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Chances are if you live in the Lower Mainland and have purchased or sold a property in the last 20 years, you have heard about the oil tank removal industry. Increasingly in the past decade, the removal of underground storage tanks in the Lower Mainland has become an important topic to property owners. The oil tank removal process can be confusing at the best of times, as each city has its own set of rules and regulations governing the removal of your oil tank. 

First, it is essential to understand what an oil tank is and why it is important to remove it. Before 1975, oil tanks were regularly relied upon as a fuel source for heating homes or as back up generators in larger commercial buildings. However, depending on the type of property, Underground Storage Tanks (U.S.T.’s) can contain a wide range of contents.  Commercial U.S.T.’s can contain many different types of liquids depending on the type of business that used the storage tank, from gas and/or diesel in gas stations, to motor oil or other various chemicals.

According to the BC Fire code section 4.10.3.1, “Property owners should remove their underground storage tanks that have been out of service for two years or more.”  There is a wide range of reasons why a property owner would remove an Underground Storage Tank from their property. Some of the most common reasons are listed below:

  • Property sale
  • Renewing mortgage
  • Renewing home insurance
  • Complying with local government regulations
  • Preparing for a renovation, e.g. building a new deck, coach house or addition
  • Being proactive
  • Reducing, preventing, or mitigating the risk of potential leakage from your oil tank

There is a high probability that if you are selling your property or renewing your insurance, you will be asked to provide an oil tank detection report/certificate. The best way to determine if you have an oil tank on your property is to get an oil tank detection. Natural gas was implemented into each municipality at different times, ranging from approximately 1957 in Vancouver to 1975 in Maple Ridge. It took time to introduce this new system into a city’s infrastructure, so as a good rule of thumb, if your building was constructed before 1975, you are at elevated risk of having an oil tank on your property and should get an oil tank detection. There are a few telltale signs that you may have an oil tank buried on your property: filler pipes, vent pipes, feeder lines or an emergency shut off switch. Unfortunately, it is a common occurrence that these indicators have been removed. Some of the main reasons for removing these indicators are:

  • Tripping hazards
  • Esthetic purposes or renovations
  • Not knowing what the pipe was for
  • To hide the evidence of a buried oil tank on the property
  • A previous oil tank abandonment

As every property is unique, so are the costs involved in the removal of an oil tank. There are many contributing factors that determine the cost of an underground storage tank removal, such as:

  • Accessibility
  • Utility obstructions (overhead and underground)
  • Structural obstructions (decks and additions)

When you get a quote for an oil tank removal it is crucial to ask these few key questions to help protect you and your pocketbook: 

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Do you have Worksafe BC Coverage?
  • Do you have liability insurance?
  • Is backfill included in your pricing?  

Once your oil tank has been removed, it’s time for samples to be taken from the excavation.  This is typically the source of most property owner’s tank removal anxieties, however, usually contamination removal is quite standard, and is not as extreme as you may hear in media. In the field, the two most common noticeable characteristics of soil contamination are hydrocarbon odors and blue discoloration.  If your soil has blue discoloration and does not have any odor present, there is typically a higher probability that over time the hydrocarbons have diluted or degraded and are now below the legal allowable limit. On the other hand, if vapors (odors) can be detected in the soil, there is usually a higher probability that the sample results may test over the acceptable allowable limits set by the Ministry of Environment. Regardless of what characteristics are present in the field, the most accurate way to assess the contents of your soil is through proper testing in a laboratory.

Every property is unique and should be assessed by an environmental consultant on an individual basis. There are many elements that contribute to the presence and spread of soil contamination:

  • When did the tank start to leak?
  • How much oil was left in the tank?
  • Is the yard sloped?
  • Does your property have a high water table?
  • What types of soils surround your tank?

Article contributed by Matthew Szwaba, Chief Operating Officer of Tri City Tank Tech.