How Environmental Professionals Play a Vital Role in the Prevention of Oil Spills

Oil spills represent environmental hazards that can irreparably damage our land, compromise our drinking water, and pose great danger to public health. Consequently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set forth regulations that are designed to prevent the discharge of oil into U.S. navigable waters. Under the auspices of the Clean Water Act of 1974, Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulation requires that facilities which pose a potential risk develop countermeasures, procedures, and equipment designed to prevent oil from reaching the shorelines of navigable waters. It also requires the facilities to contain the spills if they do occur. Every type of oil is covered by the regulation.

Facilities that are affected include onshore and offshore oil drilling operations, onshore and offshore oil processing plants, oil refineries, oil storage facilities, certain waste treatment plants, and any industrial, commercial or agricultural facility that uses or stores oil. Also covered by the SPCC are vehicles (such as tanker trucks), trains, and pipelines used to transport oil within a facility.

When selecting an environmental engineering and consulting firm to assist in the design and/or construction of a facility located in proximity to navigable waters, it is imperative that the firm has a proven track record in implementing these critical procedures and countermeasures. The engineering firm must know how to create a comprehensive SPCC plan that thoroughly describes all oil handling procedures, spill prevention protocols, and discharge and drainage controls. The SPCC plan must also ensure that the facility has on hand the necessary equipment to prevent oil spills from reaching navigable waters or adjoining shorelines.

Following are some highlights of the EPA’s Guide to Oil Pollution Prevention guidelines; these guidelines provide facility owners and operators with a blueprint on how to best implement oil spill prevention policies and countermeasures:

  • Which facilities are under regulation by the SPCC? Any facility that has an aggregate aboveground oil storage capacity of greater than 1,320 U.S. gallons or a completely buried storage capacity of more than 42,000 U.S. gallons may fall under the SPCC regulations. Additionally, these facilities must pose a reasonable expectation of causing the discharge of oil into or navigable waters or adjoining shorelines.
  • What steps can a facility take to prevent oil spills? Facilities should use containers that are suitable for storing the oil, implementing alarm systems to detect overflows, providing secondary containment options such as dikes or remote impoundment mechanisms, and regularly conducting inspections and tests of pipes and containers.

To read the EPA’s “A Facility Owner/Operator’s Guide to Oil Pollution Prevention,” please click on the link below: