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Dealing with an oil spill at home

Posted 30th September 2020

Oil is dangerous to both the natural habitats and wildlife around us.  Once a home oil spill occurs it is difficult to clean up and will contaminate surface and underground water sources.  If your oil tank leaks, contact us immediately on 01722 714514.

The risks of an oil spill at your home

Groundwater provides 75% of the South West’s public water supply and is very vulnerable to contamination as it can travel over square miles very rapidly.

Some of the worst oil spills happen more often than you might think in our counties and can be very difficult and come with expensive cleanup costs.

Any amount of oil-contaminated ground around your home could turn a preventable small garden or house fire into an uncontrollable maelstrom. Best to be safe rather than sorry.

Check your home insurance

It’s common sense to have suitable insurance to cover you when you are heating your property with domestic oil heating stored in an oil storage tank. If you are not sure if you are covered, we advise you to check with your insurance company. The policy should have a high enough liability limit to cover you if neighbouring land and/or boreholes are affected.  As you are required to clean up an oil spill under the Water Resources Act 1991, it is advisable to check your policy if the clean up on your own property is covered as well.

Preventing domestic oil spills

Prevention is always the best course of action.  It can take months, even years, to clean up a large oil spill and it will cost you hundreds of thousands of pounds. Here are some tips to prevent a possible oil spill:

  • Install a bunded tank; this is a tank within a tank.  When the inner bund leaks, the outer bund will catch the leaking oil and prevent it seeping into the ground. When you are installing a new tank make sure that the technician or company are OFTEC registered and sign off a CD10 form.
  • If you live near a river/stream/drain or any source of water, make sure that the tank (even a bunded) is installed at least 10 metres away from it and at least 50 metres from a borehole. If you are unaware of where they might be you can always call us and ask us to carry out a free assessment for you. 
  • Are you aware of any underground pipework? Do you know where it runs? Make sure you do before you have any work done in or around your house to prevent damage to the pipework above and underground.
  • A yearly tank service is highly recommended by OFTEC and tank manufacturers. This will help spot faults in the tank before they fail and advice on maintenance to help keep your tank healthy.

The technician should check for:

  • Signs of corrosion, rust, bulging, damage or any sign of leaks
  • Pipework, gauges, valves, filters
  • Water in the tank

What if an oil leak happens anyway?

Unfortunately, in some cases oil leaks will occur; you might smell the oil in the air, see oil patches or you can see the tank splitting and dripping. If this is the case, stop what you are doing and act:

  • Contain the leak if you can; put a bucket/bowl under the leak. If the plastic tank has split use an old bar of soap and rub that into the tank.  This will seal it temporarily.
  • Reseal if there is rain as it will dissolve the soap.
  • Stop the flow at the source rather than damming the oil slick further on.
  • Prevent spilt oil from spreading, particularly into drains and water sources. Use dry sand or a spill kit to absorb the oil. Cat litter is also surprisingly effective!
  • Call Tank Services on 01722 714514, your local OFTEC registered company or your oil delivery company to remove any remaining oil into a holding tank. They will also be able to assess the situation and advise you if the Environment Agency needs to be informed.
  • Contact your insurance company to advise them that there is a leak.
  • Don’t use any detergents or soaps to clean up the oil.
  • Don’t hose down the oil, try to absorb it instead. Hosing down will only further spread the contamination.
  • Keep children and pets away.
  • It’s advisable to keep a record of the actions you have taken.

We have a highly trained team of OFTEC certified engineers who can assess and help you to solve any problems caused by oil spills. Please don’t hesitate to call us if you need any further advice.


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