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Saanich wants heating oil companies, insurers to be part of spill solution

“We’ve got stickers on barbecue propane tanks ... but we don’t do the same for home heating oil tanks," says Coun. Dean Murdock

Saanich is pushing for a working group on home heating oil tanks that would include mortgage lenders, insurance companies and heating oil providers to tackle the onerous clean-up costs borne by homeowners when oil tanks leak.

On Monday, Saanich council unanimously approved a motion to ask the Capital Regional District to include more partners in a planned regional collaborative working session on home heating oil tanks.

“The reason we wanted to expand the scope of who is included is the issue around liability,” said Coun. Dean Murdock, who chairs Saanich’s environmental and natural areas advisory committee, where the idea was approved in February.

“At the moment, even though your home insurance provider requires you confirm the presence of an oil tank, in the event that tank fails, you’re not covered for that. That can be hundreds of thousands of dollars in clean-up costs for homeowners, and there’s no recourse even though they’ve done their due diligence,” he said.

Public records for home heating oil tanks in Saanich are patchy. The Saanich Fire Department has an incomplete list, while other tanks that have been decommissioned could be buried underground, unbeknownst to the current homeowner.

While insurers recommend new home buyers hire a company to complete a tank scan, the insurer doesn’t cover expensive clean-up costs if an undiscovered tank leaks and creates an environmental mess.

“We’ve got stickers on barbecue propane tanks to indicate how long they can be used for, but we don’t do the same for home heating oil tanks that can be 40 or 60 years old,” Murdock said.

“I’d like to see us looking at inspections for the tanks … and also requirements on the part of the oil companies to make sure the tanks they’re delivering to are structurally sound.”

The B.C. Ministry of Environment is responsible for regulating home heating oil providers, said Coun. Judy Brownoff, who also chairs the CRD’s environmental services committee.

“The concern for me is around contamination of stormwater and watersheds,” Brownoff said.

“Staff are now working on a workshop, but it will take some time to get the provincial agencices together.”

A 2011 report released by the University of Victoria’s environmental law clinic, Preventing Home Heating Oil Spills in British Columbia, focused on seven suggested provisions to take part of the onus of clean-up costs off homeowners.

Among the recommendations were: improved physical requirements for tanks and equipment; limiting the length of time a tank can be in use; regulating oil delivery; inspection and monitoring requirements; tank decommissioning requirements; and direct economic incentives for homeowners to change heating fuels.

Little progress has been made since that report was issued, although local MLAs Rob Fleming and Lana Popham hosted an open house forum in February to bring homeowners and stakeholders together.

Brownoff said she’d like to see the provincial government enact regulations that compel home heating oil companies to disclose to municipalities a complete list of known tank locations.

“Ultimately, the oil companies are very private about their business dealings,” Brownoff said.

“But if you think about septic fields, there was a separate standard put in to regulate those – do we need to do the same for home oil heating tanks? They corrode from the inside out, from what the installers tell me. A lot of these spills are equipment failure.”

Brownoff said the CRD group on home oil heating tanks will take about three months to co-ordinate before discussions begin.