Buried But Not Forgotten: Underground Oil Tanks in Vancouver

For many homeowners in the Greater Vancouver area, cozy nights by the fireplace might conjure up images of a different era – one where oil, rather than natural gas, fueled the warmth of our homes. These days, natural gas reigns supreme, but a hidden legacy of that oil heating era can linger beneath our feet – underground oil storage tanks.  If your home was built before 1957, there’s a chance you might have one buried in your yard.  This blog post will delve into the world of underground oil storage tanks,  helping you identify them, understand potential risks, and navigate the process of dealing with these buried giants.

The presence of buried oil tanks can significantly impact property value, insurance eligibility, and mortgage approval.

Signs a UST Might Be Lurking in Your Home

The first clues can often be found right within your house:

  • Oil Furnace or Burner: Take a peek in your basement. If you have a bulky furnace with a burner that looks like a large metal box with a nozzle, it was likely fueled by oil.
  • Missing Natural Gas Lines: Natural gas furnaces have distinct yellow gas lines. If your furnace lacks these but has an oil burner, it's a strong indicator of a UST.
  • Historical Documents: Digging through old permits or property records might reveal the presence of a UST mentioned in past inspections or installations. 
    Unearthing Clues in Your Yard

Now, let's head outside your Vancouver condos for sale and see if the landscape offers any hints:

  • Vent Pipes or Fill Lines: Keep an eye out for metal pipes sticking out of the ground near your house. These could be the vent pipe (used to expel fumes) or the fill pipe (where oil deliveries were made) for a buried tank.
  • Uneven Ground: The ground can settle unevenly over a UST. Look for depressions or dips in your yard, especially near the foundation of your house.

If you discover any of these signs, it's important to take the next step: contacting a qualified environmental professional for a proper inspection.  They can assess the situation and determine the presence and condition of any UST on your property.  Stay tuned for the next part of our blog series, where we'll delve into the risks of leaking USTs and explore the options for dealing with them safely and responsibly.

Environmental Impact: A Silent Threat

Leaking USTs pose a significant threat to our environment.  Over time, oil can seep into the surrounding soil and contaminate groundwater. This contamination can have a devastating ripple effect:

  • Polluted Soil: Oil disrupts the natural balance of soil, rendering it infertile and harming plant life. Plants that manage to survive in contaminated soil may take up toxins, posing a risk to animals that consume them.
  • Groundwater Contamination: Leaking oil can travel down through the soil and pollute groundwater supplies. This contaminated water can be hazardous for human consumption and render it unusable for irrigation, impacting local agriculture.
  • Harm to Wildlife: Oil contamination can disrupt entire ecosystems. Animals exposed to contaminated water or soil can suffer health problems or even death.

Health Risks: A Cause for Concern

The health risks associated with leaking USTs depend on the severity of the leak and the type of oil stored in the tank.  Exposure to oil fumes containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can cause respiratory problems, headaches, and dizziness.  In extreme cases, prolonged exposure to certain VOCs has been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Don't Let Your Property Value Take a Hit

If a leaking UST is discovered on your property, it can significantly decrease its market value.  Potential buyers may be discouraged by the environmental concerns and the cost of remediation.  Addressing a UST proactively can save you money in the long run and ensure your property remains attractive to buyers.

Dealing with a UST

So, you've discovered a potential underground oil storage tank (UST) on your Greater Vancouver property. The good news is that you've taken the first important step – identifying it. Now, it's time to address the situation responsibly.

Getting the Professionals Involved

This is no time for DIY heroics.  Hiring a qualified environmental professional is crucial for the safe and proper handling of a UST.  

  • Locate the UST: Using specialized tools, they can pinpoint the exact location and size of the tank.
  • Assess the Tank's Condition: They will inspect the tank for leaks, corrosion, and any potential risks.
  • Develop a Plan: Based on their assessment, they will recommend the most suitable course of action for your specific situation.

Removal vs. Decommissioning: Weighing Your Options

Once the professional has assessed the UST, there are two main options to consider: removal or decommissioning.  Here's a breakdown of each:

Removal: This involves physically excavating the UST and removing it from the ground.  The surrounding soil may also be tested and potentially removed if contaminated. While the most thorough option, removal can be more expensive and disruptive to your yard.

Decommissioning:  This process leaves the UST in place but renders it unusable. The professional will typically clean out the tank, fill it with an inert material (like sand), and permanently seal it.  Decommissioning is generally less expensive and less disruptive than removal, but it may not be suitable for all situations.

Choosing the Right Path

To choose the right path, you need to consider several factors, including:

  • The condition of the UST: If the tank is leaking or severely corroded, removal may be necessary.
  • Your future plans for the property: If you plan to build an addition where the UST is located, removal will likely be required.
  • Local regulations: Some municipalities may have specific regulations regarding UST decommissioning.

The Removal or Decommissioning Process

The specific process for removal or decommissioning will vary depending on the professional you hire and the specific situation with your UST.  However, both will involve obtaining permits, notifying the local fire department, and potentially taking steps to mitigate any environmental risks.

Researching Financial Assistance Programs

While there isn't a single, centralized program offering financial assistance for UST removal or decommissioning in British Columbia, there are a few avenues you can explore:

Municipal Programs

Some municipalities in Greater Vancouver may offer financial assistance programs for UST removal or decommissioning. Check with your local municipality's environmental department to see if any programs are available.

Provincial Grants

The BC Ministry of Environment might offer occasional grant programs to help with the costs of UST removal or remediation. Regularly checking their website or contacting them directly is recommended to stay updated on any available grants.

Federal Programs

The Canadian government, through programs like the National Brownfields Redevelopment Program, may offer financial assistance for the assessment and remediation of contaminated sites, which could potentially include UST removal or decommissioning. Researching these programs and contacting the appropriate government agency is advisable.

Important Considerations

It's important to remember that financial assistance programs often have specific eligibility criteria and application processes.  Let`s take a look at some important considerations:

  • Program Availability: These programs may not always be available, and funding may be limited.
  • Eligibility Requirements: Programs may have specific requirements regarding property ownership, the type of UST, and the level of contamination (if any).
  • Application Process: Applying for financial assistance can involve paperwork and deadlines. Be prepared to gather necessary documentation and meet application deadlines.

Closing Thoughts

The legacy of oil heating may linger beneath some Greater Vancouver homes, but with knowledge and action, you can transform that legacy into a positive one. By following the steps outlined in this blog series – identifying a potential UST, understanding the risks, exploring removal or decommissioning options, and researching financial assistance – you can address a UST responsibly.  

Taking care of a UST on your property is an investment in your peace of mind.  It ensures the safety of your family and protects the value of your home.  More importantly, it contributes to a cleaner environment for ourselves and future generations.  So, don't let that buried oil tank become a forgotten worry.  Take charge, address the situation, and create a greener future for your home and your community.


1.  I suspect I have a UST on my property. What should I do first?

If you suspect a UST on your property, the first step is to **avoid any DIY (attempts)**. Contact a qualified environmental professional. They can locate the tank, assess its condition, and advise you on the best course of action.

2. What are the risks of a leaking UST?

Leaking USTs can pose a significant threat to the environment and potentially your health.  They can contaminate soil and groundwater, harm local ecosystems, and in extreme cases, expose people to harmful fumes.

3.  What's the difference between removing and decommissioning a UST?

Removal involves physically digging up and taking away the tank. This is the most thorough option but also the most expensive and disruptive. **Decommissioning** leaves the tank in place but renders it unusable by cleaning it, filling it with inert material, and permanently sealing it. Decommissioning is generally less expensive but may not be suitable for all situations.

4.  Is there any financial assistance available for dealing with a UST?

There isn't a single, centralized program, but you can explore options like:

  • Municipal Programs: Some Greater Vancouver municipalities might offer financial assistance for UST removal or decommissioning.
  • Provincial Grants: The BC Ministry of Environment might occasionally offer grants for UST removal or remediation.
  • Federal Programs: The Canadian government might offer financial assistance through programs like the National Brownfields Redevelopment Program.


2024/03/25 | 2 Months Ago