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A guide to heating oil tank spills and leaks



No matter how well you maintain your oil tank, leaks can occur because of environmental damage, such as changes in humidity and temperature causing expansion and contraction, which can result in seasonal temperature changes.

As well as being costly and inconvenient, an oil tank leak can also be damaging to the environment, property, and human health.

How do heating oil tank leaks occur?

Heating oil tanks can leak for a number of reasons, including:

  • Failure of the tank body
  • Damage to equipment on the tank
  • Damage to the fuel feed lines
  • Failure of components at the boiler end of the system

Dealing with oil tank leaks

An oil leak or spill can have a huge impact on surrounding wildlife and the environment, so it’s important that it’s correctly dealt with, and fast.

If you use heating oil, it is your responsibility to ensure that it is safely stored and does not pose a risk to the environment. And, if a spill does happen, you will be responsible for managing the clean-up and repair, the costs for which can run into the thousands. With this in mind, it’s essential to have the relevant insurance in place, covering both the cost of a replacement tank and oil and the cost of the clean-up operation.

Of course, before you can deal with your oil tank leak, you’ll need to determine that it is actually leaking – which can be easier said than done.

If your tank is indoors, then you will typically be able to smell oil and see it on the floor close to the source of the leak. If your tank is outdoors, however, it isn’t always so easy – so it’s worth checking for leaks on a regular basis.

The dangers of an oil leak

Oil leaks can be incredibly harmful to the environment. Kerosene heating oil is toxic and harmful to plants and animals, as well as posing a risk to habitats and water.

And the longer the oil leak is left unresolved, the worse the impact will be. So, if your oil tank has spilt into controlled waters such as streams, ponds, or lakes, it’s vital that you contact the Environment Agency as a priority.

If left unaddressed, heating tank oil leaks can also be harmful to your health, leading to strong odours and fumes which can cause symptoms such as headaches, sore throats, and eye irritation.



Steps to solve an oil tank leak

Signs of an oil tank leak include:

  • A strong smell of oil around or inside your home
  • Blackening of grass around the tank or pipes
  • Noticeable increase in usage and cost

If you experience an oil tank leak, you need to act fast! Take the following steps to help resolve the leak as quickly as possible:

  1. First, you need to prevent any more oil from leaking out, so turn the tap off to stop the flow of oil.
  2. Next, try to identify where the leak is so that you can reduce the flow of oil.
  3. Check if the leak has caused any oil to spill onto the ground. If it has, try to absorb as much as possible using sand and attempt to prevent any spread to nearby buildings or water sources.
  4. Once you have taken measures to soak up any oil that has spilt onto your own land, you’ll need to identify whether it has spread to any other land.
  5. Next, try to identify how much fuel has been lost from the tank by checking your usage records, as well as receipts from the fuel supplier. You should also contact your fuel supplier and ask them to remove the remaining fuel as quickly as possible.
  6. You’ll need to contact your insurance provider, who should arrange for contractors to deal with the spill. If the heating oil has contaminated any controlled waters, such as streams, ponds, or lakes, you’ll also need to contact the environmental agency.

Identifying where the leak is

A leak can occur at any point in your heating system, or even multiple points, so it isn’t always easy to identify where the leak is.

  1. Assess the tank itself for any signs of damage, and check for oil in the area immediately around the tank.
  2. If there is no oil close to the tank, follow the pipes, again looking for any signs of damage or oil on the ground.
  3. Assess the boiler to check whether there are any leaks coming from a valve in your furnace.

Repairing damaged oil pipes

If the leak is caused by a damaged pipe, you’ll need to repair it as quickly as possible to prevent any further damage. Remember, all pipe repairs must be carried out by an OFGEM-approved technician to ensure that they meet the necessary regulations.



Replacing a domestic heating oil tank

If you need to replace your oil tank due to a leak, you must ensure that the old tank is removed safely and the new tank complies with all relevant Building Regulations, as laid out by your Local Authority. You will need a Building Notice as proof of compliance unless the work is carried out by a qualified and registered technician who is permitted to certify their own work.

If any of the below apply, the replacement tank must also have secondary containment:

  • Has a capacity of at least 2,5000 litres
  • Is situated within 10m of controlled water, such as a stream, ditch, river, lake, pond, or canal
  • Is located where a spillage could run into an open drain or loose-fitting manhole cover
  • Is located within 50m of sources of drinking water
  • Is located on the hard ground of hard surfaced ground that could allow spilt oil to run into controlled water
  • Is located in such a way that the tank vent pipe outlet cannot be seen from the fill point.

Read our full guide to heating oil tank replacement here.


Why Choose Us?

Don’t let a heating oil tank spill or leak turn into a nightmare for your property! Take action now and safeguard your home with NWF Fuels’ expert solutions. Our experienced team is here to provide you with comprehensive services, from containment and clean-up to tank replacement and environmental remediation. With our state-of-the-art equipment and extensive knowledge, we’ll swiftly address the issue, minimising any potential damage to your surroundings. Your safety and peace of mind are our top priorities.

Don’t wait until it’s too late – contact NWF Fuels today, or call us on 01829700120 and let us handle the situation with efficiency and professionalism. Get a free quote here.