Our HistoryDavid Plumb founded the tank cleaning company in 1966
DP Fuel Tank Services – A History
David Plumb founded the tank cleaning company that was to bear his name for 43 years in 1966, giving up his job to do so.
For the first few years David Plumb & Co Ltd was run from a semi-detached house in Coulsdon. Then in 1971, he and his family took over the tenancy of a service station in Lower Kingswood, Surrey, on the A217 to the south of Sutton, South London. While continuing to run the forecourt as a going concern, hosting a car sales and repair operation, and even selling second hand furniture, its large amount of land and out-buildings provided room for the tank cleaning vehicles and equipment.
In 1987 David’s daughter Kathy joined the business followed by her brother Nigel in 1991. When David retired, these siblings took over as directors. Kathy subsequently retired in 2016.
Nigel Plumb, Managing Director, is keen to take the company forward and explore new opportunities and directions.
The year after our founding was the high water mark for UK petrol stations, when there were 39,958 sites throughout the UK, more than four times the current figure. The tanks were smaller, there were still pumps on the pavement, there were lots more grades of petrol, filters were less effective and most stations sold paraffin. As one of the very few companies specialising in tank cleaning at the time, there was plenty of work to go around and very little incentive to diversify.
Soon, the trend was for fewer but larger tanks and, for those with dual tanks, the easiest way to achieve this was simply by cutting two holes in the baffle plate; one at the top and one at the bottom to allow free flow between the two sides. The only way to do this was to make the tanks safe, get inside and cut the holes. As we had personnel trained in gas freeing, tank entry and confined space working, adding this service to our portfolio was a natural evolution.
Then, gradually at first and then with increasing speed, smaller stations began to consolidate into fewer larger ones, so we found we were called in more often by building companies that had been asked to demolish or redevelop small service stations. We used our skill to make the tanks safe to remove if the tanks were to be taken out, and developed techniques to make them permanently safe with concrete slurry if they were to be left in the ground. Eventually, we began doing the demolition ourselves on some sites, but even now we still work with developers.
In the 70s, the plethora of petrol grades began to be whittled away; firstly with the disappearance of two-star, then three-star and, eventually, five-star. This, coupled with a huge increase in car ownership, meant that having lots of smaller tanks on a site went out of fashion, as did having dual tanks; one large tank separated into two by the use of a steel partition or baffle plate.
Changing attitudes in the 90s meant there was also more emphasis on being environmentally safe, which meant that, working with environmental consultants, we became involved in testing the sites we were decommissioning for contamination from leaks, and then cleaning up any contamination. This usually involves removing contaminated soil to a properly authorised disposal site and back-filling with inert and clean materials.
Challenges We Face
The latest set of challenges facing the industry is coming from the move to biofuels, which are causing a great deal of concern among service station operators. Because of their ability to flush accumulated sludge through the system which causes clogging, the best way to head off problems is a thorough tank cleaning – right back where we started.
Also, while most vehicles can deal with the 7% of biofuels in standard diesel and petrol that are currently in use, these are due to increase to 10% and then 15% mixes by 2020. Many cars will not be able to run on the 15% mix, so we could return to multiple grades of fuel on forecourts and, consequently, smaller tanks and dual tanks again. Maybe we will get asked to replace the baffles we cut out a few years ago.
While we will always work on forecourts, our next evolution is most likely to be in the service we offer for larger tanks and their industrial owners, plus those who have tanks on commercial sites. Commercial tank owners usually come to us for two reasons; either to clean their tanks as part of heading off bio-fuel problems with emergency generators, or to decommission and remove them to create more room when they go over to other fuels.
In the end, it will be the market that decides. Our skills have already taken us into areas that no one would not have dreamed of back in 1966. Today, if someone says, “Can you do it?”, the answer is usually, “Yes we can”.