70 per gallon in Central MA, it appears oil heating in residential applications will be around for quite some time.  Thousands of homes are converted to alternative fuels every year, including but not limited to Natural and Propane Gas, Heat-Pumps and even electric baseboard.  All are viewed as more efficient and "cleaner" options.  With the many financing and fuel switching programs available, maybe a leaking oil tank is the time to call it quits with your long time oil provider?  Believe me, most oil companies thinking about the future of their business are expanding into alternative fuel options themselves!

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Comment by Mary Beth Thakar on January 25, 2013 at 8:41am

What if the tank is underground?  Should one track one's use of oil carefully, to see if there might be a leak: I am not sure how to do this.  And what would the consequence of such a leak be, in terms of cost to fix, cost to cleanup, etc.

And I am very interested in your comment about oil companies looking into alternatives.  We had one oil company close recently in our area.  And another oil company took over but was saying how hard it was to stay in business.  I don't quite understand why it would be hard, with the cost of oil and the demand -- so please "illuminate" me.

Comment by George J. Nesbitt on January 24, 2013 at 12:38pm

I have a client here on the left (west) coast that had a house sale fall through recently on the right (east) coast due to the oil tank. The buyer was from the left, and not used to them. I don't know if there is any evidence of an actual problem.

Comment by tedkidd on January 24, 2013 at 10:18am

Nice post Christopher!  $90,000 cleanup, OUCH!!

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