oil pipes on the outside of a house

Many residents living within the Cataraqui Source Protection Area have tanks either inside or outside their homes which contain home heating oil used to keep their homes warm during the cold winter months.

Unfortunately, not every storage system is perfect and occasionally spills or leaks of oil can enter the drinking water system directly through sump pumps or drains, or the fuel can seep in directly through cracks in concrete. Liquid fuels can flow with groundwater over long distances, making clean-up an onerous, time consuming and expensive proposition.

heating oil tank in a basement and shown outside

The Cataraqui Source Protection Area is particularly susceptible to having its groundwater polluted in such a manner due to a generally light soil cover, as well as the abundance of fractured bedrock underneath.

As mentioned in the January article regarding source water protection, if there is a chance that your property is in a vulnerable area, or if you live in a residential area near a municipal Wellhead Protection Area (WHPA) you may require a Risk Management Plan (RMP) through the Cataraqui Source Protection Plan to mitigate and manage the possible threat to sources of drinking water from your home heating fuel storage tank.

A WHPA is the area around the wellhead (the part that sits above ground) which draws in the water to supply that particular well’s drinking water system. The size and shape of the WHPA is based on where the groundwater is coming from and how fast that water is travelling through the aquifer to the well itself. 

Working alongside a designated Risk Management Officer, the RMP will recognize positive practices already in place by the property owner and also include any additional measures needed to minimize risks to sources of drinking water.

oil pipes on the side of a house

Here are some of the possible requirements under a Risk Management Plan as outlined by the Canadian Oil Heat Association:

1) Choose a modern tank made from materials that won’t corrode, such as fibreglass or plastic. Or choose a leak-resistant, double-bottom steel solution with a leak detection monitoring system.

2) Install a new tank indoors whenever possible, such as in the basement, garage or utility room, as it has a greater life expectancy, lower maintenance costs and less chance of developing a leak if not exposed to extreme outdoor elements.

3) If the tank has to be placed outdoors, ensure it is properly supported on a concrete pad or on reinforced patio stones. This will prevent it from shifting, settling or falling over due to the ground shifting from changes in the ground because of seasonal weather.

4) A new tank should be installed by a COHA GreenTECH Certified technician who has taken advanced training to safely install oil tanks and is familiar with Province of Ontario building code requirements.

5) Never install a used tank as you never really know it’s condition and viability.

6) If the tank is located outdoors, ensure gauge fitting and line protectors are part of the safe storage system and that all areas around these lines and connections are kept clean of ice and snow at all times.

7) Whether it is located inside or outside, install an oil line protector (and gauge protector if outside) to safeguard against foot traffic, falling debris, etc.

8) If it is not possible to upgrade you tank, consider using a drip pan under an indoor tank, as well as under any oil line connections to the burner of your furnace and water heater.

9) Industry best practices have proved that when installing a new tank, you should never transfer oil from the old tank into the new one as this could not only void your warranty, but it can prematurely impact the integrity of the new tank.

10) Make sure any tank you have bears an Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC) label, which ensures it has been certified to a national standard.

Home heating oil is a significant threat to drinking water for a number of reasons. Heating oil contains BTEX, which is an acronym for four compounds: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes. BTEX compounds have strong odours and tastes, and some have been associated with serious health conditions such as leukemia, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and birth defects. Its compounds dissolve easily in water, which means they can travel long distances in both ground and surface water.

Heating oil also contains petroleum hydrocarbons (PHC) which are naturally occurring compounds that originally came from crude oil. PHCs are used for various purposes, including fueling motor vehicles, making some types of plastics, in certain chemicals and pesticides and heating homes. These compounds have been associated with harmful effects to the reproductive, respiratory and nervous systems and can also harm the kidneys, liver, skin, eyes and blood. PHCs may also affect the odour, taste and appearance of water.

Here is a short list of things to watch out for to determine if there is a problem with your home heating oil tank. Noticing one or more of these indicators means your tank may be at risk of developing a leak:

  • Excessive rust on the outside of the tank
  • Obvious dents or other physical damage on the outside of the tank
  • Bent or pinched fuel lines
  • Broken or cracked fill gauge
  • Rusted or corroded valves
  • A thin layer of oil around the joints on the tank (indication of weeping)
  • Stains on the floor underneath the tank (if indoors)
  • Fuel gauge levels that don’t seem to change
  • Unstable legs
  • An abnormal odour near the tank

For more information, visit www.cleanwatercataraqui.ca.