With Winter on Its Way, State Officials Remind Vermonters to Keep Heating Oil Tanks Safe

November 21, 2019


Many Vermont residents will have heating oil tanks inspected before the first fill of the winter season. The inspections, required by a 2017 Rule, reduce the number of spills or leaks from these tanks. Under the 2017 rule, inspectors must attach a “do not fill” or “red-tag” if the tank is at risk of spilling or leaking fuel.  

“To protect the environment and keep people safe from hazardous fuel leaks, we’re working with fuel suppliers to inspect tanks so that we’re able to prevent spills before they happen,” said Emily Boedecker, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. "The inspections and the red-tag rule identify problems in advance, avoiding dangerous and costly oil spills.” 

Under the rule, fuel suppliers are not allowed to deliver fuel to a red-tagged tank until it is repaired or replaced. It also requires all tanks to be inspected at least once every three years. The following five conditions are considered unsafe and will result in a red tag: 

  1. Unstable foundation; 
  2. Uncoated or un-sleeved underground piping from the tank to the heating appliance, which could corrode  in contact with soil or concrete and cause a release; 
  3. Fill and vent pipe must have a minimum diameter of 1 ¼”; too narrow a vent pipe can lead to over-pressurization of the system; 
  4. No vent whistle, which could lead to an overfill of a tank because the person delivering fuel cannot be sure when the tank is approaching capacity; and 
  5. Poor tank conditions such as excessive rust, leaks, weeps, drips. These are all signs that a tank needs to be replaced. 

If a tank is unsafe to fill, inspectors are required to put a red tag on the tank. Fuel companies can work with homeowners to install a temporary tank until the tank is replaced or repaired. The inspector will also notify the owner of the repairs that are necessary to resume fuel delivery. A red-tagged tank can also be filled by hand with small amounts of fuel until the dangerous tank can be repaired or replaced.   

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association (VFDA) are working together to ensure every Vermonter has access to heating fuel and a safe fuel tank. DEC and VFDA are encouraging fuel dealers to conduct routine inspections during the spring and summer when there is ample time to secure financial assistance and make repairs.  

DCF administers the Emergency Heating System Repair and Replacement Program, which makes up to $750,000 available annually to respond to heating emergencies, including a no-heat emergency that may result from red-tagged tanks this winter. DEC manages the Petroleum Cleanup Fund financial assistance program. This fund helps approximately 300 Vermonters upgrade or replace their tanks every year. For homeowners seeking financial assistance to help with the cost of fixing or replacing a red-tagged tank, here are four places to start: 

  1. The Vermont Petroleum Cleanup Fund offers financial assistance to low-income residential tank owners for the removal, replacement and upgrade of an aboveground fuel oil storage tank.  Go to http://dec.vermont.gov/waste-management/storage-tanks/tank-removal-financial-assistance or call (802) 828-1138 for more information. 
  2. The Emergency Furnace Repair and Replacement Program operated by the Office of Economic Opportunity can assist with financing the repair or replacement of a red-tagged tank. Contact your local Community Action Agency for more information. 
  3. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a Rural Economic Development loan and grant program for low-income households.  Go to www.rd.usda.gov for more information. 
  4. VGreen Energy Improvement Loan offered by VSECU is a low-income loan for tank replacements. Go to www.vsecu.orgor call 1-800-371-5162 for more information.

Homeowners have until August 15, 2020 to have their first tank inspection; after the first inspection the tank must be inspected once every three years. To review DEC guidance on hand-filling to ensure this process is done safely, visit http://dec.vermont.gov/waste-management/storage-tanks/tank-removal-financial-assistance