In B.C., the installation and servicing of petroleum fuel systems is not subject to provincial safety and environmental regulations.

If you build or renovate a house and install a toilet, the building inspector will not provide an occupancy certificate unless that installation is done by a provincially trade-certified plumber.

Why then does B.C not require the use of trained technicians to install, change or remove fuel systems?

Concerns about fuel systems arise from the potential for leaks and explosions, contamination of land and water systems and danger to living things, both plant and animal, including humans. 

Why then aren’t fuel systems subject to the same degree of regulation as residential plumbing?

Until 2006, there was no certification regime in B.C. that recognized trained technicians with a trade certification for installing or servicing fuel storage or distribution systems.

It was only then that the B.C. Petroleum Contractor Association applied for and received, using provincial government funding, certified trade status for fuel system service and installation by the Industrial Training Authority. 

The federal government thereafter recognized the benefits of this provincial certification for its 35 government departments and agencies that have fuel installations and stipulated that all related installations in federal or aboriginal lands be undertaken by certified technicians or be inspected and approved by a certified engineer.

Major construction firms, architects and engineers began to insist on the use of trained and certified personnel or licensed engineers.

The government of B.C. has not made the use of certified technicians mandatory, saying that it does not have the funds to run such a program. This is despite a proposal by the B.C. Petroleum Contractors Association that the Safety Authority be made responsible under the B.C. Fire Code and new regulations promulgated by the Canadian Council of the Ministers of the Environment.

In Ontario, the Technical Safety Services Administration manages all trade-related construction and installations and is very cost-effective.

The key point is that the public needs protection from low bidders from outside the province installing or servicing systems that could result in pollution — or perhaps worse. Businesses and consumers also need protection from individuals unfamiliar with the technology and best practices for safety.

An alternative to a government-mandated program for the installation, servicing and removal of fuel systems is the model offered by the Petroleum Tank Management Association of Alberta (PTMAA).

This is a not-for-profit organization that contracts with municipalities to administer the supervision of petroleum systems within the municipality.

What it does is investigate and make an inventory of both in-ground and above-ground petroleum storage facilities and inspects them to determine the date of installation, the tank’s condition and type (double or single hull) and what, if any, containment features it has for dealing with leaks.

The central objective to make sure each system meets existing environmental codes.

When PTMAA determines that testing or repairs or replacement is required, it informs the civic government and the owner is required to act or face fines and other disciplinary actions.

Virtually every municipality in the province has signed on and pays PTMAA to administer this program. They find it cost-effective and essentially risk-free since the organization has the expertise and extensive data base needed to reduce the risk of major problems with fuel storage, servicing and distribution.

There are a vast number of fuel systems that were installed 30 or more years ago. Since then, building codes and environmental requirements have become more through and stringent. So older uninspected systems are potential sources of serious environmental damage and a threat to the safety of the public. 

You would think that the B.C. government would propose the establishment of a system (either government-administered or through an independent non-profit) to ensure the safety of fuel systems in our province and provide some modest seed money to encourage the establishment of a tank management system. 

The government needs to act now before it is too late.

David Bond is a retired bank economist who resides in Kelowna.