Failing an underground oil tank test

Interpretation, planning the next step, prevention and retention of the customer

Fuel oil dealers primarily respond to changes by responding to competitive market forces. First it was the COD discounters, then the gas companies and we responded to each in kind. With the subject of the underground tank looming, dealers are being bombarded again by forces affecting our markets. Shall we respond as before or will we promote programs to derail threats? In New York and New Jersey, The Homeowner’s Environmental Loss Protection Program

set a precedent and become a valuable tool to thwart gas conversions, but more tools are needed, especially to address the uncontrollable leak of accounts occurring at the time of a

ownership transaction.

As vice president and founder of Annis Fuel Oil Service (AFOS), I recognized underground oil tanks as an opportunity area in the early 1980s. With the passing of the New Jersey Hazardous Substance Storage Act and amendments to the Spill Act, tank operations began to overlap environmental science. Four years of chemistry at the university has paid off. While spinning ANCO Environment in 1991 I remained faithful to the beginning of my oil industry. As a small oil merchant I am sensitive to the

threat poses UST hysteria. With diplomacy, I sell UST services to local fuel dealers who otherwise compete with my family’s oil company. Instincts say to negate or minimize the UST problem. But the distant environmental storm is imminent and needs to be addressed. Our

the customer’s financial interests are at stake and they are looking for leadership. Fuel dealers need to address and ward off the public relations damage from leaking underground tanks, learn how to select a suitable tank test, define the true opponent behind the oil tank debacle, and finally find solutions. I hope that the material presented here will help in these areas and prevent the loss of customers from oil heat to other fuels in the transfer of real estate. Since both of my companies operate primarily in New Jersey, much reference is made to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) regulations. These regulations may be reflected by similar regulations in other states. Consult your state’s Environmental Protection Department for specific regulations for your area.

Wrong information

The gas companies are in charge of marketing campaigns that suggest that oil heat causes underground pollution. Our observations support the opposite conclusion. Statistically, there are more remediation projects involving abandoned or improperly closed tanks than active tanks. Homeowners insurance rejects most UST pollution claims, which is why the leaky tank owner who has switched to gas heat is in more trouble today than he who stayed with oil. But where the gas-heated homeowner gets stuck with the clean-up bill, the oil industry assumes the negative consequences. To win the PR game, the fuel industry must get around the problem. Move the focus from ‘oil heat’ to ‘underground tanks’ and adopt a proactive attitude.

A fuel oil account is most vulnerable at the time of a real estate transaction. Tank testing and site certification are becoming increasingly common. Driven by liability issues and the due diligence audit requirement that defines the innocent buyer, the buyer’s attorneys secure their client’s right to test around an oil tank. This mechanism will continue to infiltrate oil heat well into the future, largely as a result of public misconceptions.

Know your opponent

Recently a fuel dealer told me “… it’s the lawyers. They blew this up out of proportion.” Others say it is the gas companies, or the gas heating contractors, or the brokers, or the tankers. All these parts are a vocal response to the real, silent opponent; corrosion. Soils with a low pH in combination with a high groundwater level ensure a high ion exchange rate with the tank. Inhomogeneous replenishment concentrates the resulting electrochemical reaction at points of greatest electrical conductivity. Therefore, soil particles with a favorable mineral content or construction waste that hits the tank complete the corrosion circuit. Over time, this reaction dissolves a hole in the tank. Chemical and physical laws are accelerated by poor construction practices. This is the underlying force behind the refueling problem.

Looking at the history of environmental legislation, the basis was the federal clean water law of 1977. This legislation targeted industrial polluters. In 1984, with the approval of the New Jersey Environmental Cleanup Responsibility Act (ECRA),

Regulatory liability made the presence of a UST a headache for industrial property owners. This was the distant storm of the current UST debacle. Stricter industrial environmental regulations have penetrated residential situations.

In June 1993, ECRA was amended and renamed ISRA, Industrial Site Recovery Act. Many positive changes made the regulations more “user-friendly” and even compassionate with the creation of a spill fund. Almost unnoticed with these changes, however, there was a change in the Compillation and Control Act (Spill Act), which introduced a principle that had significant implications for all current and future New Jersey property owners. The new principle makes that known future owners of contaminated goods are liable for pollution they have not caused. The potentially damaging language of this amendment makes buyers responsible for any discharge of a dangerous substance unless they can meet certain criteria:

  1. That they acquired the property through an inheritance;
  2. That they acquired the property after the discharge has taken place;
  3. Lack of knowledge at the time of acquisition that dangerous materials had been leaked;
  4. Lack of involvement in the management of the leaked hazardous materials prior to acquisition;
  5. Notification to NJDEP upon actual discovery of the discharge.

In order to demonstrate that a new owner was unaware of and had no reason for the release of dangerous substances into the property, the acquirer “must have undertaken all appropriate investigations into previous ownership and use at the time of acquisition”. of the property. “” All appropriate surveys “require the performance of a preliminary assessment and, if necessary, a site survey. In the case of an underground storage tank, nothing less than soil testing meets the applicable survey threshold, identifying a damaged purchaser as a “innocent buyer.” This concept is the cornerstone of the “innocent buyer crime” used by buyers to act responsibly or

contributing negligent parties to the real estate transaction. Driven by regulation and just old-fashioned ‘watch the buyer’, tank testing is here to stay.

Choosing the right tank test

The correct test is a function of the tank status, location conditions and general objective. Verifiability and timeliness of results are additional test selection criteria. Test limitations, possible false positive and false negative conditions are discussed after the introduction of each technique.

An overview of the tank test methodology is taken from ANCO’s UST LINE*, Number 4. It asks the question “which tank test method is best?” The purpose of a tank test is two-fold: to protect the buyer from a past leak and protect the seller from a problem that didn’t exist when I sold his house. To achieve these goals, we are looking for one answer: has the tank in question leaked and caused an environmental problem? In short, is the location contaminated?

When choosing a test to answer this question, the first concerns will be accurate results and verifiability. Simple planning, quick results and costs are also important. Finally, a test that applies to the correct situation is needed, taking into account soil stratigraphy and compensation for location conditions.

The best test option meets all or most of the goals for accuracy, verifiability, speed, and cost.

There are three main categories of tank tests: liquid, air and soil tests. The first two are in-tank tests using delicate computer-based instruments that measure the loss rate of a reagent, liquid or gas when it leaks from the tank. This is exactly the drawback of in-tank tests. Will a buyer find a leak rate acceptable? Probably not. But the NJDEP does. To help compensate for certain limitations of these tests, the NJDEP

You have set a pass / fail leak threshold of 0.05 gallons per hour, under which the tank will legally “pass” the test. But this “acceptable” leak rate is 1.2 gallons per day or 438 gallons per year. This is not acceptable to most buyers.

In front of liquid testsFor volumetric tests, the tank must be filled with oil up to the neck of the filler neck. Minor changes in volume are observed, and the tank only fails if the oil level drops at a rate of more than 0.05 gallons per hour.

  • Benefits: This test does not interfere with the surface.
  • Cons: False positive results, which indicate a leak, are not uncommon for conditions as benign as loose wires on the filler pipe. A fuel supply must be closely matched to the performance of the tank test itself. This entails additional costs. Even worse, if the tank has a leak, the test itself will release more pollution into the ground.
  • Verifiability: In addition to assessment of test data, verification is impossible without a complete new test.

Air tests come in three types: pressure tests, vacuum tests and tracer tests. Pressure testing includes applying air pressure to the tank and watching for pressure drops. This is an outdated test that can blow out a weak spot in the tank and cause a significant leak.

Vacuum testing involves connecting all pipes to the tank by applying a vacuum and then listening for leakage noises through a hydrophone.

Tracer testing involves injecting an isotope of a rare gas into the tank and using sensors placed outside the tank to detect the leakage of the rare gas. Processing results can take up to 10 days due to the gas migration period, i.e. clayey soils slow the migration rate.

  • Benefits: Vacuum and tracer tests are easy to coordinate, do not interfere with the surface and also test the pipes.
  • Cons: False positive results from loose fittings are not uncommon, and the volumetric portion of these tests uses the .05 gallon / hour standard.
  • Verifiability: Aside from data verification, verifiability is only possible through full retest.

The third category, the soil test, directly measures the amount of oil that has already leaked and answers the central question immediately, simply and cost-effectively.

In this test, soil samples are taken from around the tank at a depth of 6 “-12” deeper than the bottom of the tank. These samples are tested for petroleum hydrocarbons. Results are immediately available. Some methods include digging by hand to the top of the tank to visually check for signs of corrosion and pinpoint the rim of the tank. It is clear that the closer the sample is to the tank, the more accurate the representation of underlying soil conditions. Analytical results are compared with NJDEP action levels for problem identification.

  • Benefits: This is a simple test, not dependent on electronic instrumentation. It detects oil spills from any source, including previously removed leaking tanks and
    too full. Pollution from overfilling is easily distinguished from deeper pollution from a tank failure. This method applies to any underground tank, whether active (in use) or out of service. Even previously closed tanks can be tested to determine if the tank was leaking before it was closed and if that leak had not been remedied.
  • Cons: Soil tests disturb the soil, because this is a test outside the tank that looks for the effects of a leak.
  • Verifiability: Drill holes with a diameter of 1 1/2 “can remain open, allowing independent sample collection.

The next step

What should be done after receiving the test results if there is a suspicion of a leak or confirmed contamination? The next step is to determine if the test results are valid and if the site is contaminated. Navigation tests alone will not tell you this, so a soil test should be performed. Tank and pipe inspections are also involved in this test to eliminate those conditions that lead to potentially false positive results.

Once the test has been determined to be valid, it is now time to perform a quantitative analysis, define the degree of contamination and / or plan for tank removal and site remediation.

The quantitative analysis compares levels with appropriate action levels. Where the levels exceed national regulations, a tank disposal is undoubtedly required. But action levels lose their meaning when the question is asked. Why is there oil 12 “under the tank? It can be argued that small amounts are normal, but low levels can be the telltale sign of an impending major tank failure. ANCO has recently removed a tank where the Total Petroleum Hydrocarbon (TPHC) drill sample has been analytically The results were 150 parts per million The dealer recommended removal even though the results were well below the first NJDEP action level of 1000 ppm (NJDEP allows up to 10,000 ppm TPHC is in some cases). This dealer’s recommendation increased over an often displayed instinct to deny the problem. When removed, the tank was found to have dozens of pin holes in it. In this case, the dealer’s concern for his customer prevented a minor issue from becoming a major issue. Most importantly, it account.


All disposal installations require different laboratory analyzes. The standard turnaround time for these tests is two to three weeks. This is also the typical lead time between contraction of the tank disposal and the actual mobilization for disposal. The task must be coordinated so that the tests are completed before mobilizing. Such a planning accelerates the remediation and shortens the project duration by about three weeks.

By pre-securing contaminated ground clearance at an approved disposal facility, the tank can be removed, the soil dug out and removed in one go. This eliminates the need to return to the site later to remove the contaminated soil. This is critical for quick completion of the job and during the winter months to prevent the excavated soil from freezing into a solid chunk. This one-operation approach should be cheaper than removing the tank – digging out the soil – stock – and then returning to the unloading alternative.

Therefore, soil research requires the most direct path to rapid remediation of the site.


So far, we’ve covered steps that follow a failed tank test. Since tank tests are generally conducted by the buyer before a real estate transfer, the oil bill is now in danger of being lost. What can be done to prevent an account from being subjected to a tank test in the first place?

The first proactive choice is to work with the seller before listing the property and convert the bill into gas. This is the worst choice for our industry. The fast gas conversion comes out and loses that account forever. Historically, this choice has left our industry a legacy of improperly closed tanks. These eventually come to light and association with the name of the fuel oil is affected. Improperly closed tanks will remain a more important PR problem than active USTs, as there is no direct financial support for hidden contamination if they leak.

Let’s adjust the first choice by limiting the supply of gas conversion services. In addition, when shutting down an underground tank (in conjunction with the gas conversion), you must remove hidden contamination at that time by only offering tank removals or soil surveys in conjunction with field closures. If a problem is discovered, the financial hardship will be a direct result of the decision to switch to gas. This hardship deserves less sympathy than that of the innocent real estate owner who later discovers an inherited problem. This approach changes the table of the brutal depiction of oil heat in the gas market as a polluter.

My second recommendation is that oil traders selectively encourage their customers to move from old single-walled steel underground tanks to basement tanks, above-ground tanks or double-walled tanks. This should be done with great delicacy and finesse. It requires a new approach to the underground tank situation from ‘no problem’ to ‘ultimate problem’. It requires action before the tank starts to leak. This minimizes the chance of cost overruns and wins the customer’s greatest appreciation.

One approach already adopted by some fuel oil dealers is a selective tank replacement program. An obvious limitation includes funding, but where it is physically possible to install a 275-gallon tank, the UST closure plus 275 installation should be at least 35% cheaper than a gas call. A financing plan offered by the dealer makes this approach affordable and, most importantly, maintains the oil bill. Project costs must be between $ 1,800 and $ 2,000. With an interest-free financing plan spread over 12 months, payments of $ 150- $ 167 per month should be affordable.

In short, prevent your customer from passing an underground oil tank test by preventing this from happening in the first place. Eliminate the tank, adopt a proactive attitude by replacing it, and protect your customer from what the laws of physics inevitably do.

By honestly disclosing the limitations of steel USTs and then immediately offering an affordable solution, your customer will believe that you care about their financial well-being as much as you do. Compare it to a car reminder because of a defective part. It is better to initiate a recall than to defend a lawsuit. In our case, it is better to initiate a proactive solution than to defend the name of fuel oil as a polluter.

Questions and answers

Ask: What is the most thorough tank closure method?

Answer: Regulatory Bulletins 88-3 and 91-4 mandate acceptable closing techniques. These techniques fall into two categories: in-place closure (also called exit) and complete removal. UST line # 5* deals with choice of removal vs. on-site closure, the latter being recommended as long as the bottom under the tank is tested. This UST Line* you introduce the “level of completion” concept, a big concern of home buyers. This concept is applied to each of the closing techniques specified in Bulletin 91-4.

Level of completion is a measure of the thoroughness of the work in terms of both environmental issues and future liability. This criterion of thoroughness or completeness becomes an important factor in determining the best approach for dealing with a particular situation of an underground storage tank.

For completeness, removal is best followed by open tank closure.

Removal vs. In-place closure. The most thorough job is undoubtedly done when the tank is completely removed. Tank removal is material intensive, however, which makes it more expensive than on-site closure. It is also a very invasive procedure, especially if a finished deck or walkway is above or near the tank area. Restoration of the surface complicates the work and increases costs.

When removing the tank, the costs must be weighed against the level of completion. Does the homeowner plan to sell the house? The closed tank left in the ground can be a stumbling block. Gone are the days when one could simply say that the tank had been handled … today the seller must provide certified proof that the technique used to seal the tank meets the intent of Bulletin 88-3 and, especially critical , that the tank never leaked. Tank removal provides the highest level of completion because the tank is now completely eliminated.

In-place closure techniques fall into two categories: injection of concrete slurry or polyurethane foam through the fill line and pouring sand or gravel through a large opening. The former is completely non-intrusive, while the latter has to be manually dug to the top of the tank, opening a 2 ‘x 2’ hole in the tank and actually entering the vessel. The cost of each approach is about the same. In terms of thoroughness, entering the tank is a much more complete approach, however, as it allows the tank to be completely cleaned of all sludge and residue and allows for leakage control inside.

*UST Line is a monthly newsletter written by Mark Annis, president of ANCO Environmental Services, Inc. For more information, visit the ANCO website at

Source by Mark Annis