Around 1 million homes in Britain are fuelled by oil, with that oil stored in either overground or underground outdoor tanks. Many of these homes are off the gas grid and are most likely found in rural areas, such as Wales, the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and the east, southwest and Midlands areas of England. Whilst this might be part of a rural idyll, it can also lead to a hugely expensive oil clean-up operation, if the tank should start to seep, leak or split. That can result in a small, large or major insurance claim, according to how much land has been contaminated by the oil, whether it has seeped into groundwater or watercourses, and whether it has managed to get into the foundations of properties, causing extensive damage.
To help homeowners steer clear of the misery that can be caused by a seeping oil tank and spillage, or help them contain the damage, as much as possible, after discovering it, we have put together the following information and guidance. If you need help processing your insurance claim for oil seepage or spillage, all you need do is pick up the phone and call us on 0800 077 6705. If we manage the clean-up and repairs programme for you, as well as liaising to get you your rightful insurance settlement, our services to you will typically come at no charge to you, the policyholder.
Spotting and preventing issues
- Don’t leave your tank out of sight and out of mind. Regularly inspect the area around an overground tank for signs of spillage or seepage and check the tank structure and shape. Look for any cracks or splits in a plastic tank and check a metal tank for signs of corrosion, especially at the base. Try to carry out checks once a week and include pipes, hoses at the boiler end, and connections.
- If you have an underground tank, be extra cautious if you can smell the odour of oil around your property or where the tank is based.
- Regularly monitor your oil usage and be wary if you suddenly appear to be using more than normal. Oil could be seeping out of the tank and causing your supply to go down faster than usual.
- Make sure you do not leave the tank’s sight gauge and delivery valves open and always check these for any signs of damage.
- Never buy more oil than you can store in a safe manner.
- Have your boiler and tank serviced annually by OFTEC technicians and make sure this service includes pipework.
- Always supervise your oil deliveries.
- Never allow your tank to be overfilled.
- Make sure that, if you store over 3500 litres of oil, you comply with the law and use a bund to prevent leakage. There is nothing to stop you using a bunded tank for lower amounts and a plastic-bunded tank could help prevent issues, giving you a tank within a ‘holding tank’.
- Test an underground tank every 3-5 years, unless it is over 20 years old. At that stage, it will be coming to the end of its life and should be tested every year.
- If you have an unused underground tank, consider having it removed completely or otherwise get an expert to clean it out. If not, it will still contain some oil that could be washed out by water, causing an issue for you.
- Make sure an expert installs any new tank that it is situated on an even base. An uneven base could cause the plastic to stretch, spilt or crack.
- Take every precaution to prevent rainwater entering the tank.
- If moving the tank to another location, make sure you will be complying with Building Regulations and have a required assessment carried out beforehand by an Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) registered technician, to make sure environmental and fire risks have been considered. Get an expert to pump out the tank before you attempt to move it.
- Wherever possible, make sure your tank is 10 metres away from any water course such as a pond, stream, river, ditch or lake and 50 metres away from any borehole.
What to do if an Issue Occurs with Your Oil Tank
- Switch off the oil supply at the tank
- Attempt to find the source of the issue and also work out how much oil may have been lost.
- To prevent oil spreading and getting into drains or water courses, use sand, earth, or even cat litter, to try to contain it.
- If a split or hole is spotted in a metal tank, you could try applying sealant as a temporary measure. If a split appears in a plastic tank, rub a bar of soft soap into that split.
- Do not try to wash the oil away with buckets of water or hose pipe.
- Do not apply detergents to the oil.
- If the oil has affected other items around it, lift those off the ground and try to stand them on containers that will keep the oil inside them. These items can then be disposed of, with expert help.
- If you feel the spillage is less than 5 litres in total, dig up the affected patch of ground and dispose of the soil correctly. Here, this is probably going to be no more than a few buckets of soil, with no more evidence of oil thereafter. If you need to, ring your insurance company and report a claim. If you know you could benefit from help in handling such a claim, call Aspray on 0800 077 6705.
- If you believe the issue is more serious than just a few buckets of contaminated soil, you need to report it to the local council, as groundwater may be contaminated and, in counties such as Essex, groundwater is a major water resource. Any inkling that this has occurred, or that drains, rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, estuaries or coastal waters could have been affected, should lead to a call to the Environment Agency, on 0800 807060, as a matter of urgency.
You will need to notify your insurer, to get a claim underway and hopefully have the cost of hiring specialist clean-up contractors covered. This is likely to become a complex claim, however, and expert assistance in handling it would most probably be advantageous. Call Aspray on 0800 077 6705, to get someone in your corner during the claim and repairs process and to make sure that all avenues of possible further damage are explored.
- If you believe water supplies are affected, do not drink any water and warn your neighbours.
- Once all authorities and experts are notified, let them take over and advise what action is required. Work with your Aspray loss assessor as your point of liaison with the authorities and they will handle all on your behalf, helping to remove that burden from your shoulders, whilst keeping you fully informed. They can be with you right through the process, from your first phone call, until your property is fully reinstated.