Practical Environmental Solutions, P.C.Practical Environmental Solutions, P.C.
Serving Wilmington and Southeastern North Carolina 910.790.8265 FAQ | About PES | Home


Heating oil tank issues are becoming more and more common as potential home buyers are learning more about the problems and liabilities associated with buying a property that has or had an underground heating oil tank. 

Holes in the bottom of an underground tank.

There is no State or Federal requirement to remove an underground oil tank unless it is known to be leaking.  Therefore, underground oil tanks are an issue that has to be negotiated between the buyer and the seller.  However, there are many benefits for the buyer and the seller to remove the tank and conduct a conclusive assessment.  Please see our Tank Removal Page. 

Unless the buyer, their realtor, their home inspector, their mortgage lender, and their insurance agent are all inexperienced and naive regarding oil tank concerns, the tank will become an issue during a property transaction. 

Why is an underground tank a concern? 

Obvious holes are usually discovered after removing a tank.

Most homes built before 1975 used an underground tank to store heating oil. 
We estimate that there are more than 15,000 properties in New Hanover County that have or had an underground old tank. 

88% of all heating oil tanks have leaked requiring cleanup to comply with State and Federal laws.  Although cleanup can be costly (~$15,000 to $20,000) currently a Trust Fund is available to help pay for the assessment and cleanup costs.

12% of all heating oil tanks have leaked significantly that fuel oil 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 in the Wilmington area.  See Common Questions Page, question #1. 

The "closure status" of the tank and associated contamination should affect the market value of the house and how easily the property will sell.  Please see our Property Values, Tanks and Contamination Page. 

Ending liability for the seller and limiting liability for the buyer are also major concerns.

Because tank ownership and cleanup responsibility is defined by the North Carolina Statues and by Federal law, tank ownership and responsibility is not necessarily "common sense."  

A groundwater oil sheen seeping into an excavation pit.

For example:  If I sold you a house with termite damage, once you bought the house … it is now your problem and I'm "off the hook."  It is the buyer's responsibility to protect themselves by having the home inspected to know exactly what is the condition of the house that they are buying.  With inspection information, buyers can negotiate repairs or offer a discounted price for the property.  

However, oil tanks are more similar to hazardous waste.  Every person that touches a hazardous waste (the generator, the transporter, and the waste disposal facility) is responsible for the waste until proper disposal is documented. 

Selling the property does not necessarily release the seller from the tank and cleanup responsibility. 

Additionally property buyers may become responsible for the tank and contamination (even if they never used the tank and even if they did not know a tank was present on the property). 

Please see our Responsibility and Liability Page. 

Eventually some one is going to have to comply with State and Federal regulations and address the tank and any contamination that may be present.

Contamination clean up for leaking tanks is required by State and Federal laws. Because 88% of all underground heating oil tanks have leaked, most properties with a house built before 1975 will require an appropriate cleanup.  While tank removal may cost approximately $1900, the contamination clean up is much more expensive (~ $15,000 to $20,000).  Currently, North Carolina has a Trust Fund that can help pay for the contamination cleanup portion of this cost.  Please see our Trust Fund Page. 

Fuel oil over spill from vent pipe.

Please note that closing a tank in place (i.e. filling with sand) does not gain any benefit for the buyer or for the seller.  Please see our Tank Closure: filling with sand Page.   

Having an unresolved tank and/or contamination issue may slow the property sale or even kill the deal.  


Resolve the oil tank concern, by eliminating the tank issue from the property transaction.  Have PES conduct a proper tank removal and a conclusive assessment.  Please see our About PES Page. 


Listing Agents

If you are a listing agent, have PES investigate the property immediately so we can advise you and your client as to the tank status and give you next step recommendations.  Let PES show you to turn the potential liability (oil tank and contamination) into a selling point.  A resolved tank and contamination situation should yield a higher selling price and faster sale.  Please see our Property Value, Tanks, and Contamination Page.  Also see our Property Owners (Sellers) Page.

Unless the buyer, their realtor, their home inspector, their mortgage lender, and their insurance agent are all inexperienced and naive regarding oil tank concerns, the tank will become an issue during a property transaction.


Buyers Agent

If you are a buyer's agent, you are in the driver's seat.  Let our web site educate you and your buyer so that they can make wise decisions (you may also call us).  You may need to press the seller to properly remove the tank, conduct a conclusive contamination assessment, and report any contamination to the State as required.  These actions will help to limit the liability for the buyer.    Please see our Responsibility and Liability Page.  Also see our Buyers Page.

Excavation of contaminated soil.

Just like your buyer needs to know if there is termite damage, they need to know if the underground oil tank has leaked and requires contamination cleanup. Contamination cleanup can cost between $15,00 and $20,000.

Some real estate agents have their clients sign a waver releasing them from potential damages if the buyer does follow their advice to resolve the tank / contamination issue and comply with State and Federal requirements before purchasing the property.  We have seen cases where the buyer has to pay to resolve this tank situation when it is their turn to sell the house.   

Navigating this complicated and potentially costly tank issue will build your good reputation as a capable realtor.  PES is here to inform and support you.   PES is experienced, licensed, fully insured, and offer free, no obligation estimates. 

Please also see our Property Sales and Tanks Page. 

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