Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Underground Oil Storage Tanks

What you need to know.


If you are selling a single family home, townhouse or condominium apartment built before 1957, chances are there will be an underground oil tank on the property. This is so because many homes built in North America back then were originally heated by furnace oil. The wisdom of the time was to inter tanks generally in the backyard or the side of the house, and when natural gas made its way into our society all those tanks were filled with sand or even capped - and left where they were. In most cities nowadays no accurate data is available on the number of tanks and their exact location. But one thing is known for a fact: those tanks were never removed, and they are still underground.

It is a well known fact that oil tanks underground, even if capped and filled with sand, constitute a considerable environmental risk because they are prone to corrosion and rust. It is impossible to empty tanks entirely and any remaining oil can leach into the ground with time and find its way into the drainage system. From here it can then flow into neighbouring properties, into the storm sump and waterways including ditches and streams. It can contaminate water and pose a hazard to wildlife.

Throughout British Columbia, municipal and provincial by-laws require that tanks that have been out of service for two years or will not be reused must be removed from the ground together with all connecting piping and dispensers. It is always advisable for property owners to hire a contractor experienced and that specializes in underground oil storage tanks removal. In most municipalities, furthermore, before any work goes under way a permit must be issued by the pertinent Fire Prevention Department and all conditions noted on the permit must be followed. The proper procedure for removal is outlined as follows:

Following are typical situations that affect dealings with properties containing underground storage tanks as affected by British Columbia Law:

  1. There is a home for sale. Both Buyer and Seller are aware of the existence of an underground oil storage tank. The Buyer agrees to buy the property 'as is'. Who is liable for the tank removal ? The property owner (Seller) is responsible for the tank removal.

  2. Both Buyer and Seller know about the tank. The Buyer says the law requires the Seller to remove it. What happens if the Buyer reports it ? As the property owner is responsible for removing the tank, City Hall would respond by sending a letter outlining time periods for removal. Failure to comply would result in the prosecution of the property owner.

  3. A property contains an underground storage tank decommissioned ten years ago in compliance with the law at that time, which required homeowners to remove contents and fill it with sand. How does the current law affect the property now ? The tank must meet current by-laws requirements, which means it must be removed from the ground.

  4. What happens if a property owner is demolishing a house and finds a tank ? The tanks must meet current by-laws requirements, which means it must be removed.

Luigi Frascati

Real Estate Chronicle

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