Alaska Bill Considers Helping Homeowners Fix Heating Oil Tanks

March 23, 2018

Alaska lawmakers have begun considering a bill to help homeowners cover the cost of fixing leaking heating oil tanks.

Depending on the size of the spill, everything from hiring contractors to buying cleanup supplies and even calling the state to report the spill could be billed, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Tuesday.

Alaska resident Fabienne Peter-Contesse told a House Resources committee last month that his family in 2010 had to fix their oil tank after they discovered a cork-sized hole in the bottom of it.

“We’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on this effort. Cleanup, hiring the contractor,” Peter-Contesse said. “We’ve spent several thousand dollars on soil testing. And, none of this is covered by homeowners insurance. So that is all out of pocket.”

Peter-Contesse said the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s staff was a great resource for technical support and answering questions – until he received a bill from them in 2017.

“And as you can imagine, the blood pressure shot through the roof,” Peter-Contesse said, adding that he has since stopped talking to state spill employees.

State Spill Prevention and Response Director Kristin Ryan said costs from the state are recurring problems for homeowners.

“We have had several situations where a homeowner is talking to us, everything is going well. Then, several weeks later they get our bill – which is an automated process – and all of the sudden, they don’t return our phone calls,” Ryan said. “They won’t let us on their property. They don’t want to talk to us, because they don’t want another bill.”

Staff at the Department of Environmental Conservation is required by law to recover their costs when they consult on spills. On average, getting technical support from employees in the state’s Division of Spill Prevention and Response costs between $100-$150 an hour, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported.

Ryan said she doesn’t think that lawmakers were considering individual homeowners and heating oil leaks when the statutes were written.

“They were thinking about Exxon,” Ryan said. “They were thinking about BP. They were thinking about big companies that are making money off of oil. And they didn’t think the state should have any expenses associated with that industry.”

Right now, there are about 150 homes that have heating oil spills that the state is consulting on. The bill is narrowly defined to cover just spills from equipment or fuel that is used solely to provide space heat or electric power for residential homes.

It wouldn’t take away any of the cleanup costs, which is typically the bulk of the cost in a situation where heating oil is spilled.

But it would allow the state to provide essentially free “tech support” when something goes wrong.

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