A guide to home heating-oil fuel tanks

Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Fuel oil leaks can be messy, smelly, and hard on the environment and on the wallet. Every year the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation responds to dozens of home heating-oil fuel tank spills. In the past five years over 11,000 gallons of home heating oil have been released into the environment, maybe more.

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For more details, visit

Alaska State Division of Spill Prevention and Response

Many homeowners don't realize that they must pay for cleanup costs of a spill - commonly $5,000 to $30,000 - costs not covered by homeowners' insurance. The Department of Environmental Conservation does not regulate heating oil tanks. It is the homeowner's responsibility to make sure their heating oil system is in optimum condition.

Steps can be taken to prevent a costly spill and make sure the oil stays inside the tank. A few simple tests, inspections and the help of your fuel-oil supply company can keep your fuel system functioning for many, many years without problems. Simply taking a good look at your oil tank and lines can tell you a lot. Use the following checklist to avoid oil leakage and spills:

• Make sure the tank is on strong metal legs on a suitable surface or another suitable structure. Wood supports, if used, should be bolted, not nailed, together.

• Check for any signs of rusting, weeping or wet spots on the tank.

• Make sure the vent pipe, which should have a gooseneck, is higher than the filler pipe.

• Protect the tank and lines from snow and ice falling from the roof.

• Protect fuel lines from mechanical damage and even children. The lines from the top of a tank can make great handholds for a young mountaineer in the backyard.

• Avoid using the area around your tank as a storage area. Heavy items may damage the fill or supply lines.

• Install a shutoff valve at the tank outlet to isolate the fuel line from the tank in the event of a leak.

• Catch spills before they contaminate soil with a secondary containment system under the tank.

Check any fuel lines that run under your house or into your garage. A continuous line without fittings is the best way to prevent leaks under the house. If the line has fittings or joints inspect them regularly. Check the ground under the fittings. A dark stain can warn of problems before you see a leak.

Check with your fuel dealer to see if you seem to be burning more fuel than normal. Better yet, track your own fuel oil consumption. An increase in fuel consumption can mean a leak or the need for a burner tune-up. Talk to the delivery driver to see if he is having any problems reaching the tank, and that the whistler and sight gauge are working properly.

If your tank is underground. use waterfinder paste to see if there is water leaking into the tank. Remember, water in, oil out. You might even consider having your underground tank tested for leaks. Your fuel or heating company should be able to help you arrange for this test.

If you have a spill, the first thing to do is stop the spill and prevent it from spreading. Next, call the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation as soon as possible. Cleanup is your responsibility, but we can provide guidance, suggest cleanup methods, and help with disposal.

If you'd like more information, check out DEC's website or call us at (907) 465-5340.

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