You’ve Struck Oil! What do you do when it’s on your property?

When natural gas became available to the public, people would use the gas as a means to heat their home. Until the 1960s, most homes in the Greater Vancouver area were built with oil burning furnaces. These furnaces contained oil in underground storage tanks and were periodically filled by tanker trucks. During the switch to gas furnaces, many of the underground oil storage tanks were removed, or at least were decommissioned. When they were decommissioned, the tanks were supposed to be completely drained of the oil.

Unfortunately, many houses were not drained, which possesses a risk of leaks. While there’s no need to panic just yet, you should know that it’s possible that the tanks could have corroded and rusted enough for the oil to leak out. As we all know, leaked oil is never a good sign as it is combustible which may pose a risk to you as a homeowner and your neighbours. Furthermore, the leaked oil could contaminate the soil and water on your property and also possibly even the lots surrounding you.

In Vancouver, any oil tank discovered on a property must be removed IMMEDIATELY! And if removal is not a solution due to the structure of the land, then it must be registered and abandoned according to the bylaws of the city.

The down side of removing an oil tank is that it’s not cheap and can cost up to $100,000 or more.

What if there IS an Underground Oil Tank on the property You want to buy?

The B.C. Fire Code and bylaws require that out-of-service underground oil storage tanks (USTs) be removed and that the contaminated soil around it must be removed and replaced as well. The fee for removal seems expensive, but the consequences to not paying the fee are much worse.

You could be denied mortgage: If an oil tank is found, as a buyer, you may not be able to get fire insurance for the property. Without fire insurance, there is no way you’d be able to get a mortgage since lenders would not lend money on a property without fire insurance.

You could be responsible for environmental remediation: This is an even worse outcome, and not just because it could cost thousands of dollars. Leaked oil in the environment could pose harmful effects towards the environment and people.

How to remove the oil tank on my property?

If you do end up finding an oil tank on your property, then the first step is to hire a qualified environmental consultant or engineer to work alongside the professional oil tank contractor. The environmental consultant will take soil samples to determine whether the soil has been contaminated. It is your responsibility to report any leaks or spills. Either you or the person you’ve hired to help with the oil tank are required to notify the local fire department of any petroleum releases or threats of release. The City of Vancouver has a detailed guide on how you can remove an UST. If removal is impractical, you could also apply for a permit through their website.

Who’s responsible for the tank’s removal?

The responsibility for the removal of the UST and contaminated soil is the responsibility of the current property owner. An important thing to remember about the high costs of removal is that it could be exponentially more should it cause more damage.

Whether you knew the tank was there when you bought the property or not, as the owner, it’s your responsibility to know your property and make sure that any oil tanks are removed or properly rendered inert in accordance with good engineering practices.

Signs your home has an oil tank

If your home was built prior to 1975, there’s a pretty good chance that heated oil tanks were used. This isn’t always the case, but here are a few things to look out for. The West Coast Tank Recovery says to first, check for copper piping. If you see copper piping around your home furnace, there’s a likelihood that the house was once heated with an oil tank. Another indication is if there is a visible valve or piping above ground. Next, look for a galvanized vent pipe. Oftentimes, these vent pipes have a mushroom cap top and are located next to the home’s foundation.

Getting an Oil Tank Inspection

If you suspect that you have an UST, there are a few options for you to take. There are a number of companies that will come and inspect your property for signs of an oil tank. Many of these companies can also inspect the property without the risk of causing any damage to the land.  

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