Guide to Cleaning Up Heating Oil Discharges

Storage tanks containing home heating oil whether they are located underground, above ground or in the basement can rust and leak over time, posing a number of environmental and health risks. In the event of a storage tank discharge where heating oil comes into contact with soil or ground water

How Can I Tell If There Is a Problem?

The following could be signs of a leak in your home heating oil tank:.

  1. Any unexpected/unexplained fuel oil consumption increase that doesn't appear to be caused by additional use of your heating system (such as during prolonged periods of cold weather).
  2. Water in your underground storage tank.
  3. Consistent problems with your oil burner.
  4. Changes in or loss of vegetation in the area over and around the tank.
  5. Oil odors in areas other than around the oil burner.
  6. Tastes, odors or other problems with your drinking water, if obtained from a well.
  7. Staining on basement walls or floors adjacent to the tank.
  8. Presence of oil or a sheen in the basement sump or French drain.
  9. Oil or sheen in any nearby culverts, drainage ditches, storm drains, streams, or ponds.

For 1, 2 and 3, first contact the company that services your heating system to rule out a maintenance problem. To determine whether any of the above problems are caused by a leaking fuel oil storage tank, contact an environmental contractor. Your local health department also may be able to provide you with guidance in determining the source of the problem.

What Are the Steps for Cleanup?

Following are some of the steps a contractor will take to clean up fuel oil contamination. All cleanups will differ depending on individual circumstances. These steps are described here to help you better understand the general cleanup process.

  • The tank will be thoroughly cleaned and properly disposed of or recycled at a scrap metal facility.
  • If the storage tank is underground and must be removed, it will be removed according to local codes and the American Petroleum Institutes recommended practices. Local construction permits will be required from your municipality.
  • Once the tank has been removed, the contractor will excavate from the area any soils believed to be contaminated above the DEPs cleanup criteria. Soils over the tank may be separated from the contaminated soil and used as fill material, which will save on disposal and fill costs.


  • You should file a claim with your insurance company as soon as evidence of a leak is discovered. Most policies require at least prompt notice of a claim, as well as your assistance in providing information to the insurer. Insurance coverage for cleanup of contamination from leaking residential tanks depends on the language of the individual policy and its interpretation.
  • You also may want to consider underground storage tank protection programs that may be available from your oil company or fuel oil distributor to insure yourself against future problems.
Source: New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection
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