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What to Do When Your Oil Tank Spills (and how to prevent it)

Residential heating oil tanks can leak or spill unexpected, creating significant cleanup expenses and causing harm to people, property and the environment. Leaks and spills can occur for a variety of reason including corrosion, overfilling, improper location, and improper installation and maintenance.

Year-Round Maintenance

Remove Objects – Ensure your tank is free from contact with objects around it (i.e. tall grass, leaves, insect nests and ice and snow). Accumulated drifting snow can add enough weight to damage an unprotected product supply line and if rupturing occurs on a product supply lined buried in snow and a slow leak develops, it can remain undetected for months.

Ground Protection - Consider additional containment devices for your tank to protect the ground below. Drip or containment trays can be placed to catch oil drips and some already come equipped with built-in leak detection alarms to alert to the presence of a drip. If possible, have existing floor drains, sumps or other openings located near the oil tank professionally sealed to prevent oil spills from escaping the area.

Safety Valves-Consider adding anti-siphon valves or oil safety valves to your tank. Failure in the product supply line could result in all of the oil leaking out due to gravity or siphoning action.

Carbon Monoxide Detector – Consider adding carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms in your home to help protect your family from the accumulation of harmful, hard-to-detect, fumes that can be emitted from the use of heating oil.

Oil Tank Spill Response Instructions

If you discover a leak:

  1. Turn off the power to your furnace with the emergency switch.
  2. Stop the flow of oil at its source by engaging the oil tank’s shut-off valves.
  3. Contact your heating oil supplier immediately for help. Once they arrive at your home, they can assist in the response and in transferring remaining oil from the tank into a containment drum. It is critical, however, that the tank be emptied, but left in place and left installed for your insurer to eventually inspect.
  4. Try to stop the leak if it is safe to do so by plugging or securing the hole in the tank, but remember:
    a. Heating oil id flammable. Do not smoke or use any flame nearby.
    b. Fumes from oil can accumulate in confined spaces and are dangerous.
  5. Contain the spilled oil using materials that are available (i.e. buckets, rags, newspapers, peat moss, kitty litter, absorbent pats or sheets of plastic). Do not flush spilled oil or contaminated materials down the drain or sewer. If oil is running into a sump pump hole, shut off the sump pump immediately.
  6. Contact your broker to report the spill. Your broker will report the spill to The Economical Insurance Group.
  7. Report spills of over 100 litres to the 24-hour spill Report Line that exists in your province or territory.

Top 5 Leak and Spill Prevention Actions

  1. Convert to Natural Gas – If your residence becomes serviced by natural gas, have your oil burning furnace and oil tank disposed of by a registered technician, licensed installer, or heating service professional (as your province or territory requires).
  2. Upgrade your Tank – When the time comes to replace your oil tank, consider double-wall steel tanks, double-wall steel and polyethylene thanks, or fibreglass tanks instead of traditional single-wall steel tanks(whether epoxy-coated or not).
  3. Spill Protection – Consider additional safety alarm and containment devices for your oil tank – they are readily available, their costing is a fraction of that of a new oil tank, and they are critical in providing a warning of a future leak or spill.
  4. Avoid Impact – Ensure your oil tank (and its product supply line, fittings, and valves) are safe from objects around them. Professionally relocate your tank if possible, but if not, consider the use of immovable barriers and specially-designed tank and product supply line covers.
  5. Inspect -  Have your oil tank professionally inspected and serviced annually, but also couple those inspections with your own regular inspections- they are just as critical in uncovering oil tank issues that might lead to a leak or spill.