For a technician or energy auditor that works outside of the Oil Heating Industry, seeing a tank leaking in a basement can send you into a moment of shock. Then of course, the dreaded conversation with the Homeowner will cast a cloud. The key is to have a plan, and know what to do. The smallest amount of knowledge in this subject could make you the hero. Simply stating, "Call your Oil Company!" can leave them feeling helpless. Of course, that oil delivery company must know about a leaking anything, before chance of another delivery. Plus, they likely have a magnetic patch kit that can be used to slow a leak while a permanent fix can be planned.
The majority of oil tank leaks are caused by corrosion from water and sludge that has sat in the bottom of the tank for years. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recommends homeowners have their oil tanks cleaned out at least every 10 years. I firmly believe this is because regular maintenance is not always performed, so a qualified technician may not be able to identify a compromised tank. Based on the picture I took, you can see that soil cleanup will be needed, but possibly groundwater as well. This type of cleanup, based on MA DEP, averages $90K! If this leak was identified quickly, and the sump pump does not turn on, soil cleanups can be less than $20K. This is a significant difference, particularly for a homeowner and company's insurance premium come next year!
Even with the moderate/volatile price of oil; $1.69 - $4.07, averaging about $2.22 per gallon in MA (12/2020), it appears oil heating in residential applications will be around for quite some time. But, thousands of homes are converted to alternative fuels every year, including but not limited to Natural and Propane Gas, Heat-Pumps and even electric baseboard. In fact, the city of Brookline, MA passed a 2019 ordinance 'prohibiting the installation of new oil and gas infrastructure', favoring their aggressive planned reduction in carbon footprint and commitment to clean heating & cooling. Unfortunately, this ruling was later overturned citing the by-law conflicted with state building and gas codes. How long before the codes are simply updated and all fossil fuels are prohibited? Sooner than you may think!
With the many financing and fuel switching programs available, maybe a leaking oil tank is the time to call it quits with your long time oil provider? Believe me, most oil companies thinking about the future of their business are expanding into alternative fuel options themselves. They appear to have a target on their backs in MA, RI, NY, & CA these days anyhow...