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Fuel Oil & Heating Oil Storage Tank Explosion & Other Hazards

  • OIL TANK SAFETY - CONTENTS: Fire & Explosion hazards of No. 2 home heating oil and No. 4 fuel oil. List of fuel oil safety hazards and detailed articles on each. Safety warnings concerning residential and small commercial heating oil storage tanks. Links to articles on other oil heat safety concerns, measures, controls, devices
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about heating oil storage tank safety, leaks, fire, explosions & other hazards
  • REFERENCES
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Oil storage tank safety hazards:

This document discusses safety issues involving residential and light commercial oil storage tanks and oil tank leaks, fire hazards, large oil storage tank fume explosions, and other risks.

Beyond the costly problem of actual leaks from oil storage tanks, oil leaks into buildings, and leaky oil piping, this document lists other important safety or oil-fired equipment concerns in home and light commercial heating oil storage and piping systems.



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OIL TANK & HEATING OIL EXPOSURE HEALTH, FIRE, & SAFETY HAZARDS LIST

Oil and LP/Natural Gas Tank & Fuel Explosion Hazards

"Deaths Draw Attention to Dangers of Oil Tanks" reported the New York Times 13 April 2010. The explosions and deaths of (usually) teenagers described in the NY Times article did not involve residential oil storage tanks.

The deaths reported by the Times have been associated with larger outdoor above-ground storage tanks often found in residential areas in the rural southern and western U.S. Accidents, explosions, and sometimes deaths occur when oil (or natural gas) vapors, released through a storage tank roof hatch are ignited by a spark from a cigarette, firework, cigarette lighter, or gun.

"The explosions are so violent that victims' bodies are often thrown up to 200 feet from the tanks." the Times reported. Property owners where these fuel storage tanks are installed are encouraged (sometimes legally required) to post adequate safety warning signs and access control fencing.

COMMENT: Why would a 14-year-old Springtown TX teenaged boy drop burning paper into an active fuel storage tank?
OPINION: Because teens, believing they are invincible, try stupid stunts. Attorneys may argue that unprotected outdoor fuel storage tanks are an attractive nuisance to teens.

What is the Risk of an Explosion or Fire From No. 2 Home Heating Oil Fumes?

Heating oil needs to be heated to 140 degF and sprayed or atomized in order to burn. Some oil sales and delivery companies inform us that unlike LP or natural gas fumes, heating oil fumes are not combustible. [Oregon Oil Heat Assoc. and others]. Indeed, in oil burner service school, a demonstration of the low combustibility of home heating oil was demonstrated in the classroom (a huge garage) by tossing a lit match into a coffee can of No. 2 home heating oil. The match went out.

At a typical home heating boiler or furnace that burns No. 2 home heating oil, the oil is ignited by a combination of conversion of the fuel to a fine spray through an oil nozzle (typically at 100 psi or higher), and the presence of a pair of high-voltage electrodes that produce a continuous spark to ignite and keep lit this spray of fuel. The hot sides of the oil burner's combustion chamber liner help complete the combustion of the fine droplets of oil that may miss the flame pattern and stray to the chamber sides.

But the difficulty in igniting a coffee can of home heating oil in a garage is not the whole story. a review of an example MSDS for No. 2 Fuel Oil (home heating oil) such as this example from the responsible professionals at Hess Corporationdiscloses the following indication that Fuel Oil Fumes are indeed combustible:

FIRE AND EXPLOSION HAZARDS of No. 2 Home Heating Oil

OSHA and NFPA Class 2 COMBUSTIBLE LIQUID (see Section 14 for transportation classification). Vapors may be ignited rapidly when exposed to heat, spark, open flame or other source of ignition. When mixed with air and exposed to an ignition source, flammable vapors can burn in the open or explode in confined spaces. Being heavier than air, vapors may travel long distances to an ignition source and flash back. Runoff to sewer may cause fire or explosion hazard.

And a review of an example MSDS for No. 4 Fuel Oil (heavier oil used in industry) contains a similar warning, with an explanation about a reduced explosion risk for this heavier fuel: [The Hess MSDS for No. 6 Fuel Oil contains the same warning as below.]

FIRE AND EXPLOSION HAZARDS of No. 4 Heating Oil

Vapors may be ignited rapidly when exposed to heat, spark, open flame or other source of ignition. When mixed with air and exposed to an ignition source, flammable vapors can burn in the open or explode in confined spaces. Being heavier than air, vapors may travel long distances to an ignition source and flash back. Runoff to sewer may cause fire or explosion hazard.

CAUTION: flammable vapor production at ambient temperature in the open is expected to be minimal unless the oil is heated above its flash point. However, industry experience indicates that light hydrocarbon vapors can build up in the headspace of storage tanks at temperatures below the flash point of the oil, presenting a flammability and explosion hazard.

Tank headspaces should be regarded a potentially flammable, since the oil’s point can not be regarded as a reliable indicator of the potential flammability in tank headspaces.

The bold font (our edit) in the MSDS text above may explain the tragic explosions and deaths reported by the NY Times to have occurred around oil storage tanks.

OPINION: the risk of fire or explosion from normal use of No. 2 home heating oil inside private residences, including during oil tank fill-up, heating system service procedures, or minor drips at an oil pipe fitting, is asserted by home heating oil delivery companies to be very low, and we agree that it is likely to be considerably less than the hazards discussed above where larger storage facilities and a variety of fuels are involved.

Articles About Heating Oil Storage Tank and Oil Piping, Control, Exposure, and Management Safety

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Continue reading at OIL TANK LEAKS & SMELLS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see HEATING OIL EXPOSURE HAZARDS, LIMITS where we describe the health risks to humans from exposure to home heating oil liquid or fumes.

Or see BOILER NOISE SMOKE ODORS for a discussion of flue gas leaks, smells, and hazards from the combustion products of oil burning heating appliances.

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