Heating oil tanks can, if they are well maintained, last up to 20 years. However, many householders pay scant regard to their oil tanks and rarely even carry out a visual inspection. As a result, every year the Environment Agency has to deal with numerous heating oil spills.
Cleaning up oil spills can be extremely difficult, expensive and time-consuming and, because exposure to heating oil can cause health effects, you or your neighbours may be forced to leave your homes whilst the spill is cleaned up. An Environment Agency Oil Spill Responder, Richfords Fire and Flood, reported cases where entire properties have had to be destroyed to clean up oil spills underneath a property and clean-up costs topping £1 million. HeatFED (Heating Engineers and allied trades federation) has stated that it can cost upwards of £30,000 to clean up domestic heating oil spills.
Protecting Against Heating Oil Spills
The most obvious way of preventing heating oil spills is to make sure you carry out regular checks of your heating oil tank. This should ideally include an annual inspection by an OFTEC registered engineer.
The other step householders should take is make sure they have adequate insurance to protect against heating oil spills. Many household insurance policies will cover the cost of replacing heating oil in the event of a spill (although there may be an upper limit on the amount they will cover) but not all cover the cost of cleaning up spills. Householders should also be aware that insurance companies will declare the policy void if they fail to maintain the heating oil tank in a good condition or, if there is evidence that a leak has been present for some time.
Homeowners should also ensure that, in the event of what they think is a heating oil theft, they inspect their heating oil tank to make sure the loss of oil is not the result of a leak. There have been reported cases where homeowners have refilled leaking tanks thinking they have suffered theft only to lose another tanker full to a leak.
The Industry Steps up Reporting
In November 2013, the Federation of Petroleum Suppliers (FPS) announced a new reporting mechanism for heating oil engineers that allows them to report poorly maintained and unsafe oil tanks. Once reported, the FPS will issue a warning to all their members who have the right to refuse delivery to customers who have been reported.
Further information on oil spills
Read our guide to dealing with a heating oil leak.