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Preparing for Storms/Flooding: Owners of Fuel Oil Tanks

Oil Tank Precautions

Owners of commercial and residential fuel oil tanks located in flood-prone areas should take precautions to minimize risk for flooding of the tank. Check tanks for the following (a tank contractor may be needed to check the tank and make any needed improvements):

  • the tank should be protected from floating or toppling over by flood waters or high winds;
  • the tank should be protected from falling limbs, floating debris, or high currents;
  • connections to the tank (fill pipe, vent, gauge, bungs) should be water tight;
  • if the fill port or top of the vent could be flooded, the cap to the fill pipe should be securely fastened and the vent pipe should be extended to above the worst case water level.

These precautions should also be taken for underground tanks or tanks in basements.

In the Event of an Oil Spill

If your home is affected by a flood that causes an oil spill in or near your home, you should contact the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Spill Hotline immediately at 1-800-457-7362 to report the spill.

In some cases, the oil mixes with the water that floods your home. If so, do NOT pump the water out into your yard -- doing so constitutes a release of petroleum. The oil may spread and contaminate other areas, including nearby wells, water bodies and homes.

  • Under New York law, the person who owns the tank from which oil was released is considered to be the "discharger." A discharger of petroleum is strictly liable for any resulting damage, even if it was caused by an event such as a natural disaster, for which they had no control (see Navigation Law § 181.1).
  • If a discharger fails to clean up significant impacts to the environment, New York State through DEC may complete the cleanup and then bring an action against the discharger to recover these costs (see Navigation Law § 187).

If a layer of oil is on water in a basement, you can minimize the amount of oil spread on walls and floors and the amount of other damage to your property by removing the oil before pumping the water out.

  • For an oil film, absorbent pads may be sufficient to collect the oil.
  • For a thicker layer of oil, a vacuum truck may be necessary to skim the oil off the water.
  • When petroleum is spilled inside a structure, residual amounts that remain after recoverable oil has been collected may create indoor air/odor problems that make the structure uninhabitable. To address this problem, the structure and contents may be cleaned if practicable or contaminated items should be properly disposed.

Oil spills can also contaminate indoor air. The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) can provide information. If you have questions, call 518-402-7800 or 800-458-1158. After hours and on weekends, call 1-866-881-2809.

For more information on steps to minimize the damage and finish the cleanup quickly, see NYSDOH's publication "What Homeowners Need to Know About Oil Spills and Flooding." (see "Links Leaving DEC's website" at right).