January 30, 2015

What Lies Beneath? Buyer beware

It’s every homeowner’s nightmare: You buy a home, move in, then find out there’s an abandoned gas well beneath, leaking and contaminating your property. Think it can’t happen to you? It can. According to the Energy Resources Conservation Board in November 2012 over 150,000 abandoned well sites dotted the Alberta landscape, making it essential that buyers do their homework.

These nightmares happen because of gaps between what Albertans should know, could know and actually do know about their environment,” says Adam Driedzic, Staff Counsel and author of a new Environmental Law Centre publication, What Lies Beneath? Access to Environmental Information in Alberta.

In real estate transactions the onus is generally on the buyer to do their due diligence and the general rule for buying and selling real estate is ‘buyer beware’. Unfortunately there’s no checklist to prove due diligence and no one-stop shop for environmental information.

The best way to demonstrate due diligence is to identify environmental concerns, learn what information is available about those concerns and act on that knowledge. Buyers who make inquiries into the environmental conditions of the specific site and the local area are in the best position to make sound choices and solid deals.

Most land in Alberta has already been used for something. In Calmar, oil and gas extraction took place on farmland that was re-zoned, subdivided, developed into a residential community and sold without exposing what lay beneath or what other activities had taken place on the land previously.

And in Alberta it isn’t just oil and gas activities that are concerning. Whether you’re looking to buy a giant parcel of farmland or a tiny infill lot in the city, there are many activities that can impact the land, air and water that surround your potential new home. Feedlots, pesticide application, old dry-cleaners or landfills – even recreational activities like off highway vehicle use – can affect your quality of life.

What Lies Beneath? Access to Environmental Information in Alberta provides practical information-finding tips, outlines environmental concerns you may want to think about and describes where to get started to find the information you need to make the best choices when buying property in Alberta. A twelve-page booklet based on this guidebook, Buyer Beware, is also available.

The Environmental Law Centre is Alberta’s leading environmental public policy and law reform charity. The full publication and booklet can both be downloaded on the Environmental Law Centre website.

Buyer Beware

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