When you’ve been in the commercial heating business for over 40 years, you see a lot more than just boiler installs and repairs. Our team here at Controlled Combustion have not just seen it all, but we do it all. When a valued, longtime client of ours was in need of an oil tank removal, we knew exactly what to do. Here’s a look into this major project we completed at the start of 2022.
Controlled Combustion had been servicing the boilers at a 30-story co-op on the Upper East Side for almost 30 years when a new need arose. In March of 2021, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) notified the management company of the need to have the tightness of the building’s underground fuel oil tanks tested. The two tanks, cylinders measuring 22-feet long and 12-feet in diameter, were part of the co-ops dual fuel system since 1993, but they were installed long before then. The NYS DEC requires that category 1 tanks (tanks installed before 1980) get tested annually.
That’s when the issues surfaced.
Not So Tight
We tested the two 20,000-gallon oil tanks located below the building—we’ll get into the specifics of the location later. Both tanks failed the tightness test. The next thing we had to do, then, was pump out the oil that remained in the tanks and perform another test. This time, we were testing the tanks as well as the piping.
Once the oil was removed, we could isolate the tanks from the piping and test each of them separately. This would help us determine where the leak was actually coming from. Leaking pipes are a different problem than leaking tanks.
Unfortunately, both the tanks and the pipes failed the isolated tightness tests.
We’ve Got a Case on Our Hands
The failed tests resulted in the NYS DEC issuing a spill case. If that sounds bad, that’s because it is bad. An oil spill can be a nightmare to clean up physically as well as damaging to a property’s reputation. And the list of environmental effects seems unending.
This cop-op seemingly faced two decisions. The first: abandon the tanks in place after clearing it of all residual oil. The second: demolish and remove the tanks completely. Before a decision could be made, though, we had to wait for the results of yet another test.
This test involved the soil underneath the tanks. A sample was taken and sent to a lab for analysis to determine if oil had in fact leaked from the underground storage containers and piping. If oil was found to have leaked, abandoning the tanks in place would not be an option since a thorough and proper clean up would be absolutely necessary.
It was August of 2021 when the results came back revealing the clear presence of fuel oil in the soil. The decision was then made to demolish and remove the tanks completely, including the contaminated soil.
We knew we had to spring into action to help our good friends and loyal customer get this sorted out. With over 375 families to think about in addition to numerous retail tenants, there was no way they could do this on their own. Fortunately, Controlled Combustion specializes in more than just boiler repairs. Our experienced team was well aware of all the red tape that had to be taken into consideration, and we handled it all.
A top-notch management company such as the one that oversees this building makes it very clear that the priority is the well-being of its residents and staff, as well as the environment. They spared no expense. This allowed us to bring in the best in the industry to help clean up and dispose of the oil and contaminated soil.
Before we get into the details of the job, we should share the unique challenges we had with this New York City building.
Location, Location, Location
Anyone who is even slightly familiar with NYC knows that space is scarce. Not surprisingly, builders place essential operational equipment above or below a building—maximizing the amount of space used for living and common areas. So it was not unusual to us that the two 20,000-gallon tanks were located beneath this building built back in 1960.
Building plans showed that the tanks were encased in a concrete vault with four sides and a bottom. A 14-inch concrete slab was on top of the vault with a small cut-out to allow for a visual of the top of the tanks.
What was unusual was its placement just below the ramp to the parking garage. This posed several challenges. The glaring one was accessing the storage containers. The only door leading to the tanks from outside the building was along a wall of the parking garage ramp. We couldn’t block the flow of traffic for hundreds of residents to and from the garage. So our workers had a path just a couple of feet wide to make their way from the tanks to the disposal containers on the sidewalk.
Then there was the workspace. The top concrete slab mentioned earlier formed the “floor” for our workers who needed to take out everything that lied beneath their feet. But the ramp sloped right above their heads, with the highest point around 6 feet that tapered down to about 3 feet. Talk about uncomfortable.
Our Project Manager and on-site Supervisor, Lou Correa, had many tasks. One of which was to ensure our team and contractors were safe during the entire project. Correa, who proudly reports zero injuries on this 3-month job, says “I’m doing this 35 years—I’ve never seen anything like this. This job was massive.”
But this demolition job was becoming more delicate by the hour. Once our team was under the ramp, it was discovered that the supporting column for the ramp was placed on top of the concrete slab. This had to be inspected further. Was the support column being supported by the concrete slab we needed to remove? If so, the integrity of the ramp would be compromised.
So before any work could be done on the much needed tank removal, we had to safely ensure that the column continued past the concrete slab. Fortunately, it did. The ramp’s support column actually ran right in between the two 22-foot long tanks that paralleled each other. It was great news that the ramp would remain structurally sound once we continued the job. However, this meant that we had to be extra careful during demolition so as not to damage the support column.
Now that we’ve explained the challenges of the tanks’ location, let’s get into how those challenges affected the rest of the job.
What Lies Beneath
As we mentioned, the concrete slab that topped the vault had to go first. Only then could we gain access to the leaking oil tanks. The team got to work on breaking up the 14-inch thick concrete slab, which was no easy task considering an average-height man could not stand upright in the workspace beneath the ramp.
The pieces of concrete were collected in large buckets, lifted by ladder to the garage ramp doors, and dumped in wheelbarrows. Our guys then pushed the loads along the side of the ramp, where residents and patrons drove uninterrupted, and disposed of them in large receptacles parked on the street. As the slab disappeared, it brought relief in the form of a taller workspace, but other issues lied beneath.
It’s common to see tanks of long ago without stabilizing feet. Large cylindrical tanks without feet would easily (and dangerously) roll around in their container if not stabilized. To avoid this, the practice was to fill the container with a substance that would hold a tank in place. The most common substance is sand.
Sand is great because it can effortlessly hold the tanks in place and easily be added to or removed from the container. With the use of a giant “vacuum,” known as a guzzler or vactor truck, the sand surrounding the tanks can be sucked right out of the container, easily freeing the tanks so they can be deconstructed.
Our oil tanks were not stabilized in a bed of soft sand.
After the concrete slab was removed, we discovered that soil and rocks had been used to stabilize these feet-less oil tanks. More accurately, cement-like compacted soil and 20-pound boulder-like rocks were used to stabilize these tanks.
Just when we thought the back-breaking part of the job was over! Our team now had to break up soil and rocks that had been compressing for over 60 years. Some of the boulders were so big that we had to break them up with jackhammers in order to move them.
Since large rocks can’t easily and safely be extracted using the guzzler, we continued with the method of manually walking wheelbarrows from the site to the disposal receptacles. Once the compacted soil was broken up, though, the guzzler was able to remove it from the site for us.
A total of 300 tons of compacted soil and rocks had to be removed.
This article is about removing decommissioned oil tanks, and we promise we’ll get to that. But before we do, we think you might be interested in learning a bit about the red tape involved in a project of this scale.
No Permits, No Work
Chances are you’ve walked past many construction sites and noticed powerful equipment, large receptacles, and redirected walkways. This is a common sight in NYC. But you may not be aware of the ton of paperwork that goes into getting permission from the City for all of that.
This job was no exception. Controlled Combustion made sure all permit requests to operate, park, and set up the necessary equipment to complete the work were submitted. And whenever an outside contractor was needed, we made all the arrangements so the management company didn’t have the added task of juggling several vendors.
The city granted permission for the work under certain conditions. For example, since the building is located in a residential area, we were not allowed to make any noise until 9 AM. Additionally, we were only permitted to block the sidewalk until 2 PM, since the nearby college generated a lot of foot traffic from students and faculty. These stipulations meant the majority of work had to be done within this 5-hour window each day.
Controlled Combustion was definitely up for this challenge. With permits secured, equipment rented, and contractors lined up, we were finally able to begin work in January of 2022.
The Light at The End of The…Tank
Finally, after months of testing, deciding the best course of action, waiting for permits, and burrowing through 60-year-old compacted soil, the deconstruction and removal of the two 20,000-gallon oil tanks began.
With the tanks exposed, our team was now able to fully clean and degasify the tanks. This is an extremely important step. If oil remained, it could easily ignite while the tanks were deconstructed.
Our team of welders joined the project to cut through the steel walls of the tanks. Piece by piece, the 22-foot long, 12-foot in diameter tanks decreased in size until there was nothing left. Sheets of steel, weighing about 100 pounds each, were neatly stacked, waiting to be lifted out of the container vault by an electric hoist.
Once they left the vault, the sheets were stacked again, waiting to be loaded onto flatbed carts. Then, just like with the concrete slab and surrounding rocks, our team manually transported the metal using the narrow path along the parking garage ramp and into the proper disposal receptacle.
Another aspect of the job was to cut up and remove the oil piping system that was no longer needed. All of the oil that was still in the system was also collected for the safe and proper disposal by environmental specialists.
Controlled Combustion was also pleased to help clear up that spill case with the NYS DEC. We filed all the necessary documents to update their Petroleum Bulk Storage records with the state as well as the New York Fire Department. With a closed spill case, everyone at this co-op can be very happy.
Bonus project: Just before we were about to break ground on the tank project, this NYC building found itself in another predicament. Check out this blog to see how we were able to provide them with a mobile oil tank when they learned that Con Edison was shutting down gas service in their area.
“Controlled Combustion responded quickly for the 378 families that occupy this building. I have been using Controlled Combustion since you installed our boilers in 1993. You always provide fast response time, especially in emergencies,” wrote the Property Manager, who shared his appreciation by giving us a 5-star review on Google!
Filling The Void
With the oil tanks removed, there is now an enormous underground room. This is a great place to store tools, supplies, or even provide tenant storage. And with the oil piping system and its pumps removed, there’s even more space in the boiler room. In a city where it’s impossible to find more space, this NYC co-op stumbled on a treasure right beneath its feet.
More Than Just a Boiler Company
We’re thrilled that we were able to help out our friends over on the Upper East Side when they needed it. Over the years, they’ve come to know that Controlled Combustion is more than just a boiler company.
Our range of services fall into five categories: 1. Compliance; 2. Maintenance; 3. Service; 4. Replacements; 5. Upgrades. We provide these services to the entire New York City area as well as Bergen County, Rockland County, Westchester, and Yonkers. Controlled Combustion’s trustworthy Emergency Boiler Service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 356 days a year. Call us today to find out how we can help you run an efficient heating system.