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How to Remove an Oil Tank


There are some apparent misconceptions about what a tank removal contractor should and shouldn’t do. Being armed with the right knowledge will give you the upper hand when choosing the right contractor in a first place. Which is exactly why I decided to create this post and guide you through the step-by-step procedure of an underground tank removal any contractor should follow.


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What to expect
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Tank Removal Myths

What should you expect when a tank removal crew shows up?

How to remove an oil tank


By the time the crew shows up at your door, most homeowners will have asked if the contractor was insured. When the crew shows up, it’s a good time to ask for a proof of insurance.


Uninsured contractors are rare, but if a crew member gets injured and the company turns out to be uninsured, they may find you a more palatable target to take to court.


You don’t want to take a risk of having one getting an injury while on the job, so if they can’t provide you with the insurance papers, do not allow any work to proceed!


The steps for removing the tank


  1. The first step is to locate the underground utilities. This is achieved by collecting as much information from you, the owner, as well as utility companies. A contractor may have to enter the house at this point to look for lines that would give them a clue as to where they lead to.
  2. Tarp and/or board the yard to protect the area from damage. This may be a no-brainer, but it’s sometimes overlooked.
  3. Excavate to top of the oil tank. A contractor may do the excavation by hand or by machinery. The idea is to get to the top of the tank in as efficient way possible while minimizing the damage to the surrounding area.
  4. At this point a contractor needs to do a routine check for explosive matter around the tank. Most oil tanks are used for – you guessed it – storing oil. But there is no way to determine what fuel is store in a tank until the tank is open, and gasoline vapor for example could be explosive.
    So before the tank is opened, a device is used to sniff out traces of explosive materials.
  5. Contractor will cut the tank open at this point and the fuel will be pumped out. The tank will get cleaned to prevent any accidental trace contamination during the tank removal.
    This is to prevent false soil contamination readings after the tank gets taken out.
  6. At this point the tank will simply be removed and the soil inspected for contamination. Our crew uses field screening done by independent environmental engineering company. They have a device that allows us to assess the presence of contaminants in the soil while one site.
    The soil still needs to be taken to a lab to get a final approval, but the field screening give us the advanced notice so we can continue work in most cases. The lab results otherwise typically take 1-5 days to come back.
  7. Once that is done, the hole is filled and dirt packed on top. The contractor may place the turf over the excavated area and the site is then cleaned
  8. After all is completed, the contractor will issue a certificate and an environmental engineer report that you should keep for your records.
  9. Once the certificates are issues, the fire dept will officially close the tank removal job.


Oil tank Internet myths busted


Here are some myths that the internet hasn’t failed to perpetuate in this industry:


Myth #1: Tank can be left behind if filled with sand


Tanks can indeed be left in place, but this is only under special circumstances. If the tank is under the structure, such as the foundation, or in cases where a structural integrity is threatened by oil tank removal, the bylaws in Vancouver area allow for tanks to be left “in-site”. The tank is typically filled with either cement slurry or sand to prevent collapsing in this scenario.


Myth #2: Tank must have holes cut into it before the sampling can take place


That’s not entirely correct. The tank is typically removed before the soil testing can be done. Cutting the holes for the purpose of obtaining soil samples is for in-site tank abandonment scenarios only (see above).

As the soil needs to be sampled for contaminants, a contractor will cut 5 openings into the sides of the tank and an environmental inspector will collect the soil samples for testing. If the soil turns out to be contaminated, a bio-remediation is done – which is a fancy term for injecting an enzyme into the soil, which then breaks the oil down.


Myth #3: Field testing is sufficient to discover whether soil has contaminants


Wrong again, but it is a good indication, and in most cases it will allow the contractor to continue the work while the lab tests are being done. Only after the soil has been cleared by the lab can there be a report issued by an environmental engineer.


Myth #4: The oil can be left in the soil and will eventually dissipate


It is true that there are many different oil-eating bacteria that will break down oil, however such bacteria tends to live in the oceans. In soil, the breakdown process is slow. That being said, there are some cases where a small amount of oil can be left behind.

The first case is if the fuel contaminants read less than 1000 ppm. This is considered to be an amount that is small enough for the natural breakdown processes to take care of the contamination.

The only other case is when the soil can’t be removed (due to structural integrity, for example). In this case enzymes are injected into the soil to break the oil down.


Myth #5: An oil tank shouldn’t be disturbed when it’s raining


Nope again. Granted, it’s a pain to work in the rain, but the water doesn’t interfere with the process