Heating Oil Tanks. Out of Sight + Out of Mind = Danger

DEP installed booms and wide pads in a storm drain catch home heating oil before it flows downstream. PHOTO BY ED BAILEY The start of winter means that heating oil season is in full swing.  Whether the oil is stored in an Aboveground Storage Tank (AST) or an Underground Storage Tank (UST), a spill can mean big headaches and high clean-up costs.  Imagine the surprise of the adjuster who just found out that the property owner, who couldn’t even live in their house due to fire damage, was now being cited by the Department of Environmental Protection for violations of the federal Clean Stream Law.  A release of heating oil from the damaged and unoccupied property had created a slick on a nearby stream. 

The contractor renovating the fire damage to the house had a piece of timber/lumber fall through the missing first floor into the basement.  The timber then struck the valve to the heating oil tank, sheering it clean off.  This permitted the heating oil AST in the basement to drain onto the concrete floor.  Unbeknownst to the contractor the basement had a floor drain that day-lighted to an open swale between the house and the street.  The swale also drained spring water from further up the street and always had flowing water.  The oil exited the drain pipe, flowed into this swale and several other swales and eventually ended up in the local creek.  When a resident spotted the sheen on the creek, the County Emergency Management was contacted, who in turn informed the DEP. 

The county emergency officials followed the sheen upstream to the house in question.  As soon as BIA received the call we headed for the site, and while reroute contacted an emergency response firm, who met us at there.  The tank was already emptied by the time that we arrived; however, oil absorbent socks were used to stop any further discharge from the drain pipe.  A series of booms and absorbent pads were used to line the impacted swales and to prevent the oil from moving further downstream.  These quick actions were well lauded by the County and DEP and were attributed with limiting the impact of the release.

Because the swales contained flowing water there were limited oil impacts to the soils along its path.  Most of the impacts were limited to the edge of the swale and BIA demonstrated that these impacts were limited to the upper few inches.  The soil removed remediating this site was measured in 55-gallon drums as opposed to cubic yards or tons.  The entire project was completed in less than three months and the DEP closed the case with no encumbrance, after BIA demonstrated that the soils met the Statewide Health Standards.