Oil Can Spoil Warns The Environment Agency

16th August 2009
The Environment Agency is urging people to check oil tanks carefully before filling them up for the winter as metal tanks in particular, and oil supply pipework may have deteriorated during the summer months.
Damaged oil tanks can leak, potentially polluting local rivers and streams and causing damage to the environment. Oil pollution can prove very costly, both financially and in terms of disruption to people's daily lives. In a small number of instances, the resulting clean up could cost the tank owner thousands of pounds and could lead to potential prosecutions and hefty fines for many householders. Quite simply, it is against the law to cause pollution.
Oil is the most common cause of water pollution, albeit heating oil pollution incidents represent only a minority of reported instances. Each year  however, the Environment Agency is called to around 400 oil pollution incidents across the Thames region alone. Many could have been avoided simply by proper maintenance and good practice, and by following Agency guidelines:

  • Use an OFTEC (Oil Firing Technical Association) - or Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors' (APHC) - Registered Technician to service and inspect your boiler, heating oil tank, equipment and all pipe work, at least once a year;
  • Always supervise your oil delivery, discuss delivery procedures with your fuel delivery company, check that they are happy with your tank and delivery arrangements;
  • Check your home insurance policy - you may not be covered for loss of oil or pollution clean up costs;
  • Inspect your oil tank, associated equipment and pipe work regularly for corrosion, damage, interference and signs of leaks.
    In addition to Environment Agency guidelines, common sense suggests you:

  • Ensure your oil tank is a Bunded Oil Tank. A Bunded Oil Tank consists of a 'tank within a tank'. In the event of a spillage, surplus fuel will be safely and securely contained within the outer tank and a pollution incident will be avoided. Fitting a Bunded Oil Tank is the single most effective weapon in the fight against oil pollution.
  • Choose a responsible fuel delivery company whose vehicles are equipped with a failsafe overfill prevention system - ask when you place your order.
  • Remember that old fashioned Mechanical Overfill Prevention Valves are not failsafe and can cause the very event they're designed to prevent i.e. an overfill. If you have a Mechanical Overfill Prevention Valve fitted to your oil tank, its worth giving serious consideration to having it removed. If you're buying a new tank, be sure to specify a Bunded Oil Tank which does not have such a device fitted and opt instead for a failsafe LRC type system.
  • Ensure your oil tank is properly based. Plastic oil tanks in particular must be fully supported across their entire base by a level, flat base that extends 300mm beyond the widest point of the tank and is capable of supporting the weight of the tank when fully laden.
  • Remember that metal oil tanks tend to rust from the inside out. So no matter how well your steel tank may look on the outside, it could be only days away from failure on the inside.
    Environment Agency Thames Area Manager Simon Hughes said: "If you have an oil storage tank make sure it meets the oil storage regulations and check it regularly - even if it's empty.  Every autumn we receive hundreds of reports of pollution caused when homeowners have their oil tanks refilled before the cold weather sets in.
    "Most incidents are caused by oil spilling from tanks during delivery or leaking during storage. The oil finds its way into local watercourses or into water-bearing rocks below the ground, where it can cause long term damage to water supplies and harm wildlife such as fish, insects and birds.
    "If you use oil for home heating you need to be aware of your risks and responsibilities. Homeowners with tanks that hold more than 3,500 litres must comply with the Oil Storage Regulations, but we would encourage everyone to use these standards as best practice. If you need advice, phone us on 08708 506 506 and remember, oil can spoil".  
    Its also worth remembering that oil storage tank installations with an installed capacity of 3,500 litres or less, are subject to Building Regulations.
    If anyone sees oil pollution they should call the Environment Agency's 24-hour Incident Hotline 0800 80 70 60 immediately. The sooner the Environment Agency knows about an incident, the better the Agency's chance of minimising the impact on water supplies and the environment.

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    Article Last Updated 16th August 2009
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