How to handle the oil tank issue
A: If the tank is no longer in use, the contents of the tank must be pumped out. Oregon law does not require property owners to decommission or test residential tanks for leaks. If the tank has leaked, or is suspected to be leaking, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) must be notified. DEQ will require the property owner to have a cleanup performed. If you are selling your home, Oregon law requires you to disclose the presence of an underground oil tank to the buyer.
A: There is no foolproof method to prove that there is not an abandoned tank buried in the yard. However, a number of resources are available to help you find a tank, if present. Start by asking your inspector to look for obvious indications of a tank, such as a vent or fill-pipe outside the home, or copper or steel oil supply lines in a basement wall, crawl space or basement floor.
No obvious signs of a tank? Many heating oil tank contractors will provide a tank search for no charge or for a small fee.
A: Approximately a third to a half of all underground residential tanks in Oregon have leaked. Because cleanups are sometimes very expensive, it is important for buyers to protect themselves from purchasing a property with a leaking tank. When performed properly, soil testing is the most reliable method for detecting a leaking tank system. A DEQ-licensed contractor should be hired to collect soil from beneath both ends of the tank. Each sample should be analyzed at an independent laboratory. The cost for soil sampling with independent lab analysis generally costs between $200 and $300.
A: A purchase offer contingent on clean soil samples can unravel if soil contamination is discovered. Therefore, many sellers choose to have soil samples collected prior to listing their houses. This applies to both in-service and out-of-service tanks. If the tank has leaked, there is plenty of time to take care of it before offers are made. If testing shows no evidence of leakage, documentation can be presented to a prospective buyer, eliminating the tank as a concern.
It is wise to consult with your real estate agent before deciding when to sample the soil around your tank.
A: Cleanup costs vary according to the severity of the problem. In the past, cleanup rules required the removal of accessible contaminated soil. Balancing the protection of human health and the environment with consumer costs, DEQ created less costly cleanup options. Today, in most situations, a risk assessment can be performed demonstrating compliance with Oregon law without the removal of contaminated soil. Risk assessment and tank decommissioning usually costs less than $3,000.
Although uncommon, highly contaminated sites may require contaminated soil removal and disposal. In some instances, groundwater may also be contaminated, requiring groundwater testing and risk assessment. Cleanup costs for highly contaminated properties can range from $4,500 to $6,000. Complicated cleanups, such as those requiring soil removal and involving groundwater contamination, can cost upwards of $10,000.
A: Most replacement tanks are installed above ground. They are less likely to leak and any problems can easily be spotted with a periodic inspection. Above-ground tanks usually have a 275-gallon capacity and are installed either in the yard nor basement.
Most local governments require that above-ground tank installations comply with nseismic codes to reduce the likelihood that the tank will tip and spill during an earthquake. Protect yourself by making sure your contractor installs your tank in compliance with local codes and obtains an approved mechanical permit, if applicable.
A: Homeowner’s insurance may cover some or all of the cleanup costs. Insurance coverage varies by company, situation and policy type. Carefully read the exclusion portions (what the company will not cover) of your insurance policy, paying close attention to terms such as “contamination” or “pollution.” Also, call your insurance agent and ask to speak to an adjuster.
Another option is a cleanup and/or tank replacement service agreement offered by some oil suppliers. Check with your oil distributor for details.Carefully read the limitations section of every contract. In cases where tanks are discovered to have leaked after a property has been bought, a previous property owner may have legal responsibility for cleanup costs. If you decide to seek legal help, find an attorney experienced in litigating underground storage tank cases. Ask your tank contractor and real estate agent for referrals.
A: Unfortunately, the lowest priced bidder is not always the least cost in the end. Hundreds of tank owners and former tank owners have had work performed, only to later learn it was done inadequately. In such cases, additional work is often necessary to comply with DEQ rules, costing more money. Educate yourself about residential tanks.