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Residential Heating Oil Underground Storage Tanks (USTs)
Frequently Asked Questions

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Q1. Why are underground heating oil tanks a concern?

Q2. Why do underground heating oil tanks corrode?

Q3. Are residential underground heating oil tanks regulated by the law?

Q4. How do I know if a residential property has an underground storage tank?

Q5. We found an underground fuel oil tank, what do we do now?

Q6. How do you test the tank?

Q7. Why test an underground heating oil tank?

Q8. The property I am buying has an underground heating oil tank that was decommissioned (taken out of service). The tank is filled with sand, gravel or foam and contains no oil. The seller has provided permits and reports from the town building inspector stating that the tank was properly abandoned and decommissioned. Is it still necessary to test the soil surrounding the tank to determine whether contamination exists?

Q9. If the seller cannot provide any written reports about soil testing, should testing be performed?

Q10. Why test the soil around the tank?

Q11. What is the State’s role?

Q12. What are the steps for cleanup for a heating oil tank leak?

Q13. The property owner said he never used that tank and it was there when he bought it, so he or she is not paying for any testing or removal?

Q14. When an oil tank is removed what is a tank certification?

Q15. What is involved with removing an underground heating oil tank?

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Why are underground heating oil tanks a concern?

A1. Historically, petroleum products have been stored in steel Underground Storage Tanks, (UST's). These steel tanks have a finite life expectancy (rust never sleeps) and when corrosion holes breach the tank shell or the welded seams of the tank fail, petroleum will leach into the environment. In response to both state and federal environmental requirements and emerging technology’s, replacement of single wall steel UST's have become a growing trend in order to remove the environmental liabilities associated with Leaking Underground Storage Tanks, (LUST's). Buried heating oil tanks raise a variety of environmental, safety, legal and economic concerns for home owners and home buyers. The largest concerns relating to environmental issues are heating oil leaks that cause soil or groundwater contamination. Economic issues consist of the cost and risks associated with testing, tank removal and site cleanup.

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Why do underground heating oil tanks corrode?

A2. Corrosion is caused by the inherent tendency of iron based metals that most all heating oil underground storage tanks are comprised of, to revert to a stable form. This stable form is what you know as rust. When and how fast steel turns to rust is dependent on a wide variety of variables such as soil moisture, pH acidity, backfill material, physical location of the tank, the thickness of the tank, amount of water in the tank, age of the tank and any scratching or damage occurring during the tank's installation.

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Are residential underground heating oil tanks regulated by the law?

A3. If you have an underground home heating oil tank installed at a residential property, your tank is exempt from Federal Regulations. Should a home heating oil tank release oil into the environment, then at that point the owner of the tank is no longer exempt from the provisions of environmental regulation governing uncontrolled discharges or releases into the environment. At the time it is discovered that an oil tank has leaked, the property owner would need to take reasonable measurers to address the source of the leak/spill and prevent it from spreading and the incident reported to the appropriate agency. In New Jersey the governing agency is the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, (NJDEP) not the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) which is a Federal agency and does not have immediate jurisdiction for these types of incidents. If a heating oil discharge has occurred at your home, regardless of the quantity, the owner is required to report the leak to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). Calling the NJDEP’s toll free 24 hour Environmental Action Hot Line at 1-877-WARN DEP (1-877-927-6337) as soon as a leak is discovered. After discovery of the tank leak, a subsurface investigation (soil borings and testing) would have to be completed and contingent on the petroleum levels appropriate corrective action (i.e., cleanup/remediation) would need to be initiated to address the tank leak.

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How do I know if a residential property has an underground storage tank?

A4. Typically (85%) of the time there are tell-tale signs of an in ground oil tank such as a visible vent and/or filler pipes, disconnected oil lines coming through the foundation wall which were the supply and return lines from the heating oil tank, a concrete channel may be visible in the basement floor that leads to the furnace area.. Any of these physical signs is a good indication of a tank that has been removed or, there is still a tank in the ground.

To be more certain hire an environmental professional who is trained to look for this evidence as well as other key signs and who can also be equipped with a metal detector and a radio frequency locator or ground penetrating radar unit to evaluate a property for a suspect tank (UST).How to find a buried oil tank

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We found an underground fuel oil tank, what do we do now?

A5. The phrase let the buyer beware should be listened too and an appropriate investigation of the tank should be performed. If this is a real estate transaction, under no condition purchase the house, no matter how “good the deal is” until the tank is removed and/or ground is tested by a licensed environmental company for any contamination. If the current owner does not have any paperwork on the tank, then assume such paperwork does not exist and an evaluation of the tank will be required.
It should be noted that the vast majority of oil tanks in the ground are not leaking, but tanks like roofs are an expendable items and require replacement. In addition if a buyer fails to investigate a tank and later (after the purchase) finds that the tank has leaked, the cost for cleanup will be the responsibility of the new owner.

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How do you test the tank?

A6. To investigate for the presence of petroleum, three to four soil borings are advanced around the perimeter of the buried tank. Each soil sample is evaluated on the site for petroleum and the sample indicating the highest field screen reading is submitted to a New Jersey certified laboratory for testing. Soils borings rely on the premise that if a tank leaks, oil will be found in the soils next to the tank. Soil borings also allow you to help quantify the extent of the oil in the soil b running soil samples for independent laboratory analysis.oil tank testing

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Why test an underground heating oil tank?

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A7.Testing heating oil Underground Storage Tanks, (USTs) allows home buyers to complete their Due Diligence Investigation, concerning the integrity of the underground petroleum storage tanks.

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The property I am buying has an underground heating oil tank that was decommissioned (taken out of service). The tank is filled with sand, gravel or foam and contains no oil. The seller has provided permits and reports from the town building inspector stating that the tank was properly abandoned and decommissioned. Is it still necessary to test the soil surrounding the tank to determine whether contamination exists?

A8. If a seller provides a report from a state certified environmental company with laboratory results from a state certified laboratory stating that the soil was tested at the time the tank was taken out of service and filled with sand/gravel or foam, additional soil testing would not be necessary as long as the soil tests were acquired from the appropriate locations and analyzed for the proper laboratory analysis. To verify this answer an environmental professional should review this report to ensure it is complete and thorough.

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If the seller cannot provide any written reports about soil testing, should testing be performed?

A9. Many homeowners have discovered soil contamination exists around their buried abandoned oil tanks that their town or municipality considered properly decommissioned. These homeowners originally purchased property based strictly on the municipality or town building inspector's approval and ignored the fact that soil testing was not performed at the time the underground heating oil tank was filled with sand, gravel or foam. Now, the homeowners are selling their homes and they are providing the buyer with all the municipality's documents about the buried oil tank on the property. Since the homeowner provided no documents about the condition of the soil in the tank excavation, the buyer tests the soil and discovers levels of contamination (heating oil) in the area around the underground tank. Even though the homeowner has all the supporting documentation from the municipality, the responsibility for cleaning up the contamination rests solely with the unsuspecting new homeowner. The regulations read that whoever owns the property owns the problem.

If there is no written report certifying the soil's condition, make sure you test the soil around any abandoned or "properly closed" heating oil tank before you take possession of the property.

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Why test the soil around the tank?

A10. If a spill has ever occurred while filling the tank, or if the tank or piping has or is leaking,residual oil will be present in the soil around the tank. Analytical data from an independent laboratory provides third party data concerning the presence or absence of petroleum around the buried storage tank.

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What is the State's role?

A11. Under state laws, cleanup activities must be conducted for discharges of heating oil when levels are over NJDEP standards or groundwater has been impacted. Contaminated soil and water cleanups may take place with or without state oversight. However, to obtain final state approval of a cleanup, a “No Further Action” letter is needed through the NJDEP’s Voluntary Cleanup Program or UHOT program. This letter is required by mortgage and insurance companies for most real estate transactions. If a NFA letter is needed at closing, please ensure that you leave ample time to complete the cleanup and gain final state approval..

The DEP receives no state funding to cover the costs for oversight; therefore costs must be paid by those who require the service. The NJDEP, in turn, reviews cleanup activities and provides final approval at the conclusion. A property owner may choose to perform a cleanup without participating in the Voluntary Cleanup Program, but the matter will remain an open case until the Department can review the cleanup. Reviews of cleanups conducted outside this program are conducted on a priority basis, with those sites posing the greatest environmental risks addressed first. A “no further action” letter, however, is available only through the Voluntary Cleanup Program.

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What are the steps for cleanup for a heating oil tank leak?

A12.The following are some of the steps a contractor will take to clean up fuel oil contamination. All individual cleanups will differ depending on the size of the plume and if groundwater was encountered. The following steps will help you better understand the general cleanup process.

If there is an underground storage tank that must be removed, it will be removed according to local codes and the American Petroleum Institute’s recommended practices. Your municipality will require a construction permit in order to remove the tank. The tank will be thoroughly cleaned and properly disposed of at recycling/scrap metal facility. Once the tank has been removed, the contractor will take soil samples to determine if a release has occurred. A NJDEP certified laboratory will analyze the samples, and the results will be compared to the NJDEP’s soil cleanup criteria to determine if remediation is required. A quick overview of NJDEP standards: If Diesel Range Organics (DRO) concentrations are detected in excess of 1,000 parts per million (ppm) in the excavation, the soils must also be tested for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) or Base Neutral Compounds. The test will be required on 25 percent of the samples with the highest DRO concentrations exceeding 1,000 ppm of DRO. Concentrations of DRO in excess of 5,100 ppm must be remediated. Concentrations below the 5,100 ppm of DRO may be below NJDEP soil cleanup criteria, and may not need to be remediated. If groundwater is encountered the NJDEP may require more testing before they make this determination.

Once the soil samples are obtained the contractor will be able to determine the size of the plume and give a cost estimate for the clean-up. The contractor will then apply for permits and the remediation process will begin. The contractor will have the soil pre-approved into a licensed recycling facility so that they can be recycled properly. After all of the impacted soils are removed the contractor will take post-excavation soil samples and then backfill the area with certified clean fill.

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Insurance

You should file a claim with your homeowner’s insurance company as soon as evidence of a leak is discovered. Most policies require at least prompt notice of a claim, and they may require your assistance in providing information to the insurer. The language of each individual policy determines if there is insurance coverage for cleanup of contamination from leaking residential underground storage tanks.

Financial Assistance

Grant and loan programs are available from the State of New Jersey to provide financial assistance for cleanup costs. To find out if you are eligible, go to www.nj.gov/dep/srp/finance/ustfund/, or contact the Division of Remediation Support, Bureau of Contract and Fund Management, at (609) 777-0101.

Effective Aug. 2, 2006, the Petroleum Underground Storage Tank Remediation, Upgrade and Closure Program provides loans and grants to eligible applicants to help finance project costs for the closure and replacement of a non-leaking residential underground storage tank. This funding assistance is available through the EDA. If you have additional questions, contact EDA Customer Support at (609) 777-4898 or go to the Economic Development Authority’s Web site

The property owner said he never used that tank and it was there when he bought it, so he or she is not paying for any testing or removal?

A13.Just because the current owner made a bad decision doesn't’t mean you should. Depending on the state where the property is located, there maybe a construction code requiring a tank that is out of service for longer than a year to be removed or properly abandoned, this could help budge the owner to do the right thing and address the tank issue.

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When an oil tank is removed what is a tank certification?

A14. It is typically recommended that all tanks be removed from the ground when taking a tank out of service. When a tank is removed and a site assessment soil sampling is performed by a qualified individual, a professional determination can be put forward as to the integrity of the tank. Some people refer to the determination as a Tank CERTIFICATION. There is no standard certification that is mandated by the EPA or the NJDEP for residential heating oil tanks and given by an independent company. What a property owner can receive is a professional determination from the company performing the tank removal activities describing what transpired during the tank removal. This determination can and should contain a statement regarding the visual integrity of the tank and if the tank did or did not leak. The site assessment to evaluate whether contamination is present in the excavation can be carried out in a variety of ways while the tank is being removed and can consist of the following:

  • Evidence of contamination can be determined from product odors, product stained soils, and/or visual evidence of free product.
  • Inspection of the Underground Storage Tank, (UST), for evidence of corrosion or perforations once the tank is removed from the ground.
  • Obtaining soil samples from along the bottom invert of the tank excavation.

In New Jersey the standard analytical testing method for number two heating oil is Diesel Range Organic (DRO) EPA Method 8015. Testing for DRO gives a broad spectrum look as to the total amount of petroleum hydrocarbons in the soil. Clarification as to concentrations of Diesel Range Organics or DRO, can be ascertained by collection of a soil sample from the tank excavation and submitting the soil sample or samples to an independent licensed laboratory for analysis. Standard turnaround or completion of sample analysis is ten business days from the date the laboratory receives the soil sample. Quicker analysis time frames can be obtained but will be more expensive than the standard ten day around. Bear in mind that turn around times for completing soil laboratory analysis is based on when the laboratory receives/logs in the actual sample or samples. The laboratory may not pickup and log in the soil sample for twenty-four hours after the sample is collected from the property.

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What is involved with removing an underground heating oil tank?

A15.There are a variety of required procedures that need to be followed when a heating oil Underground Storage Tank (UST) is permanently taken out of service. The most important are the confined space requirements for personnel who clean tanks. Any individual who enters a confined space, (an example of a confined space is an oil tank), must complete a 40-hour training course with a yearly 8-hour refresher class to certify the individual for confined space entry. At a minimum, both American Petroleum Institute, API, standards and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, regulations should be observed during tank closures. (For the same reasons that you hire a trained and licensed plumber or electrician, you should also hire an environmental company fully capable of servicing your tank needs).

Standard procedures for closing a UST system entail following American Petroleum Institute, (API), "Recommended Practice 1604, Removal and Disposal of Used Underground Petroleum Storage Tanks,” and American Petroleum Institute Publication 2015, "Cleaning Petroleum Storage Tanks.” Occupational Health and Safety Administration, (OSHA), 2226 - Excavations, OSHA, 29 CFR Part 1926 Occupational Safety and Health Standards Excavations, OSHA, 29 CFR Part 1910, Occupational Safety and Health Standards and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) "Criteria for a Recommended Standard - Working in Confined Space.” By ensuring that tank removal activities follow the guidelines set forth by Federal, state and local ordinances and industry organizations such as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the American Petroleum Institute (API), a property owner is assured that the potential risks relating to performing tank closure activities are addressed.

Local construction/fire permits are typically required to be applied for before the tank can be removed. Once the local permits are approved, it is typical that the local inspector will need to be onsite for all or a part of the removal activities.

State law requires that before any excavation activities can commence, a utility mark out will need to be performed. The company performing the tank removal should call for an underground mark out Not all underground utilities are covered by this service. Also, utility mark outs do not include portions of service lines which are the property owner's responsibility to maintain. It is the responsibility of the property owner to identify all underground utilities which may not be covered by the mark out service.
It is the law in New Jersey and other states, to call for a utility mark out before you dig. Make sure the company you choose to remove the tank obtains a mark out confirmation number. It protects all parties involved.

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To access a buried oil tank it is necessary to uncover the top of the tank to permit entry into the tank for the purpose of cleaning the tank. The majority of Underground Storage Tanks are typically located adjacent to an existing structure or dwelling. Accordingly excavation of an underground storage tank should be made with due care to avoid undermining the dwelling foundation.

After the tank has been excavated to expose the top, and all pumpable liquids removed, the tank should be purged of petroleum vapors. Purging of the tank consists of drawing air through the tank to remove/purge the tank of any hazardous vapors. Without purging the tank, a hazardous environment inside the tank may exist due to lack of oxygen in the tank. After the tank has been properly purged, an inspection of the oxygen level in the tank should be performed. If no hazardous vapors are present and the tank contains sufficient oxygen, the tank should then be entered and cleaned. Cleaning of the tank will consist of wiping, squeegeeing and removing all liquids and sludges from the tank. Liquids are then either placed into onsite storage containers or a vacuum truck. The liquids are then typically transported off the site for recycling. The tank should only be removed from the ground after it has been properly cleaned.

After the tank is removed, soil samples can be obtained and tank excavation will need to be inspected by the local official. Once this is done the tank excavation can be backfilled with clean certified fill.

If these answers are not sufficient or you require additional information, please feel free to contact Curren Environmental at 888-301-1050.

 

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