What To Do If You Find An Underground Fuel Oil Tank In Your Backyard

Fuel oil leaks from underground storage tanks (“USTs”) into the soil and groundwater can result in environmental damage and significant costs to homeowners. Property owners should be proactive in addressing a UST upon discovery to minimize liability for potential damage arising from a UST.

Prior to the 1970s, fuel oil stored in USTs was a common method of heating homes and businesses in Ontario. In the 1970s, many property owners switched to natural gas as a heating source.1 Frequently, USTs were left in the ground, unbeknownst to subsequent property owners.

Property owners in Ontario are responsible for any USTs on their properties, whether the owner installed the UST or not. This responsibility may extend to investigating impacts arising from leaks or spills of fuel oil, as well as remediating resulting impacts to soil and groundwater.

Property owners should be aware of the significant consequences that may arise from a leaking UST, including

reduced property value
the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (“TSSA”) may require delineation and/or clean up of environmental impacts to soil and groundwater
regulatory action from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (“MOECC”) where contamination migrates off-site, including prosecutions and Orders, and
lawsuits from neighbours if fuel oil migrates to neighbours’ lands.

So You Found A Tank. Now What?

If you discover a UST, you need to be diligent, take action and assemble your environmental team.

Consider retaining an environmental lawyer before taking any steps.

An experienced environmental lawyer will be able to assist you to retain, under legal privilege, a reputable environmental consultant to investigate and make recommendations about the UST and possible impacts to the subsurface.2

The environmental lawyer will also assist you to understand your legal obligations. There are various regulatory requirements that apply to both USTs and aboveground storage tanks, including the CSA-B139 Series-15 Installation Code for Oil-Burning Equipment, 2015, the TSSA’s Fuel Oil Code Adoption Document Amendment FS-219-16 dated April 4, 2016, and O Reg 213/01: Fuel Oil.3

Depending on the size of the UST, the regulatory requirements for small or large installations may be applicable. Age may also be an important consideration.

In the event that fuel oil from a UST has impacted your property or properties beyond, the environmental lawyer can assist you in determining next steps and explaining the legal risks and liabilities that you may face (including civil lawsuits and/or regulatory action by the TSSA, MOECC or others).

With the right environmental team, you can successfully navigate and mitigate the risks and liabilities associated with USTs.

Footnotes

1 “Evolution of Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry”, online http://www.energybc.ca/cache/oil/www.centreforenergy.com/shopping/uploads/122.pdf

2 The environmental consultant must be a Qualified Person, and only a licensed tank contractor may remove a UST. See Environmental Management Protocol for Fuel Handling Sites in Ontario TSSA EMP-2012, August 2012, s 4, and O Reg. 213/01: Fuel Oil, s 4.

3 O Reg. 213/01: Fuel Oil under the Technical Standards and Safety Act, 2000, S.O. 2000, c. 16.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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