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One of the potential sources of contamination that pose a risk that can adversely affect surface and groundwater is a release of heating fuel oil from storage tanks, either above or below ground. Tanks, in particular those owned by private individuals (residence), and the associated pipelines, are fixtures that are entrusted by their owners not to leak and not to cause a soil, surface, or groundwater pollution incident. The word "trust" is used because the owners of these residential oil tanks, whether they are the typical 275 gallon above ground tank or the 1,000 gallon underground tank, are not required to be inspected or maintained. In terms of water resource protection, residential oil tanks can instantly cause not just an immediate and long term contamination problem, but an economic crisis that can immerse the tank's owner, who must pay for the cleanup, into personal bankruptcy. Registered tanks owners, like gas stations, have an indemnification fund that they contribute to from the sale of motor fuels. These funds may be used towards the cleanup of a commercial release incident. The cost of a fuel oil release cleanup incident can be as high as a million dollars. Homeowner's insurance policies, in most cases, do not provide coverage for residential oil tank release incidents and cleanup.
A possible partial solution to the residential oil tank risk problem may be utilizing an insurance company that does not just inspect existing tanks, but also provides partial cleanup funding. Of course, cleanup may not be needed, if release incidents are prevented with regular tank inspections and replacement, which would be the most environmentally safe and economically prudent plan. Implementation of spill containment methods and thoughtful consideration of the placement of tanks on your property are also advised.
The industry that encourages home owners to consider enrolling in a type of residential oil tank insurance policy is the Manufacturing Housing Industry. The cost for such insurance is modest, about $125/aboveground tank/year, which would include an annual inspection of the tank. The PA Manufactured Housing Association is aware of this program and recently featured an article found online.
In addition to the annual inspection, the program covers $50,000 in cleanup cost for an aboveground tank and $100,000 for an underground tank. It also has an allowance of $1500 for tank replacement. The following websites may also prove beneficial to current or potential residential fuel oil tank owners:
Jim Clark, Penn State Extension Water Resources Educator in consultation with Mark R. Stephens, P.G., Licensed Professional Geologist, Department of Environmental Protection, Safe Drinking Water, North Central Regional Office.
The mention of any associations or companies in this article should not be considered an endorsement or recommendation, in any way, of those entities by the authors or their employers.