Practical Environmental Solutions, P.C.Practical Environmental Solutions, P.C.
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Why is an underground tank a concern?

Multiple holes are usually discovered after removing a tank.

Most homes built before 1975 used an underground tank to store heating oil. We estimate that this is more than 15, 000 properties in New Hanover County alone. 

88% of all heating oil tanks have leaked causing contamination levels that require cleanup to comply with State and Federal laws.    

12% of all heating oil tanks have leaked significantly that fuel is measured floating on top of the water table.  Up to 4 feet of fuel has been measured floating on the water table at a residential property.  See Common Questions page, question #5. 

Buyers may become legally responsible for the tank and for the contamination. 
By purchasing a property with an underground oil tank, the property buyer may be taking legal liability for a tank, even if they never used the tank. By policy, the state has historically held the current property owner solely responsible for any required contamination cleanup. 

Sellers are not necessarily released from tank responsibility and cleanup liability by selling the property.  This depends on the tank use history.  The tank and cleanup responsibility will not end until the tank and contamination is properly cleaned up and brought into compliance with State and Federal laws. 

A groundwater oil sheen seeping into an excavation pit.

Exposure to Potential Law Suits: 

Fuel oil on top of the water table. As much as 4 feet of fuel oil has been measured floating on top of the water table at a residential property in the Wilmington area.

Tank owners/property owners of leaking tanks (88% leak rate) are exposed to potential laws suits from adjacent property owners, utility companies, or government agencies that may have been impacted by the petroleum contamination that has leaked out of your tank.  As much as 4 feet of fuel has been measured floating on that groundwater at a home heating oil site.  Migrating fuel or contaminated groundwater could impact a neighbor's irrigation well, could cause vapors to build up in a storm sewer or underground utilities, or could even infiltrate the public water supply piping.  

Additionally, fuel contamination may migrate off of your property onto a neighbor's property.  This could result in law suits against you as your contamination devalues your neighbor's property. 

Devaluing of Your Property:

The presence of fuel oil contamination may devalue your property.  You may need to demonstrate to potential buyers that your property has minimal or no contamination to receive full market value for your property.  A careful buyer may have to assume that your property is contaminated to a worst case scenario until it is documented otherwise. 

12% of underground oil tank properties have measurable amounts of fuel floating on the water table.  Property contaminated to this degree may be difficult to sell even below market value. You need to show that your property is not contaminated to this degree.

Financial Burden:

Tank removal and contamination cleanup could cost between $15,000 and $20,000.  Although the Trust Fund is available to assist the property owner with these cost not everything is covered.  Also, depending on how the property owner qualifies for the fund, there may be an out-of-pocket, non-reimbursed cost of between $5000 and $11,000.  Buyers may want to protect themselves from this potential expense.  This potential cost is one reason why an unresolved tank and contamination situation potentially devalues your property.  Please see our Costs:Removal and Cleanup page and our Trust Fund page.

Environmental Impact:

Grass killed from the overflow of a rain filled underground oil tank.

Left un-remediated the oil contamination will continue to spread and degrade the groundwater.  This may render the groundwater unusable for irrigation or other activities and could eventually pollute surface water and impact wild life and public health.  Neglecting your clean up responsibility could allow a small problem to grow into a very large, complicated, and costly problem. 

Fuel contamination may migrate off of your property and impact a neighbor's property.  This can lead to law suits because your contamination effects your neighbors' property value.  Please see our Property Value page.

Please see additional information on other PES web site pages:
Responsibility / Liability
Tanks, Contamination and Property Values
Tank Fact Sheet
Property Sales and Tanks

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