Robin Jade Conde

PODCAST: Fuel Oil Tanks with Doug Nething

In this conversation, Reuben Saltzman and Doug Nething from Dean’s Tank discuss the history and concerns related to fuel oil tanks. They cover topics such as the transition from coal to fuel oil after World War II, the introduction of natural gas, the shelf life of fuel oil tanks, the dangers of abandoned tanks, and the process of filling or removing buried tanks. They also provide insights into the sizes of tanks and how to identify if a property has a buried tank. In this conversation, Doug from Dean’s Tank shares his expertise in identifying and removing buried fuel oil tanks. He explains the visual cues and signs to look for when determining the presence of a buried tank, such as vent pipes and copper tubes. Doug also discusses the costs associated with removing fuel oil tanks, including permits and soil sampling. He shares some interesting stories of unusual tank installations and highlights the importance of the Petro Fund in Minnesota. The conversation concludes with plans for future collaboration between Doug and the hosts.


00:00 Introduction and Background
02:39 History of Fuel Oil Tanks
07:18 Transition to Natural Gas
10:42 Concerns with Abandoned Fuel Oil Tanks
15:23 Shelf Life of Fuel Oil Tanks
20:24 Buried Fuel Oil Tanks Underneath Houses
25:30 Sizes of Buried Fuel Oil Tanks
26:30 Filling or Removing Buried Tanks
29:06 Identifying Buried Fuel Oil Tanks
29:52 Identifying Buried Fuel Oil Tanks
31:07 Identifying Buried Fuel Oil Tanks (contd.)
35:43 Costs of Removing Fuel Oil Tanks
39:11 Soil Sampling and Abandonment in Place
41:22 Unusual Tank Installations
45:12 Fuel Oil Tanks in Other States
48:46 Minnesota’s Petro Fund
51:47 Interesting Findings
52:23 Future Collaboration




The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.


Reuben Satzmann: Welcome to my house. Welcome to the Structure Talk podcast, a production of Structure Tech Home Inspections. My name is Reuben Saltzman. I’m your host, alongside building science geek Tessa Murry. We help home inspectors up their game through education, and we help homeowners to be better stewards of their houses. We’ve been keeping it real on this podcast since 2019, and we are also the number one home inspection podcast in the world, according to my mom.

RS: Welcome back. Tessa, as always, as I say at the beginning of every show, great to see you. We’ve got a special guest on today. I’ve been trying to get Doug on our podcast for, I don’t know, the last 12 years or so. No, we’ve only been doing the podcast for five, but I’ve been wanting to get Doug on this show for quite some time now. Doug is with Dean’s Tank and they specialize in… Well, you’ll correct me if I get this wrong, Doug, but you guys specialize in basically removing oil tanks. Is that it in a nutshell? 

Doug Nething: Yeah. In a nutshell, yeah. We specialize in residential petroleum tanks, but we do gas stations. We do all kinds of demolition and for those, petroleum tank specific. Yes.

RS: Okay. And I’m having you guys on because I’d say probably 95% of what I know about freestanding fuel oil tanks and buried fuel oil tanks comes from you guys. Most, a lot of that came from Dean way back in the day, and Dean he’s no longer with us, right? 

DN: No. Yeah. Dean passed away about 10 years ago. I’m Doug. I’m his son. He and I started the company back in 1990, and we’ve been… So this is, it’s been a pieces like 34th year.

RS: Wow. Wow. Okay.

DN: So, but I am fourth generation oil, so, my great-granddad did, he was doing boilers and my granddad, when he got out of World War II, he was delivering fuel oil. My dad started in the, he was a dispatcher in an oil company, which transferred to where we’re at now.

RS: Okay. Alright. Well, you guys have been very helpful over the years with teaching us home inspectors about all things related to fuel oil. I know you guys have shared a ton of photos with me over the years that you’ve given me permission to use in my blog posts and videos.

DN: Oh, absolutely.

RS: And I’ve always given you guys credit for it, of course, ’cause you guys are awesome. But I just, I wanna use the opportunity to pick your brain about a whole bunch of stuff related to fuel oil tanks.

DN: Sure, sure. Go ahead. Do you want a kind of a baseline of how it works? 

RS: Let’s start there. I’d love it. Please.

DN: Okay. So, the history of oil is, there was no use of and oil, fuel oil, number two fuel oil, diesel fuel. It’s basically all the same things. Diesel fuel or fuel oil didn’t really come into use as far as a heating purposes until after World War II. During World War II, we upped our production, the United States upped our production of diesel fuel. And after World War II, we really didn’t have a use for it. So literally the bottom dropped out. I mean, literally, you could buy it for a penny a gallon, and in a lot of places you could even get it for free because it was actually a byproduct of gasoline. So, what, when my grandfather, when he got out of World War II he bought a old chain drive.

DN: It was a two speed chain drive truck, top speed of 18 miles an hour. And he would drive from New Brighton where he would get the diesel fuel and he would pump it out for free. He would get the diesel fuel, and he would drive it to either South Minneapolis or Edina. And that’s where he would deliver. It was a 500 gallon chain drive, two speed truck, didn’t even have reverse. [laughter] And that’s what he did. So he, but he was, he would do either one or two loads a day, depending on where he was going. If he was going to Minneapolis, he would, or North Minneapolis, he would do two loads a day. If he was going to Edina or South Minneapolis, he’d do one load a day, ’cause it would take him forever to get there.

DN: But anyway, so, in World War II the price, we had all this diesel on hand. We had all this byproduct on hand, nothing to do with it. But before World War II, everybody was using coal. So if you have a house that is built prior to 1945, chances are your house was heated with coal. And then the thing with coal is that you had to shovel coal into your furnace two times a day.

DN: And every other day you had to shovel the ashes out of the furnace. Now, you can imagine just the dust and the smoke and everything, that was quite a pain in the butt. But then also you had to store between five and 10 tons of coal in your basement. Now, having 5-10 tons of flammable material in your basement is not a real good idea. If that ever started on fire, you would never ever put it out.

DN: They couldn’t put enough water on the coal to put it out. So when fuel oil came into play, there was a huge, after 1945, it was a huge turnover. People were switching over, whether it was putting in above grounds or underground tanks, where you had to fill the tank one time a year, and it was good. Everything was safe. It was much safer. You could put the fire out. The tanks were safer. If you had an underground tank, you never had to worry about a fire, but you only had to fill it one time a year. Never had to do anything with your furnace ever. Turn the thermostat up and you’re good to go. So it was a beautiful thing. And at the time it was amazing.

DN: But on the same note, during that timeline, Minneapolis alone lost 30,000 to 40,000 jobs because there was people that, these coal tenders that would actually go to people’s houses and shovel the coal in, and shovel the ashes out. So 30,000 to 40,000 people lost their jobs over the transfer from coal to fuel oil.

Tessa Murry: My grandpa used to do that as a side job when he was younger. I remember him telling me stories about that.

DN: Oh yeah. Lots and lots of…

TM: He was born in 1918. Yeah.

DN: Yeah. Lots of kids got, actually, they got coal lung in Minnesota from doing that because that’s what kids did.

TM: Oh my gosh.

DN: It was great sideline work, but we lost a lot of people because of that, because of the coal lung. Yeah. It’s a really, it’s a very interesting history of all of it. So, anyway, so.

TM: I didn’t realize, Doug, that the fuel oil tanks were kind of post like 1940s you said. I always thought they were older.

DN: Yeah, after 1945. No, before that it, if you did find them, it was very, very rare. And if you did, it was typically above the grade system and very few people had them. So it was very, very rare. After 1945, if you look through the records, all the inspection records and stuff, everything was switched over between 1945 and 1955. And then gas started coming in, especially Minneapolis, the upper echelons of Minneapolis and St. Paul, like along Summit or along Lyndale, that’s when the first gas lines came in. Natural gas lines came in and then they switched to that. So, I mean, there’s some people held out till that and some people, and that’s where we ended up with a lot of abandoned tanks, because back then there was no rules as far as removing the tanks. So, the people would switch right from coal to, or from fuel oil to gas, and then there was no rules to take the tanks out. So we end up now with a whole lot of tanks that have been out of service and just been sitting there for 60, 70 years.

TM: What decade did you say that natural gas came into the Twin Cities? 

DN: The first pipelines that were put into domestic use would be around 1950 to 1953.

TM: Oh wow. Okay.

DN: And that’s, the first one ran down Lyndale in 1951. And the first one that ran down Summit was 1956.

TM: Wow. That’s amazing that you know that.

RS: I know, that’s what I’m thinking. Boy, you know your stuff.

RS: No. This is 35 years and I mean, it’s a pretty mundane what I do. I mean, we take a steel container either out from underground or out from a basement, and we run across a lot of, with the permits and stuff like that. We get to look at the permit records of, especially Minneapolis. The permit records in Minneapolis are phenomenal. I mean, what you get to see and what, when things were done, and you see some timelines line up and then you go, okay, so when did this actually happen? So yeah, it’s, and I’ve got some great people in Minneapolis that we deal with, so they give me a lot of really great inside information as well.

TM: So what percentage of homes in the Twin Cities decided to switch over to fuel oil? ‘Cause I didn’t realize it was such a small window between coal and natural gas that it was kind of available. It seems like people, most people would’ve probably just gone right from coal to natural gas then, right? 

DN: Yes and no. So number one, just because the pipeline came down Lyndale, it only serviced within a couple blocks of Lyndale. So all the main runs, they only got it. So if you look at all the larger mansions and stuff down around 50th and stuff like that, there was a main line that went, that was the first place that that pipeline went is right down the street and then it went down, and then they serviced all those areas down there around like Minnehaha in that area as well as Summit, they ran Summit. So you got like north and south two or three blocks. They got gas first and then…

TM: Okay.

DN: Like Edina and stuff like that, they didn’t get get gas for years. I mean, there was a lot, a lot of houses that were built in the ’60s and ’70s that still were on fuel oil because there was no natural gas.

TM: Wow.

RS: Sure.

TM: Huh.

RS: Sure. Okay.

TM: Interesting.

DN: As things figured out, it was, it took a while for them to kind of work the gas lines in and then people took their time transferring whether their furnace, they just put a new furnace in. I mean, we still, I literally just yesterday installed a heating oil tank, underground heating oil tank at a residence.

RS: So it’s still being done today. Where was residence, out of curiosity? How far out? 

DN: I was in Mounds View. It was in Mounds View. And they actually, they just did a upgrade on their furnace, so they have like a $10,000 or $15,000 into their furnace. So they didn’t wanna switch over to natural gas. And nowadays, I mean, it’s insane the cost of to put a new gas system and to take a fuel oil system out, put a new gas system in, it’s like $22,000, $23,000.

TM: Wow.

RS: Wow. Okay.

DN: So, I mean, for them to put in a… Replace their old tank, and we do that a lot, replacing the old tanks taking, whether it’s an aboveground tank or underground tank, we take those out and then put, install new ones.

RS: Okay. Alright.

TM: So at a high level, for anyone that’s listening, one of the kind of the biggest, most expensive things that you could kind of run into when you’re inspecting an older house is potentially a buried fuel oil tank that’s abandoned, right? 

DN: Absolutely. Yep.

TM: And can you explain why that would be a problem, Doug? 

DN: Okay. With fuel oil tanks, number one, the fire codes dictates a lot of this. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency really does not have, in Minnesota, doesn’t have, they call, they consider them non-regulated, residential heating oil tanks are considered non-regulated. So, what happens is the fire code gets in involved, and they say that any tank that is not in use for… You have one year from the time it’s taken out of service until you remove it. And it being that it’s a fire code, there is no grandfather laws into it. You can’t, you don’t get grandfathered in because of this or because of that, it’s, you have a flammable liquid storage tank in, on your property. After one year, it has to be removed. So if it’s out 30 years and they find out about it, then, and as far as residence goes, it’s really not a big deal. With commercial properties, they have, then you have a…

DN: You have to get a… I’m trying to think of what the name of it is. You have to get a permit based, a residence permit for people to be in the building. And it has to be annually. It’s supposed to be annually checked and they can force you to do it, or they can, they won’t update your license to…

RS: Is that a certificate of occupancy? 

DN: There you go. That’s it.

RS: Okay.

DN: That’s it. That’s exactly what it is.

RS: Got it.

DN: So your certificate, they can withhold your certificate of occupancy if you have a tank that’s not in use. And that’s a big pusher for, especially apartment buildings. Some businesses still have them in, until we get over, above 1100 gallons, that’s where the PCA kicks and then, and they can put all kinds of, force all kinds of things. Back to your question, as far as how many buildings in Minnesota alone, just in Minnesota, there’s one million underground storage tanks.

RS: Actively today? 

DN: Actively today. It was at 1.5 million and over the last 30 years, we’ve taken about 500,000 out.

TM: Whoa.

RS: Whoa. I’m mind blown ’cause in my mind, I thought the population of the Twin Cities metro area was around four million or something close to that.

DN: Right. But we’re talking about the whole state, so I mean…

RS: The whole state. Okay. Alright. Yeah.

DN: Yeah, Duluth has got a big number. But the big number that I try to impose on people that ever go, you’re gonna work yourself out business, not gonna happen. I’ve been doing it for 30 years. I’ve done about, we’ve done about 30,000 right about there. Some years have been bigger, some have been smaller, but we’re around 30,000 and there’s still a million to go. So if I take them all out, I promise I’ll be retiring and you know, [0:14:27.0] ____ or something.

RS: Yeah. You’re not even so putting a dent in this, my goodness.

DN: No. No.

RS: Okay. Alright.

DN: Like I said, I’m fourth generation. My son is literally out in the shop right now working on a tank that we’re gonna install next week.

RS: We’re gonna be having him on the podcast in a couple more decades here.

DN: And he wanted to be on today and I said no.

RS: Well, that’s great. So, alright. All right. I got so many questions, but I mean, back to Tessa’s question. Why does it matter if you’ve got an abandoned tank besides the fire code? I mean, just practically speaking.

DN: Okay. Besides the fire code. So, practically now, most of these tanks have been out of service for at least 40 years. So they basically, they’re just a buried steel container. They’re not coated. Some of them have paint on it, but it’s pretty rare. So it’s just a bare steel container in the ground and elements are gonna take place whether it’s water, whether it’s, you have if they’re underneath garages where you have salt attacking them, you can imagine what it looks like. A car that sits out in the air rusts out in just a short amount of time where you have a, literally a buried container, a steel container that has no protection at all, no coating, no galvanization, anything, and they just rot out. And we’re, every year it’s getting more and more prevalent that, and right now, I would say we’re right about 85% to 90% of all the buried tanks are leaking. So that being said, I mean, it’s getting to be a much bigger problem. So that’s the kind of work.

TM: I didn’t realize that. Just sorry to hop in here real quick. That all of the tanks that are still in use, people are using fuel oil, like those tanks have a shelf life, and they need to be pulled out and replaced after a certain number of years.

DN: Absolutely. Both above and underground tanks and above ground tank, all tanks have, they’ll get it some water in. Buried tanks, obviously you have them outside in the field pipes and the vent pipes, the water will get inside of them. The downfall of the water is this, is that water’s heavier than oil, so it will sink to the bottom of the tank and it cannot evaporate. It is stuck there. It is stuck. So then you have a little drop of water on the bottom of a tank that sits there for 20, 30 years. It’s already getting attacked on the outside, but then you have that water on the inside and it literally will rot a hole right through the tank.

TM: So how long will a tank last for before it starts to rot out? 

DN: It all depends with the water. The water is the big thing.

RS: Yeah.

DN: I mean that’s… The one we did, like I said, the one we removed yesterday, that was buried in sand, so it was up in Mounds View. It was up in the Anoka sand flat. So it was good, but it was questionable. It was right there at its shelf life. And I congratulated them, I said, you guys picked a great year to do it because by next year we’d have a whole different story and that can be a whole ball of wax. We get into a leaking tank and you’re talking, when the state, when the PCA gets involved, it can be very, very expensive.

RS: Okay.

DN: And that’s the point where it’s a dangerous thing. And I always tell people that if you have a leaking tank, it’s not, as long as you’re not drinking the diesel or fuel oil, or you’re not swimming in it, it’s not gonna hurt you. I mean the vapors are, could be, they can be annoying, but it’s not a dangerous thing. It’s not a, an explosion issue. But it could be very expensive as far as the state goes, as far as cleanups and investigations go.

RS: Alright. Now I wanna come back to that, but just real quickly.

DN: Yes, absolutely what we should.

RS: Before we dig, before we, yeah, I definitely wanna dig in, but before we get there, just while we’re on the topic of concerns of an abandoned tank, what about an abandoned freestanding tank inside the house? What’s the concern there? 

DN: Okay. Okay, so number one, the biggest thing about those things is the fire. So if you do get a fire and if the fire gets around the tank, you’re gonna heat the oil up. There’s a very, it could be a catastrophic. It could literally, you’re more in more danger if it’s like an eighth of a tank because then you have all the vapors inside, then the tank fills with vapors. When it does pop, it’s gonna pop big. Chances are it’ll probably blow the foundation out from underneath the house.

RS: Right.

TM: Whoa.

DN: Yeah. And that’s why the fire code is so specific about those tanks, is because when you send your firefighters in and you have a chance you don’t know the tank is there. It could be an extremely danger to the firefighters.

RS: Okay, now, devil’s advocate, how is this any different than if you have a tank that is in use? And we know there’s plenty of houses that have tanks in use today. They get them filled regularly.

DN: Right. And that’s the key.

RS: How’s that not a hazard? 

DN: A tank that’s full is much less dangerous than a tank that’s empty or half empty or full. The more airspace you have is the more… Because the liquid doesn’t explode, it’s the vapors that actually do the expansion, the explosion part of it.

RS: Okay.

TM: So the key takeaway, though, is like, if you have a house that you’re buying or selling, and there’s an abandoned tank buried or freestanding, that’s when you have to remove it. But if it’s in use, obviously…

DN: Yeah. If it’s in use, yeah, but…

TM: You just have to make sure it’s not leaking or rusty.

DN: Yeah. I always tell people that are buying houses to make sure that’s on it. You buy a house as is, with a tank in there, get it taken care of as soon as possible. Without a doubt. It’s just people don’t realize it’s dangerous. It’s behind a bunch of garbage out in the back. Well, that’s even more dangerous, because if a fire starts, then all that garbage is going to just ignite everything. So sometimes people build closets around them, and we’ve seen a lot of different things with those. And the freestanding tanks they’re talking about is it’s a 265, and you’ve seen them on the side of the road with… They’re about the size of a cow. I always tell people they’re the size of a cow, and they’re narrow. They’re 26 and a half inches wide. They’re 5ft long and 44 inches top to bottom. It’s a 265 gallon tank, and they made them specifically that size so they can fit through doors, through a 28-inch doorway. So that’s, we pick them up and carry them out all the time.

RS: Okay. All right.

DN: That’s the freestanding 265 that we’re talking about right now.

RS: Okay. And what about tanks buried below a house? Have you ever found those? 

DN: Yes. During this whole time, the ’40s, when they were switching tanks over, a lot of people, their coal furnaces would go out in the middle of winter. Obviously, a boiler is not going to go out in the summer when it’s not being used, it’s going to go out in the winter. So at that time, when the ground is frozen when you can’t bury a tank outside. So the ground is frozen. So they literally have to bury the tank inside, underneath the floor. So they would go in and they would saw cut a hole in the floor, dig down. They would put basically, like, pylons in to hold the dirt from caving in, build the tank in the basement, set it in the hole, and then they would fill the dirt back in and hook it up to the boiler.

DN: So then you have a tank underneath the floor of the basement. And it was really cool. Now, here’s another part of World War II. A lot of these guys that built tanks were old ship makers. So these guys were metal professionals that would know how to bend metal and then weld it inside. So you’d find these tanks. And I could always tell which ones are made by the shipbuilders, because they would weld it on the outside and the inside. So it’s double welded on both sides of the tank. If you have just a regular tank builder, they only weld it on the outside. But if you find one that was built by a shipbuilder, he would weld it on the inside as well.

RS: Crazy.

TM: Oh, my gosh.

DN: So it’s double strength.

TM: That’s amazing. Wow.

DN: It’s really cool. Anyway, so that’s that. The ones that are underneath the floor are… So what we have to do now, we fill them with concrete. We don’t remove them anymore because it’s too dangerous and too expensive for the simple fact that once we start removing something that large, and typically they’re 1000 gallon tanks, so they’re… I typically say there’s about the size of a minivan, maybe a little bit smaller than a minivan. Okay. And that’s buried underneath the floor. So what we have problems with, and we actually had a problem with this back in the early day or in my early days, where the inspector made us remove the tank. And then what happened is the dirt caved out from underneath the footings of the house. And then the house settled, and the house literally split. And it was a brick house, too. So it was really, really bad. The guy no longer works there.


DN: So anyway, so nowadays what we do is we just saw cut a hole in the floor. We dig down to the top of the tank. We cut a hole in the top of the tank, we pump it all out, get inside of it, clean all the sludge and everything out of it, and then we cut a hole in the bottom of the tank. We take a soil sample from underneath the tank. And that’s how we prove whether the tank was leaking or not. And then we just fill it full of concrete. It’s actually flowable fill, which gets about as hard as chalk. It’ll hold the house up, it’ll hold everything up around it. But if they ever do decide to tear the house down, they can actually remove the tank still.

RS: Now, that’s new to me. The last I heard, it was back in the day, you guys would fill them with sand and then at some point you couldn’t do that, and you started filling them with foam, I thought. And now you’re saying this concrete, do you still use foam? 

DN: We don’t use foam anymore. The problem with foam is that the foam that’s legal to use, it’s a nonflammable, and it will fill the… The tank is not set up so that it will stand. And so the tank is 5ft tall. If you put that much foam in it, the foam will actually settle. So then you still have the airspace. You’re right back to the same problem, the flammable problem. Not that there’s anything in there, but they want that void filled. Plus, the foam doesn’t have any structural integrity, so when the tank rots out, it will still collapse. So we got away from foam completely. We’ve had too many sites where we’ve went on site and the foam is settled and the tank is collapsed, or the foam has settled and there’s an airspace in there, so we have to go back and foam it again. It just got to be not worth the time. And foam used to be very, very cheap when they were filling.

DN: We use the same foam that they fill blocks, like cement blocks. So if you have a block building, like Walmart was a big one where they would fill all the blocks full of foam and that would be part of the insulation part. But it’s kind of that fell apart where everybody’s using the board now. They put the board insulation against the block instead of filling the block. It’s a much more efficient way to do it. So, it just got to be, the foam is still a legal way to do it. It’s still in the fire code that we can fill them with foam, but there’s no way we can guarantee that the foam will stay intact or the tank will stay intact because it’s gonna just rust out, rot out and there’s no structural integrity. So we’ve went completely to concrete now.

RS: Okay. All right. Fascinating. Fascinating.

TM: Yeah so are most buried tanks about the size of a minivan, Doug, or are there varying sizes? 

DN: There’s many varying sizes. And it all kind of depends on the size of the house. Typically, I say, the 3,000 square foot is kind of our barrier. Anything under 3,000 square foot could be a 500 or 1,000. Anything over that 3,000 is guaranteed to be 1,000. They typically, when they installed them, they wanted it only to have to fill the tank one time a year. So, the truck would come in anywhere from May until September. They have all summer to deliver all this fuel, and then they were good to go until next year. So if the, almost that 3,000 square foot is pretty much the threshold, anything over that is like I said, it’s 1,000. Anything under that could be a 500. And then if you go, once you get up in those 5,000 and 6,000, then there’s some houses that have 2,000 gallon tanks, but it’s pretty rare.

RS: Okay. All right. Got it. And what about if you’ve got a buried tank in the yard and you can get equipment to it, would you still fill that or do you just remove those? 

DN: No, most of that is dictated by the, we call it the jurisdicting official. So it’s either a fire marshal or a city inspector who will, and we always put it on them. If we can remove it, I try to remove every last one of them. If people are buying a house, they want to know that the tank is gone. It’s much better sales, and then we can take it out. We can inspect the tank, we can look at the hole. We have all this great information just by looking at it and it’s gone. It’s not on the property anymore. So people are, buyers are much more happy when it’s gone. If the only time that we fill them in place, number one, if they’re underneath the house, so then it’s a structural concern.

DN: If it’s out in the yard, and typically I’ll work around one or the other. I’ll work if there’s power over the top of the tank, we’ll remove the tank if we can disconnect the power or we can just hold the wires outta the way, pull the tank out from underneath it, backfill, that’s fine. Or a gas line, same thing. We’ll, sometimes we’ll even have the gas company come out, they’ll disconnect the gas line and then we’ll remove the tank, put it back. But if I have both of them over the top, if I have gas and electric over the top of the tank at the same time, I won’t work with both of them at the same time. When you have an ignition source and an ignition both, I just don’t want to deal. It’s too dangerous.

DN: So then I usually can talk the inspectors into saying, yeah, we’ll fill it in place and this is why we’re gonna do it. I mean, if the homeowner wants to do it and they want to pay the money to have everything removed and done, we’ll do whatever they want us to do. But for the most part, the structural, it’s the first thing if it’s gonna cause structure, even if they build an addition over the top of it where we can’t get equipment to it so the tank was next to the house and then they build like a three-season porch or something. As long as it’s hooked to the house or it’s a structural concern, we can fill it in place. That’s kind of the guidelines of it all. And then anything beyond that, so if we can’t get equipment to it, let’s just say they’ve surrounded the house with retaining walls where we can’t get the equipment up on top or three-season porches, something along those lines. If we can’t actually get to it, then that’s, that would be the other reason. But for the most part, we try very hard to remove every tank just because it’s better that they’re gone than have any question marks at all.

RS: Sure. Okay. Yeah. And how would you know that you have a buried tank in your yard? 

DN: Look at the timelines. I mean, if your house was built before ’45, you have a very, very, very good chance of that. Being that it was, you have a tank or had a tank.

TM: And even up to the ’70s you said, right? Possibly.

DN: ’70s and ’80. Yeah. It really depends on where. Propane didn’t really kick in until the ’80s. I’m gonna say propane, that was about the time when it really got popular. So that people were, and the price of it was actually worthwhile that you could still do it. But nowadays propane is so expensive right now between the delivery cost of propane, the propane tank, fuel oil is still, but the price of fuel oil right now, it’s still really, as far as BTUs go, you’re pretty much getting dollar for dollar the same price for propane right now as fuel oil. But, as far as…

TM: So age was a big identifier, so 19, anything before 1945 up into the ’70s and then how else would you identify if there could be a buried fuel oil tank? 

DN: So number one, obviously you have an aboveground tank you should be able to see it. If you have two pipes sticking up in your, or even one, a lot of times it’s only one. The big one is the, you have is it’s an inch and a half pipe, and then it has a gooseneck on top of it. So that would be the breath, that’s the vent pipe. And that’s the breather. A lot of times they whether the fill pipe was removed or the fill pipe was buried, whether through landscaping or whatever the case may be, or it could even be buried in the bushes or something. But that vent pipe is almost always right next to the house. It’s an inch and a half steel pipe, and it has a gooseneck and it’s, a lot of times they’re one-piece goosenecks where the rain can’t get into it or whatever.

DN: But that’s the breather pipe for the tank. So when they fill the pipe or fill the tank, the oil goes into the fill pipe and the air comes out the vent pipe ’cause otherwise it would blow air back at you if you only had a single pipe. And then also, while you’re, while it’s in use, then as it’s drawing down, it has the capability for the air to get into the tank as well. So that’s what the vent pipe is probably, I mean, that’s the kiss of death. But that’s definitely the, that’s what we look for. If I’m looking for that’s the first place I’ll go.

RS: Okay.

DN: In your basement, also, if around your furnace there may be a couple of copper tubes sticking up, if there’s two copper tubes sticking up almost 100%, no, it’s 100%. If there’s two copper tubes sticking up next to your furnace, then you had a buried tank. If it’s a single line, you probably had an above ground tank.

RS: Okay. Okay, got it.

TM: How big are those? What’s the diameter of those copper pipes coming up through the floor? 

DN: Three As. Either 3As or half inch. They’re pretty rare the half inch. In residential, it’s almost always 3As.

RS: Okay.

DN: Yeah. So about a little bigger than a pencil.

RS: Got it.

DN: Yeah. And the two lines, basically what it did is the one was the supply line that would go to the bottom of the tank, and that would, all the lines go through the top of the tank, by the way, they don’t come from the bottom, they go through the top. So the lines would come up and then one would supply the furnace and whatever the furnace burns, it would burn. But whatever was residue that it didn’t burn, the rest of the oil would go back to the tank. And it actually, they would run them close to it together because when they go outside, it would heat the oil before it went back, and when it went back, it would keep the other one from gelling or getting too cold or freezing, so that it wouldn’t gel your lines. That was the trick of it.

RS: Interesting. Okay. All right. And so if someone sees a couple of pipes out in the yard and they’re like, all right, I’m gonna call Dean’s Tank, have them come out and verify there’s a fuel oil tank here, what would you do to verify? 

DN: The first thing I would do, open the pipes up. And a lot of times you can open the pipe up and you’ll be able to stick a tape into it or stick into it to see if the number one, if there’s product, and then we figure out the diameter of the tank. The tanks come in pretty much two sizes. Either it’s a 48 inch or a 64 inch tank. It’s the 64 inch tank, would be 1,000 gallon or some variant of 1,000 gallon tank. So it’d be 64 by six feet, or 72… 64 inches by 72 inches, or 144 inches would be a 2,000. And then you just keep adding on for bigger tanks. For a 500 or, and then sometimes they come in 1,000 gallon variant as well. It’s a 48 inch by six feet, or 48 by 144 inch tank, that would be 1,000 as well. But that would be the first thing.

DN: And then I would do a metal detector and I would determine how long the tank is. And typically I outline the tank so we know, if I do get the job, then I would’ve to call Gopher One and they would know where the tank was as well. That’d be kind of a point of how that would go. So that’s what I do. And sometimes it gets interesting. I mean, sometimes the tanks, like I said, are underneath the garage or underneath the house, and we have to… Then it just comes down to a 30 years of knowledge of how things work and how people were thinking of how things did back then.

RS: Well, and I got to share something else, and I can’t remember if it was you or your dad who shared this tip with me back in the day, but I was like, what kind of tools do you guys use to figure this out? And another tip I got from you guys was just put your ear to one of the pipes and then get a wrench or something and bang on the other pipe. And it’s like, you can hear there’s this big echo chamber.

DN: Absolutely.

RS: And I thought that is a fantastic tip. And I’ve been using that one over the years.

DN: I tell people that all the time. Yeah, that was my dad’s trick. Yeah, absolutely.

RS: That was your dad’s trick. Okay.

DN: It was my dad’s trick. Yeah. We would do that all the time where two people, a lot of times you’d see the real estate agent would come out and they had a hammer and the guy’s like, yeah. The real estate agent said, how do you find a tank? And the real estate agent pulled a hammer out the back of his car, and here, listen to this bong, bong, bong. You can hear it. It’s pretty funny. And even, regardless of where the tank is, it’s prevalent. It’ll work.

RS: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. Okay.

TM: We have not touched on cost at all, and I’m just curious, Doug, like, can you give us a range in cost these days? What it would take to remove both a freestanding tank, probably the easiest thing, to a buried fuel oil tank that’s leaked that’s big? 

DN: Okay. With above ground tank, so 265, a single 265, right now they cost $1250. It’s $1,250. That includes pumping, removal, disposal by state law. So out of the top of the tank, the pipes, the fill and the vent pipe go through the concrete wall, and then they’ll be on the outside. By state law we have to remove those as well. The piping that goes from the tank to where the furnace is or was, we blow that out. Seal both ends. So that’s 1,250. The permits on that, and that’s varied, from, like Anoka it’s $25, in Minneapolis it’s $250 for a permit.

TM: Wow.

DN: So that’s added onto the $1250.

TM: Okay.

RS: Okay. Got it.

DN: So underground tanks, with residents, it’s very variable. It depends on how big the tank is, how big… What’s inside the tank, whether it’s oil, water, whether… Leaking tanks will take on water so that… There’s a cost of that, that water has to go through a process to dispose off that. The access, what kind of equipment we can get to it. How far it is, if we’ve gotta run 200 yards with a bobcat, what it’s under. If there’s concrete, if it’s asphalt. There’s so many variants. Typically right now, I say right now, we started… It starts around 2,500 bucks. Sight on scene. If somebody calls me, I will tell them it’s 3,000. I would rather say it’s 3,000 and give them a bill for 2,500, than tell them it’s 2,500 and give them a bill for 3,000. So I would, until I get on site where I can actually get on site and see what I’m up against, and then I can give them a hard bid. So 2,500.

TM: So what if it’s been leaking? What if it’s been leaking or you have to fill it in place? Does that cost a lot more? 

DN: Absolutely. So if we remove a tank, it only costs us about $150 worth of dirt to fill the hole back in. If we fill a tank, just the concrete alone is $1000…

TM: Okay.

RS: So that alone. Yeah. So, that’ll, okay, so with residential heating oil tanks, for the most part, you don’t have to do any kind of soil sampling. We pull the tank out, we do a visual look at the tank. The inspector will look at the tank. If that’s, if there is an inspection, look at the hole and see if there’s any signs of it, contamination. If there is, then we have to, by licensure, I am required to do a soil sample. I’m licensed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. If I see any signs of contamination, leakage, whatever, by my licensure, I am required to take a soil sample. And then we have it analyzed by a lab to determine, and what we’re looking for, with heating oil tanks, we’re looking for DRO, which is a diesel range organic, which is, we can go down that rabbit hole as well, but that’s what we’re looking for. So with a, when we abandon a tank in place, we have to take a soil sample ’cause that’s the only way we can determine whether the tank was leaking or we can’t do a visual inspection looking at the inside of the tank. We can’t tell whether it was leaking or not. So we have to take a soil sample. So that’s another $250. The concrete’s $1000. With an abandonment in place, I typically give people a start at 3,500 and go up from there.

RS: Okay.

TM: Okay. That’s still not as much as I thought it was gonna be, actually.

DN: Well, we do our best. We do our best. We, like I said, we do more, as far as residentials go, we do more tanks than all the other companies in the state combined by far. We do this day in and day out, we try to do at least two tanks a day just to try to keep up with it. In the summer when we get later days, and if we can do jobs without inspections, we’re, you know, so we’re actually working 5, 6, 7, 8 o’clock at night. Sometimes that’s what it takes.

RS: Wow. So how many crews do you have? 

DN: Just the one of us. Just one.

RS: Okay.

DN: Yeah.

TM: Amazing.

DN: Yeah, it’s too specialized. And I, I’ve tried to hire people on, and when they see the variance of what we do between above ground tanks, underground tanks, abandonment in place, you’re talking about flammable abilities. You’re talking about explosions. You talk about gas stations, gas station’s, a whole nother ball of wax where we’re dealing with multiple tanks and huge tanks. A small gas station has 10,000 gallon tanks, which, to give you a idea, a tanker truck is 6,000 gallons. So a semi tanker truck is 6,000 gallons, and on a gas station, they’re 10,000 for an average one. So, I mean, we have massive equipment, we’ve got lots of stuff going on, and there’s just, it’s really, really hard. And it’s a very small community that we have. So for me to find somebody that has any knowledge, I would actually have to go to my competitors and steal somebody. Yeah.

TM: Wow.

RS: You gotta train them.

TM: It’s a very specialized, yeah, very specialized trade that it sounds like, I mean, for four generations, [laughter] you guys have been doing it.

DN: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I’m 30 years and I’m surprised every year by new stuff. So, it’s a fun, I mean, it’s been a fun company to run, and we are never bored. There’s always something that we never do anything the same every day.

TM: So, Doug, I’ve been dying to ask you. What’s like one of the craziest things that you’ve ever seen? 

DN: Craziest. We had one out in Shorewood, so out by Lake Minnetonka, where the guy had a tank and it started leaking. So instead of removing it, he left it there and buried another tank on top of it. And he, all he did was run his piping from the one tank into the other one. So when they filled the top one, it would run into the bottom one, and that one was leaking. But being that it was, and out there they have clay, so in clay, but the clay actually held the oil in place, so it wouldn’t, it didn’t actually run out. So, here’s the funny thing. So if you’re in clay and you dig a hole, you’re just digging a bathtub because the water can’t really run out, right? So then you put a steel tank in a bathtub and put dirt over the top of it, you know what’s gonna happen.

DN: It’s gonna rust and now it’s sitting in water all the time. Anyway, so this guy puts another tank on top of it and then buries that on as well. And all he did was hook the piping from one to the other so that he didn’t have to redo the piping into the house. So we get there and he couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t burn. He said, “All I’ve got is water.” Well, you’ve got no access. You can’t even pull the water out of the other tank. We pump the top tank out, you’re still pumping water. I said, “The tank’s dry. How can we get it?” He said, “Well, there’s another tank underneath.” “What do you mean there’s another?” So we had to dig down and we found the second tank, and we’ve removed the whole works but it was an absolute disaster. He had, I think that…

TM: How does that even even happen? Did he personally install the tank or did he find some irreputable contractor? 

DN: No, he did it all himself. No, he was…

TM: Oh, my gosh.

DN: He was an irreparable contractor. [laughter] He was the guy with the backhoe. He just, and he happened to, actually, I think what he was did is he demoed a house and found some, he took somebody else’s tank out that was buried and then put it in his house. It was, he was, I mean, this was…

RS: Oh my goodness.

DN: An absolute disaster. Yeah, it was something else.

TM: Wow. That’s crazy.

DN: Yeah, that was the worst of the worst. And that was, and we couldn’t, my dad and I couldn’t believe it. We’ve never see anything like that. So, but there is, with residentials, you run into all kinds of people because whether they’re, they could be oil people or they could be, anyway, we… If you go in St. Paul, especially down, not actually like Summit, but if you, if you’re like up by Marshall and stuff like that, you get a lot of people that were working at the foundry and stuff, and these guys were metal fabricators as well. So they’d build their own tanks out of, oh God forsaken materials.

TM: Whatever they have.

DN: Oh yeah. It was insane. So they would when they transferred from coal, they just said, “Well, I’m gonna build my own tank.” And they, and it was like a M1 Abrams tank because they had things weigh like 900 pounds and we gotta cut them up into 50 pieces to get them out of the basement, the same way he carried them down. So it was insane. We run into some, residentials are, and I think that’s a lot why people stay away from them is ’cause there’s so many variants. We get into something and you have to go and look at these things ’cause you never know what you’re up against.

RS: Yeah.

TM: Wow.

DN: Yeah.

TM: Wow. It was such a challenge. One last question, Doug, before we wrap this up. Just curious. So, you know, we’re talking about Minnesota and really the Twin Cities specifically. But would you say that this is a kind of a common issue in a lot of other states too? I know that there’s states that are still using, like a lot of states on the East Coast, like they still use fuel oil and they, you know, actively. But are there other locations that are, you know, have switched over to natural gas or something else and they have these buried fuel oil tanks that need to get removed? 

DN: As far as far as the country goes, Wisconsin is huge as well. Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Seattle. I’ve got a, and I’m not gonna call it a sister, but I have a friends that own tank companies out in Seattle. New Jersey is huge, and the bad part about New Jersey is that it’s all salt swamps and they buried these tanks in salt swamps. And the bad part about the East Coast is they don’t have gas, that there is no natural gas over there. They didn’t run the pipelines to the East Coast. So they’re still actively using heating oil.

TM: Yeah.

DN: Right now. And it costs, and they don’t have things like we have what’s called the Petro fund. So if we have a, outta every dollar that we spend in gasoline or petroleum at all in the state of Minnesota, a certain percentage of that goes to a fund that pays for investigation and remediation of leaking tanks or leaking anything, any kind of, so if a tanker tips over in a ditch, there’s money that is in the state that pays to do the cleanup and the investigation of that. Out in New Jersey, they don’t have that. They don’t have anything like that. So it’s all on the homeowners and a lot of these places, and the insurance companies right now are pushing this really, really big out east, and the banks are kind of scaring even to the point where a lot of our financial right now is coming from the East Coast, and now they’re on it now as far as like the houses with these tanks that are abandoned. They won’t even allow the mortgage to go through because they’ve already aided out in New Jersey. So now here they’re really pushing it hard for us to kind of follow the same guidelines, even though we have a safety net with the, like I said, with the abandoned, not the abandoned, the Petro fund that will help out with, just if you have a leaking tank, it starts at around $11,000 for the investigation. That’s where it starts.

TM: Wow.

RS: Okay.

DN: Yeah. And like I said, that fund will help, and it will pay up to 90% of that 11,000. It’s called a limited site investigation. And that pretty much just determines whether that when your tank leaked, if it came in contact with the groundwater, and then how far it transferred from there. Obviously, like I said before, oil is lighter than water. Once it hits the water table, it spreads out over a very, it’s like a drop of gas on a mud puddle. The gas won’t mix with the water, but it’ll spread out over a very huge area in a very quick amount of time. And they’re worried about people with like, sand points and stuff like that, shallow wells, and you could actually pump that petroleum onto your garden.

RS: Oh, yikes.

DN: Yeah. So that’s their biggest concern. It’s not very common, but it’s, that is their biggest concern.

RS: Yeah.

TM: So there’s some help out there for homeowners in Minnesota if they have a tank that’s been leaking, unlike other states that don’t have a safety net.

DN: Yeah, I don’t… I think Minnesota’s the only one actually. So yeah, I think that’s, I think that we’re very…

TM: Yay Minnesota.

RS: Yeah.

DN: If, yeah. Yes and no. Yeah, I agree. It’s one more, I mean, that’s why we pay some of the highest gas prices in the country as well But it helps out in that way. So, yeah, that there’s, I know way more about this than I admit. But it’s 30 some years of knowledge and I don’t like to… It’s, I like to learn way more about it. So, whether it’s through the inspection process or whether it’s through permits or just the records of all this stuff. And we find them find records in the ceilings or in the boiler rooms and stuff all the time. And once you take out the tanks that people don’t want them, so it, you know, I’ve got stacks of stuff. So, matter of fact, I have this right here. This came out of a basement in St. Paul.

RS: And I’m looking at what looks like a gigantic section of pipe, like a six inch pipe with a cap on it. Is that what I’m looking at here? 

DN: Yap, so that’s what you’re looking at. So this was in a concrete wall. It was sitting like this inside of a concrete wall. And this was, this wall was around and above ground tank. In commercial properties, the fire code stated that you had to, the tanks had to be protected by either concrete or something. So it would be there was no way that the tank could start on fire, or, so they put a concrete block wall around the tank, and then they put sand around it. So this was sitting inside the concrete wall going into the tank area, the tank bolt, it’s called the bolted tank. So inside of this, and my son found this, by the way, we found…

RS: So he’s unscrewing the cap on this pipe. He’s taking the cap off, you’re reaching in the pipe.

DN: And this is an old cash billfold from a bank. And it’s the National City Bank of New York. That’s what it says on there. I don’t know if you can see it.

RS: What a find.

TM: Yeah.

RS: Oh my goodness.

DN: All right.

TM: Is there anything inside of it? 

RS: It’s got cash. Oh my goodness. Wow, how much cash you got there? 

TM: How much money was that, Doug? 

RS: Wow. And they’re burnt.

DN: Yeah, 1963. So this one’s 1963, I think. What was this one? Yeah, 1963. So these back then were probably $100 back then. We figured it out. They were about $1,500 a piece. So we’re probably talking about two weeks of wages just with these $200 bills.

RS: Wow. Super cool.

DN: Yeah. Stuck in this. But yeah, it was pretty cool. So yeah, that was…

TM: Wow.

DN: Yeah. So that was the one of the few fines that we ever had worth. You’re gonna find some everybody says I’m looking for Jimmy Hoffa.

RS: Of course, of course.

DN: Digging in people’s backyards. Of course. Yeah. So that’s the coolest thing I ever found.

TM: Wow. Well, Doug, you are just a wealth of knowledge and I have learned so much today. It’s been really fun having you on. We’ll have to have you back.

DN: Oh, that’d be cool.

RS: This is amazing.

DN: Yeah, absolutely.

RS: You know your stuff. Thank you so much for making the time to come on here.

DN: No problem.

RS: I’m gonna make sure all the inspectors in my company listen to this one. This is…

DN: Yeah. And have I done the… I do classes as well, so I do a class.

RS: We need to get you out.

DN: For inspection classes, I know you have a… I don’t think it was, maybe one of your competitors. They have like a monthly meeting where they all get together, have pizza, and kind of go through some of the new…

RS: That was us, and…

DN: Oh, it was you. Okay.

RS: We hadn’t done it for many years since COVID, but we just started doing it again. And after the show here, I’m gonna send you an email. We gotta get you back out to talk to our guys.

DN: Perfect. Perfect. Love it. Love it, love. Whatever I can do to help you guys out. There’s, you know, there’s always little catches and I can help you out with whatever I can. You got my number.

RS: And if people wanna get ahold of you, how do they reach Dean’s Tanks? 

DN: My direct number is 763-535-0194. You can call me, that’ll go right to my cell phone. I’ll answer any question you have or whatever. If I don’t know. I know who to talk to. I do have an, it’s is my website.

RS: Okay.

DN: And we’re actually, in the midst of creating a new one or upgraded one. I don’t, obviously I don’t have a whole lot of time for that side of it, but…

RS: How could you? Yeah.

TM: Yeah. No kidding.

RS: All right. Cool. Well, thanks again, Doug. Appreciate it.

TM: Thanks Doug.

DN: Thank you.

RS: Alright, you too.

TM: You too. Take care.