Brian Fryer had to help his mother deal with the removal of a buried oil tank in her yard when she sold her house last year in Chilliwack. The oil tanks are commonly found on properties with houses built in the mid-20th century

Brian Fryer had to help his mother deal with the removal of a buried oil tank in her yard when she sold her house last year in Chilliwack. The oil tanks are commonly found on properties with houses built in the mid-20th century

Underground tanks can lead to expensive problems

Chilliwack residents continue to unearth forgotten heating oil tanks from their yards, sometimes to great expense.

When Brian Fryer’s 97-year-old mother tried to sell her downtown Chilliwack home, she discovered that there was an old heating oil tank buried under her backyard. The potential buyer wouldn’t take the property until the tank was removed. It cost the Fryers $20,000 and a lot of headache to get it done.

This is a common problem throughout the province. In Chilliwack, there are potentially hundreds of such tanks still buried in private backyards, most of them rusted and half of which may be leaking leftover oil.

Homes built before the city switched to natural gas heating — sometime in the 1950s or ’60s — generally used oil furnaces or wood burning stoves. For these older homes, the city has 370 permits on file that relate to installing underground and above ground oil burning equipment. A city official confirmed that some oil tanks may have been installed for which there are no permits.

When the large steel tanks corrode or the welding tears apart, leftover oil can leak into soil. The longer the tank stays in, the higher the risk of a leak, and the higher the eventual cost of remediation.

Although there is no legal requirement to remove them, insurance companies in Chilliwack will not insure a home that still has an oil tank.

Present owners are solely responsible for removing tanks and remediating soil, with the help of private contractors.

The oil tank that the Fryers' had removed.Of the 10 tanks that Tri-City Tank Tech Ltd. removed from Chilliwack backyards in the last year or so, six had leaked. The company charges $1,500 to $3,000 for a clean removal. But for those where soil has been contaminated, the cost for digging out the affected soil has been anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.

Another contractor, CERC Oil Tank Removal, has removed about a dozen tanks from Chilliwack in the last few years, about half of which were leaking oil. Average cost for cleanup has been $5,000 to $10,000. In such cases, contractors need to remove several bins of soil, of 8–12 tonnes each.

“Until you start digging, you don’t know how far this can go,” said CERC owner Fabio Chiesa.

Much higher costs have hit the news in other municipalities. A North Vancouver owner had to pay $90,000 to remove a tank and remediate the surrounding soil last August. In 2011, a West Vancouver owner got stuck with a $224,000 bill for soil remediation, which she fought in court and managed to get lowered in a settlement.

As an industry standard, insurance companies do not cover removal or cleanup of heating oil tanks, according to broker HUB International Barton, which works with 12 insurance providers in Chilliwack. Such tanks trigger an exclusion in comprehensive coverage because oil is considered a pollutant.

For prospective home buyers and current owners, there are a few signs that indicate a buried tank. The most common is a fill pipe about two inches in diameter, sticking up from the ground in the yard. It could be about a foot high, or may have been sawed off to just a few inches.

Another is a vent pipe on the side of a house, about 8-10 feet long. If there’s a pipe that owners can’t explain, it may lead to an oil tank, advised Chiesa.

A third are two copper feed lines coming out of the floor in the furnace room. The lines would have been capped or cut off, and would connect to a tank.

Contractors that offer tank detection services will often bring in a large metal detector to scan the yard.

The city of Chilliwack has not recorded oil tank removals, and does not require permits for removals or related soil remediation.

Other municipalities are moving towards more regulation of the tank removal industry. West Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby, and Delta now require a permit for removals, and soil tests are mandatory, according to Chiesa.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

People stroll through rows of tulips in bloom during the Tulips of the Valley Festival on May 2, 2017. The colourful spring event, now called Chilliwack Tulips, opens on Sunday, April 11, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Chilliwack tulip attraction open this weekend after being closed last year due to COVID-19

More than 6.5 million bulbs in all at this year’s colourful Chilliwack Tulips event

Oregon spotted frog egg masses near Agassiz. (Fraser Valley Conservancy)
Jumping for joy over Oregon spotted frog discovery near Agassiz

Finding six egg masses could be step toward recovery of Canada’s most endangered amphibian

Sunset Manor, an assisted living facility in Chilliwack owned by the Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Chilliwack, pictured here in October 2020, had its third COVID-19 outbreak declared on April 9, 2021. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Third outbreak declared at Chilliwack care home run by church known for opposing vaccinations

30-bed Sunset Manor owned and operated by Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Chilliwack

Peter Scherle shared this 1958 photo of his father, then-Town Chairperson Paul Scherle (centre) speaking with Queen Elizabeth II with Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in the background. Prince Philip passed away April 9 at the age of 99. (Photo/Peter Scherle)
PHOTOS: Hope residents remember Prince Philip, royal visits to Fraser Valley

Prince Phillip died at age 99 at Windsor Castle on April 9

Sold decals on real estate signs are commonplace in the red-hot Chilliwack real estate market (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy)
Chilliwack homes getting offers the first day the for-sale sign goes up

The March report from the Chilliwack and District Real Estate Board shows the market remains red-hot

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, was filming near Prospect Lake in Saanich last month. (Photo courtesy Fred Haynes)
Province announces $150,000 towards South Island film studio, fulfilling B.C. NDP promise

Investment to fund movie studio feasibility study at Camosun College

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

British Columbia Attorney General David Eby. (Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Attorney General covers housing, homelessness and justice reform in Surrey Zoom

‘I think it would be really great to hold some sessions in Surrey,’ Eby says of legislative assembly

Most Read