IN a rural constituency like Torridge and West Devon, many people rely on oil to heat their homes as they are too far away from the main gas network.

Those with oil fired central heating will be only too aware of the related issues, such as unexpected price spikes and reliance on deliveries which may be delayed during inclement weather.

However, leaks are also a significant problem, with the Environment Agency stating that between January and March this year, there has been a 50% rise in oil-related incidents across Devon and Cornwall when compared to the same period last year.

It is likely that part of this increase will be as a result of the coronavirus travel restrictions, with many holiday homes, which have not been used, having their oil tanks inspected less frequently — or not at all.

According to recent guidance by the Environment Agency, poor oil tank maintenance can pose a serious risk both to the individual and to the environment. As a result, they have issued an important message to Devon residents: check oil tanks for leaks to avoid financial loss and protect the environment from potential spills.

Oil pollution can be damaging to local ecosystems, and infiltrate aquifers which provide water to thousands of households in Devon. To add to this, oil spills are irretrievable financial losses often not covered by household insurance and can necessitate expensive clean-up operations.

As such, the Environment Agency recommends that oil tanks are kept as far away as possible from drains and bodies of water, and that they are inspected at least once a week for leaks and damage. It is also helpful, they say, to ensure that oil tanks and underground pipes are serviced at least once a year.

Those with oil fired heating may want to check that their home insurance covers clean-up costs, and that the amount of oil ordered is no more than can be stored safely. It can also help to monitor how much oil is regularly used. If a sudden increase is noticed, it could be as a result of a leak.

While it is true that many of us have been occupied with other concerns this last year, I hope that the Environment Agency’s guidance helps to stem the rising tide of oil spills in the South West. It is important that nearby habitats are kept safe from harm, and that local families are able to avoid devastating costs.

Should a spill occur which can’t be safely contained, the Environment Agency suggests contacting your insurance company to arrange for an accredited supplier to attend and assess the situation. If you discover an oil spill or leak, you may also wish to contact the Environment Agency’s 24-hour emergency hotline on 0800 807 060.

If you would like to learn more about keeping oil safely, you may be interested in the Oil Care Campaign. This joint initiative between environmental regulators and private sector partners provides information on reducing the risk of spillages and oil-related environmental damage. You can visit the project’s website here