Before natural gas became available in 1957, many homes were heated by furnace oil. The tank feeding the furnace was stored underground and held between 300 and 1,000 gallons of oil.
Once houses were converted to natural gas, the tanks were often left buried beneath the soil and not all were emptied properly.
The containers rust and can allow oil to leach into the soil. The oil can then find its way into an older home’s perimeter drainage system and flow into the storm sump, resulting in a fuel oil odor inside the home. The oil can also run into a neighbour’s drainage system and cause the same problem.
In the past, leaving the abandoned tanks in the ground and filling them with sand was standard practice. But that’s not the ideal option because the sand doesn’t always fill all the voids in a tank. Some insurance companies won’t provide insurance unless a problem tank is addressed.
The British Columbia Fire Code governs the removal or abandonment of an underground oil storage tank. If an owner removes an underground oil storage tank, or abandons its place, or temporarily takes it out of service, the British Columbia Fire Code requires the owener to use good engineering practices. In addition, a local government, such as a municipality, may also regulate the removal or abandonment of an underground oil storage tank.
If the contents of an underground oil storage tank spread to the surrounding area in a quantity or concentration that exceeds the limits in the provincial Contaminated Sites Regulation, the site is considered contaminated. If the site is contaminated, the Environmental Management Act and the Contraminated Sites Regulation require the owner to remediate the property. The legislation also establishes who must pay for the remediation, including, in some cases, a former owner.
According to the Real Estate Council of British Columbia, listing agents have a duty to familiarize themselves with the property that they have listed and, where they suspect an unused or abandoned underground storage tank may be present, to take necessary steps to determine if one exists. If a seller is aware of an unused or abandoned underground storage tank, that seller has an obligation to disclose this fact. An unused or abandoned underground storage tank is considered to be a material latent defect and, therefore, its presence must be disclosed in writing on the Property Disclosure Statement, as required by section 5-13 of the Council Rules.
How do I know if there is an abandoned oil tank buried on the property?
The age of your home is the first thing to consider. If your home was built after gas came to the North Shore in the late 60’s and early 70’s you likely do not have an oil tank. If your home was built before that you may have an oil tank. If the previous owners did not leave you information regarding the removal or decommissioning of an oil tank, then you should have the property scanned by a professional oil tank removal company. The two main visual clues are filler pipes or vent pipes along the side of the home. There are often cut off over the years making meter detection the primary means of locating a possible oil tank. Other signs can be cut-off feed lines in the basement or signs of oil in perimeter drainage.
What are the North Shore’s municipalities and fire department’s roles?
The District of North Vancouver recommends that Residental Underground Storage Tanks be completely removed and some form of confirmatory soil testing be completed and summarized in a report. There are currently no DNV bylaws directly governing the removal or inspections associated with the decommissioning and/or removal of a Residental Underground Storage Tank.
Owners of property applying for a District Building Permit, will however be asked to disclose the presence of a Residental Underground Storage Tank on the subject property. Subsequently, a homeowner may be required to either, provide documentation that the Residental Underground Storage Tank has been removed, or have it removed as condition of the Building Permit. The District does not inspect, warrant or provide any assurance whatsoever that a Residental Underground Storage Tank was or has been removed in accordance with any standards.
The City of North Vancouver does not inspect, warrant or provide any assurance whatsoever that a Residental Underground Storage Tank was or has been removed in accordance with any standards.
In 1988/1989 West Vancouver Fire & Rescue performed a door-to-door survey of all homes in West Vancouver with fuel/oil tank installation records. Some records are the result of actual dip tests while others were based on verbal statements from the property owners.
Fire department fuel/oil tank records are gathered from different sources and are for convenience only and should not be relied on for any purchase decision for any property.Unless the Fire & Rescue Department is in possession of a completed West Vancouver Fire & Rescue Fuel Storage Tank Closure Report, we cannot confirm the status of the Fuel/Oil Tank.The District of West Vancouver assumes no liability for soil conditions on the property due to fuel storage tank leakage.
West Vancouver Fire & Rescue has a comprehensive program to assist you with the removal of your fuel storage tank.If you have any questions or concerns contact them at email@example.com or 604-925-7370. District of West Vancouver
Fire and Rescue Services FUEL STORAGE TANK PROGRAM
How much does it cost to remove an oil tank?
The recovery cost depends on the oil tank size, the depth it is buried, the location, the permit costs, the oil tank contents as well as other municipal requirements. The average cost to remove a 350 gallon oil tank is usually around $1,700 to $2,200 before permits and pumping.
Why would a property owner remove an oil tank?
- due diligence
- improve the environmental conditions of their property
- satisfy a lender, prospective purchaser, insurance agent or local government
- remove high risk conditions
- avoid a negative impact to property value
Do property owners have legal obligations related to storage tanks?
All underground storage tanks, and above ground storage tanks over 2500 L, that supply oil burning equipment on properties under provincial jurisdiction are regulated under the BC Fire Code (BCFC) .
A provision in the BCFC states that an owner is required to follow good engineering practices when removing, abandoning in place, or temporarily taking out of service, his or her residential heating oil storage tank. Examples of good engineering practices are listed in the Appendix of the BCFC, and include Part 9 of the “Environmental Code of Practice for Aboveground and Underground Storage Tank Systems Containing Petroleum and Allied Petroleum Products” http://www.ec.gc.ca/lcpe-cepa/default.asp?lang=En&n=61B26EE8-1 published by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. For further information, contact the Office of the Fire OFC@gov.bc.ca
Although the Ministry of Environment does not specifically regulate residential heating oil storage tanks, all property owners in B.C. under provincial jurisdiction are legally responsible for complying with the provincial Environmental Management Act (the Act) and the Contaminated Sites and Hazardous Waste Regulations.
I’m selling my house, do I need to find out if I have an oil tank and if so, do I need to remove it?
You should take all measures to find out if your property has an oil tank. If your home was built after gas came to the North Shore in the late 60’s and early 70’s you likely do not have an oil tank. If your home was built before that you may have an oil tank. If the previous owners did not leave you information regarding the removal or decommissioning of an oil tank, then you should have the property scanned by a professional oil tank removal company. If you are listing your home for sale with Team Clarke we will arrange to have the property scanned at no cost to you. If there is no oil tank, you will be provided with a letter from the oil tank removal company stating that there was a search performed and no oil tank was found. If there is an oil tank, it is recommended that you remove it prior to listing to your home.
My house is for sale and I think we may have an oil tank.
You should have the property scanned immediately by a professional oil tank removal company. If an oil tank is found you must first disclose this on the Property Disclosure Statement that you filled out when listing your home. This is a material latent defect and must be disclosed to any prospective purchaser prior to them writing an offer. Next, you can have the tank removed immediately, or this can be negotiated with a purchaser of your property; however, many buyers will not be able to obtain insurance or have an institution lend funds on the property with a known oil tank and therefore may not be able to purchase your home. Often Realtors representing a buyer will write on the contract that it is the seller’s responsibility to remove it prior to completion and provide them with written documentation.
I bought my house and they told me there was no oil tank but we have found one
Call your lawyer
How long does it take to remove an oil tank?
Usually one day, plus a visit to top-dress the hole after it has settled
Has the oil tank on my property been leaking?
Until it is removed, you will not be able to tell for sure if it has been leaking
Who tests the soil for contamination?
A professional oil tank removal company will send samples of the soil to be tested to an environmental company.
Recommended companies for Oil Tank Removal: