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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Oil in My Backyard?

Oil in Your Backyard? 
    Calm down Jethro, you are not going to get rich.

       If you have oil in your backyard around these parts (Hilton Head, Okatie, Sun City and Bluffton, SC), it may be in an underground tank if you have an older home or property. Historically,  above ground tanks and below ground tanks have been used for storing heating oil for homes (and businesses). While heating oil in storage tanks is seldom (if at all) to be seen in our locale, occasionally as a home inspector, I find evidence of a buried fuel oil tank. Such an incident recently occurred during a home inspection in one of the older plantations on Hilton Head Island.
Home Inspection, Hilton Head, Older Home,
Removal of buried heating oil tank
       The home inspection was going along quite well for an older home, and thankfully I was not observing a lot of defects to write in the Home Inspection Report. Towards the end of the inspection, I was outside walking the property to check the exterior inspection items, when I nearly tripped over two rusted metal pipes protruding from the ground (about one foot above ground. One pipe had a cap on it and the other pipe was open at the end (likely a fill pipe and a vent pipe for an underground home heating oil tank). I opened the fill pipe and noticed liquid in the bottom of the tank.  That is when I decided to light a match for a better look. Of course I did not do this, or this story would not be entertaining you (it is, isn’t it?).
Home Inspection, buried fuel oil tank, Hilton Head, SC
Fill pipe and vent pipe
       On a more serious note, if such tanks are leaking (or have leaked), there could be considerable environmental damage done to surrounding areas. One particular concern would be if residents at this home or nearby homes were using groundwater wells.  Petroleum contaminated water that is ingested or used for bathing has the potential to be deadly. The tanks are capable of leaking chemicals for a period of many years, considering that the corrosive process is usually slow.
      The Groundwater Protection Council has at one time indicated there are 640,000 in ground Federally regulated tanks storing fuel and hazardous products, and 465,000 of these have leaked, with most requiring cleanup. A large percentage of these could not be cleaned / removed due to not being able to locate the responsible party.
      Liability for leaking tanks with petroleum products can be quite large for a property owner.  Testing is usually around $500.00, however the cost to clean up and remedy damages could be significantly more.  If you are purchasing an older property, make certain your inspector is watching out for buried tanks in the ground that may contain petroleum based products. If such a tank is found, make certain it has been properly inspected and tested, and removed or drained and filled, as necessary. Testing can involve one or more of the following: 

  • Pressure testing: pressurized tanks are monitored for a period of time to observe any fluctuations in pressure that would indicate a leak. 
  • Soil testing: soil samples are taken around the tank and sent to a lab for analysis.
  • Other methods: Ultrasound and ground penetrating radar may also be used.

       Above ground tanks can also present similar problems from leaking  and also need evaluated.
Home Inspection, Inspection report, Hilton Head, Bluffton, Sun City, SC

       Again, I stress the point that if you are buying an older home, make certain your Home Inspector is aware that there could be buried tanks on the properly and to look for them.  

Thanks for reading my Blog. 

John M. Wickline, President

JW Home Inspections, Inc. Home Inspector, Hilton Head, SC
Member of InterNachi
Member of InterNachi


  1. This is funny that you wrote about this. This just recently happened to us. We actually found 7 of these on our property. The guy who came and removed it said that the only reason he could think of for so many to be out there was if someone had been using them to make moonshine with. Thank you again.

    Shayne Gustafson @ Berico Heating and Air

  2. Great information thanks for sharing this with us.In fact in all posts of this blog their is something to learn . your work is very good and i appreciate your work and hopping for some more informative posts .
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