Home Heating Oil Spills: Thoughts on Minimizing Environmental Liability

For over 30 years we have been assisting clients with addressing environmental spills for commercial, industrial, and personal properties.

One of the more common sources we have observed involving environmental liabilities are home heating oil fuel spills. These types of spills can vary widely in complexity and cost, contaminate the soil, groundwater, streams, and drinking water supplies. All of this correlates to the level of effort needed to ensure compliance with Pennsylvania’s environmental laws and regulations. In Pennsylvania, the Land Recycling Program (Act 2) contains the regulations that guide how to complete an environmental spill and obtain a “Release of Legal Liability” from the State and Federal government.

As with many situations in life, preventative measures are the best course of action to avoid or minimize the event. Some recommendations that we can offer that may assist in limiting environmental impacts and may avoid a protracted involvement by state environmental agencies.

Modification of Fueling System

In many cases, conversion from a heating oil based heating system to a natural gas (or other fuel source) based heating system is becoming fairly common place in light of current pricing.

While a HVAC contractor has done its job with the installation of a new heating system, it is not uncommon for the now obsolete fueling ports to remain outside of the home or building. Furthermore, it is also not unusual that the heating oil supplier is never informed about the change in fuel source (i.e. suspending automatic seasonal scheduled refills). This has led to a heating oil delivery ending up into a basement of a home or other building.

It is essential that the heating oil supplier be provided prompt notice of any changes to your heating system and/or removing (or locking out) all fuel oil fill ports as an alternative measure to avoid a potential spill event.

System Maintenance

As with any equipment, periodic servicing is essential to ensure that it can operate at an optimal level. Be sure to perform any seasonal maintenance activities that the HVAC service contractor requires such as inspections of all fuel storage inlet lines, storage tank and other supply lines to the system. Any signs of potential cracks or leaks in the system should be promptly dealt with by a qualified HVAC contractor to avoid a unsafe problems.

Containment System

Where possible – it would be prudent to attempt to integrate some type of secondary containment structure around the heating oil system to minimize the limit of a potential spill and the associated remedial costs.

Prompt Response

In the event of a release, it is recommend try these steps:

  • Stop the flow of oil at its source (if safe to do so)
  • Attempt to contain the spill (if possible)
  • Shut off your furnace
  • Contact your heating oil supplier
  • Contact your insurance company– since, in many cases, they will be directing the clean-up process
  • Depending on the scale and nature of the release – notification to the state environmental agency may also be required. An qualified environmental consulting firm can help you comply with the State’s cleanup requirements
  • Take pictures and record details

In the event you still have a reportable heating oil spill, and you are looking for assistance with dealing with the regulatory process associated with a spill and ensuring that you are in compliance with state regulations, then contact us and we’ll help make the process easy for you.