The Environment Agency is urging people in Devon and Cornwall to check their oil tanks for leaks after 32 incidents were recorded over the past three months, according to the agency.

Oil-related incidents are up 50% on the same period last year and homeowners are being urged to make checks in order to both protect the environment and themselves against potentially huge financial losses.

During cold weather, many households, particularly those in rural areas, may use their heating more and it is advised check be made as this kind of weather can potentially damage joints and underground pipes.

Second homes in the area will also not have had their oil tanks used or inspected recently due to lockdown travel restrictions and could be particularly at risk.

The risks involved include leaked oil ending up in drains, many of which lead directly to rivers, streams, lakes and even garden ponds, which has the same effect as pouring it directly into the watercourse.

Oil is poisonous to fish and other wildlife and also smothers plants, just two litres of oil could seriously pollute the volume of fresh water needed to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

It can also pose a risk to aquifers, which would cause significant problems as, for example, in East Devon, one aquifer supplies water to about 250,000 people.

Senior Environment Officer, Brian Grant, said: "Oil pollution is one of the most common problems recorded by the Environment Agency and across Devon and Cornwall it is on the increase.

"Not only can heating oil affect our aquifers it can also have major impact in our rivers and streams and harm fish, birds and aquatic life.

"Not only is the cost of losing the oil expensive, clean-up costs can be large and often not covered by household insurance."

Somerset County Gazette: The Environment Agency is urging people in Devon and Cornwall to check their oil tanks for leaksThe Environment Agency is urging people in Devon and Cornwall to check their oil tanks for leaks

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Householders with domestic oil tanks should take the following action to ensure they are safe for use:

  • Position tanks as far away as possible from drains, streams and ponds.
  • Inspect tanks, pipes and other equipment for leaks, damage and interference once a week and report any issues immediately.
  • Arrange for the boiler and tank, including underground pipes, to be serviced at least once a year by an OFTEC technician..
  • Monitor how much oil you use, watching for sudden increases that could mean there is a leak.
  • Supervise oil deliveries, never allow your tank to be overfilled and don’t order more oil than you can safely store.
  • Check your home insurance covers clean-up costs on both your property and neighbouring land and always notify insurers immediately in the event of a spill or suspected spill.
  • If a tank starts leaking, try to stop the oil soaking into the ground or going down drains then contact your insurance company to arrange for an OFTEC technician or UKSpill accredited clean-up company ( to attend.
  • Secondary containment, such as a bund, will prevent oil from escaping into the environment if a leak occurs. This is a legal requirement for domestic tanks which store more than 3,500 litres.

To report an oil spill or leak, contact the Environment Agency’s 24-hour emergency hotline on 0800807060. There is more guidance on the oil care campaign website at