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The pipe would have only netted the thief a few dollars, but could have cost hundreds of thousands to repair. (CBC)

Homeowners on Albro Lake Road in Dartmouth say they are thankful a copper thief didn't leave them with an enormous cleanup bill.

On Friday around 11 a.m. copper pipes were snipped on their oil tanks, allowing some oil to leak out on the ground.

The copper tubing would have only netted the thief a few dollars, but could have cost hundreds of thousands to repair.

"My neighbour came over and said that they had seen a man cutting the pipes," said Marie Trevail.

Police said four homes were hit between Jackson Road and Albro Lake Road.

Repairman Lenny Giles spent his afternoon fixing the damage, which turned out to be minor.

He says it could have been much worse.

"Environmentally it's catastrophic. It could be anywhere from 10, 20, 30 up to 100 to $200,000 dependent upon how much oil, where it goes you know and how many properties it gets into. It’s a real mess when it happens," he said.

In this case, it appears the thief had a bit of a conscience. He shut the valves off, ensuring the oil wouldn't leak.

But within a couple of hours he was handcuffed and his copper collection seized.

A man in his 20s has been charged with mischief, theft, and possession of stolen property under $5,000 dollars.