Environmental common sense
Sometimes it seems that no matter how hard you work and how many changes and improvements you make, you still can’t get ahead. Members of the oil heating industry could be excused for feeling that way these days.
A combination of new technologies, new regulations along with increased diligence by contractors and oil delivery personnel have allowed the industry to make tremendous strides in reducing the number and seriousness of heating oil spills. But the cost of cleaning up the spills that do occur has gone up dramatically, so there has been little if any gain.
As Canadian Oil Heat Association chairman Robert Fortin remarked at the group’s annual meeting: “Remediation costs in the past 10 years have gone though the roof. What used to be 50 grand; now it’s multiplied by 10.”
As mentioned in the same article in the July/August issue of Plumbing & HVAC and repeated below, the bill for a residential spill cleanup near Orangeville, Ont. that was originally estimated at $170,000 eventually came in at $1.1 million. In the lawsuit that followed, the judge noted that a lack of oversight of the cleanup company, delays, the use of a company that was not local and charged travel time for employees and a number of other factors all contributed to the extremely high cost.
But the bottom line is that a “cost is no object” approach has become the norm when it comes to the environment. A more pragmatic approach is needed. We don’t want to go back to the days when oil spills were common, seldom reported and the homeowner would just live with the oil smell until eventually the earth regenerated itself. But at the same time, there needs to be some clear science on cleaning up oil spills as to how much really needs to be done to prevent long-term environmental damage and odors. Would cleaning up 95 percent of the oil be enough? Probably, unless it’s an exceptionally large spill. However, this is not really an option as current laws – Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act, for example – require that the site of a spill be restored to pre-spill conditions.
Better oversight of the companies that clean up the spills is a must, as the judge noted. If the cleanup contractor knows that the insurance company is going to pay the bill no matter how high it goes, then the bill will likely be very high indeed.
The industry, in co-operation with government and the insurance industry, needs to develop standardized cleanup procedures and some form of certification for the companies that do remediation work.
The current situation evolved in large part because nobody really took a leadership role on spill cleanups. If we are to bring some common sense to this issue, we need an industry driven solution based on cost effective and proven practices.