Domestic heating oil spills

A guide to cleaning up after a domestic spillage.

Some residents in North Yorkshire in rural areas rely on heating oil as their primary fuel source for heating and cooking. Faulty or poorly maintained tanks and pipework, or spillages during refuelling, mean that land can become contaminated. Leaked oil can be harmful to human and wildlife, damage property and plants, pollute water courses, make soil infertile, and can be difficult and costly to clean up.

To help minimise the risk of pollution, follow these steps:

Step 1: Get to know your tank 

  • it is important to know what type of tank and pipework arrangement you have and how to use it (your tank supplier and/or oil deliver company may be able to help)

Step 2: Check your tank

  • check the amount of oil in your tank regularly, know how much you are using
  • always supervise your delivery and discuss delivery procedures with your supply company
  • check your tank, pipework and bund for signs of corrosion or degradation (oil staining, rust, discolouration, cracks, crazing), damage, interference, any obvious leaks or signs of distortion or bulging
  • secure your tank to reduce the risk of theft resulting in accidental spillage
  • get a qualified professional to inspect your tank system at least once a year

Step 3: Maintenance and repair

  • take action to fix any problems or concerns and always use a qualified professional
  • if you need to replace your tank, get advice from a competent tank installer
  • ensure you obtain any necessary planning and building control permissions

Step 4: Emergency action

If you discover an oil leak or have a spill: 

  • deal with it immediately. If you leave it you could cause a serious pollution incident 
  • stop the flow of oil, if you can, by closing valves or using material from a spill kit (usually available from your tank supplier), dry sand or earth to soak up the oil 
  • contact the Environment Agency on 0800 80 70 60 (24 hours) to get advice and help - you may be in an environmentally-sensitive location which needs a very quick response to prevent serious pollution of the local environment and drinking water supply 
  • contact your insurance company and tell them that there is been a leak or spill from your tank or pipework
  • contact our Environmental Health team

Remember: It is against the law to cause pollution so you must act quickly to clean up any serious spill or leak 


If oil contaminates soil, ground or surface water, damages property or risks harm to human health, you may be required to clean it up under the Environment Protection Act 1990 or the Environment Damage Regulations 2009

If you pollute water courses such as rivers and streams, the Environment Agency may enforce action under the Water Resources Act 1991

If another property is affected by fumes the owner/occupier can ask our Environmental Health team to investigate for statutory nuisance under the Environment Protection Act 1990. 

Your responsibilities

The homeowner is usually responsible for the safe storage of oil on their property and for dealing with any spills or leaks. 

In rented accommodation, responsibility for maintaining the oil tank and installation lies with the landlord, irrespective of what the tenancy agreement may state. If defects exist to the oil tank or installation these must be reported to the landlord immediately. If the landlord fails to act, tenants can contact us.


Ensure you have insurance cover and that your policy includes the cost of replacing the lost oil, the costs of cleaning up oil on your property and neighbouring land and property, and environmental clean-up for accidental oil loss.

Your instance company may not pay if the leak has been occurring over time, so you should act quickly.

Further information