If you see two pipes sticking out of the ground in the yard that look like the picture above, then an abandoned fuel oil tank lurks in the ground below. There may still be a functional fuel oil fired furnace in the Gainesville area, but we haven’t seen one in a long time; natural gas and electricity provide heat nowadays.
The top pipe in the photo is the filler pipe, and sometimes a hinged cover flap sits on top of it, but here it has gone missing; and the bottom pipe (with the mushroom cap) is the vent. They are easy to miss, especially in an overgrown yard, and we once found the pipes the hard way--by tripping over one of them.
The bad news about an old in-ground fuel oil tank is that it may have been abandoned while still holding oil, and the subsequent rust-through of the tank shell would allow contamination of the soil in the immediate area. Also, even an empty tank represents a risk: when it eventually rusts-through and structurally fails, the soil will collapse in around it. We recommend that you ask the seller for documentation that the tank has been properly decommissioned, or removal of the tank and testing of soil by a qualified professional service.
Good news is that residential oil tanks are not governed by Federal or Florida environmental protection agencies. Their statutes cover commercial tanks only. So there is no bureaucracy to deal with, unless a significant contamination is found.
In Alachua County, however, the local Department of Environmental Protection offers free testing of abandoned residential fuel oil tanks to determine if they still contain any oil. Also, if oil still remains in a tank, they will remove and recycle it at no charge to the homeowner. You can call Tim Ramsey, at Alachua County Department of Environmental Protection, (352) 264-6800, extension 6843, for more information on the program. Tim says that you must first sign a form that allows county employees to enter your property before they can provide the service.
Alachua County’s homeowner program does not determine if any contamination of the soil has occurred and does not safely decommission the tank by cleaning and filling it with sand, or removing it.