A guide to dealing with a home heating oil spill: Steps to take in a fuel oil leak emergency

1 July 2022

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Leaks and spills from fuel oil storage tanks must be dealt with swiftly. Domestic Kerosene heating oil can cause significant damage to the environment, especially as most oil storage tanks are located in gardens and outdoor spaces. Dealing with oil spills quickly and efficiently will help to limit or even prevent damage to the environment.
 


Identifying where the oil spill is coming from on your oil tank:


In some cases it will be easy to identify the source of the oil spill, such as an open crack or split which may have oil visibly flowing from it, usually the result of a sudden oil spill. In other cases it may not be so easy to identify, for instance if there is a small oil leak from a valve or pipeline, which has happened over time.

Heating Oil leaks are most commonly found to have occurred from the oil storage tank itself due to a defect or fault, or from one of the valves and fuel supply lines attached to the fuel storage tank.
 


Who is responsible for dealing with the oil spill?

It is the responsibility of anyone who uses heating oil to ensure that it is safely stored and contained, and, is only used in a way which does not present an environmental risk. The responsibility to manage the clean-up and any associated consequences should an oil spill happen also falls to the user.

For this reason, it is recommended that if you own or occupy a property that hosts an oil storage tank, you should ensure your insurance covers both the cost of a replacement tank and oil, and the cost of a clean-up should you happen to suffer an oil spill. Most insurance policies would not cover this as standard, and the costs of a clean-up could run into the £1000’s. Without the correct insurance it would fall to the heating oil user to foot the bill.
 


What to do should you suffer an oil spill from your heating oil tank:

It is important that action is taken as soon as an oil leak has been identified. The longer the spill is left without remedial action the worse the environmental pollution will be.

It is important to stress, that you should never use a hose and water or any detergents to wash away an oil spill. This will cause the oil to spread further and will ultimately cause more harm to the environment and create a bigger clean-up bill.

Step 1: Reduce or stop the oil spill

Once a heating oil spill has been identified, the first course of action should be to prevent the oil from spreading into the environment, and if possible to stop more oil loss from the fuel storage tank.

If you can see where the oil has soaked into the ground, or if there is visible oil on top of the ground this can be temporarily stopped by using an absorbent material.  Cat litter, earth and sand can all be used to create a barrier around the heating oil spill to try and reduce the chances of it spreading further. These materials can also be used to absorb any visible oil.

If you can see cracks or splits on your oil storage tank you should try to plug them using a bar of soap to temporarily stop the flow of oil, until the contents of your tank can be emptied. It’s important to try and avoid getting any heating oil on your skin or clothing as this can be dangerous, if you do come into contact with it, wash it off as quickly as possible.

If you cannot see any obvious signs of where the oil leak is coming from, or if the leak has originated from the valves or pipework, the flow of oil should be switched off from the oil tank.


Step 2: Make it known that you have suffered an oil leak

Once you have tried to stop the flow of heating oil from the leak as much as possible, and used preventative measures to limit the environmental pollution. You should then let your local council’s environmental health department know that an oil spill has occurred. Provide them with as much detail as you can about the spill, particularly if you think it may have or is in danger of compromising a water supply. Most local authorities will advertise an emergency number on their website.

You should also make a call to your oil supplier, who will be able to come and assess the extent of the spill and remove the oil from your storage tank to prevent any further spillage. They will also be able to provide further clean-up support using professional spill kits. Gleaner Ltd emergency contact number is 01343 543 535, and is monitored out of hours and at weekends. If you suffer a heating oil spill, you should call this number.

A call should also be made to your insurance provider to inform them of the leak, as you may require a professional environmental contractor to come and manage the clean-up, depending on how much oil has been spilt. If the oil leak has contaminated the ground, all affected soil will need to be removed and any floating oil dealt with. If the oil leak has entered the water system for instance though a river or drain, they will manage the clean-up by coordinating with the necessary industry bodies. The environmental contractor will also correctly dispose of any contaminated materials used in the clean-up.

If you are in a rental property, you should also let your landlord or letting agent know of the oil spill.
 


If an oil spill occurs it is important to remember the following:

It is always our advice to follow the necessary steps and precautions for handling an oil spill as provided by SEPA, The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency. Download SEPA’s guide on how to deal with a domestic oil spill here.

Heating oil and all fuel oil products are harmful to the environment and to humans, therefore it is crucial that you are aware of your personal safety and the safety of others around you, if you do suffer an oil spill. All children and pets should be kept well away from the oil leak. Do not smoke near the heating oil leak, as it is a highly flammable liquid. You should not eat near the oil spill either as a precaution, consuming any of the oil could cause you serious injury. If oil comes into contact with your skin or your clothing it should be rinsed as quickly as possible. Also, if you notice there is a strong smell of heating oil inside your house, you should open the windows and doors to allow the fumes to ventilate.
 


How to prevent a heating oil spill:


The best method of preventing a heating oil spill or leak from your plastic oil storage tank, is to ensure that is well maintained. Picking up on any faults or damage early before they escalate into a major issue is crucial. Read more about how to identify faults with your oil storage tank here, as well as our best practices for looking after your oil storage tank too.

Should you have any concerns about the condition or safety of your oil storage tank or the pipework attached, you should speak to our OFTEC engineers, who can provide further advice or even carry out a site visit if necessary. Our boiler maintenance department can be contacted on 01343 557 435 between 8am and 5pm on weekdays.