October 4, 2016

The big question on everyone’s mind when thinking about buying a house with an oil tank…What if it leaks?

First of all, unlike natural gas leaks, if an oil tank leaks, it is never a threat to human life. Oil tank leaks are not scary, they’re just messy, and need to be cleaned up. That said, it is still something that makes people quiver at the thought.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that there are two identical houses for sale. One has an underground oil tank and is heated with an oil furnace. The other house is heated with a natural gas furnace. Just for fun, lets say that both houses are going to have a fuel leak within the next 5 years.

Which house would you feel more comfortable in when the fuel leaks?

Of course most people don’t want any leak at all, but the reality is, that all fuel leaks. One difference between a natural gas leak and an oil tank leak, is that a gas leak may cause an explosion, while an oil leak will just be a mess. Oil is non explosive. If a lit match were dropped into a tank of oil, the match would extinguish itself just as if dropped into water. Last March (2016), in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle, a gas leak leveled an entire business block, injuring 9 fire fighters. Thankfully, it happened in the very early hours of the morning, not on a residential block, so no one was killed.

Back to our hypothetical scenario, and for the sake of comparison, lets say that that both leaks will occur outside the house. The oil will leak from the oil tank, into the soil. The gas will leak from somewhere along the gas line either in the street or leading from the street to the house. Which type of leak sounds less threatening to you?

Underground Oil Tank

Underground Oil Tank

The oil leak

If the oil tank is being filled regular by an oil company, the oil company will likely know when the tank starts to breakdown even before the oil gets into the soil. Every time right before a new delivery, the delivery person tests the contents of the tank to determine if there is water inside. If water is detected, a few more tests will determine if the tank is in fact starting to break down. Because water is heavier than oil, the water will get inside the tank, before the oil gets out. If the tank is breaking down, the tank will need to be replaced. If soil contamination is discovered, there will be a bigger clean up job.

However, if the homeowner registers their tank with PLIA (Pollution Liability Insurance Agency), they will be covered up to $60,000 in clean up costs. Registering with PLIA is one of the few things in life that is free for the homeowners. All they need to do is go online and download the form.

Methane leaks in Washington DC area

Methane leaks in Washington DC area

The gas leak

The gas leak on the line outside the house or in the street will result in methane into the air. If the leak is big enough, such as the one in California in December/January 2016, everyone in the vicinity will be evacuated while the gas company will fixes it immediately. Those leaks are seriously life threatening. Smaller leaks in and around the city, that pose no immediate threat to life, are often left knowingly unattended. These occur in all areas where gas lines are present. The gas leaking will just dissipate into the air and most often goes unnoticed by anyone. Meanwhile, the methane from that leak is a powerful greenhouse gas and contributor to global warming.

So, back to the hypothetical scenario…The two houses are identical and we aren’t comparing cost of fuel right now. Which house would you be more comfortable being in if and/or when a leak occurred? Remember, oil tank leaks are not scary, they’re just messy.