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

Common Questions:

Please also visit our Facts About Tanks Page for a wide range of very brief information about oil tanks and related issues.   

  1. What if I just cut off the fill and vent pipes?  No one will ever know. 
  2. Why not remove the tank and just don't look for contamination? 
  3. Why not just fill the tank with sand?
  4. I have another company who will remove the tank cheaper than PES. 
  5. Ok.  88% of tanks leak but how bad can the contamination be?
  6. No one around our property is using wells for drinking water.  Why does anyone care about a leaking tank?
  7. We filled our tank with sand years ago.  Do we have anything to worry about?
  8. Why should I consider removing my in-use oil tank? 
  9. I don't know if there is a tank on my property or not (or on the property that I am interesting in buying).  What do I do?
  10. I never used the tank so it's not my problem, right? 
    Or
    As long as I buy the house but never use the tank, I won't be responsible for the tank or contamination, right?
  11. "I'm sure my tank has not leaked."  Why should I be concerned? 
  12. How am I going to pay for the tank removal and contamination cleanup? 
  13. Do I have to remove my tank before I sell the property?
  14. We are never planning to sell this house.  Why should we remove the tank? 
  15. What can I do if my tank is under the house? 
  16. If I give information to PES is that reported to the State? 
  17. What do I do if I have an above ground oil tank that has leaked?  
  18. I need to have an above ground tank removed.  Can PES help me and what will it cost? 


1)  What if I just cut off the fill and vent pipes?  No one will ever know.
 

Although this may not be illegal, real estate ethics require disclosure of underground oil tanks.  A wise property buyer will require some documentation that the tank was properly removed and checked for leaks.  If this is not available, a careful buyer will request PES to conduct a metal detector survey of the property to find the tank.  If a tank is found, use history will become very important.  It won't look very good for you to have to admit that you hid the tank and did not disclose it. 

Whether a tank is found or not, an unresolved tank (no adequate documentation of a proper closure) may devalue your property.  Please see our Property Value, Tanks, and Contamination Page. 

Additionally, if you used the tank or if the tank was used after November 8, 1984, your tank responsibility will not end when you sell the house, even if you never used the tank.   Please see our Responsibility and Liability Page. 

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2)  Why not remove the tank and just don't look for contamination? 

Removing the tank does not address the high possibility of contamination, so it really does not accomplish much.  The contamination cleanup is approximately 6 times more expensive than a proper tank removal.  Therefore, tank removal without proper assessment devalues the property more than conducting a proper removal, assessment and cleanup (if necessary).  Please see our Property Values, Tanks and Contamination Page.

Additionally, The State only reimburses for cleanup costs if the excavation is conducted within 90 days of the tank removal.  By failing to conduct the tank removal and cleanup together, you may be forfeiting the chance to have your property cleaned up with Trust Fund money. 

If you used the tank or if the tank was used after November 8, 1984, your tank responsibility will not end when you sell the house, even if you never used the tank.   Please see our Responsibility and Liability Page.

In many cases by removing the oil tank with out assessment, you establish yourself as the person responsible for the tank and contamination forever and ever.  If at any time in the future contamination is discovered, you will be the person that the State will enforce to conduct the required cleanup.

Is "saving" a few hundred dollars now worth the risk of paying for the entire cleanup later?  Cleanups can cost between $15,000 and $20,000.  Please see our Costs: Removal and Cleanup Page. 

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3)  Why not just fill the tank with sand?

Tanks that are closed-in-place without State permission and/or without soil samples to document a "clean closure" are not considered "closed" tanks

Filling a tank with sand (or concrete) is a waste of time and money.  It doesn't accomplish anything because it does not address the contamination which is likely to be present. 

Filling the tank with sand does not end the liability for the current property owner (seller) or protect the buyer from assuming the tank and cleanup responsibility. 

Filling with sand (or concrete) without assessment will not bring the property/tank closer to compliance with State and Federal laws. 

The biggest concern with underground oil tanks is not what is in them but what has leaked out of them over the years.  The life expectancy of a bare steel tank is 15 to 20 years.  Most oil tanks have been corroding in the ground for 50 to 60 years and that's why PES finds an 88% leak rate. 

Obvious holes are discovered in most tanks after removal.  This includes tanks that have been abandoned (taken out-of-use) for many years but it also includes tanks that were being used at the time they were removed. 

Putting sand in the tank will increase the price of a proper tank closure conducted later. 

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4)  I have another company who will remove the tank cheaper than PES. 

Be careful!  The purpose of removing the tank is to conclusively end your environmental liability.  To do this you must conduct a proper tank removal and thorough assessment and have everything documented for future review.  Because PES is professionally licensed by the State of North Carolina, you receive an additional level of accountability for the work that we perform. 

You might "save" a few hundred dollars doing a sub-standard tank removal now, but it might cost you thousands of dollars later when are forced to conduct the required cleanup (even if you no longer own the property).  See our Responsibility and Liability Page. 

Also be sure that you are comparing "apples to apples."  In our experience, a company who offers to remove your tank for less than PES is not providing a professionally sealed tank closure report that documents proper contents and tank disposal and conclusive assessment including a soil sample analysis.  These items are necessary components to end your tank responsibility.  Please see our Tank Closure Page.  Most other reputable professional environmental companies charge considerably more than PES to conduct a proper oil tank removal. 

You get what you pay for.  Make sure you are getting what you really need. 

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5)  Ok.  88% of tanks leak but how bad can the contamination be?

The tank can leak so much that fuel oil actually accumulates and floats on top of the groundwater.  We have measured the following fuel thickness in monitoring wells at Wilmington projects:

Fuel oil on top of the water table. As much as 4 feet of fuel oil has been measured floating on top of the water table at a residential property in the Wilmington area.

4 feet of fuel: from a 550 gallon tank at a residential property in Forest Hills Subdivision
3 feet of fuel: from a 270 gallon tank at a residential property in Pine Valley Subdivision
2.5 feet of fuel: from a 550 gallon tank at a residential property in Lincoln Forest S/D
2 feet of fuel: from a 550 gallon tank at a residential property in Forest Hills Subdivision
0.5 feet of fuel: from a 270 gallon tank at a residential property in Devon Park S/D

While fuel accumulation on the groundwater is not a common occurrence, it does occur on approximately 12% of heating oil tank sites.   

Even if fuel is not discovered in the monitoring well, groundwater can be contaminated to levels above the State's standard.  If the level is high enough, the State will not allow the use of irrigation wells on the property.  This restricted groundwater use may be seen to devalue the property.  Please see our Property Values, Tanks, and Contamination Page. 

Additionally, neighbors could be "harmed" by oil contamination (in groundwater) that migrates off of your property.  This could result in law suits against you.  Please remember the 37 million dollar law suit in the Wrightsboro area several years ago where a leaking gas tank contaminated several people's drinking water wells.  Please see our Tank News Articles and Links Page.

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Oil contaminated groundwater can impact irrigation wells.

6)  No one around our property is using wells for drinking water.  Why does anyone care about a leaking tank?

Contamination from your tank can impact your neighbors other than contaminating drinking water wells.  Many people within the city and county use shallow wells to irrigate their lawns, fill swimming pools, and supply outside spigots.  A release from your tank could contaminate a nearby irrigation well and "harm" others. 

The State of North Carolina claims ownership of the groundwater under your property.  State statues and regulations only allow groundwater to be contaminated up to established levels.  This is done to protect the human health, the environment, and groundwater resources for potential future use. 

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7) We filled our tank with sand years ago.  Do we have anything to worry about?

Tanks that are closed-in-place without State permission and/or without soil samples to document a "clean closure" are not considered "closed" tanks.  Also this activity did not address the contamination which is likely to be present.

Remember the State is not concerned about what is in the tank: sand, concrete, water, fuel, or air (empty).  The important issue is:
            what has leaked out of the tank over the years and
            what is the level of contamination in the soil and groundwater?
 

More and more, property owners are requesting PES to remove tanks that were previously "filled" with sand.  Please see our Tank Closure: filling a tank with sand Page. 

Buyer Beware! Tank closure without assessment is a very bad situation for a property buyer to purchase.  We recommend that you require the seller to conduct a proper tank removal with assessment before you purchase the property.  Please see our Property Values, Tanks, and Contamination Page.

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8)  Why should I consider removing my in-use oil tank? 

Since January 2005, PES has documented a 100% leak rate for in-use tanks (tanks being used at the time of removal).  The life expectancy of a bare steel tank is 15 to 20 years.  Most oil tanks still in use have been corroding in the ground for 50 to 60 years and that's why we find such a high leak rate. 

Properties with leaking tanks that are still in use could potentially have larger contamination problems because the tanks are actively leaking and may have leaked more fuel longer than tanks that were taken out of use 20 years ago. 

Holes discovered in an in-use oil tank after removal.

If the tank leaked 2 gallons a month for five years, this releases 120 gallons of fuel into the environment significantly contaminating the property.  (For common size tank, a 2 gallons leak may only be a one tenth of an inch drop in tank fuel level.  This change in level would be very difficult to observe even using a dip stick.)  

Sellers may mistakenly view these in-use tanks as an asset to the property because they are currently being used to store fuel for an operational oil furnace and they are not aware of any leaks or problems with the tank.  Unfortunately there is no good way for a home owner to accurately monitor the integrity of the tank. 

Obvious holes are discovered in most tanks after removal.  This includes tank that have been abandoned for years but it also includes tanks that were being used at the time they were removed.

Buyer Beware! Buyers should never view an in-use tank as an asset to the property.  They are a liability!  Most of these tanks are leaking and are causing contamination problems to grow each day that they remain in the ground. 

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9)  I don't know if there is a tank on my property or not (or on the property that I am interesting in buying).  What do I do?

PES has an entire web page devoted to this topic.  Please see our How do I know if I have an oil tank? Page. 

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10)  I never used the tank so it's not my problem, right? 
            Or
As long as I buy the house but never use the tank, I won't be responsible for the tank or contamination, right?

No, it doesn't work that way.  Many property owners are legally responsible for a tank on their property even though they never actually used the tank.  

Tank responsibility is defined in North Carolina Statues and Federal Regulations.  The legal responsibility depends on the use history of the tank and is not based on an individual's use of the tank.  Please see our Responsibility and Liability Page. 

Please also know that other State regulations can require a land owner to respond to contamination on a property that they own.  However, the State typically applies tank ownership definitions to determine who must clean up fuel oil contamination. 

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11)  "I'm sure my tank has not leaked."  Why should I be concerned? 

Statistically, 88% of underground oil tanks have leaked.  Those are big odds for your tank to beat.  

Unless the tank suffers a catastrophic failure, there is not good way for a property owner to know if their tank had leaked or not. 

Fuel can be leaking out of the tank without water accumulating in the tank. 

Grass, bushes, and trees are rarely distressed by a fuel tank leak.

Tank leaks do not cause an odor in the yard and there is often no land surface indication that a leak has occurred.  (Usually contamination is found under the tank which is often 5 to 6 feet below land surface.) 

Usually leaks are so slow that they are not measurable. 

If the tank leaked 2 gallons a month for five years, this releases 120 gallons of fuel into the environment significantly contaminating the property.  (For common size tank, a 2 gallon leak may only be a one tenth of an inch drop in tank fuel level.  This change in level would be very difficult to observe even using a dip stick.  It would be impossible to distinguish during the heating season when fuel is being removed from the underground tank to heat the home. 

The only way to conclusively show that your tank has not leaked is to remove the tank and check for the soil contamination directly under the tank.  Please see our Tank Closure Page.   

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12)  How am I going to pay for the tank removal and contamination cleanup? 

Remember the purpose of removing the tank is to conclusively end your environmental liability.  To do this you must conduct a proper tank removal and thorough assessment and have everything documented for future review. 

Some other contractors may offer you a cheaper tank removal price than PES, but carefully compare their service to PES's and you'll see that PES is offering you much more than just taking a tank out of the ground.  Please also see Question #3 on this page. 

Out-of-pocket, Non-reimbursable Costs:  Currently, a Trust Fund is available to help you pay for the assessment and cleanup costs.  However, there will be some out-of-pocket costs because not all costs are covered by this fund. 

The tank removal is not covered by the fund and generally costs about $1900 plus $600 for soil sample and professional sealed report. PES also includes Trust Fund research in our "removal cost".  Please see our Tank Removal Page to review what PES provides you as a part of the "tank removal." 

Also because of recent Trust Fund rate cuts, PES will charge a supplement to the Trust Fund to partially compensate for this Trust Fund reduction.  Currently (7/2008) we are changing $2500. 

Project Financing:  Currently, PES is offering two different payment options.  Also see our Costs page.  

PES is willing to finance your project for you, but there is an additional finance charge for this service.  Please call for details Contact PES Page.    

For the less expensive, "Pay as you go" option, you will pay PES at 3 to 4 points during the several month long project.  Because you may not receive the reimbursement check from the Trust Fund for perhaps 12 months after the tank removal, you will need to finance these payments in some manner.  The total cost of the project to finance may be $15,000 to $20,000. 

Most people have owned their house long enough for there to be significant equity in the property.  In this case you could get a home equity loan to finance the contamination cleanup project until the Trust Fund pays you back.  Many banks offer a home equity line of credit loan with no closing costs.  Many of these loans have very low interest rates for the first year.  Interest paid on these loans is tax deductible. 

Additionally, PES can be paid for the entire project at the property closing.  Complete project costs will be estimated and you will be refunded throughout the project as exact cost are determined.  You will receive that Trust Fund reimbursement check at the completion of the project. 

Summary:

Out of pocket (non-reimbursable) Cost
Tank Removal $1900
Soil Sample and Professional Sealed Report $600
Trust Fund Supplement Call for current amount
 
Required Assessment and Cleanup Cost  
To be financed $15,000
 
Amount Reimbursed from the Trust Fund $15,000

(PES rates adjust according to changing Trust Fund rates.  Rates are subject to change without notice and will be established on your site specific estimate.)

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13)  Do I have to remove my tank before I sell the property?

No.  There is no State or Federal requirement that an oil tank has to be removed before selling a property.  Actions only have to be taken if a release (leak) from the tank is discovered. 

However, 88% of all underground oil tanks have leaked causing contaminated soil and possibly contaminated groundwater. 

Educated buyers may not want to buy your property until the tank is properly removed, assessed and any discovered release is reported to the State.  These actions keep the buyer from taking ownership and legal responsibility for the tank. 

Please see our Tank Closure Page.  

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14)  We are never planning to sell this house.  Why should we remove the tank? 

If no release from the tank is known, you don't legally have to do anything with the tank.  However, 88% of tanks have leaked requiring cleanup.  Approximately 12% of tank sites have fuel oil floating on the water table.  As much as 4 feet of fuel oil has been measured at a residential property in the Wilmington area.  Please see Question #4

Failing to address the underground oil tank problem may expose you to third party law suits from impacted neighbors or the city/county (impacted underground utilities).  Ignoring an underground oil tank, a likely contamination source, could be viewed as negligence by the State or damaged parties who may be considering a law suit against you. 

Additionally, putting off till later what could be done today may cost you more money.  Trust Fund coverage has historically gone down while prices have gone up.  This means the longer that you wait the more it will cost the property owner to conduct the required cleanup.   

If for any reason a release is discovered from the tank, you will be required to comply with all State and Federal requirements (remove the tank, assess for contamination, and cleanup). 

A release from your tank could be discovered from impacts to underground utilities, impacts to adjacent neighbors, or tank inspection required by a bank or an insurance company. 

Failing to report a discovered release to the State as required may also expose you to State enforcement and/or civil penalties assessed against you. 

Please see Question #4

You may be sitting on a time bomb.  The sooner you de-fuse it, the better. 

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15)  What can I do if my tank is under the house? 

For tanks partially or wholly under a structure foundation, the State will grant permission to properly close the tank in-place by filling with an inert material.  PES fills these qualifying tanks with concrete because this provides foundation support.  

While the State will allow a properly conducted in-place closure for some circumstances, they will also require an investigation to check for contamination. 

Trust Fund reimbursement is available for underground oil tanks that are properly closed-in-place and assessed according to State requirements. 

Please see our Tank Closure Page. 

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16)  If I give information to PES is that reported to the State? 

No.  PES is under no legal or ethical obligation to report anything about your property or situation to anyone including the State of North Carolina.  Please allow us to give you the benefits and drawbacks of each tank option. 

PES will only report information to the State when you specifically authorize us to do so in our tank removal contract. 

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17)  What do I do if I have an above ground oil tank that has leaked?  

PES can assist you by conducting a proper assessment and contamination cleanup in accordance with State guidelines. This will bring your property into compliance with State requirements. 

However, Trust Fund reimbursement is not available for contamination cleanups associated with above ground tanks.

Please call us to discuss this further.  Contact PES Page. 

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18)  I need to have an above ground tank removed.  Can PES help me and what will it cost? 

PES will conduct an above ground oil tank removal for approximately $1000.  This includes cutting open, pumping and washing the tank before transport, and proper disposal of the tank. 

For an additional $600, we can provide you with a closure report that documents the tank and contents disposal (PES recommended).  This investigation and report includes a soil sample under the tank to confirm that a release did not occur from the tank. 

Please call us for further information. 

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