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Abandoned Filled in Place Oil Tank

Sep 22, 2015 11:50:00 AM / by David C Sulock

IMG_1951Is your underground oil tank filled with sand?  Like the one in the photo?  Does the permit for your tank mean it’s a safe, non-leaking oil tank? 

Many residents who have underground oil tanks have had their tanks filled. A local permit must be filed for the underground oil tank. This permit, however does not assure that the tank did not leak, and the soil is not contaminated.

At Curren Environmental, we consistently receive calls regarding properties where an oil tank was previously filled with sand. Sometimes the owner has an approval sticker from the municipal construction office, other times they do not. Sometimes the township no longer has a permit record. No soil samples were acquired at time of closure.   The local approval is always meant to document that the tank was filled however this permit does not give evidence that the oil tank is clean, safe and non-leaking.

Can the Buyers of such property request NJDEP documentation on the tank? NO, they cannot. The NJDEP will only be involved if the tank leaks and there is documentation that it did leak. Without having any sample data you have no data indicating, the tank did or did not leak. Additionally the NJDEP does not provide information on sites where tanks do not leak. Buyers are looking for evidence of the tank leaking. If samples were acquired at the original time of closure, this data would be available and a report detailing the tank removal, condition of the tank, narrative on what was performed to complete closure, map of soil samples, analytical data and discussion of the laboratory results as compared to NJDEP standards. It should be noted that soil sampling for a tank closure in 1980 or in 2015 is not required by law, in short, there is no legal driver to have testing done.  What if there was a hole in the tank at time of fill? These previously filled and closed tanks were completed to prevent a problem of oil leaking in the future. What these tank closure projects did not address was IF THE OIL TANK LEAKED?   By not obtaining soil samples, you are not answering the question if the tank leaked PREVIOUSLY. If you are a Seller, you are hoping that buyers will not question the filled and closed tank.   We call this the ostrich effect, put your head in the sand and do not look for a problem. The problem is that people are better informed now regarding oil tanks. It comes up in real estate transactions as buyers (insurance companies, lawyers, mortgage companies) want documentation that the tank did not leak. The underling purpose of obtaining this documentation is that contamination is owned by the owner of a property.

In a scenario where a Buyer knowingly buys a property with an untested tank and later finds out the tank leaks, this new owner is responsible for the remediation.   This can trigger a claim to the insurance carrier, which will be denied, as new policies typically exclude oil tank releases. People sue the carrier, the carrier defends and wins but monies are spent on a suit that was unnecessary. This scenario tilts the insurance carrier to not want to ensure a property with an untested tank. On the mortgage side, the mortgage companies do not want the borrower to encounter a financial loss that would deter them from making mortgage payments. Unfortunately, many people have walked away from properties with environmental tank leaks due to the expense of the cleanup.   Lastly, as sour grapes gestures buyers will sue the seller, thinking the seller withheld information on the tank, meaning the seller knew the tank had a problem. While I am not saying any of these situations apply to your site, these are the triggers for buyers wanting closed and filled tanks removed and tested.  

The best approach is for Sellers to address these tanks prior to a sale to maintain positive control of the project. Let’s face it if there is a problem with the oil tank it is the owner’s responsibility to address the problem. Regulations in New Jersey can be confusing and complicated.

What happens when you remove the filled and closed underground oil tanks? You have two possible scenarios, (1) if the tank was properly cleaned (i.e., devoid of all residual oil) and filled with sand, then the sand will be removed and staged on site for your use. The fill cannot be reused to backfill the tank, as NJDEP regulations require the fill material to be certified clean AND come from a virgin source. Soil removed from an oil tank does not meet the virgin source definition. If in the event that the tank was not cleaned and then subsequently filled with sand, then the sand in the tank is likely impacted with oil and will need to be properly disposed of at an off-site facility. (2) an oil and sand filled tank (No sand does not absorb oil, it is used to make glass and is not porous) that has been left unchecked will cause a problem not from the tank leaking, but rather from the tank overflowing. You see when you fill a tank with sand, you cut a hole into it to allow sand to enter. If oil is left in the tank, you have an oil and sand mix. Add rainwater entering the tank through the hole placed in the tank and you have a bathtub affect that will allow the oil and water to not mix (oil floats on water) and the oil rising to the top of the tank and overflows into the ground.   We had a situation that was identical to this, $19,000.00 later it was resolved


Abandoned filled in place oil tanks CAN BE AN ISSUE, be safe, remove the tank, have soil testing completed and properly address the issue, do not be an ostrich.

David C Sulock

Written by David C Sulock

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