What You Need to Know About Underground Storage Tanks

Oil heating used to be common in areas where electricity or natural gas was hard to get to a home. To save space, many builders installed these oil tanks underground. Your current furnace may not even be operating on heating oil, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a buried oil tank somewhere on the property. What can having one of these tanks mean for you as a homeowner or to a prospective buyer of a home?

What Does the Law Say?

B.C fire code states that any abandoned tank must be removed from the property. They define abandoned as a tank that has not been used in two years or more. There are also very specific regulations for decommissioning one of these tanks. That is primarily due to environmental concerns around these tanks.

Environmental Concerns?

Heating oil storage tanks were designed to last between 20 and 25 years. If they are left in place longer than that, or are left due to no longer being used, then there is a high risk that the tank is going to corrode. Even if the tank was completely emptied, there may still be oil left in the bottom that can leak out if the tank corrodes badly. This means the oil will contaminate the soil around the tank.

I Didn’t Put the Tank There!

The question of who installed the tank doesn’t matter. What does matter is who owns the home at the time the tank is discovered. This means that if you are the homeowner and the tank is found, it is up to you to have the tank properly removed. If the tank is discovered while you are trying to sell your home, then you will need to have the tank removed before the sale goes through. Most banks will not grant a mortgage to a property that has an oil tank on the premises.

Okay, I have a Tank. Now What?

If you are not using the oil tank, the first thing to do is find a contractor who is capable of doing the removal. The removal can be a delicate bit of business, so make sure the contractor has a good track record for removals. The reason for this is that after the tank is removed, the soil around the tank must be tested. Any contaminate that is found in the soil must be properly removed and disposed of according to regulations.

Contaminated Soil Removal? That Sounds Expensive!

Unfortunately, cleaning up contaminated soil around an oil storage tank can be very expensive. Even worse, the contamination can spread very quickly. Mixing one cup of heating fuel with water can be enough to contaminate an area the size of a swimming pool! Horror stories talk of prices running near $100,000 or more. Fortunately, there are grants available for home owners that can prove that they were unaware of the tank at the time they purchased their home and have now “innocently inherited” the tank.