I smell oil… preventing and responding to an oil leak

Fail to prepare... prepare to fail

Earlier this year Fuel Oil News carried a report that 75% of confirmed oil pollution incidents in Northern Ireland were at domestic premises. We often deal with Clients who smell oil and fear they’ve had a leak. Looking back through our records, we’ve had a few oil spill horror stories – the worst of which being a domestic spill that ultimately led to the demolition of our Client’s neighbour’s house to allow cost effective clean up.

As Autumn approaches now is the time to get the fuel supply for your heating systems thoroughly checked as well as your regular boiler service. . It’s all too easy to take the storage tank and feed pipe for granted, but basic preventative maintenance is not expensive and can save in the long term. Incidents of tank failures are, thankfully, not common, and failures are often noticed quickly. Many of our call outs to domestic incidents relate to leakage from the pipework between the tank and the boiler. A slow but steady leak that goes unnoticed for a while can be just as troublesome to deal with.



Do you know…

  1. Whether your tank is single or double skinned?
  2. How old the tank is?
  3. When the tank is scheduled for replacement?
  4. The route the oil pipe takes from the tank to the house?
  5. How much fuel you usually use? Going through more oil can be an indication that you’ve got a leak.


The Oil Care Campaign (http://oilcare.org.uk/) has some basic routine householder checks on its website, and low cost level sensors are available to soundan alarm in the house in the event of a sudden drop in oil levels. The same device will also show you how full the tank is and thus whether it is time to order more fuel.



First of all, don’t panic. If there are large pools of oil or oil staining visible on the ground, or the smell is making you or someone in your house feel sick or dizzy, it’s time to get out of the house and call your insurer for emergency spill response. If you’re not sure, call anyway, its better to get it checked and dealt with early than to let a problem grow.

If it’s a small leak and it’s safe to do so you can try the following:

  1. Close the tap or valve on the tank – normally at the base of the tank
  2. If the leak is from a split or crack in a plastic type tank. grate or push solid soap over / into a crack in the tank as a temporary measure to slow the flow.
  3. Stop oil getting into drains or water courses, using earth or sand to form dams or bunds. Cover drainage grates with impermeable mats, weighted down plastic, anything that might stop or stem the flow
  4. Use sand or earth to try and contain surface flows of oil, again by forming dams or bunds.
  5. Collecting leaking oil in a container to stop it being absorbed into the ground
  6. Never attempt to wash the oil away with a hose, or detergent or soap. This will cause it to spread further and make the problem worse.

ERS is accredited by the UK Spill Association to respond to oil spills that impact soil and groundwater. If you have any questions please just contact us!


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