Underground storage tanks
What you need to know
If you're listing or selling a single family home, townhouse or condominium apartment built before 1957, chances are there will be an under-ground oil tank on the property.
That's because many homes in the Greater Vancouver area were originally heated by furnace oil. The tanks were usually located in backyards and were filled with sand or capped when natural gas became available.
Right now, there is no accurate data available on the number of tanks and their exact location in the Greater Vancouver area. at we do know is that if they haven't been removed, they're there.
Realtors beware. Underground storage tanks, even if capped and filled with sand, pose significant risks, says Doug Roberts, manager, Environmental Protection Branch, City of Vancouver. "Tanks corrode and rust."
Roberts explains that any remaining oil can leach into the ground and into the drainage system. "It can flow onto neighbouring property, into the storm sump and waterways including ditches and streams. It can contaminate water and pose a hazard to wildlife."
In the City of Vancouver, Fire by-law no. 8191 (sec. 4.10.3) and the Sewer and Watercourse by-law no. 8093 (sec. 5.3) both require that tanks that have been out of service for two years or will not be reused, must be removed.
In the other 21 villages, towns, cities and regional districts covered by the Real Estate Board of Vancouver, the BC Fire Code requires (sec. 22.214.171.124):
"when underground storage tanks have no further use or have been out of service for two years, such tanks, together with connecting piping and dispensers, shall... be removed from the ground."
John Poole, Lieutenant, Fire & Rescue Services for the City of Vancouver, recommends that property owners hire a contractor experienced in tank removal. "Before any work is done, you must obtain a permit issued by the Fire Prevention Department and you must follow all conditions noted on the permit."
· Oil remaining in the tank should be pumped out and taken to a recycling/disposal facility.
· The tank must be removed.
· The soil must be assessed for contamination. If contamination is present, soil and groundwater must be properly remediated, which may include complete removal.
• The property owner must get a letter from the removal company detailing the removal process, what was pumped out of the tank, a receipt from the facility where the tank was taken to and the amount of dirt brought in. It must also include photos.
1. There is a home for sale. Both the buyer and seller know there is an underground storage tank. The buyer agrees to buy the property. Who is liable to remove it? The property owner is responsible for tank removal.
2. Both the buyer and seller know about the tank. The buyer says the law requires the seller to remove it. at does the seller have to do? What happens if the buyer reports it? The property owner is responsible for removing the tank. If someone reports the tank, the City of Vancouver will respond by sending a letter outlining time periods for removal. If the property owner does not comply, the city is authorized to prosecute.
3. A property contains an underground storage tank, decommissioned 10 years ago in compliance with the law at that time, which required homeowners to remove contents and fill with sand. What is the position now on this tank? The tank must meet current bylaw requirements, which means it must be removed.
4. What happens if a property owner is demolishing a home and finds a tank? The tank must meet current bylaw requirements, which means it must be removed.
For more information:
Visit the REBGV homepage on realtorlink.ca under government relations - issues - underground storage tanks or call:
ohn Poole, Lieutenant
Fire & Rescue Service, City of Vancouver
Doug Robert, Manager
Environmental Protection Branch, City of Vancouver
Underground storage tanks - A clarification regarding abandonment in place
My October 3, 2003 column focused on what realtors need to know about underground storage tanks. In it I posed the following situation to the City of Vancouver Fire & Rescue Services.
A property contains an underground storage tank, decommissioned 10 years ago in compliance with the law at that time, which required homeowners to remove contents and fill with sand. What is the position now on this tank?
We were told that the tank must meet current bylaw requirements, which means it must be removed.
Since then we've received a clarification. The City of Vancouver, Fire by-law no. 8191 (sec. 4.10.3) and the Sewer and Watercourse by-law no. 8093 (sec. 5.3) both require that tanks out of service for two years or not being reused, must be removed. But there are exceptions.
Doug Roberts, Manager, Environmental Protection Branch, Fire & Rescue Services, explains Fire By-Law section 126.96.36.199 Abandonment in Place:
1. Where the Fire Chief determines that it is impractical to remove an underground storage tank, such tank shall be filled with an inert material.
2. Where the Fire Chief determines that it is impractical to remove underground piping, such piping shall have the ends permanently sealed by capping or plugging. The procedure on issuing abandonment in place permits is:
Where it is deemed impractical by the Fire Chief to remove an underground storage tank, the owner may apply to the Fire Chief for permission to abandon the tank in place. These include situations where the storage tank is:
· located in whole or in part beneath a permanent building or other facility and that excavation of the storage tank is not practical;
· so large or of a type of construction that the excavation of the tank is not practical;
· inaccessible to the heavy equipment necessary for removal of the storage tank, or
· situated so that the removal of the storage tank would endanger the structural integrity of nearby buildings or other facilities.
The following steps must be taken to decommission a storage tank:
1. All remaining oil must be pumped out from the storage tank and connected pipes.
2. Sufficient holes are cut along the top of the storage tank to inspect the tank.
3. Any residual oil or sludge along the top of the storage tank must be removed.
4. The tank must be filled with an inert material such as low density concrete slurry mix, or sand/gravel. The access must be large enough to ensure the tank has been fully filled.
5. Associated piping shall be removed from the ground or purged of vapors and the ends permanently sealed by capping or plugging.
6. Written verification from a licensed contractor is required to the District Fire Inspector for work complete.
7. For your own protection, soil around the old tank site should be tested for contamination if contamination is found, you must contact the Environmental Protection Branch for instructions on how to replace soil with clean fill.
Contaminated sites, what you need to know
What is a contaminated site?
A contaminated site is a location where commercial and industrial activities may have caused spills and deposits of chemicals on land Toxic sub-stances such as PCBs, lead or gasoline may be present in wilt surface or groundwater.
Who regulates sites and clean-ups?
The Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection inspects and reviews sites, issues permits, and enforces legal controls. The Contaminated Sites Program is coordinated by the Contaminated Sites Unit of the Environmental Management Branch. Major responsibilities include:
- advising on contaminated sites procedures, policies, protocols, laws, regulations and standards;
- advising senior ministry representatives, regional staff and stakeholders;
- reviewing site investigation, remediation and risk assessment reports
- tracking the progress of investigation and remediation throughout BC with the site registry, and
- reviewing site investigation and remediation reports.
Which legislation governs sites?
The waste Management Act was amended in 1997 to incorporate provisions for managing and regulating contaminated sites. The Contaminated Sites Regulation provides rules to complement the contaminated sites provisions in the Waste Management act.
What is the site registry?
The site registry provides public access to information on the site cleanup process. It contains information on 6,000 sites.The site registry is accessible through BC OnLine and includes:
- General - information on a site's location, fee category, cleanup status and current site profile.
- Notations - information on legal events such as issuance of pollution abatement, pollution prevention and remediation orders, Certificates of Compliance and Approvals in Principle.
- Participants - information on people and/or organizations involved in a site and their roles.
- Documents - information on the existence of reports concerning a site.
- Land Use - information on the land use considered related to a site.
Two categories still to be developed are:
- Assessments - general information on the main substances found at a site.
- Remediation Plans - general information on different cleanup plans used and the target cleanup standards.
Who should use the site registry?
Anyone buying, developing or advising on property that is or was used for activities likely to cause contamination. These include bankers, land owners, developers, purchasers, lawyers, real estate agents, insurers, local governments, appraisers, notaries, and land surveyors.
Why is site information important?
During the development of contaminated sites legislation, concerned stakeholders informed the province of their need for quick and easy access to information about sites:
- Land owners, developers and businesses wanted to minimize their site cleanup costs and to reduce their liability in land transactions.
- Local governments wanted to minimize their potential liability their approval of developments of contaminated land.
- Banks wanted to avoid paying for site cleanups if loans default.
- Lawyers, consultants and real estate agents wanted to advise and protect their clients appropriately by practicing "due diligence."
On May 14, 2002 the Hon. Joyce Murray, Minister of Water. Land and Air Protection appointed an advisory panel to carry out a review of the contaminated sites provisions in Part 4 of the Waste Managemnet Act and the Contaminated Sites Regulation.
The Panel will review key components of the Contaminated Sites Program and will consult with citizens and stakeholders to determine their needs and expectations.
The Panel will report to the Minister in September 2002, The recommendations of the Panel will be used to develop a new policy framework for the regulation of contaminated sites in British Columbia and will be used to inform subsequent legislative changes required for the Spring 2003 Legislative session and consequential regulatory changes.
The Board's government relations committee will keep you informed.
Oil tanks are a serious matter and due diligence is required by the Buyer and their Agent.
The following article from the BCREA is a good reminder to all licensees that all Contracts of Purchase and Sale for properties where an oil tank might exist must contain the appropriate clauses as provided in WebForms for insurance of the home and removal of the oil tank by the seller as well as a property inspection. Oil tanks are a not a latent defect as there are several steps that any buyer and their agent would be expected to take to confirm the existence of an oil tank including the: PDS, property inspection and subject clauses in the contract referring to what happens if an oil tank is found through an inspection by the buyer, if the seller says there is no oil tank.
The consequences of an error are large if at the end of the day a soil contamination is found as a result of an improperly maintained or decommissioned tank.
The City of Vancouver by-laws require that all tanks that have not been used for 2 or more years must be removed. Decommissioning is allowed under certain circumstances.
More details can be found on our members site at www.happystreet.ca ; use your full name in lower case, no spaces and your 4 digit numeric office security code for access to the site.
The insurance bureau of Canada says insurance claims from domestic oil tank leaks have increased by more than 50% in the past ten years. Tbe problem is that many oil tanks are corroding from the inside out so the failure is not readily visible.
Most insurers will cover homes with oil tanks, provided the following guidelines are met:
- Profrsstaraliy Installed
- Under 15-20 years old if stored outside; 2O-25 if stored indoors and not painted, since painting can hide problem areas, such as rust (photo required for any tank more than 15 years old).
- Supply lines must be protected against damage>
- Located above ground
Regular insurers won't even consider underwriting a risk that has an underground oil tank; however, Lloyd's of London will underwrite a special risk policy for properties with underground oil tanks less than 25 years old. The policy would have a leakage/seepage/pollution exclusion.
Organizations like the Insurance Bureau of Canada create guidleines, but insurance firms are private enterprises and set their own underwriting policies. This means some firms have tighter underwriting policies than others.
According to the Bureau, the best thing a consumer can do is shop around for the best coverage, taking into consideration the risk involved. If they still can't get coverage, then a special risks firm will often underwrite a policy-for a higher premium.
CREA has created an excellent resource on this topic, entitled " What REALTORS™ Should Know About Property Insurance." It deals with several specific issues, and is available on CREA's REALTOR Link™ homepage.
Oil Tanks - Insurance issues you should know
The B.C Fire Code now requires the removal of any underground oil tanks that have been out of service for more than two years. Licensees who are involved with the sale of a property that contains, or is thought to contain, a buried oil tank should be aware that this is a concern and should also beware of their duties with respect to disclosure. Actual scenario of what happened to a realtor at Re/Max Crest Realty Westside; Here is what happened with my listing.The Buyer was aware that we had an above ground oil tank and oil furnace. Due to competing offers, he did not put subject to inspection. Now, he is trying to insure the property and every Insurance Co. has turned him down.... on one condition, he will have to replace the tank and / or furnace within 30 days of completion. So, this is an important factor for all the realtors to pay attention to.
Actual senerio of what happened to a realtor at Re/Max Crest realty Westside;
Here is what happened with my listing.The Buyer was aware that we had an above ground oil tank and oil furnace. Due to competing offers, he did not put subject to inspection. Now, he is trying to insure the property and every Insurance Co. has turned him down. ...on one condition, he will have to replace the tank and / or furnace within 30 days of completion. So, this is an important factor for all the realtors to pay attention to.
UNDERSTANDING 0IL TANKS
INSURANCE ISSUES YOU SHOULD KNOW
The Canadian Real Estate Association
UNDERSTANDING OIL TANKS
Real estate transactions can be put at risk if a client purchases a property with an underground fuel oil tank and is denied homeowners insurance. If a client finds that an existing tank has not been registered, remedial action may cost them thousands of dollars.
Homebuyers have expressed concern over home insurance policies being denied or being unable to obtain home insurance as a result of underground storage tanks. A number of transactions have fallen through on closing as a result.
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, a home with an exterior oil tank older than 15 years, or an interior tank older than 25 years will not be insured.
The problem is that many oil tanks are corroding from the inside out, so the failure is not readily visible. This often occurs from condensation that builds up inside the tank. Since oil is lighter than water, the water goes to the bottom of the tank and causes corrosion. The first sign of a bad tank could be an odour of oil in the air. There might be rust or corrosion where the legs are welded to the tank. Other symptoms could include a leak in the fuel filter or the nozzle becoming plugged.
Insurance companies are concerned that an old oil tank can leak and spill hundreds of litres of heating oil into the home, or into the ground. Spilled oil can quickly contaminate soil and groundwater. If the leak finds its way into a sump pump or floor drain, the spill will undoubtedly make it a very expensive clean up. With outside storage tanks, where rust and corrosion are more common, a spill can contaminate the soil or make its way into the nearby streams or rivers.
What may seem like a simple clean-up can in fact be a complicated task to replace the leaking tank and supply lines, remove contaminated soil, replace the foundation and treat groundwater.
The cost to repair a leaking oil tank can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
The most commonly used tanks for heating oil are steel containers that hold about 1,000 litres and weigh close to 1,000 kg when full. Their odd shape, which lets them easily pass through doorways, also makes them unstable unless they are properly secured from tipping over.
When buying a tank, look for a label that tells the date and location the tank was made. The label should clearly indicate that it meets a national construction standard.
The National Fire Code recommends that all piping and connections on oil tanks be made of metal, not plastic or rubber.
Buying a used oil tank is not recommended. Rust and sludge that has collected in the tank will cause burner problems.
Many home oil tanks are designed and built for indoor use. Indoor oil tanks will generally last longer and improve the efficiency of oil-fired appliances. Indoor storage tanks are less likely to spill and do not emit an odor.
When installing an indoor oil tank, place the tank where it can be easily inspected but will not be damaged by normal household activities.
If possible, surround the tank with a low curb and dyke to contain any leaked oil. Never place a tank against a wall, as this can cause the tank to rust.
Cover the supply line and filter to protect them from damage. Storing objects on top of the tank could potentially lead to damage.
Outdoor tanks should be placed at least 15 m from any well. To prevent rust, cover the tank's exterior with enamel paint. Support the tank properly to prevent it from shifting or falling over. Prepare a non-flammable base using concrete or patio stones. Wood is not recommended as it can burn, rot and retains water, which causes the tank to rust. Slope the tank slightly toward the drain.
Ensure the tank stays upright and does not make contact with a wall.
To allow for changes in ground level, the oil burner supply line should have a horizontal loop before entering the building. The line should be sloped toward the building to prevent water collection.
If possible, the oil filter should be placed inside the home because collected water can freeze and cause splitting.
The supply line can be installed through the top of the tank to protect against breaking the line and draining the tank.
If frost heaving or ground settling causes an tank to move, have it leveled properly.
UNDERGROUND OIL TANKS
Many underground oil tanks have reached the end of their useful lives and are beginning to corrode, rust and leak. Increasing homeowner insurance claims resulting from leaking oil tanks are very expensive and can lead to high insurance rates, or even refusal of coverage.
It is a homeowner's legal responsibility to properly maintain the oil tank and clean up any spills or leaks that may occur.
Leaking underground storage tanks may create several hazards including:
- Products and product vapours can generate a potentially explosive mixture;
- Products can enter surface water;
- Products can enter drinking water;
- Products can contaminate surrounding soil;
- Products can damage property.
Problems with underground oil tanks may complicate the process of applying for homeowner's insurance and, in extreme cases, may adversely affect real estate transactions themselves.
What's required in Ontario
In Ontario, effective May 1, 2002, fuel distributors may not supply fuel oil to an underground tank that is not registered with the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA).
To ensure uninterrupted oil supply, tank owners must complete the TSSA's Underground Fuel Oil Application Form and may be required to upgrade their tank with specific leak and spill grevention equipment depending on the age of the tank.
Upon approving an application form, the TSSA will assign a registration number to the tank. The tank owner must provide the registration number to a fuel distributor to ensure uninterrupted fuel supply.
To receive a copy of the Underround Fuel Oil Application Form, or for more information, call the thechnical standards and safety authority toll-free at 1-877-682-8772.
HOW TO CHECK IF AN UNDERGROUND OIL TANK IS LEAKING
Because they are buried, it is difficult to detect a leaking tank. Some underground tanks may leak for years without owners realizing it. If oil consumption suddenly goes up the tank may have sprung a large leak.
There are companies that test underground tanks for leaks. Call the fuel supplier to help find underground tank testing companies.
WHAT TO DO IF AN OIL TANK IS LEAKING
Suspect a leak in an underground oil tank? Call a TSSA registered fuel oil contractor to help find and stop the leak and clean up any leaked fuel oil. In Ontario, homeowners are also required to call the Spills Action Centre of the Ministry of Environment at 1-800-268-6060. Insurance companies may also have resources of information.
Underground tanks are required to be upgraded with specific leak and spill prevention equipment or be removed.
WHAT TO DO WITH UNUSED UNDERGROUND OIL TANKS
An unused underground oil tank must be removed and all contaminated soil must be cleaned. Underground tanks are required to be removed by TSSA registered fuel oil contractors.
When an underground tank is removed, the soil around the tank must be assessed for contamination and all contamination cleaned.
Spills can be avoided by detecting problems early on. If asked, most fuel companies will inspect the tank yearly, and will report any problems or recommend repairs.
At least once a year, change the filter and remove any sludge and water from the tank. Check with a fuel company about oil additives to reduce the water in the tank.
Occasionally, check the outside of the tank for any rust. Clean off any spots and apply a rustproof paint.
When replacing an oil tank, be careful not to transfer all of the contents of the old tank into the new one. Accumulated water, sludge and bacteria will cause the new tank to corrode and leak.
Keep the tank relatively full over the summer so that less water from condensation will collect inside. Oil tanks should be checked for problems after each fuel delivery.
WHAT COMSUMERS SHOULD DO WHEN BUYING OR SELLING A HOME WITH AN OIL TANK
Prior to closing, contact the fuel oil supplier for the home and determine if the basic or comprehensive inspections of the tank and oil-heating appliance have been completed. The fuel oil supplier will have information about the servicing and inspection program that is in place for the home.
Selling a home with an oil tank? REALTORS should expect questions regarding the age of the tank, location and proof that the tank installation meets safety requirements. Purchasers should expect to be asked, by their insurer, to provide this type of information when applying for insurance.
Although most provinces currently have safety standards for oil tanks, provincial environment departments across Canada are now reviewing installation standards for home oil tanks. Below are the oil tank regulations and requirements for Alberta, Ontario, Newfoundland, PEI and Saskatchewan. For information about oil tanks in other provinces, see the resource section.
In Alberta, underground and aboveground tanks must be registered with the Petroleum Tank Management Association of Alberta (PTMAA). Aboveground storage tanks of capacity smaller than 2,500 litres do not have to be registered. Each compartment of multi-compartment tanks is considered an individual storage tank. Registration fees are $50.00 per tank per year.
The B.C Fire Code now requires the removal of any underground oil tanks that have been out of service for more than two years. Licensees who are involved with the sale of a property that contains, or is thought to contain, a buried oil tank should be aware that this is a concern and should also be aware of their duties with respect to disclosure.
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador report that approximately 66,000 households use oil as their main source of heat. During the 2000/2001 heating season, there were approximately 600 residential oil spills reported. The Insurance Bureau of Canada reports that between 1996 and 1998, the total dollars paid out in claims from domestic oil tank leaks and spills in Atlantic Canada exceeded $11.9 million.
Prince Edward Island
In early 2002, Prince Edward Island implemented regulations regarding domestic oil tank installations. When fully implemented, the PEI regulations will ensure that a licensed installer installs oil tanks and a licensed installer, or inspector, inspects existing systems. All tanks will be replaced every 15 - 25 years depending on the tank design and thickness.
In Saskatchewan, oil tanks are regulated by the Hazardous Substances and Waste Dangerous Goods Regulations. Underground oil tanks in sites of moderate environmental sensitivity (considered "Class B") must meet the standards outlined in the Requirements for Underground Petroleum Storage Tank Systems at "Class B" Locations. This document is available on the Saskatechwan Environment website:
According to the Technical Standards and Safety Authority of Ontario (TSSA), if the underground fuel tank was installed:
- 25 or more years ago - the tank must be removed or upgraded by October 1, 2006
- 20 to 24 years ago - the tank must be removed or upgraded by October 1, 2007
- 10 to 19 years ago - the tank must be removed or upgraded by October 1, 2008
- Less than a year to 9 years ago - the tank must be upgraded or removed by October 1, 2009.
Underground tanks with a storage capacity greater than 5,000 litres will need to be tested for leaks annually. Unused underground tanks are required to be removed and any contamination cleaned.
TSSA investigation statistics show that old, rusting underground tanks and poorly maintained and defective heating systems are the leading sources of oil leaks and spills. These leaks and spills can result in serious environmental damage and costly clean-up repairs for homeowners.
A leaking oil tank in the basement can become a serious fire and environmental hazard. Inside or outside the house, it can contaminate groundwater, affecting wells or other drinking water supplies near by.
The first step for owners is to register their tank, free of charge, with the TSSA. New regulations require all underground tanks to be registered with the TSSA by May 1, 2002 or oil will not be delivered to the tank. Oil tanks can be registered by completing the Underground Fuel Oil Application Form and returning it to TSSA. A registration number will be assigned to each tank that must then be given to a fuel distributor to ensure uninterrupted fuel supply.
It is important for underground oil tank owners to take safety into consideration. Old, underground tanks are very likely to leak, and oil leaks will contaminate soil and groundwater and result in expensive environmental clean-up costs.
For additional information on oil tank safety, contact the following organizations:
Petroleum Tank Management Association of Alberta (PTMAA)
Suite 980, 10303 Jasper Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta T5J 3N6
(780) 425-8265 or 1-866-222-8265
Office of the Fire Commissioner
Ministry of Community Aboriginal and Women's Services
P.O. Box 9491 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria, BC V8W 9N7
Mechanical and Engineering Branch
Manitoba Labour and Immigration
500 - 401 York Avenue
Winnipeg, MB R3C OP8
New Brunswick Department of the Environment
565 Priestman St.
P.O. Box 6000
Fredericton, NB E3B 5H1
To report an oil tank leak or spill: 1-800-565-1633
Canadian Oil Heat Association
Nova Scotia Department of the Environment
PO Box 2107
5151 Terminal Road, 5th Floor
Halifax, NS B3J 3B7
Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA)
4th Floor, West Tower
3300 Bloor Street West
Toronto, Ontario M8X 2X4
Toll-Free (outside Toronto) 1-877-682-8772 (TSSA)
E-mail: [email protected]
P. E. I
Department of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Environment
11 Kent Street P.O. Box 2000
Charlottetown, PE CIA 7N8
Telephone: (902) 368-5000
Ministry of the Environment
Edifice Marie-Guyart, 6th floor
675 Rene-Levesque Soul. East
Quebec (Quebec) G1 R 5V7
(418) 521-3830 or 1-800-561-1616
Saskatchewan Ministry of the Environment
3211 Albert Street
Regina, SK S4S 5W6
Environmental Resource Network inquiry line:
1-800-567-4224 (in province only). Ask for the Hazardous Substances and Waste Dangerous Goods Regulations.
Yukon Housing Corporation
410H Jarvis Street
Toll Free: 1-800-661-0408
Any questions or comments about the services
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You can contact us on-line at
The Canadian Real Estate Association
344 Slater Street, Suite 1600,
Ottawa, Ontario, K1 R 7Y3
Tel: (613) 237-7111
FAX: (613) 234-2567
Two codes cover underground storage tanks
In BC, new homes getting new oil-burning equipment including underground storage tanks are covered by the BC Building Code and must comply with section 188.8.131.52(1)
Existing underground storage tanks fall under the jurisdiction of the British Columbia Fire Code. If your client has an underground storage tank on their property that has no further use or has been out of service for two years, such tanks together with connected piping and dispensers, shall:
- have all flammable liquids and combustible liquids removed from them
- be purged of vapours
- except as permitted in some circumstances, be removed from the ground
If Contaminated, soil surrounding the storage tanks must be replaced with clean fill.
Where the authority having jurisdiction determines that it's impractical to remove underground piping, such piping shall have the ends permanently sealed by capping or plugging.
Where storage tanks are to be disposed of, sufficient openings shall be cut in the tanks to render them unfit tor further use.
Contact your local fire authority for more information.