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How to inspect property grounds for signs of a buried or abandoned oil tank.
This article assists property buyers, owners, and inspectors in the location of buried oil tanks or the detection of
evidence that an underground (or even an above ground) oil tank is or was in use at a property. This is a photo guide to finding buried oil storage tanks by visual inspection of the grounds around a home.
The article and photographs used to show the reader ways to find buried oil tanks include examples of clues leading to the discovery of
"nearly hidden" buried or underground oil tanks which were found at residential properties and which avoided very costly surprises later for the new owner.
Underground oil storage tanks, or UST's, whether still present or previously removed, involve a
risk of costly oil leaks and soil contamination which may need to be addressed. Here are investigation methods that any home buyer, owner, or home inspector can apply to
reduce these risks by looking for evidence that a buried oil tank is or was at a property.
Also see Above Ground Oil Tanks: Visual Inspection.
Inspect the Property where an Oil Tank Might Have Been Installed
How to Inspect the Grounds of Properties Where There are Known or Suspected Abandoned or Removed Oil Storage Tanks
Have all abandoned tank fill pipes been completely removed from the building to
prevent mistaken delivery and spill into the building? Have old indoor tanks
been removed or marked clearly as "Abandoned, DO NOT FILL" ?
At this property in Rhinebeck, NY we had spotted oil filler and vent pipes inside the dense thicket along the creek.
A decade later during a period of local flooding the tank to which the oil pipes had been connected floated up out of the ground as shown in this photo. The owner no longer had an easy option of "hiding" the abandoned oil tank. Like a spring corpse it had floated to the surface.
If an outdoor buried oil tank has been properly abandoned at a property, the tank should have been excavated at its top, opened, emptied, cleaned, inspected
for evidence of leaks, and then filled with an approved material (perhaps sand or a special foam) both to prevent re-use of the tank and to prevent a possibly dangerous future collapse of
the old tank.
This procedure should have been performed by a qualified tank abandonment company, and documentation should be provided showing who did the work, when it was done,
what inspections or tests were performed to assure that there was no evidence of oil tank leakage into the surrounding soil, and how the tank was filled-in.
If this documentation is not available for a property being purchased then the minimum prudent step would be to order a site inspection and soil testing for evidence of leakage.
Surface soil tests are not as important, in our opinion, as soil borings taken from the approximate depth of the bottom of the tank since that's where more problematic leakage
would have occurred.
If a property seller will not permit site inspection and testing for oil leakage we would be concerned that the owner knows or suspects that a costly contamination issue
One of our clients was told that she would not be permitted to perform any tests or inspections for oil tank leakage prior to purchase of the property - a
sufficiently ominous warning that she did not complete the purchase. We learned that a significant oil spill had occurred and that the owner had herself had removed the
tank fill and vent piping, leaving a costly problem in-ground for the next owner.
FAQs below discusses field reports of problems & solutions for this topic
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about finding USTs
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Questions & answers or comments about how to locate buried oil tanks..
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 Fuel Storage] Tank Corrosion Study, U.S. EPA report on gasoline and oil tank corrosion, James H. Pim, P.E., John M. Searing, Suffolk County DOHS, 15 Horseblock Place, Farmingville Long Island, NY 11728, November 1988, for the Office of Underground Storage Tanks, U.S. EPA. ATTN: David O'Brien. The report presents a study of 500 underground storage tanks spanning 24 February 1987 and September 1 1988 and summarizes earlier reports on this same study. Tank sizes ranged from 175 gallons to 50,000 gallons, and oil tank ages ranged from two years to 70 years old. All 500 oil storage tanks were constructed of welded steel, and 12 other tanks that were other than plain steel were also examined. Summary [with minor edits for clarity by DJF]
 Thanks to Arlene Puentes for for technical edits on oil tank leak advice- 12/2005. Arlene Puentes is a licensed home inspector, educator, and building failures researcher in Kingston, NY.
 "A Case Study of a Large Scale Precision [oil or fuel] Tank Testing Program", Diane H. Heck, Tetra Tech Richardson, Newark, Delaware, web search 4/27/12, original source: http://info.ngwa.org/GWOL/pdf/870143411.PDF, copy on file as /heating/OIl Tanks UST/Tank_Test_Heck_870143411.pdf
 Fuel Oil and Oil Heat Magazine, August 1985 p.18. Fuel Oil & Oil Heating Magazine, 3621 Hill Rd., Parsippany, NJ 07054, 973-331-9545
 Standards of the National Board of Fire Underwriters, as referenced by "Domestic and Commercial Oil Burners,", Charles H. Burkhardt, 1961, 3rd Ed., McGraw Hill Book Company, p. 172
 NFPA - the National Fire Protection Association can be found online at www.nfpa.org
 "The Interim Prohibition Guidance for Design and Installation of Underground Oil Storage Tanks", U.S. EPA, EPA/530-SW-85203, Office of Underground Storage Tanks, Washington D.C.
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 US EPA "How do you Properly Close a UST?" is summarized at epa.gov/OUST/fsprevnt.htm These details for temporary and permanent closing of underground oil storage tanks are provided by the US EPA as well.
 "How do you choose the right tank testing method?", Cynthia Johnson, Fuel Oil & Oil Heat Magazine, November 1995
 National Association of Oil Heat Service Managers, PO Box 380, Elmwood Park, NJ 07407
 "Homeowners Guide to Fuel Storage," Agway Energy Products, Verbank, NY, November 1990
 "Causes of Underground Corrosion", Harco Corporation, Paper HC-36, Median OH
More details and advice about oil storage tank leak testing are discussed at OIL TANK LEAK TEST METHODS SIGNS OF BURIED "How to Find Evidence of Buried Oil Tanks at a Property",
summarizes steps that a home buyer or home inspector can perform first in addressing the question about whether or not there is or
was a buried tank at a property.
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
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