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How to abandon use of an oil storage tank, either a buried tank or an above-ground oil storage tank.
This document explains how to properly "abandon" or close an underground petroleum storage tank (UST) in place, that is, without having to excavate and remove it.
This procedure is permitted if tests show that the tank has not leaked, and it can save a significant amount of the cost of oil tank removal and site repair to fill in the hole left behind.
We also discuss how to cease using an above ground oil storage tank (AST). And we explain how to use-up or remove heating oil from an oil tank before abandoning it.
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Proper oil storage tank abandonment requires the use of good engineering practices, including consideration of the future condition of the tank. While the original of this article focused on commercial oil storage tanks, the concerns and steps should be examined by those abandoning residential oil tanks as well.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Our photo (left) shows an oil storage tank that was improperly "abandoned" along a stream in Dutchess County New York. The tank, empty, floated up out of the ground when the stream flooded.
In Brief: oil storage tanks which have not leaked can be abandoned by removal or by filling in-place. Oil tank leaks must be reported to the proper authorities.
The US EPA has this succinct advice about abandoning oil tanks:
The US EPA also provides more detailed oil storage tank abandonment guidelines for both temporary and permanent abandonment of oil tanks as you will see
at MORE READING
Significant costs can be involved. Buyers of buildings with buried tanks should either obtain good documentation regarding tank abandonment (and any leak tests performed) or if no documentation is available, testing for leaks is very strongly advised.
In other U.S. states and Canadian provinces similar regulations apply in almost all jurisdictions.
Due to the corrosive properties of the soil environment, any steel tank left in the ground will eventually corrode and collapse.
See OIL TANK FAILURE RATES and
also see OIL TANK FAILURE CAUSES. For this reason, storage tanks which are no longer to be used must be properly "abandoned" or "discontinued."
Abandon an oil tank without removal: Abandonment of an oil tank does not itself require that a tank be removed. If a tank has not leaked, thus is there is not a soil contamination issued, it can be opened, cleaned, inspected, and filled in-place. Actual removal of a buried tank involves the additional expense of excavation to remove the tank and then having to fill-in the hole.
Home inspectors in states or provinces where oil-fired heating equipment is used may often find indications that an old tank has been "abandoned" at the property either because of a switch to an alternative fuel or because an old leaking tank was supplanted by a new one. Safety and environmental concerns mean that an improperly abandoned tank may become a significant future cost to the homeowner.
Portions of this article are from the first half of a New York DEC article printed in the NYSBOC Building Log newsletter in 1992. While most of the present tank regulations exclude the mere presence of residential heating oil storage tanks under 1100 gallons from having to be reported, inspectors should watch for changes: increasing public concern is leading to increased regulation of residential tanks. Original author - Russ Brauksieck. Extensive edits & additions: D J Friedman.
Many localities across the country are allowing underground petroleum tanks to be filled with water if the tank is to be closed in-place. This is not a good engineering practice because the water will accelerate the ultimate corrosion of the tank. Subsequently, the water, now contaminated by the residues in the tank, will escape to the soil and eventually contaminate the ground water.
Note: Long Island NY requires that residential heating oil tanks be registered with the State Department of Environmental Conservation. (C)Trap DJ Friedman
In addition, the tank, now empty, is likely to cave-in along with the ground around it. The need to require that good engineering practices be used in underground storage tanks has prompted the development of much legislation across the country. Abandoned buried storage tank cave-in prevention is discussed in the next section of this article.
Note: Regulations for proper closure of underground petroleum storage tanks in New York State [and almost certainly in other oil-using states as well] have been promulgated by the NYS Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code (UFPBC), the U.S. EPA, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
When the Oil Tank must be emptied:
Also see NFPA 31, (2011) Sections 7.12 and 7.13 having the identical text as NFPA 31 Section 2-8 in older editions in older editions, with a possible exception, and with an affidavit required in 7.13. which provides
"If a tank and its related piping is abandoned for whatever reason, the tank and all piping connected to it, including the outside fill and vent piping and any piping connected to the appliance, shall be emptied of all contents, cleaned, removed from the premises or property, and disposed of in accordance with all applicable local, state, and federal rules and regulations."
Thanks to NHFireBear, a frequent InspectApedia contributor, for updates to these standards. 5/11/2015 - Ed.
Regulations addressing reporting of oil tank leaks and oil tank abandonment of oil tanks written
various state and federal authorities are discussed in more detail
at OIL TANK REGULATIONS - "Buried Tank and Above Ground Oil Tank Leak Reporting & Tank Abandonment Regulations"
In order to avoid cave-ins, all of these regulations require that tanks either be removed or filled in-place with a solid, inert material, using good engineering practices.
Such fill material is also required to prevent the tank from surfacing after closure, should the ground water table rise, and to completely seal the tank and associated piping from future use as a tank system.
Acceptable solid, inert materials for closing a tank include sand, concrete slurry, and even some foams. When the tank eventually corrodes and collapses, this solid material inside the tank will keep the ground from caving in.
21 January 2015 mike rose said:
my neighbor has a abandon oil tank that has a certificate saying it was done right i question this.The big problem is the tank sets behind a retaining wall that is 6 inchs from my property line and is collapsing and has been failed by a engineer. my lawyer says they have been notified with the report and we really can't do anything.
i am going to check for soil contamination the tank is from 1964 and the tank was abandon in 1992.and is still in the ground and has a sink hole developing above it.can i do anything.
- This question appeared originally at RETAINING WALL DAMAGE and is shown in the FAQs section of that article. - Ed.
Watch out: If an "abandoned" buried oil storage tank is collapsing that is certainly a potential hazard in several regards and it has not been properly abandoned. I have myself seen collapses, damage to nearby building foundation walls from water collecting at the buried oil tank (UST) location, and even heating oil leaks through the foundation wall off an adjacent building.
Details about proper oil storage tank abandonment, regulations, and safety or environmental concerns are found in this article series - see MORE READING at the end of this article.
I suspect that what your neighbor might have is a document stating that there was no evidence of leakage - which would have permitted the tank to be abandoned in place. But that abandonment, properly conducted, would have included cleaning the tank and filling it with sand or another suitable material.
To check for soil contamination one would need to collect soil samples close to the tank and to a depth of the tank's bottom.
Watch out: If there is a sink hole risk the area should be roped-off and protected until proper investigation and repairs can be made:
If those steps have not been taken already, notify the owner and building authorities of a small but potentially dangerous local sink hole condition as a child or possibly even an adult falling into such an opening could be very serious, even fatal.
Watch out also for further damage to your foundation wall by movement of heavy equipment on the higher level near the wall itself, or by excavation in that area (for example should detection of an oil spill require tank and soil excavation).
The UFPBC also requires that underground petroleum tanks to be closed in-place shall be made safe by removing flammable or combustible liquids from the tank and connecting lines; disconnecting the suction inlet, gauge and vent lines; and capping the remaining piping.
All storage tanks removed from their location must also have flammable or combustible liquids removed, have the same lines disconnected; have sections of connecting lines not to be used further removed, and have inlets, outlets, and any leaks capped or plugged. The basic procedures for meeting these requirements are defined in the State and federal regulatory programs.
In addition to requiring the same basic procedures as the State regulations, the federal UST regulations require that a site assessment be performed by the owner/operator when a tank is closed. (Heating oil tanks, and farm and residential tanks storing less than 1,100 gallons of motor fuel are exempt from these regulations.)
See INDOOR OIL TANK ABANDONMENT for some suggestions for using up heating oil or removing it from an oil tank to be abandoned.
For a detailed description of the steps required for proper tank abandonment or for more information on site assessments and permanent tank closure, contact your state department of environmental conservation. In New York inspectors can contact the author or the Bulk-Storage help-line 800-242-3451.
If you are going to convert to gas or another heating source but you first want to use up the heating oil in your oil storage tank, and provided that your oil fired heating equipment (oil fired boiler, furnace, or water heater) is good operating condition, you can choose to simply let the old, to-be-abandoned oil fired equipment keep running until you run out of oil ... almost. There are a few problems to watch out for:
If your oil tank piping lines come off of the top of the oil tank and are properly installed the lines won't pick up the sludge, water, and last few inches of oil in the tank, so you'll probably be fine just running your oil fired equipment until you run out of oil.
If your oil tank piping lines come off of the bottom of the oil tank and you run it out there is the risk of pulling sludge and crud into the oil filter, oil burner, and losing heat if those components clog. If the oil burner shuts off in that manner, it'll indeed be shut off firmly until it's repaired, so don't try this if you're still depending on the oil heat to keep working (say to avoid freezing).
Your gas heat or other new source of heating should be hooked up and ready to run. Thus you can run the oil heat until it runs out or fails on clogging without risking leaving the building with no heat source - risking frozen pipes, water damage, mold contamination, etc.
The heating service technicians will not want to remove old oil-fired heating equipment until it is completely cold. That's because they don't want to deal with hot water, burns, etc.
The old oil tank may still need to be pumped out if there's oil remaining in it - lest you get a messy leak and spill later.
If you are converting fuel from oil to gas and intend to continue to use the same chimney that vented your oil fired heating equipment be sure to have the chimney cleaned and inspected for safety. The draft characteristics of these fuels differ, so chimney repairs or changes could be needed for safety.
Be SURE that the tank filler and vent are totally removed lest you get an un-wanted oil delivery. Don't laugh, it happens.
When switching from oil heat to gas heat, who is responsible for removing the tank filler and vent? The oil company or the gas company? Or do I have to hire a additional contractor? I've heard stories about unwanted oil deliveries. They are heart breaking. - Laura
Laura just removing the oil tank filler and vent are simple plumbing disconnections that can be performed by a plumber or general contractor. I agree that removing the abandoned filler is critical.
It is too common that some (not all) contractors in all building trades "just do their job" and leave parts of it incomplete, pointing to you or other contractors to finish the job. I call this the "peanut butter" approach to business. "Just buy some stuff and smear it on the house and get paid" - you don't care if the actual problem is really solved or the need fulfilled, or the job is complete and functional.
At a recent building project in Dutchess County NY we hired the top, most expert, and most expensive chimney company in the Hudson Valley to install a new metal chimney for an oil fired heating boiler. For years I had recommended that company to our clients.
In my case their work was very disappointing: During installation we had to do our own framing and our own sealing of the new chimney base at the roof line. And the new chimney installation work was of poor quality: dented metal chimney sections, floppy inadequate support brackets that left the chimney wobbling side to side, a crushed leaky chimney cap, damaged roof drip edge, even a small puncture in the rubber roof where the workers dropped something.
And the chimney installation job was incomplete: the contractor left all of the old chimney and parts for us to remove separately at our own expense.The company "skimmed the cream" of profit from the job , got in and out fast, and didn't care about the success of the whole project. When I complained, my long time but disappointing friend Bill, the owner said "Dan we've always done it that way, in thousands of jobs. That's just the way we do it."
It appeared that the company felt we were just being picky. And indeed their contract spelled out quite clearly that they would not remove old components nor perform any framing. But what is often not made clear to the customer is that those tasks are absolutely necessary and that additional trouble and expense will be involved in their completion.
It's up to you the homeowner to ask about, and then discuss these details with the contractors ahead of time and be sure that all the needed tasks are done. Now after the fact you can try asking them to come back and do more work, but once paid, the contractor may be reluctant to return - for free. Don't pay for work that is unsatisfactory or incomplete. Or to have added out-of-contract-scope work performed, pay the contractor to return and do it. Or hire someone else.
I discussed the abandoned oil fill pipe question recently with a New York heating oil delivery truck driver as we recounted horror stories of oil deliveries into building basements.
The driver said if he finds a filler that has been duct-taped over he would not remove it to deliver oil. I said that I know of cases of less experienced drivers doing stunning things like removing plywood nailed over the filler pipe, turning an upside down filler right side up and pumping oil into the open basement of a home.
I claim the old oil fill and vent pipes should be removed promptly and that there is no major cost involved except in very odd cases. The risk is not worth wasting time arguing over.
You should also notify your oil company both by telephone and in writing that the oil tank has been removed and that they should remove you from automatic oil delivery immediately.
I have someone interested in buying my home. The oil tank on the property was abandoned properly years ago and signed off by the EPA…but this was done before records were kept on computers…the buyers just want verification that the tank was abandoned, not a soil test. I’m wondering how much this will cost me? And how this is done?
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(Aug 10, 2014) jerry said:
1. what documents are required to prove you have properly decommissioned a # 6, 10,000 gallon oil tank.
2. What do you get back from the govt agency that you can show that this is a done.
3. after it is cleaned, do you have to test it ?
4. What is the actual process?
You are most likely asking about a commercial oil storage tank not a residential one - its size and use as well the state or province where it is located determine the precise regulations that apply. I'd start by contacting your local department of environmental conservation or DEP, and your building department. Typically if a tank has not leaked, it is emptied and might be permitted to remain in place.
(Oct 3, 2014) edmundo nunes said:
in1989 the oil tank was abanded under ground the top was cutered the interior was cleaned and filled with sand if I sele the house do I have to remove the tank?
If an oil storage tank has not leaked, was properly abandoned, and you have documentation describing those conditions, then I can't imagine who would demand that the tank be removed.
OK well I can imagine it but such a demand would not be reasonable.
(Jan 25, 2015) Carl Kasprzyk said:
I have. Fuel tank under a lean too it was emptied and filled with sand 28 years ago. Is that going to be a problem if I sell the property
Carl, if the fuel tank never leaked then I would not expect a significant issue at property resale. If you have no authoritative document proving that there was no leakage I'd expect a buyer to have some tests performed to be sure no cleanup is necessary. An above-ground tank case should be easier and less costly to assess than if the tank were buried.
19 Feb 2015 Kathleen Hews said:
Home under contract in NJ, UST was abandoned in place in 2004, soil tested negative. Tank is being removed next week and another soil test will be performed. Do you think there's possibility of soil contamination now?
Kathleen, if the soil tested was examined at the proper location - at a depth of the bottom of the tank and close to the tank at the recommended locations, then that's about as good a check as you can do prior to removing the tank, and it's a reasonable guess that the tank hasn't leaked. Naturally, if the tank is being removed, the removal company is legally required to report any oil spills or leaks that are apparent during that process.
(Apr 24, 2015) Anonymous said:
Can you fill an underground abandoned oil tank with sand rather than excavate?
In most jurisdictions (check with your local DEP EPA etc) you are permitted to abandon an unused, buried oil tank in place provided that it is emptied (and some jurisdictions may require cleaning), and that it has not leaked. Testing may be required to assure that there was no oil leakage. If the tank leaked it will probably have to be excavated to permit removal of contaminated soils.
Be sure to keep documentation showing that an oil storage tank was properly tested and abandoned so as to avoid a possible property re-sale issue.
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