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Broken Vent Pipe on My Buried Oil Tank

ust Underground storage tank

So, the oil company said they will not deliver oil to your tank anymore because you have a broken vent pipe? What to do now?

Well, your first call should be to GreenTRAX 410-439-1085. We can help you and explain your options based on your situation.

Broken Whistle on Underground Tank

Are you thinking “they have been filling the tank for years and now they won’t, what’s the deal?” The reason they will not fill the tank anymore is because it is technically illegal for them to fill the underground oil tank with a non-functioning whistle vent. This is because there could be an oil spill with the tank being overfilled.

Purpose of the Vent Pipe

The purpose of the vent pipe, and the whistle that is part of the vent, is to make noise when the tank is being filled and when the noise stops, the delivery driver knows the tank is full and shuts off the flow of oil. Tanks never get filled to 100% capacity; they get filled to about 95%.

Why will my oil company not delivery anymore?

The oil delivery companies are regulated by rules from the state and certain situations require you to be put on a “Stop Delivery” or a “Hold”. Even if they may have been filling the tank for years, they were not supposed to and now enforcement has gotten tougher. The delivery companies can get in trouble or fined for not following the rules.

So; if your current oil company said they wont fill the tank, don’t expect you will just keep calling other oil companies and get deliveries, as chances are you will not. They all have to follow the same rules.

Heating oil tank being lifted by an excavator
Underground tank removal

A few of the things that can cause you to be put on a delivery hold would be:

  • A non-functioning whistle
  • A broken vent pipe
  • A broken fill pipe
  • Fill and vent pipes that are PVC instead of steel
  • Obvious signs of a tank leak
  • Oil on the ground around the tank
  • Tank weeping

Can I fix a busted vent pipe?

So, if you have one of these conditions how do you fix it? Well, if your tank is over 20 years old… you don’t. The average life of an underground fuel storage tank (UST) is 20 years. You are sort of wasting money by trying to fix something that is that old and is already broken. If a part of the tank has broken, then why would you expect that tank itself to not be broken… i.e., LEAKING?

In our experience, when any part of the tank has a problem, that is the tank telling you it is old and needs replaced, especially if it is not one of the reasons listed above such as water in the tank or sludge build up. Any one of the above conditions, if they are causing your heat or hot water to shut off, is a problem and could very well indicate a leak. This is because if you are getting water in the tank, then oil can also escape. And if you are getting sludge build up in the bottom of the tank to the point that the heat is shutting off, the tank is very, very old and needs replaced.

Why does a broken vent pipe mean I need a new tank?

An oil supply line does NOT suck the oil off the bottom of the tank. It takes from the top of the tank (on UST’s) and is usually between 3 – 4 inches above the bottom of the tank. So, if water or sludge has built up to the point it gets sucked in the oil supply line, that is a large quantity of either one. The tank should be removed.

So, can some of these problems be fixed without removing the tank?

Maybe, maybe not. But unless the tank is less than 20 years it is definitely not recommended.

The problem with trying to “fix” a broken vent pill is the pipe coming out of the tank has to be removed and replaced. But after 20, 30, 40 or 50+ years of rusting underground the pipe(s) will not always simply unscrew from the tank. If the pipe breaks during attempted removal, the tank is no good and has to be removed anyway. But that is not the only factor that may make a replacement or fix/repair of the broken pipe, whistle etc., too cost-prohibitive compared to the tank removal or abandonment.

If the tank is:

Removing underground tank from underneath asphalt
  • buried in more than 3 feet of dirt, it is too deep to try and repair. What’s more is the hole we would need to dig to have working room to perform the work would almost be the same size hole needed to remove/abandon the tank.
  • below asphalt or concrete that will have to be saw-cut and broken up to access the tank.
  • below flagstone, brick pavers, or other patio part of that will need removed.
  • under a deck, if the deck isn’t tall enough to get a shovel under it to work, then part of deck would need removed.
  • buried below the house, a repair is impossible; it needs to be abandoned in place (properly, by a licensed tank removal company)
  • right next to or under a large tree, a repair is not possible due to the large roots of the tree
  • buried under a garage or large shed.

Can I avoid replacing my whole tank?

Most vent pipes for UST’s are what we call “remote”, meaning they come out of the tank and have an elbow on them and run up right next to the wall of the house. But if a repair/replacement of the vent pipe & whistle is performed, the pipe will no longer be remote; it will come straight out of the tank and stick up above the ground between 1and 3 feet.

The bottom line is if the oil company said they won’t fill the tank anymore, there is a reason for this, so don’t try to get someone else to fill it. You will eventually end up in the same place. Do not think your tank is NOT leaking. No one EVER knows if their tank is leaking or not, period. If you are thinking about or getting ready to sell the house, any repair of a UST is a complete waste of time, as you will need to remove the tank prior to selling the house anyway.

Call GreenTRAX and we will handle the problem for you know matter the situation. You may think you have a “unique” situation, but you don’t. We have seen it all over our 25+ years in the tank industry.

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More To Explore

The Maryland Department of the Environment is cancelling the reimbursement fund for homeowners with leaking heating oil tanks!

This cancellation takes effect June 30th, 2024. You need to have your buried oil tank removed NOW, so if the tank is leaking you can get reimbursed for remediation costs before the program goes away. Click here for more information on the reimbursement fund as it operates now.

We urge everyone to contact their representatives in Annapolis and the Governors office and tell them DO NOT cancel the homeowner reimbursement fund for leaking residential oil tanks! They can still renew this program before this year’s legislative session ends.

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