Heating Oil Tanks and Environment


Heating Oil is a valuable fuel, and it is important to store it in strong heating oil tanks and use it responsibly. You must protect your health and safety and reduce the risk of pollution.
Oil tanks and their environmental considerations

Every year, leaks and spills from heating oil tanks and pipework cause many pollution incidents. Spilt oil can pollute streams, rivers and eventually groundwater supplies.

In the UK, public water supplies come from rivers and groundwater so we must protect them from pollution. Oil is toxic and harmful to plants and animals, and is a threat to their habitats.

You should have your oil tank and fittings (such as valves, gauges and pipework) inspected by a suitably-qualified competent person at least once a year. If they find any leaks, damage or defects with the installation, you’ll need to arrange a repair or replacement immediately. It is important to keep the equipment in a satisfactory condition. You’ll also need to arrange removal of any accumulated water or sludge found in the tank.

In between annual inspections, your fuel supplier may identify defects with your installation. In some cases, they will issue an ‘Unsafe Delivery Point Report’. If defects are identified, however small, you should get them fixed immediately to minimise risk of a pollution incident.

filling a heating oil tank

Insurance advice for Heating Oil Tanks

Cleaning up oil spills is difficult and can be very expensive and costs thousands of pounds. Dealing with a spill will cause you and maybe your neighbours a great deal of inconvenience. You should have insurance cover and your policy should include the following points.

  1. The cost of replacing the lost oil.

  2. The costs of cleaning up oil on your own property

  3. A high enough liability limit to cover you if neighbouring land and/or boreholes are affected.

  4. Environmental clean up for accidental oil loss.

It’s against the law to cause pollution

If you are unfortunate enough to have an accidental spill or leak you’ll have to take immediate action to clean up! Your insurance company may not pay if the leak has been occurring over time. Checking your tank and pipework regularly and monitoring how much oil you use so you can spot any sudden changes.

If you see a problem with your tank, gauge or pipework when you’re checking it, get it fixed urgently by a professional.

Check your oil tank, pipework and bund for the following issues.

Obvious changes in the supporting structure and base.

Signs of corrosion or degradation (oil staining, rust, discolouration,cracks, crazing).

Signs of distortion or bulging.

Signs of damage, interference and any obvious leaks.

Tank inspection and access points are correctly closed and, if appropriate, locked shut.

The tank vent outlet and its insect screen or rainwater shield is clear of debris and vegetation.

Oil staining on supports or ground near the tank (report this to the oil supplier if you find this immediately after a delivery).

Sight gauge reading valve is closed and locked shut.

Sight gauge operation, security, clarity, condition, cleanliness and both valve positions.

When replacing your oil storage tank, get advice from a suitably-qualified competent tank installer. They can help you identify features on the site which will dictate what can be installed and how to comply with legislation.

2,500 Litre heating oil tank replacement with all the regulation notices 

Choosing a heating oil tank

Choose a tank that has been manufactured to a recognised relevant European, British or industry standard. These show that a tank has been manufactured and tested to strict quality standards. Oil tanks should be clearly marked with a nominal (maximum) filling capacity to assist with ordering fuel. All new tanks should display information on what actions to take if there’s an oil leak or spill.

There are two distinct different types of heating oil storagge tanks, a bunded tank and a non bunded tank. Selection of the wrong tank in certain conditions could land you in hot water with the Environment Agency.

In an above-ground, domestic oil storage installation, it is important to determine whether or not you require either a single skin or a bunded oil tank. A bunded oil tank consists of a tank within a tank. The oil is stored in the inner tank, whilst the outer tank is designed to act as a containment area
in the event of a spillage originating from the inner tank e.g. as the result of an overfill.

Bunded oil tanks are now a requirement at all new agricultural, commercial, industrial, institutional and most domestic installations too, including all domestic installations with an installed capacity of 2,500 litres or greater.

To determine whether or not a bunded oil tank is required, an Environmental Risk Assessment should be undertaken at the proposed installation site by a competent person preferably an engineer.

Site oil storage tanks to minimise risk of pollution.

A suitably-qualified competent tank installer can help you comply with regional building regulatory requirements by identifying hazards such as nearby watercourses, loose-fitting manhole covers, wells or boreholes. Any of these may mean you need secondary containment for your tank; this may be a legal requirement.

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If the answer is 'Yes' to any of the questions below, or if you are unsure if any of the above factors apply - then a bunded oil tank must be installed.

  1. Will the oil tank be positioned within 10 metres of a watercourse e.g. sea, lake, river, stream, drainage ditch etc?

  2. Will the oil tank be located in a position whereby a spillage could run into an open drain or reach a loose fitting manhole cover?

  3. Will the oil tank be situated within 50 metres of a well, borehole or spring?

  4. Will the oil tank be positioned in such a manner whereby any spillage could pass over hard ground and enter a watercourse?

  5. Will the oil tank be used for any purpose other than the storage of fuel for heating and / or cooking purposes at a private, domestic dwelling occupied by a single family?

  6. Will the oil tank be situated in a position where the vent point is not visible from the fill point?

  7. Will the total installed capacity be greater than 2,500 litres?

  8. Will the oil tank be installed within a Groundwater Special Protection Zone 1 area?

  9. Will the oil tank be installed in the Channel Islands or Isle of Man?

  10. Will the oil tank be installed within an Area of Special Scientific Interest, a National Park or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?


Make sure that access to the tank for fuel delivery is retained or improved (tanker parking, hose routing, tank siting, and height of fill point). Also, make sure your oil delivery driver can get to and around your new tank safely. The following areas should be free of hazards and obstructions: If you have any doubt always ask your delivery company

What capacity heating oil tank do I need?

The ideal capacity for any oil tank installation will depend upon five factors:

  1. The size (output) of the boiler

  2. How often the boiler is used.

  3. House insulation.

  4. The size of the house.

  5. Exposure of house, open, part sheltered, sheltered.

We recommend allowing for at least 20% more than you need as this will give you a “safety reserve” should for adverse weather conditions. Alteratively fill up when prices are such they allow you to take advantage of a larger fill, i.e. summer month purchasing.


Further Information

The above notes are only a guide to your responsibilities. The Environment Agency provides some excellent leaflets on the subject.(See below) Above all else make sure your insurance covers you for an oil leak and resulting pollution.

From the Environment Agency:
Oil Care domestic oil storage in England and Wales
Pollution Prevention Guideline 2 (PPG 2) Above ground oil storage
Order by ’phone: 08708 506506 or

 G E Stevens

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