Underground Heating Oil Tank Removal

Almost all houses existing before the mid 1960s used heating oil which was stored in either an underground or above ground storage tank (UST or AST). Being underground, a buried heating oil storage tank is typically out of sight and out of mind for many homeowners. Often, the current homeowner may not even know that an oil tank exists on the property. It is a common practice to remove the unsightly fill and vent pipes once the tank is no longer in use just to improve the landscaping.

Most residential USTs are from about 250 to 1,000 gallons in capacity. On average, an underground tank will develop corrosion holes and begin to leak after about 20 to 30 years of use.

Once they begin to leak, as oil leaves the tank, water typically enters. Being denser than the heating oil, the water accumulates on the bottom of the tank. Once the water reaches the opening of the copper supply line suspended about 4 inches from the bottom of the tank, water is drawn to the furnace and fouls the heating system.

At this point, the homeowner calls the heating oil supplier and complains that the furnace is not working. The home owner is then presented with the options of replacing the leaking tank with another buried tank or changing to an above ground tank. In the past, this usually meant leaving the leaking underground tank in the ground. If natural gas is available, most homeowners take this opportunity to convert to the natural gas system.

Although a home heating oil storage tank is not typically regulated by the State of NC, the surrounding soils and groundwater are regulated. If significant leakage has occurred, this fact must be reported to the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ). Depending on site factors, no site cleanup or assessment may be required by the NCDEQ. However, before the property may be legally conveyed it is necessary to file a Notice of Residual Petroleum for the property. This Notice must be filed before the NCDEQ will issue a Notice of No Further Action for the release which is normally a requirement for banks and buyers before a property is sold.

If necessary, or if desired, underground oil tank removal typically involves access to the UST location with a backhoe. The average size pit for the excavation and removal of the oil tank and contaminated soils (~50 tons) is about a 10 foot cube. Once the excavation is completed, the pit is backfilled and tamped to grade, and the impacted yard is regraded, reseeded, and strawed. This process requires about one day to complete.

Alternatively, or if underground oil tank removal is impossible because of where the tank is located or other site factors, the tank may be abandoned in-place. See the tank abandonment page for more information on Cedar Rock's recommended method of tank abandonment.

Cedar Rock can usually perform a site inspection to locate underground oil tanks and whether or not they have leaked within 24 hours of request. Scheduling the removal of an underground oil tank and contaminated soils typically requires a weeks notice.



  • Buyers should have an inspection for the presence of a heating oil tank and associated soil contamination for any house built before mid 1960s.
  • Request an inspection as soon as a contract to purchase is drawn.
  • Include an escape clause in the offer to purchase in case contaminated soil is confirmed.