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Every environmental lawyer deals with leaking heating oil homeowner tanks. They are very frightening to homeowners who have never experienced an environmental problem before. Leaking heating oil tanks can cost very little to address, sometimes just several thousand dollars. But we have also seen residential tank cleanups that have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and have heard of some that cost even more. Part of what makes this frightening to many homeowners is the fact that when a problem is discovered the price of resolution is often unclear. It depends largely on what is discovered after the tank is fully removed and on site testing is performed.
The best scenarios are those where there are zero leaks. Then the price is little more than that of removal and replacement. That is a very good outcome.
The second best involves leaks limited to onsite soils. Off site soil issues can be good from the perspective of insurance coverage, but bad because sometimes costly and involved off site access will have to be secured.
Groundwater impacts as well as impacts to surface waters can be the most challenging. This is so because site remediation can be arduous and lengthy in these circumstances.
Insurance may be available to help. Even if your broker tells you the problem is not covered, you should evaluate this further. There have been several important legal decisions recently in NJ addressing this issue. In particular, even if your policy has a pollution exclusion insurance coverage may nonetheless be available to you.
New Jersey also has a dedicated fund to assist in leaking tank cases. While funding is not always available, it is an option that should be considered.
In more involved cases, former property owners may also have to be sued to secure their financial assistance – particularly if the release occurred when they owned the property.
Sometimes tanks and piping are improperly installed and we have even seen outdoor tanks improperly buried. In those cases the negligent installers may have to contribute to the remediation costs.
Yes, leaking tanks can be difficult. But many options exist for addressing them. And knowing that many New Jerseyans have been in your shoes before and have survived the experience should give you reassurance and confidence in knowing that while the process can look large, you will most likely find an acceptable outcome.
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