An Underground Storage Tank (I still call them buried oil tanks) is the place where we keep the lifeblood of our industry, fuel oil. It can be a very dangerous place for this product to be kept if the housekeeping is not done on a regular basis.
All oil tanks will naturally get water in the tank from the air going in and out each time the oil burner runs and when the tank is filled. As the fuel is burned, air comes in the tank to replace the oil and when the tank is refilled, the air rushes out only to be replaced by fresh air as the burner drains the tank again.
Air contains water and when it condenses in the tank, those water droplets sink to the bottom. Put enough of those water droplets together and you get a very hostile location for fuel oil to be stored. This is the natural way water enters the tank. The unnatural way is from a broken fill or vent pipe, or from any of many other unnatural ways. Tank housekeeping, as boring as it sounds, is as important as checking what’s in the basement.
If you think back a while you will remember that I asked for your war stories and have received quite a few. It never fails to amaze me that I think only I get the crazy service calls! Well, the stories I read show me how wrong I can be. I AM NOT ALONE!
As I was putting the finishing touches on this article about buried oil tanks, an e-mail came in from Zig Steins at Zigs Fuel Oil & Service Inc. from Newburgh, New York. I was going to say that vacuum is one of our main concerns when diagnosing burner problems, but Zig reminded me of a really different kind of vacuum problem I had many years ago. Here is Zig’s experience:
<i>The following events took place a good many years ago whilst I was yet a greenhorn. One thing about tough service calls is you learn, and like an elephant, you never forget! One day I get a no heat call while working for a small oil company. Just me and another guy doing the service, as I said a small company. Nowadays this type of call shouldn’t even exist, but back in the day this certainly did happen.
A customer has a buried 275 gallon oil tank with a 2” fill pipe, no vent just a 2" fill pipe and cap. When the oil delivery man delivers oil to the tank, he uses his trusty long-pipe with built in vent/whistle. If the driver tightened the cap pretty good when done what do you think happens. You guessed it, after a good time running, the fuel unit draws enough fuel out of the tank to create all the vacuum that it [the fuel unit] can and just can’t pull any more. The vacuum build up within the tank prevented the pump from delivering any more fuel and “out on safety” it goes! I have to admit I caught this problem and remedied it right away with a 2" vent cap.
This is the time to get ready for next winter and sticking the tank for water should be one of the things you check on all tanks. Now, in my case, when I opened the fill cap on a buried tank, I heard the tank grasp for air. The sound it made was similar to a person gasping for a breath of air after being deprived of this life giving stuff. Can you think how the fuel unit felt with all that vacuum gone? I probably gave it a new lease on life. My call did not cause the burner to go into safety, but it was certainly on its way. Now, the tank I was working on had a vent pipe. I know because I found it broken off and filled in with blacktop. The customer was not happy to pay me to make the repairs, but they did.
Zig’s solution to his problem did solve the immediate problem. If you come across this type of problem, be mindful of the snow and rain that will be coming. The vent cap will let air in and out of the tank, but if not protected, it will also let in water. My suggestion would be to make the correct repair, and yes, charge for it.
Please keep those war stories coming as I truly enjoy them all. I can be reached at email@example.com.
I have to take a moment here to say farewell to an old friend and my boss. Mr. Ed Minicozzi Sr., president of General Utilities, Inc. on Long Island, went home to his Lord recently. Mr. M was my boss for almost twenty years and was a friend for all of them. He will be missed by all who knew him especially those of us who loved him. Mr. M, farewell.