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Residential Oil Tank

Blog by tomjoneshomes.ca | June 1st, 2006

An oil tank is a tank with sizes ranging from 300 gallons to 1000 gallons located underground in the back yards of residence.  Furnace oil was stored in these tanks to heat many homes in Vancouver prior to natural gas becoming available. 

As natural gas heating becoming more and more popular, many oil tanks were left in the ground.  Eventually all tanks will corrode or rust out due to a wet and humid climate in the Lower Mainland; hence, any oil which got left behind will leach into the ground and could quickly cause devastating environmental hazard, including contamination in surrounding soil, surface water, and drinking water.

The City of Vancouver requires that tanks which will not be reused or have been out of service for 2 years shall be decommissioned.  In the case if the Fire Chief determines that it is impractical to remove the tank, than it shall be filled with an inert material to stabilize and prevent any environmental contamination.

If an oil tank is deemed to be removable, then homeowners are strongly recommended to hire a professional contractor* who is experienced in tank removals to carry out the decommissioning process, for instance, a registered fuel oil contractor. Before the decommissioning process, please be aware that a tank removal permit issued by the Fire Prevention Department** must be obtained and all conditions noted on the tank removal permit must be strictly followed.

Underground oil tank removal process should begin by dipping the tank to determine whether there is any oil remaining in it; remaining oil must be pumped out and taken to an approved disposal/recycling facility before the tank is removed. Afterwards, the area around the tank must be assessed for any soil or groundwater contamination. The preliminary assessment can be achieved simply by using sight and smell.  Signs include oil pooling in the excavation or floating on water, and the smell of oil from the bottom and the ends of the tank basin.  The clean up procedure for contaminated soil would involve the removal of all soil that has been impacted, and replace the foundation with clean soil.  It may even be necessary to have soil samples taken to a laboratory to confirm that there is no contaminated soil or groundwater left on the site.

If heating oil entered the drainage system, it should be flushed by placing a hose down the nearest outside drain and allowing the hose to run fully open for at least an hour.  The oil should be skimmed off and collected for proper disposal.  This flushing/skimming process will have to be repeated until there is no oil entering the sump.

Generally, the cost to remove a non-leaky oil tank can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. But once the problem is elevated to involving a corroded tank, oil leaks and spills and environmental contamination, what may seem like a simple clean-up can in fact be a very complicated and expensive task for homeowners and Canadian Insurance Companies. As the matter of fact, the Insurance Bureau of Canada shows that insurance claims from domestic oil tank leaks have increased by more than 50% in the past ten years.

Moreover, Real Estate transactions could be put at risk if a client purchased a property with an underground fuel oil tank and is denied homeowners insurance. Therefore, prior to purchasing a home or marketing your home, contact the fuel oil supplier of the home and determine if any basic or comprehensive inspections of the tank and oil-heating appliance have been completed.  The fuel oil supplier would also have information about the servicing and inspection program that is in place for the home.  If an existing tank has not been registered, the above mentioned remedial action should be done immediately.

* Registered contractors can be found in yellow pages under “Tank-installation / 
  Cleaning and removal of Tank/Environmental Services” or you can also contact the   
  Environmental Protection Branch

** Fire Prevention Department is at 456 W Broadway, 604-873-7595