In Texas, if you hit oil, you make a lot of money. In New Jersey, you dearly pay for it. Here is a common scenario amongst home sellers and property owners: a New Jersey homeowner discovered an oil leak from a corroded underground storage tank (UST) she did not even know was located on her property when she first bought the property eight years ago that no one ever told her about.
Two questions comes in her mind. How was there an underground storage tank on her property that she did not even know about? Secondly, whether she is liable for the consequences of the leak that apparently came from this UST?
The consequences of UST leaks can be catastrophic, both financially and environmentally, for a property owner who suffers such a leak, as well as those who may own the adjoining properties or may be sickened by the discharge from the oil tank leak. The key to dealing with such leaks is to act swiftly in order to remediate, repair, and restore the damage that has occurred as a result of the leak as quickly as possible.
In addition, for property owners or potential property buyers, interested in a potential solution before experiencing such a catastrophe, an oil tank sweep is an easy economical option to avoid incurring thousands of dollars in unexpected remediation costs down the line by assisting a property owner in determining (i) if there is a UST on his or her property to begin with and (ii) whether that UST is in any danger of corroding or is damaged and could be a risk for a leak in the future.
UST Leaks: A More Common Problem Than Anyone Would Ever Expect
The hypothetical scenario presented above is unfortunately a more common occurrence than many people realize and can be a nightmare for someone who did not even know there was a UST on his or her property, let alone that leaks can be so expensive to clean up and remediate. UST’s, although not commonly used today in new build construction, were frequently used in the past to store heating oil, gasoline, or kerosene beneath the surface of residential, commercial and industrial properties.
These tanks may be buried in the ground and a property owner may not even be aware of the tank’s existence because the home or other structure was switched to gas for heating years ago and the tank was simply abandoned. However, these tanks can easily leak into the surrounding soil or groundwater if they become damaged or corroded, which is more and more common the older the tank gets.
What Should I Do if I Am a New Jersey Property Owner and Discover a UST Leak on My Property?
Given that in New Jersey, a property owner is responsible if a UST is on his property leaks and either pollutes the surrounding soil or causes injury to neighboring property owners or other third parties, acting quickly once a property owner first discovers a leak is particularly important.
The first order of business when a property owner discovers a leak is to immediately take the necessary steps to begin the remediation process. The first step in remediation is to notify the relevant authorities. If a release occurs from a UST in New Jersey, the property owner is required to notify the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) regarding the release.
The NJDEP maintains a hotline for the reporting of UST leaks. The state will then provide you with information regarding how to go about the remediation process and will also assign you a case manager to assign you in the remediation process if the leak is complex.
The property owner must then contract with a certified economical contractor to conduct a cleanup of the affected area, including removal of the leaking tank and any affected soil. Once cleanup has been completed, final state approval of a cleanup must be obtained, which involves an inspection by the state and the issuance of the famous “no further action” letter through the NJDEP’s Voluntary Cleanup Program.
Following this process is particularly important, as often buyers of property that has had a leaking UST in the past will require the no further action letter in any transactions involving sale of the property in the future.
Precautionary Steps: Why It Is So Important to Perform an Oil Tank Sweep Before You Have a UST Leak
If you live in New Jersey and own property, then an important step to avoiding an unexpected UST leak is the performance of an oil tank sweep. Oil tank sweeps can be obtained for as low as a few hundred dollars and can provide you piece of mind even if you do not know whether or not your property even has a UST on it.
An oil tank sweep is a process by which either a specially trained dog and/or special equipment is used by a specially trained technician to find all underground oil tanks on a property owner’s particular property. The dogs have been trained in detecting the scent of oil and following that scent to assist in finding underground oil tanks. An oil tank sweep usually will also involve an investigation by a trained technician in order using subsurface detection instruments and visual cues.
The process includes a scan of the property to detect the existence of an underground mass and a visual inspection of the property and structures. Once the process is completed, and if a UST has been located, then the property owner can decide whether to mitigate the risks of a potential disaster down the road by having the tank removed.
This can be a more economical alternative to having to spend thousands of dollars in remediation expenses if a UST you did not even know was on your property leaks, leaving you with unexpected remediation costs.
Next Step: Contact the Law Office of Lawrence M. Centanni
If you’re unsure of how to handle your particular storage tank situation, contact us at the Law Office of Lawrence M. Centanni. We have extensive experience in all UST situations and can assist you with the process effectively and efficiently.