My Good Old Oil Tank

Do you remember the old Petro-Canada publicity campaign in the late eighties? A woman asks a gas-station attendant why his gas station is renovating, and why are they changing the tanks when they are “still good”… The attendant replies sensibly, in a comforting tone, “Because, Madam, it’ll be too late when they start leaking”. The woman instantly understands what’s at stake, and turns back to her daughter, looking tenderly at her and with a sudden confidence in the future.

Now, the eighties being what they were, they were a bit short on subtlety, but the message was clear: “We cannot accept an oil company contaminating the ground.” This summer was a particularly bad one when it came to soil contamination by oil. First, the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico… then, closer to home, Canada Steamship Lines in Ste-Catherine, and lastly Suncor in the Port of Montreal. In many ways, these tragedies could have been prevented… and this type of disaster is likely to happen here.

Oil heating is one of the most widespread heating methods in Quebec. With it, the home owner can have uninterrupted heating even during a power outage, and can save money during the colder parts of winter. Even the different levels of government can offer subsidies to owners of certified oil furnaces. But oil tanks have to be closely watched.

Oil tanks cannot be “trusted”. First, they give no warning before they start leaking, and, second, as they say, they’re great, until they fail. And, since they are generally out of sight, for example, behind an old mattress, or a pile of boxes… or sometimes outside, without warning, they can start leaking. It starts with just a drop a minute. Nothing dramatic, but this still adds up to one litre after ten days … a litre of oil that accumulates in your basement floor and then spreads into your foundation, the ground, the water well, etc… keep in mind, that’s from a single drop a minute.

So what do you do in this case? You’re thinking, okay, I have to immediately put on a coat of paint or check it every day. Unfortunately, paint does not stop oil from seeping through, and you cannot stand guard in front of your tank 24/7. So you’re going to have to rely on the statistics. In general, an indoor tank is good for 20 to 25 years, while an outdoor tank remains leak-proof for between 10 and 20 years. The plate on the tank will inform you about this. Unfortunately, if you do not have a plate, more than likely your tank is over 30 years old.
Oil is impossible to clean. It penetrates and seeps into any type of soil, ending up under the house, and the odour and fumes will never disappear. To remove it, you will then have to undertake tedious and very costly measures. Just imagine bringing an excavator into your basement. And outside? Any work could spill over into the neighbouring property… But if you qualify, your insurance company can cover you against oil damage.

Every company has its standards, types of coverage and exclusions. You should therefore refer to your contract and/or your Lareau Insurance broker for guidance. Each protection rider has a separate cost, but this is usually reasonable. Ask your insurance company about this.

By the way, Lareau has started a vast prevention program. If you have an oil tank and your policy does not provide optimal coverage, a broker will contact you with different options. In any case, a tank older than 25 years is a ticking time bomb in your basement, and no policy will cover this…

Coverage to look into if you qualify:

  • Property insurance: In case of direct damage to your goods and/or home
  • Liability insurance: This will cover you, especially if your neighbour’s property is also damaged
  • Site clean-up insurance: This also covers the removal of contaminated soil
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